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).|
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.