Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Half Moon pub 'will reopen'..... one day

* The below was written prior to me finding this sign on the corner door of the Half Moon. I don't know when it went up but it was bone dry, unlike the rest of London. It would appear the Half Moon pub is being squatted. I'm hoping to be corrected.

It’s a terribly sad sight to see the beautiful Half Moon pub in Herne Hill closed. The pub's beautiful doors have not been opened to welcome a paying customer since the awful flood of August 2013 and rumours about its fate swirl endlessly around. Some claim to have heard it is going to be converted into an Asda, or a Tesco Metro, or maybe into a Wetherspoons clone or simply turned into flats. 
Thankfully the truth is a little simpler than that; the most likely outcome is that it will, one day, reopen as a pub. To understand why, below is the Half Moon’s entry on English Heritage’s Listed Buildings Register:
Public house. Dated 1896 on gable. Red brick in Flemish bond with rubbed brick, artificial stone, terracotta dressings; ground-floor with polished granite columns. Mansarded roofs of various descriptions, all turnerised. STYLE: Jacobeathan Revival. 
PLAN: rectangular corner plan, with corner itself chamfered. 
EXTERIOR: 3 storeys stepping down to 2 to left and rear. Seven-window range, one-window range at corner and five-window range to return. Five flat-arched entrances, that to corner designed as the main one. All windows are flat-arched unless otherwise stated. Ground floor treated as pilastrade of Composite order, supporting an entablature, which is topped by a pediment over each entrance. In the centre of main elevation a bulbous attached column supports a 1st-floor balcony set under a canted, open porch which is, in turn, topped by a truncated gable and a 2nd-floor balcony with pierced strapwork parapet. This ensemble set in a full-height, round-arched recess, pierced at top by a Serlian window with panelled over spandrel. The 4th to 6th window ranges are treated as a single Dutch-gabled bay with scrolled parapets and finials. A 1st-floor porch in the corner range with Elizabethan-style columns; round-arched window; window above set in aedicule consisting of pedimented hood that projects above eaves of high mansard roof, topped by a bellcote, which crowns the corner range. 2nd-window range on return treated as a gabled bay. Entrance porch with polished granite columns to rear of return elevation. On the main elevation, 1st-floor windows in the 3rd- and 7th-window ranges are tripartite and round-arched. The 2nd-floor windows alternate with round-arched recesses; the windows have scrolled aprons and plaques of brick cut and rubbed to resemble swags. High hipped roof to 2nd-window range which projects slightly to form a bay. High stacks to centre and end walls, some with floral decoration. To the rear of the return there is a single square stack in the plain of the outer wall. 
INTERIOR: public bar intact; original panelling and coloured glass; etched mirrors of original design. Some mirrors with painted decoration of good quality depicting birds and flowers. The proliferation of ornament across the surface of this building gives the whole a sense of vital unity through their sheer number, a design approach characteristic of large public houses built c1895. 
Such is the admiration of this building, not only is the exterior of the pub Grade II* listed, so too is the interior. This makes it very difficult to adapt for other uses. Any applicant would have to convince Southwark Council that the site couldn't operate as a viable pub once more; an extremely difficult proposition to establish considering the Half Moon's long service. An attempt to convert the pub into a supermarket, for example - the sorry fate of far too many pubs - would inevitably lead to dramatic interior changes and is almost guaranteed  to spark ferocious local opposition and also objections from English Heritage. Sadly, such a fate befell befell the George IV, in Brixton Hill recently. A lovely pub but not one, as far as I can see, benefitted from a heritage listing. It had also had a more troubled recent history which made it much harder for the council to resist the advance of Tesco, despite a vigorous campaign to save it. It is now another pointless Tesco Metro store.
The Dulwich Estate, owners of the Half Moon Pub, do have redevelopment plans for the building; it seems likely to have been these plans which led to the previous leaseholder, Robert Harrison, leaving the pub in March 2013. In an interview with journalist Jason Tate, Mr Harrison said:
I left the Half Moon in March 2013. My leased had expired and the landlord had not offered me a new one. I spent seven years at the Half Moon and during that time I gave my best attention to the upkeep and well-being of the premises. I would have liked the opportunity to continue - there was much more that could have been done - but unfortunately the landlords had other plans for the building.
(The full interview can be found here, search 'Half Moon Pub Remembered' and it should come up.)

