Shaping a hole in the heart of Bristol
Shaping a hole in the heart of Bristol, more like, given that many of these flats are empty.
Many cities are now the same, blighted by a glut of empty flats built in the boom. Many of them destined to become the slums of tomorrow, or student villages.
I’m having an imaginary conversation here …
Me: I appear to have stumbled upon an old iPhone. It is all dusty. Let me rub it … What the …?!
MJF: Greetings! You have reached the Magic Journalism Fairy! How may I help thee?
Me: Oh boy! I’m prepared for this one!. I know how this works! One – an end to all hunger, disease and war; two – this here list of actresses and a supertanker of baby oil; three – immortality for everyone I like and …
MJF: … Hold up. I will grant thee one wish (because frankly you don’t deserve the full three), and only a journalistic one. So ask me to do your job for you and tell you something you’re too lazy to research for yourself.
Me: OK, I want to know exactly how many yuppy flats are currently standing empty in Bristol. Because of that building boom of the last 15 years or so which has suddenly crashed to a halt. All those city centre apartments, all those “urban living spaces” “designed for the 21st century”, all those bunny boxes which got plonked down willy-nilly. Often under the guise of “regeneration” and often with some mendacious guff about how a proportion of each development would be “affordable” but …
MJF: Enuff already! Get off the goddam soapbox. I get the idea.
Me: No way! I’m into me stride now … Many are elegant and appropriate to their setting, I will grant you, but many others obscure views and blot the skyline and arrogantly grab what had once been public space, e.g. down the Harbourside. All these flats which were supposed to be meeting a housing need, but which were in fact fuelling a buy-to-let (BTL) bubble which was bound to burst because there’s a limited supply of wealthy single professionals and cultured homosexuals.
MJF: What was the question again?
Me: How many of these places are empty? There were always lots of empty flats, but that didn’t matter while the bubble was swelling. If you’re a property developer or a would-be BTL landlordy, it’s not too bad if you don’t have a buyer or a tenant for your flat as long as its paper value is increasing. But now … Besides, developers often leave flats unfinished to evade taxes and housing regulations.
MJF: I can see why you would need my help. Most developers would be loath to talk to you. They’d fob you off with their public relations agency who’d spin you some bland reassurance that everything is fine. If you really dig your teeth in they’ll mutter something about “commercial confidentiality” and hang up. Then you’d have to go through the same thing with every other developer.
Me: When the history of the last 20 years of financial folly comes to be written, it won’t just be about unregulated city spivs getting rich by gambling our money, or our moronic plunge into debt-ridden consumerism. It’ll also be about all the time, money and precious space sunk into building homes that weren’t really homes at all, to meet a demand which never really existed. So anyway, how many of them are empty?
MJF: I don’t bloody know. Can’t I tell you who masterminded the Kennedy assassination instead?
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