Newly Discovered Plans for Edinburgh New Town on Display

James Craig had his plans for Edinburgh New Town agreed by George III in 1767, but there has always been a mystery. We know his plan won a competition, but the City considered impractical for construction and it was revised with architectural input (he was a mason), before being approved by the king. The original plan was all diagonals, modelled after the union flag. But a portrait of Craig shows instead of the Charlotte Square a Georgian Circus. Was this an amendment later removed?

Restoration of the original plans has shown a paper patch on the original drawings, and what was patched, a circus

The plans are now on display for two hours a day (to conserve them from fading) at the Museum of Edinburgh.

The Lost City of Koningsberg

Koningsberg, now Kalingrad, was once one of the great cities of Europe, marking the far eastern regional capital of Prussia and historically a Baltic city state.  It was the birthplace of Kant.

During the War it was almost totally destroyed and replanned in the worst possible Stalinist manner.  There was no reason it could not have been rebuilt as Warsaw was.  As a Free Trade Zone, unique in Russia, it represents an enormous economic opportunity, imagine a cross between Hong Kong (on the Baltic) and Dresden (the centre now largely rebuilt to pre-war designs).  It grew at 10%/year GDP 2004-2007, faster than any other region.  

These photos are from a Russian archive showing photos of the city at the beginning of the 20th Century and today from the same viewpoints.

The low density of the city centre means that it is potentially a resource worth billions of roubles to the city – if properly planned.

All Quiet on the NPPF front

The NPPF was guaranteed to be out by the end of July. It was expected to be out last Tuesday, on that day in the Lords they said it would be out ‘imminently’. But normally any shift in planning policy in flagged in the sunday papers. Today not a hint, part from Osbourne, in a much broader article, mentioning the presumption in favour of sustainable development, as ministers do in any article re growth, and quite falsely claiming it was a presumption against before.

So what is the explanation? Four options

1) They are still arguing about it. Unlikely the drafts have not changed much, the Prime Ministers personal advisor, James O’Shaughnessy, seems to want to reduce planning controls much further. You would normally expect political advisor to have their antenna out and saying ‘look this is trouble, it will make the forests sell off look like a minor incident by comparison’ and for the u-turn to happen in advance. That seems unlikely. Number 10 is an isolated and politically ignorant bunker these days staffed by Tory boys with no experience apart from the fringe rantings of groups like the Policy Exchange. If the NPPF does emerge unchanged in the next few days it will show that number 10 has no political instincts for issues that will blow up down the line.

2) The strategy is no publicity, to slip in out quietly in the Summer Recess. But this isnt a single hit piece of bad news. It is a slow burning fuse that will explode in the autumn.
3) Last minute hitch, you never know. A landmark appeal at Bude was out last week but wasn’t. It would be problematic to release both together as it would paint Pickles as having done a U-Turn against localism. The moment the draft is published it will be a material planning consideration, but a minor one.
4) Delayed by a week or two because they want major publicity and they want the Murdoch hysteria to die down – hmm seems unlikely.
5) Arguments about the media strategy not the content of the NPPF – well you can’t put lipstick on a pig.

Confusion on Chinese Property Bubble

The Telegraph has an interesting piece ‘China’s spectacular real estate bubble is about to go pop’ by Jeremy Warner.

The problem with the US and UK economies, it is often said, is that they are unbalanced – too much consumption, not enough investment and net trade. In China, the difficulty is the other way around. Consumption remains in the low 30s as a percentage of GDP, the lowest of any major economy. Again, this is deliberate. The Chinese authorities set policy to prioritise investment over consumption.
Any reading of economic history reveals that in the end this path to growth and development is as unsustainable as excessive consumption.

He relies too much on one source though, the recent IMF report, and so it enables some commentators to poo poo the idea of a bubble saying that it is not based on personal leveraged finance. True but when did that ever stop a bubble from popping – look at Dubai? In any event as we know the leverage problem in China is in local government not with individuals.

There are too issues with the inflection of any property bubble. Firstly the ending of forces driving upwards, as ponzi investors pull out of the market. Secondly the fierce drive downwards as there are leverage induced firesales. In those markets where property purchases are not highly leveraged this can result in a slow hiss rather than a pop. As can highly leveraged markets when there is high forebearance. But that collapse in values can last several years.