Will Boris Make The Mount Unpleasant?
Mount Pleasant has always been the most misnamed place in London. From the 16th to the 19th century it was home to a massive rubbish dump which was finally cleared in 1794 for a grim brick prison, the notorious Coldbath Fields Prison, where inmates were forced to turn treadmills and pick oakum beside the Fleet sewers.
It was cleared in the 1880s for the sorting office, then the largest in the world. The areas was made marginally less repulsive by the strange, hulking Victorian hotel that stood beside it (I remember visiting friends who lived within its gloomy byzantine corridors) but this was torn down to build the pustular Holiday Inn which remains on the spot.
Now the site beside the sorting office is to be turned into yet another gigantic private estate. At least everyone had agreed that the logical thing to do was keep a North-South corridor following the line of the River Fleet. Except, it seems, for mayor Boris Johnson. He’s granting the developers permission to build another fortress of portfolio properties. He says the new development is a ‘beautiful design… it’ll be a wonderful place to live’, delivering ‘thousands of homes for Londoners’.
The actual total on the plans is 680, of which only 12% are destined for social housing. The rest will go to the usual mix of speculators who have already hollowed out parts of the city, creating ghost towns. The new buildings are up to 15 storeys high in an area where the maximum height is currently 4 storeys. They will run East-West, blocking natural access and landscaping that would respect the area’s topography. There will be no public services or amenities.
But this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a real difference in a key part of London. It can strike a fresh balance and even become a destination for Londoners. The plan needs radical intelligence, otherwise it will become just another ‘Keep Out’ wealthy enclave with a poor door.
If that happens, Mount Pleasant will continue its ignominious history. According to the Evening Standard, ‘nearly all Londoners are happy with’ Boris. This is his chance to prove he has heart and vision, like all the best mayors.