Cutty Sark disaster: opposition grows

The new Disney Sark - lift tower is the copper-clad building to the left of the ship

As the Queen opens the Disneyfied Cutty Sark today, there will no doubt be much recycling of press releases about what an iconic triumph it all is. So please do read my own detailed article from Saturday’s paper about how the restoration – which has seen the ship’s lines obliterated by a glass greenhouse and a new lift tower and the vessel hoisted eleven feet in the air – is actually destroying the Cutty Sark’s aesthetics and putting her very physical survival at risk. Those aren’t my views, by the way – they’re the views of almost everyone who knows anything about historic ships.

I quoted Martyn Heighton, director of the Government agency National Historic Ships (the maritime equivalent of English Heritage) briefly in my piece. Here’s some more of what he said in an email to another historic ship person earlier this week:

“I agree with almost everything that Andrew Gilligan says about the Cutty Sark (she is not the only air-conditioned ship – ss Great Britain is too, but much more subtly) and indeed you will note there is a short quote from me on the fact that we opposed the lifting of the ship, and much else besides.

“I freely admit that our strong and detailed  advice on this project, from its inception in 2006, through the fire, to the official opening has been ignored, and in some quarters ridiculed.

“However, were you to look at the several advice documents I submitted on behalf of National Historic Ships to the Heritage Lottery Fund, Department for Culture, Media and Sport and directly to the Cutty Sark Trust you would see that what we said has indeed come to pass.

“We warned that the glass screen (unlike ss GB’s) would be ugly and intrusive and would look nothing like the illustrations. We opposed lifting the ship for conservation and presentational reasons, including the fact that it would create  enormous problems in getting on board, hence the tower… National Historic Ships gave spot-on advice which was ignored.”

Amanda Baillieu, the editor-in-chief of the influential architectural journal Building Design, has today asked (registration required): “Would it have been better if the Cutty Sark had sunk?”

Gavin Stamp, the architectural historian (and Private Eye’s Piloti), says the Cutty Sark has ceased to resemble a proper ship. “It is no longer a ship if holed by poles and hoisted into the air,” he said.

The sailor and architect Julian Harrap, who restored the SS Great Britain, said he was “desperately sad” about what had been done.  “A ship is a floating thing,” he said. But the Cutty Sark was now “airborne.”

“Why on earth hoick it up into the air?” he asked. “Why do you have to put these bloody great beams right through the middle of it, to damage the fabric of it?”

The ship does look striking if you pony up your £12 and venture under the hull – the picture that tends to be used – but most people won’t experience it that way. In almost every other way people experience it, it has been spoiled.

More reactions to follow. Don’t believe the spin!




Ken Livingstone is 'tricky', says Labour peer

Another day, another Labour heavyweight dissing Ken. This time it’s the distinguished human fertility expert and Labour peer, Professor Lord Winston – who knows a stillbirth when he sees one.

On Tuesday’s Daily Politics, Winston said:

I don’t really understand how we’ve arrived [in] the Labour Party at choosing Ken Livingstone, who has been shown to be quite a tricky sort of customer. I’d have thought we might have had a fresher view about how London might be led by Labour… I think the person who represents London, their personality is actually very important… I think [Ken’s] espoused some disastrous causes and some of his comments on international politics seem to me to be extremely unhealthy.

Lord Winston joins a long list of prominent Labour figures who have openly criticised Ken during this campaign. They include:

Ken’s own running-mate and designated deputy mayor, Val Shawcross;

Ken’s own campaign director (at the time), Hilary Perrin;

the Labour peer, TV celebrity and major donor, Lord Sugar;

the Labour London Assembly candidate Andrew Dismore;

the Labour MPs Austin Mitchell, Jim Fitzpatrick and Rushanara Ali;

the Labour-supporting columnist Jonathan Freedland;

the editor of the Labour List blog, Mark Ferguson;

the founder of the LabourHome blog and former Labour parliamentary candidate Alex Hilton;

the former Labour parliamentary candidate Jonathan Roberts;

the Labour-supporting journalists Nick Cohen and Martin Bright;

the Labour activists and former party officials/ special advisers Dan Hodges and Rob Marchant;

the associate editor of the Labour Uncut blog, Atul Hatwal.

Sugar, Freedland, Hilton, Roberts, Cohen and Hodges have all explicitly said that they will not even be voting for Ken. I know a further twenty or so prominent London Labour people, including several MPs and at least one council leader, who have privately said that they will join them. Off the record, indeed, it is hard to find a single thinking person in the London Labour Party who can muster genuine enthusiasm for Ken.

But Ken does have some supporters: in the last week, he’s attracted the coveted endorsements of George Galloway and Alastair Campbell.

The good news just keeps on coming!

