Since the decline of manufacturing industries in the UK the country places much emphasis on the export of services, especially financial services and banking. This has led to the centralisation of power and money in the south east and in particular London. Successive governments have attempted to regenerate other regions of the UK with cash injections, incentives and marketing ploys to bolster local economies and communities – to their bemusement. Think of the Northern Power House initiative under the Cameron government which the May government appear to have reneged on though this is denied. Ever growing austerity has largely turned the idea into a pipe dream!
Gentrification of regeneration is a covert attempt by central and local governments along with planners to sweep poverty under the carpet in the hope that monied people will see investment opportunities, move in, buy properties and shops thus dragging an area up by the boot straps. An example is Camden Town in north London.
I spent much of my childhood in Camden Town, eight stops up from Waterloo on the Northern Line. The Lufwaffe dropped many thousands of tons of bombs on Camden Town during the blitz though nothing like those dropped on the East End and the northern cities. My father walked me round the back streets to survey the damage with exposed wallpaper and curtains flapping in the wind. Oddly my parents, aunts and uncles spoke very little of this odious episode in history.
Some years later the railway bridge over Camden High Street received a coat of paint and the words ‘Camden Lock’ appeared in bright yellow on a green background. This had the apparent effect of marking the beginning of the end of the decades of austerity the area had known. Almost overnight the tramps and associated poverty seemed to disappear. The greengrocer stalls were replaced with tacky souvenir stalls selling memorabilia of the Royal Family and London buses. Nowadays an eclectic array of independent retailers live and work alongside some well known national brands such as Costa Coffee, Bon Marché and others.
The souvenir vendors are still present but have mostly moved indoors to the shelter and warmth, indicating that there is, indeed, money to be made from the sale of their wares; the prices inexorably keeping up with inflation. Paradoxically, a basement flat only 300 yards away will cost well in excess of a couple of million – money my parents could only dream about! Of course this is prime commuter belt and other towns and cities do not have this luxury – think of Swansea, Bognor Regis, Barnsley and many others. Conversely, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester are reviving, albeit largely on the back of gentrification!
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