A memoir of UCL / The Bartlett

Going to work

So I (along with Honor) went to work for Nat Lichfield who had recently left MHLG and set up a practice as Nathaniel Lichfield and Associates, doing local economic studies and the variants of cost benefit analysis which made him famous. It was a fascinating apprenticeship because I was given a lot of autonomy but also very strong editing. Nat was a principal with a determination to read and amend every text which left the office: he covered our prose with red biro. I didn’t aways agree but it was a good approach to quality control and it still influences the way I read draft PhDs and so on. (Occasionally he would have write ‘rubbish’ on a draft and hurl the red biro at me. But mostly it was amiable.)

A lot of the work of the office consisted of evaluating the likely impacts of new retail developments. It was the time when city centres were being redeveloped all over the UK, often (as we later learned) with developers making a killing at the expense of local authorities who handed over their land holdings for a pepercorn rent and often shouldering infrastructure costs as well. The office was sometimes working for developers, sometimes for local authorities (and quite often for both in unison).

The most memorable case of that was Manchester where the Council was in league with Sam Chippendale’s Arndale company to build a covered mall north of Market Street, eradicating a number of city blocks back to Withy Grove (right). 1967 withy grove manchester.jpg

The Manchester region then (as now) had no strategic planning authority or agency to resolve competitive conflicts between the numerous towns, even less to try and optimise the relative roles of the various places. The whole context was a governmental mess of almost-US proportions and the evolution of retailing was fought out between adjoining municipalities in a public inquiry. It was in this process that I came to see how powerfully capital could mobilise resources (including me). The Inquiry met daily in the gothic vaults of Manchester City Hall and at the end of each afternoon we would adjourn to the suite of our QC, Mr Frank Layfield, in the Piccadilly Hotel. The solicitor Roger Suddards was nominally in charge but Layfield had the sharpest brain and the best forensic command so he basically led the post-mortem on the day and the planning for tomorrow. Nat, the City Planning Officer and the consultant architects (Shankland Cox) joined in and the upshot always was a whole lot of fresh homework for me and some other juniors to do overnight while the eminences dressed and went to dinner. Room service lubricated these meetings with a lot of champagne; ‘we’ won the inquiry; the Arndale got built, was heavily used but widely disliked. Many years later the IRA blew it up – which somehow assuaged my guilt feelings about being party to such a low-grade bit of urban commodification.

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Author: Ed

Editor

7 thoughts on “A memoir of UCL / The Bartlett”

  1. Dear Michael,

    It took some time before I picked up the message that you retired from the Bartlett. I think about the many lectures about urban regeneration you presented for generations of students of humand geography and planning of Utrecht University on field trip in London. I think about the beginning when Ben Driessen and I popped in at the Bartlett in the early ’90’s and we were invited by you for an excursion to and a discussion (+ meal) about an unused power station, the beginning of Tate Modern. I thank you very much you did for our field trips.

    I whish you all the best

    Piet Korteweg

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  2. Honor Chapman (nee Woodland) suddently and tragically died on 22 August 2009 at her farm, Brewhamfield. As you recognized so many years’ ago, Honor was one of the most remarkable and wonderful people ever to live amongst us. She is sadly missed so very much by so many of us.

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  3. Michael,

    I had not realised you had retired – I didn’t think you were that sort of person! However let me thank you very much for all the sterling work you did on King Cross both with us at KXT but also, perhaps more importantly, with the Railway Lands Group. I very much enjoyed the stimulation of working with you and I am only sorry that we were not able to take one of the alternative schemes through to fruition. Have a wonderful and well earned retitement although I cannot quite see you lying back in the sun.
    Kind regards

    Ian
    n ,an d.

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  4. Michael,

    This is a great read, and I hope you go on with it…your style is easy to read, and even from the distance of Albany Western Australia, it puts the reader right there as if looking over your shoulder. It’s a wonderful blend of fact and observation, spiced with much of your trademark droll humour…I reckon it would be a great book if completed.

    The other aspects that appeal are
    * your descriptions of UCL and its elitist attitudes,
    * the great description of Maurice Brown, who I can still see just as you describe, standing in the corridors at Flaxman House, or near that table in the lobby (?) where we gathered at the beginning od the day and at many points in between, just waiting for a student or students to talk to, to exchange witticisms with, or to start a discussion with….probably much more valuable than any publication! [Think how much time academics spend writing obscure papers most of which very few read — that’s my observation after much of a lifetime as a an academic, now thankfully retired with more time for activism! ]
    *The observations about Lichfield’s dull lecturing style, but there was a man who had a great influence on you as a professional. Me too, and I still advocate the good old Planning Balance Sheet as an evaluation tool! [I regret not taking NL up
    on an offer to attend a conference on PBS/Evaluation he organised in Italy in the 1980s.I foolishly stayed at my politician’s desk!]. Anyhow, it must have been great working with him.
    The pice brings back many memories of Flaxman House and the MPhil course for me — all good too! Apart perhaps from that very confusing SE Region project we started on. Oh, and Lord Llewllyn-Davies patronising invitations to a cup of tea and a chat when we complained we never saw him!
    Do planning a service, Michael, please complete your lively memoir!

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  5. We never met, as I was a member of the “underclass” of DipTP students who visited Flaxman House by night, studying part time while working usually in local government by day. But I would like to express my pleasure at seeing Maurice Brown so respectfully remembered. I found him an inspiration when doing my dissertation in 70-71, he had an ability to stimulate that no one else I met in academia even tried for. And as you rightly say, one felt capable of higher things as a result. I would welcome reading any other memoirs of him.

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