JANET STREET-PORTER: Lord Gherkin and the 50bn airport that we dont need

Lord Gherkin and the 50bn airport that we don’t need


Ambition: Lord Foster has his fingers crossed that the Thames hub becomes a reality

Ambition: Lord Foster has his fingers crossed that the Thames hub becomes a reality

Lord Foster, the tax-exile architect who enriched the City of London’s skyline with an office building that’s less a soaring virility symbol and more a mini cocktail gherkin, has been bleating that Britain MUST have a new airport built in the Thames, in order to assume our rightful position as a major world player.

What a co-incidence that last November the same Lord Foster came up with proposals for a 50 billion new airport, to be built on reclaimed land off the Isle of Grain.

Under the runways would be the UK’s busiest railway station, handling 300,000 passengers a day. Boris Johnson — always a fan of big brash statements — has backed the plan.

Leaving aside the fact that
environmentalists loathe the idea, locals are incandescent and
naturalists are worried about the impact on birdlife, why should we
build a huge airport to the east of London Grain is where a fifth of
all our gas comes ashore and is stored — a major safety consideration.

The
people who live in this bleak and unlovely area are not posh old
Etonians with farmland and swanky homes, but members of the working
class who commute to London.

Why should their modest properties and
their quality of life be eroded because businessmen and international
travellers need to save 20 minutes on their journeys And who is to say
that air travel will expand in the next 20 years

Lord Foster says we need to capture the spirit of the Victorian age, the era that gave London beautiful railway stations and an elaborate sewerage system.

Yes, during the Victorian era life
expectancy rose gradually to 48, a quarter of the population lived in
abject poverty, education was not compulsory and 40 per cent of the
wealth was owned by 5 per cent of the population.

New development: An artist's impression of the Thames hub airport issued by Foster + Partners and produced by architect Lord Foster

New development: An artist's impression of the Thames hub airport issued by Foster + Partners and produced by architect Lord Foster

Infrastructure: Lord Foster believes the new airport would be a massive boost to the capital

Infrastructure: Lord Foster believes the new airport would be a massive boost to the capital

Dirt and disease were rife — 60,000 people a year died from TB throughout Victoria’s reign. For every grand monument in Victorian England, you can come up with another story of misery and deprivation.

Lord Foster says the problem with Brits is that we endlessly argue about what to do. Stansted (which he designed) took 24 years to build, whereas the airport for Beijing in China took just four. The reason for that, Lord Foster, is that we live in a democracy — it’s not dithering, it’s called letting voters have their say.

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In China, a third of the children have high lead levels in their blood as a result of air pollution. China remains the world’s biggest environmental disaster, in spite of promising to clean up. Only 1 per cent of city dwellers there breathe air considered clean by EU standards.

All those wonderful monuments that top architects like Foster designed for the Beijing Olympics distract us from the reality that most working people live in poor conditions.

As for human rights and freedom of speech, China’s lacklustre track record is well documented, the internet is monitored and websites closed at will.

Lord Foster cares so much about the UK that he has based himself in Switzerland for many years. Awarded a life peerage in 1999, he made his last speech in the Upper House in 2003.

When new legislation was introduced in 2010 banning peers and MPs who did not pay their tax in the UK from voting, he resigned — although he cannily decided to hold on to his title.

If Lord Gherkin really wanted to reshape Britain, to make it a better place to live, to modernise our antiquated planning laws and help improve our city centres, he would have stayed in the UK and paid his tax here.

Foster’s office is large and highly successful — he’s designed hundreds of international projects, from luxury apartments in St Moritz and an airport in Hong Kong, to a lavish Palace of Peace in Kazakhstan, another country with a questionable human rights record.

Kazakhstan, a former Soviet satellite state, has been independent only since 1991, and is said to still use child labour in its cotton and tobacco industries. Anyone who criticises the government faces jail or harassment.

Architects like Norman Foster have notoriously huge egos and want to leave a legacy of important monuments so they can be revered after their death.

He’s already given us the Gherkin and Wembley Stadium, but this monstrous white elephant of an airport in the Thames Estuary must be consigned to the recycling bin.

Glamorous: Lana Del Rey

Glamorous: Lana Del Rey

New queen of re-invention

Next week, Lana Del Rey, a glamorous, 25-year-old singer from New York,
releases her eagerly awaited debut album Born To Die, and it’s expected
to be a huge hit.

In 2011, she posted a home video of herself on YouTube
singing Video Games — within months 20 million people had watched it.
In the UK, it became a top-ten hit, and Lana won a contract with
Universal Music.

Now, many of her original fans are outraged, because it transpires that
Lana Del Rey is an invention — using her real name, Lizzie Grant, she
has been backed by her wealthy father all along.

When a first album
flopped, she came up with a new persona, a sophisticated woman with
flowing, auburn locks.

What’s the problem Lady Gaga was born Stefani Germanotta and went to a
private school.

Madonna’s tirelessly reinvented herself, latching on to
any look that would help her stay ahead of the game. Good luck, Lana,
ignore those internet trolls.

Service with a sneer one

David Cameron is keen on responsible capitalism — but this doesn’t translate down to grass roots. While executive pay soars, customers are treated poorly.

The chairman of Santander has built up a 25  million euro pension pot — luckily it’s not based on public approval as the company regularly wins surveys for appalling customer service. Over 40 per cent of the complaints in a recent on-line poll rated Santander as bad.

My friend lost her husband almost two years ago and the money in their two joint business accounts was frozen. In spite of not having debts, she has been unsuccessful in accessing these funds. She sent the death certificate to the bank and asked to close the accounts, but they kept sending her and her dead husband three statements each month, giving her husband a middle name he didn’t have.

To add insult to injury, after phoning her bank and being passed from person to person, re-iterating the distressing saga of her husband’s untimely death, she has now received a letter saying sorry for ‘her recent loss’ — 18 months too late, with a cheque for 7p. The rest of the cash is still outstanding.

This month, TalkTalk won Money Mail's Wooden Spoon award for worst customer service

This month, TalkTalk won Money Mail's Wooden Spoon award for worst customer service

Service with a sneer one

Last week I spent almost 1 hours on the phone to a TalkTalk call centre in India, enduring loud pop music as I held on for ages, before being passed to three different people, repeating my name, date of birth, account number, and address to each, as I asked why my internet service is rubbish. When TalkTalk took over Pipex, they sent me a letter to Mr Janet Street-Porter, with the wrong account number and email on it.

The people at the call centre were hard to understand, but told me I needed a new router as the old one was incompatible with their signal, something all Pipex customers should have been told months ago.

Eventually I was transferred back to a department called Cancellations (I wonder why) in the UK, where operative number four promised to send a router out without delay. I’m still waiting.

This month, TalkTalk won Money Mail’s Wooden Spoon award for worst customer service for the second year running, garnering over a quarter of all votes.

Charles Dunstone, TalkTalk’s chairman, has an estimated fortune of 830 million — but I don’t see any mention of the Wooden Spoon Award on his company blog.

Too posh to work

Princess Beatrice has joined the growing ranks of the unemployed. Since graduating from university last summer with a degree in the History of Ideas, she has failed to snare a full-time post.

Elocution lessons are making a comeback as desperate jobseekers try to improve their prospects.

Tutors say that graduates want to soften their accents and improve their public speaking. In London, the jobs on offer are in bar work, hotels, restaurants and catering — maybe Beatrice is just too posh and needs help to sound a bit less regal.

If she gets a job, can we stop paying for her protection officers

Since graduating from university last summer Princess Beatrice has failed to snare a full-time post

Since graduating from university last summer Princess Beatrice has failed to snare a full-time post