My Thoughts on ‘The property billboards that reveal the truth about Britain’s luxury housing market’ by Oliver Wainwright (2017)

I found and read an interesting article titled: ‘The property billboards that reveal the truth about Britain’s luxury housing market’ on the Guardian by Oliver Wainright (2017). The article explores the role of hoardings and billboards in promoting regeneration projects. These hoardings make up some of what I would describe as the glossy facade that pervades regeneration’s front. These are my thoughts after reading the article and how I feel it may inform my Contextual Studies’ extended written project.

Wainwright (2017) starts with the example of Battersea power station’s surrounding developments to illustrate his point on the advertising seeming to mainly cater for the investors. Namely the Malaysian investors and ‘east-Asian clients are buying a piece of England, which – for them – means blond-haired, blue-eyed Burberry models.’ (Wainwright, 2017). This makes good marketing sense in that the majority of wealthy purchasers’ wishes are listened to. It is however, not much inclusive or reflective of other demographics. ‘the first phase of flats was sold mainly to buyers in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.’ (Wainwright, 2017), which means that even though the first lot of apartments are sold to predominantly Asian clients, this is not echoed in the advertising imagery.

Wainwright (2017) goes on to back up these points with other examples of London development projects with each location competing for attention. They compete with outlandish statements like: ‘“When you’re in a place like this, you literally have London at your feet,” proclaims the billboard of the Corniche’ (Wainwright, 2017). I can see both sides of this argument: there has to be some way to entice investors in or as Neil Jenson puts it: ‘If you want foreign buyers there has to be a story’ (Jenson cited in Phillips, 2016). However, the hoardings described have an element of audacity that only considers the desires and aspirations of people who are wealthy enough to afford a property. Local people around the developments may have reason to feel disgruntlement at these hoardings detached from existing residents’ reality and further discontent when the rent prices around the developments increase. The latter point is illustrated in speculation around the case of the Olympic Games in London in 2012: ‘That’s why everything, all the prices, the rate of living and everything is going to go up’ (Jessica cited in Watt, 2013).

Wainwright (2017) goes on to focus on how hoardings operate in the modern day climate of investment off-plan. Hoardings traditionally serve ‘to protect the public from site works whilst also being used to display advertisements.’ (Octink, s.d.). Hoardings retain their responsibility as a safety feature to protect the public. However, ‘As developers compete for attention with ever-more elaborate pieces of “placemaking”, construction hoardings have become a parody of themselves’ (Wainwright, 2017). Here, the advertisements are increasingly removed from one of their primary purposes; namely to display advertisements. The advertisements either compete with bigger, bolder and brasher ideas or function in another, more dubious manner. Instead of simply advertising the merits of the development, because ‘the UK’s super-prime apartments are increasingly sold elsewhere, … the traditional site hoarding is mutating from a device to sell flats into an instrument to appease the local community.’ (Wainwright, 2017). This appeasement admits somewhat the developers’ guilt at locals not being able to afford the majority of the homes by justifying other areas in which the developments bolster the area. ‘the developer of One Blackfriars, St George, a branch of the Berkeley Group, now stresses the local benefits of its bulbous totem. “Not only building homes, but building futures,” says the hoarding. “Over 200 new jobs created upon completion of the development.”’ (Wainwright, 2017). The hoardings fail to mention though that there are no affordable homes in the development (Wainwright, 2017).

Example of Hoardings In Front Of a New Development in Deptford - This One Isn't Too Bad But Still Depicts a Utopia
Example of Hoardings In Front Of a New Development in Deptford – This One Isn’t Too Bad But Still Depicts a Utopia

Affordability of new developments like Battersea power station is for me what aggravates local people most. Even the homes referred to as ‘affordable’ are beyond reach: ‘Most people cannot afford to live in London’s new “affordable” homes, as the government definition of “affordable housing” has been changed to mean up to 80 percent of market rent or market value and starter homes for up to £450,000.’ (Minton, 2018). I feel their point of view is completely understandable when considering the developments which are often high rise are semi-permanent structures that will remain in the locals eyeline for the foreseeable future but will also remain elusively out of financial reach.

In my opinion this article (and the others I drew upon to think critically about it) were very useful and relevant for my Contextual Studies extended written project. Wainwright’s (2017) article provided me with much food for thought on how hoardings operate in the modern market for developments. In particular how they have evolved from simply offering a dual purpose of safety and advertising to how they can be used almost politically to attempt placating issues with locals.

References:

Minton, A. (2018) The Price of Regeneration. At: https://placesjournal.org/article/the-price-of-regeneration-in-london/?cn-reloaded=1#ref_11 (Accessed 29.05.2020).

Octink.com (s.d.) What is a hoarding and what is its purpose? At: https://octink.com/what-is-a-hoarding/ (Accessed 29.05.2020).

Phillips, T. (2016) ‘’This is just the start’: China’s passion for foreign property’ In: The Guardian 29/09/2016. At: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/sep/29/inside-china-passion-foreign-property-investment-uk (Accessed 28.05.2020).

Wainwright, O. (2017) ‘The property billboards that reveal the truth about Britain’s luxury housing market’ In: The Guardian 04/04/2017. At: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/apr/04/the-property-billboards-that-reveal-the-truth-about-britains-luxury-housing-market (Accessed 28.05.2020).

Watt, P. (2013) ‘‘It’s not for us’: Regeneration, the 2012 Olympics and the gentrification of East London’ In: City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action 17 (1) pp. 99-118. At: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13604813.2012.754190 (Accessed 28.05.2020).

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