The flood which closed the doors of the Half Moon
But The Dulwich Estate are committed to reopening the pub.
'When the pub was flooded it coincided with The Dulwich Estate's plans to redevelop the pub and provide flats on the upper floors,' John E Major, the chief executive of The Dulwich Estate, told me in a brief conversation.
He acknowledged that is was 'a beautiful building but it is not in great condition and it needs a lot of careful restoration'. The previous tenants have given up the pub and The Dulwich Estate are now in discussions with planning at Southwark Council about the way forward. While the Herne Hill Forum estimates the pub will reopen in June 2015, 'there is no target date to get it back open, it all depends on the planning process', Mr Major said, though he added:
'Obviously, it's in our interests to get it reopen again as a functioning pub as soon as possible.'
And the future of live music provision at the venue is still not decided either.
'Whether there is a music venue depends on the future tenant. Soundproofing could be done to enable the music venue to remain.'
Past experience suggests that the planning battle could be a fraught. A consultation was held in April 2013 about parts of the building being turned into flats and, according to the Herne Hill Society, 'local residents were concerned over the loss of the function rooms on the upper floors and, more particularly, the impact on the live music performances, an important tradition at the Half Moon. Could they ever be compatible with residential flats?'
There's a long way to go then, but hopefully, not too far in the distance future, I will, along with other fans of the pub, walk in to the familiar bar, order a pint and settle back to enjoy one of the finest pubs in London.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

'Will no one rid me of these turbulent priests'

David Cameron has a problem with bishops. Several of these troublesome fellows have spent the last few weeks castigating the government for failing to do enough to help Iraqi Christians.

As the influence and terror of the Islamic State has grown, Christians, along with the ancient Yazidi community, have faced a very stark choice; either to convert, flee or die. The threat of genocide is real. In the last week, horrifying reports have emerged that captured Yazidi men, women and children, refusing to convert, have been buried alive. Reuters reporter Humeyra Pamuk, for example, spoke to Samo Ilyas Ali – one of those who fled – who recounted what happened when IS forces entered his village and started digging holes in the ground:

‘We did not understand. Then they started to put people in those holes, those people were alive.

‘After a while we heard gunfire. I can’t forget that scene. Women, children, crying for help. We had to run for our lives, there was nothing to be done for them.’

It is against this background that the bishops have spoken so forcibly and implored the government to offer asylum to Christians, fleeing from places like Mosul and Qaraqosh, where Christian heritage dates back 1,600 years.

The Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend David Walker, told The Observer

‘We would be failing to fulfil our obligations were we not to offer sanctuary. Having intervened so recently and extensively in Iraq, we have, even more than other countries, a moral duty in the UK. Given the vast amounts of money that we spent on the war in Iraq, the tiny cost of bringing some people fleeing for their lives to this country and allowing them to settle – and who, in due course, would be an asset to our society – would seem to be minuscule.’

Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, added:

‘I would be very disturbed if the government refused to do anything. The situation in Iraq is absolutely horrendous. It would sit very ill at ease with our values if nothing were to be offered. I am disappointed nothing has transpired so far.’

The pressure continues; in the last couple of days, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev. Nicholas Baines, has written to the Prime Minister, with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, asking for the government's policy towards Iraq to be clarified. Cuttingly, one of his questions reads:

'The focus by both politicians and media on the plight of the Yazidis has been notable and admirable. However, there has been increasing silence about the plight of tens of thousands of Christians who have been displaced, driven from cities and homelands, and who face a bleak future. Despite appalling persecution, they seem to have fallen from consciousness, and I wonder why. Does your government have a coherent response to the plight of these huge numbers of Christians whose plight appears to be less regarded than that of others? Or are we simply reacting to the loudest media voice at any one particular time?'

And the other day, the hugely admirable Canon Andrew White, from Baghdad's St George's Church - a man who has surely done more to promote a positive of Britain and its best values in Iraq than any other - appeared on the Today programme to add his voice to those campaigning to offer asylum to up to 30,000 Iraqi Christians:

'Christianity [in Iraq] could be nearly dead and Britain has refused asylum to any Iraqi and now we are desperate. It is a matter of life and death.'

Yet, despite the urgency of the situation and the vocal interventions, the government has remained remarkably silent on the issue; it almost seems as though they're embarrassed. After the first article appeared in The Observer, this was the comment which came from the government:

‘The UK has a proud record of offering sanctuary to those who need it. Every claim for asylum is carefully considered on its individual merits.’

This frankly pathetic, inadequate, statement hardly does justice to the horror of the situation.

It is, of course, true that, historically, Britain has opened its doors to the oppressed; Charles II allowed the Huguenots, escaping the Catholic Church in France, to settle here in the 17th century; more than 100,000 Eastern European Jews settled in the late 19th century, escaping persecution, particularly in Russia; and in the 1972, many Ugandan Asians came here after being expelled by Idi Amin.

But is the claim still justified? Let's just glimpse at a few recent cases

1 - More than 2.5million have fled the fighting in Syria, packing into refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Britain has taken 500.

2 - The government has fought bitterly against demands to allow Afghan interpreters, who worked with British forces during the recent war, to come here and escape the obvious dangers they face. Reluctantly, they have agreed about half of the 1,200 interpreters who were still working with the British military on December 19, 2012, will be able to come here. It’s still hugely unsatisfactory and a betrayal of people who risked their lives to help British troops. Any who stopped working before this date will not be eligible.

