I suppose acronyms have been with us forever. This is a little known section from the First Folio version of Romeo and Juliet:
Romeo: She loves me, Mercutio.
Mercutio (swiping right): Like BFFs?
Romeo: Better, she’s…
Mercutio (showing Romeo a small portrait he’d come to in his dating portfolio): OMG, have you seen this Siren, bro?
Romeo (looking over his shoulder): Lol, that’s your sister…
I’m not sure how many were used in common speech – as in spoken as words themselves: my parents had ITMA (It’s that man again) so I suppose it’s not a new thing – but I noticed first with the advent of the YUPPY (Young Upwardly-mobile Professionals), soon followed by the likes of DINKIES (Double Income, No Kiddies) and now that I’m no longer an aspirational worker bee but a father of two resource-constrained under-performing investment funds , I find being a SKIN (Spend Kids Inheritance Now) most apposite.
Acronyms came to mind today because I found myself in Poundbury, on the outskirts of Dorchester. For those of you who have avoided knowing about Poundbury it is an overspill development that caused a degree of controversy when it started because it was the brainchild of our heir to the throne showing us what good planning (because he says so) can do to a piece of gently rolling English countryside.
I do get we need more homes. I’m not a great fan of blank walled concrete or sheet glass but there’s something amiss here. Mostly I think because it feels oddly foreign – sort of English pastiche meets Antwerp-on-Tiber, the mix of styles clash rather. Some of it feels fine, mostly it feels confusing. And twee. Definitely twee. Too perfect. Villages can be just so but towns need a bit of tat to set off the good stuff. It really isn’t very English to get it all right.
But then again, having one person in charge of ensuring continuity can, over time, create something unique that others will enjoy. I live in Dulwich. I’ve raved about it as a wonderful piece of village wrapped round by London and in large part that is due to the vice like control that the Dulwich Estate has on the design and redevelopment of buildings in these parts.
In the rest of the country the over-aching controls are those of the planners, political appointees working within the constraints of the Planning Acts. That’s true of Dulwich too. But on top we also have to obtain permissions from the commissioners of the Estate. Why?
Well, without being too boring and legalistic, in 1967, during one of the two really socialist periods of government we have had in this country the then Labour party introduce the Leasehold Enfranchisement Act (asleep yet?) to enable tenants of mining cottages in mining towns and villages to buy their houses off the freeholders rather than be forced to renew the leases on poor terms. There were rules, mostly that the leases had to have been at least 21 years long to begin with.
But in the kind of unintended consequence trap that politicians regularly fall into, it wasn’t in those northern working class heartlands that this legislation worked. Nope, it was in rich boroughs of London and other cities where large landed estates had controlled the property for years – Westminster (and the Grosvenor estate under the Duke of Westminster), Chelsea (Under Earl Cadogan and the Cadogan estate) and Dulwich (under the Dulwich Estate) where these rules were utilised by well advised bankers and self advised lawyers.
However the landowners had one weapon; they could introduce a Scheme of Management that imposed the sorts of leasehold controls on freeholds that aren’t normal. So in these places the look of the environment was in the hands of a few locals to determine. And by and large they have worked to keep these boroughs unique, and valuable.
Currently our Scheme is being challenged as too officious. But, and here we get back to the acronyms, that’s because we are all NIMBYs at heart. People complain about the scheme as it affects them but if it keeps Dulwich the way it is, and the house prices high, well that’s ok then.
Not In My Back Yard. Yep, we can lol all we like when it’s someone else’s problem.