3 - In the case of the Gurkhas – who fought for this country – a it took the charms of Joanna Lumley to embarrass the government into finally acknowledging their cause.

4 - And just a few weeks ago - despite a very high profile campaign against female genital mutilation - Afusat Saliu and her daughters were deported to Nigeria despite the very real risks her children could be targets for the horrible, abusive, procedure from her wider family.

Obviously, asylum is still offered to the desperate. According to the Refugee Council, in 2012 16,918 asylum applications were decided. Of those, ’64% of initial decisions were refusals, 30% were grants of asylum, 5% were grants of Humanitarian Protection or discretionary leave, and 0.5% were grants of leave to remain under family or private life rules'.

This isn't a party political issue, it's a problem which afflicts successive governments. Levels of immigration, rightly or wrongly, remains a major public concern and neither the Conservatives nor Labour - and increasingly the Liberal Democrats too - wants to be seen as a soft touch. The government seems afraid of acknowledging the desperation of the Iraqi Christian community, fearful of how it will be depicted in sections of the media ahead of what will be a tight general election. But simply relying on our 'proud record of offering sanctuary', too often seems to be an excuse for inaction, for blocking asylum and ignoring the plight of those who need our help. On top of all the suffering they are facing, Iraqi Christians do not deserve to be victims of such short-term political imperatives. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

What is happening with the Crystal Palace redevelopment?

A curious press release appeared on Bromley Council’s website on Friday, announcing a £2.4million improvement programme for Crystal Palace Park. Nine projects would be examined and a feasibility study drawn up. The projects included conserving the dinosaurs, conserving the sphinxes and south terrace steps and the Paxton basin. The amount of money is not huge and will not vaguely cover the nine projects listed. But the bigger question is why is Bromley Council spending any money on the park at all when the Chinese ZhongRong group are still in negotiations over a £500million reimagining of Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace?

On a sunny, unusually warm day in February this year hundreds of people crammed in to a sweltering, sweaty, room to hear what might become of the park if the ZhongRong group get the go ahead to their ambitious scheme. As I wrote here, it wasn’t particularly informative. Bad-tempered from the beginning, the local community, evidently distrustful of planners and the council after decades of promises and inaction, broadly displayed suspicion towards the scheme, drowning out the few voices of support. Consultants Arup, who led the event, struggled to provide much information at all, as did representatives from Bromley Council and the Mayor of London’s office, who were also in attendance. No one from the ZhongRong was there, or at least made themselves known.

What was clear was a shortlist of six architectural practices had been drawn up with a winner due to be selected by the summer. And while summer has some time to go (hopefully), no winner has yet emerged and the whole grand scheme has been notable for its silence. The notion that an application might be submitted in Autumn this year - and building commencing in Winter 2015 - seems unlikely to say the least.

The delay appears to be within the negotiations between Bromley Council and ZhongRong. They were always going to be somewhat fraught, being, as they are, about selling off a large swathe of a public park to a private venture on a 125-year lease. Some observers have suggested - plausibly enough - that 'ZhongRong are making demands that cannot lawfully be met' but a council spokesman would not be drawn on this. Instead, he insisted that 'negotiations are on going'.

'We are going one stage at a time. The first step was the exclusivity contract. ZhongRong would then develop their plans and negotiations would continue about a land deal. These negotiations are on going.'

And, asked about Bromley Council spending money on restoring land which could be part of the redevelopment according to a map released a few months ago, he said:

'The map of exclusivity doesn't necessarily mean ZhongRong want, or indeed, are going to get, all that area. The idea around that is to get an area of land about which Bromley wouldn't enter into negotiations with other people. It was a way of giving ZhongRong some security.'

And he refused to say whether the timetable was slipping or not.

'We couldn't comment on the timetable. We want to be as open as possible with people about it and will give updates when we can.'

As for the money now being spent, we need to go back to when ZhongRong just made their presence noticed. Bromley Council had submitted an application for Heritage Lottery Funding for the park and it is likely they would have been successful had ZhongRong never appeared. In which case, the HLF would have given a £5million grant towards the park, on top of about £2.4million from the local authority and the Mayor of London's office. This £2.4million is that money.

And they know it is just a drop in the ocean of the funding the park really needs. The £60million masterplan which was halted a few years ago would need be about £100million in today's money, I am told. The council spokesman added: 

'£2.4million won't solve everything. We know that. Is it a step forward? Yes. Will it make a difference? Yes.' 

One wonders whether the ZhongRong plan will be the latest Crystal Palace to fail to materialise; a colourful, flamboyant intervention, backed by an overly-enthusiastic Mayor of London who is searching for vanity projects to create something of a legacy, and a council keen to rid themselves of a troublesome park. We will have to wait and see.