Ken Livingstone walks out of interview after not knowing name of Crystal Palace ground

Ken searches his memory... (Photo: John Taylor)

Ken has discovered Croydon – terra incognita during his mayoralty – and has been visiting regularly since realising that outer Londoners have votes. In an interview with the Croydon Advertiser, he sprays round the usual soundbites and fantasy promises – £1 billion of investment in the town, new tram lines funded from that ever-elastic “TfL surplus,” free gold jewellery for every third caller (sorry: that last one was made up by me, rather than Ken). “Croydon needs attention,” is his undeniable pitch.

But when required to deviate from the script, and asked anything specific, Ken shows quite how much “attention” he’s really been paying to the places he aspires to represent. A key plank of his manifesto is more police – but when asked how many police officers was a good number for Croydon, he couldn’t say. Asked what Croydon’s main theatre was, he replied: “I don’t know.” Asked the name of Crystal Palace’s ground, he said: “I’m sorry, if I want to do a quiz I’ll go on Radio 4. I mean seriously, this is trivial nonsense.” Asked what Croydon’s population was, he replied: “Very large,” and walked out of the interview.

I haven’t got the slightest interest in football – but I do know what Crystal Palace’s ground is called. Part of Ken’s pitch has always been that he is the detail man, the guy who knows London. That’s not really true – he’s good at coming up with authoritative-sounding facts which often turn out, under close scrutiny, to be lies. But when faced with something you cannot busk, he can’t cope.

Tower Hamlets: dead and incarcerated people vote

On Sunday I brought you news of alleged postal vote harvesting by Ken Livingstone’s backers in Tower Hamlets. Bengali voters in the borough’s Spitalfields ward told me how their postal voting papers were collected by workers for Gulam Robbani, a Ken-supporting candidate in a council byelection in Spitalfields on Thursday. This practice – which allows candidates to fill in their own votes on blank ballot papers, or destroy already-completed ballot papers which do not favour them – is prohibited by the Electoral Commission.

Now I learn that a gentleman called Shahidul Islam, of Hanbury Street, visited a Spitalfields polling station in Thursday’s election. There’s only one problem: Shahidul Islam is currently in prison awaiting trial on charges of murder. And no, though remand prisoners can apply to vote, he hasn’t done so.

Another voter from Chicksands House has also voted in person. This voter is said by three sources to be dead – another person says, however, that he is merely seriously ill, which is why I’m not naming him. Whatever his state of health, he is certainly in no condition to get down to the polling station.

I’ve spent the day looking at turnout figures in some of Spitalfields’ more postal-vote-heavy blocks and I hope to bring you the results of my inquiries tomorrow. Overall turnout in the ward last Thursday was 31 per cent – suspiciously high for a council byelection. The last time they had a council byelection in Tower Hamlets – also in Spitalfields, as it happens, eighteen months ago – turnout was less than 17 per cent.

The postal vote papers have already gone out in Tower Hamlets for next week’s Boris v Ken mayoral election. With the latest poll suggesting a very close race, the implications of what appears to be happening in the borough are frightening.


Ken Livingstone tax avoidance: is lying pulling it back for him?

It’s starting to look like Ken’s dodgy postal votes in Tower Hamlets (more on this story to follow) might come in handy after all. A new YouGov poll in today’s Standard has Boris Johnson’s lead over Livingstone down to only two points – within the margin of error.

Ken’s own first-preference score has risen by only 1 per cent since the last poll and his ratings on qualities such as “in touch” and “sticking to what he believes in” have actually dropped. His rating for “honesty”  has hit 12 per cent – the lowest it’s ever been, possibly the lowest ever scored by a competitive candidate in any election.

So the movement is clearly very little to do with Ken and mostly to do with the national Government’s brilliantly successful efforts to lose as many votes as possible. For Westminster elections, according to the poll, Labour in London is now 19 points ahead of the Tories.

Yet I do also wonder whether Ken’s dishonesty has helped dull the edge of an issue, his tax avoidance, which has been causing him serious damage. YouGov found that by a 21-point margin – 39-18 – voters believe that Livingstone “has not paid as much tax as he should.” But 43 per cent don’t know. By contrast, voters do believe that Boris has paid his share, but only by a 3 per cent margin, 27-24, with 49 per cent don’t knows.

Ken’s repeated lying over his taxes – and the way the lies have been repeated unchallenged in much of the media coverage – has helped to muddy the waters on the issue. So here is a little guide for my colleagues to the main porkies.

Ken has not “published his tax return.”

Strictly speaking, of course, nobody has published their tax returns, the actual forms you send to the Revenue. But all the other candidates have published their full earnings and tax paid, allowing us to say what their effective tax rate is. Only Ken has refused to do so, despite explicitly promising on 4 April to “publish details of everything I’ve earned in the last four years.” All he has published is the earnings taken out of his personal company, not the (far larger) earnings put into it.

Ken is not “quite happy” to allow access to his books.  

On March 26, Ken said on BBC London: “No journalist has contacted my accountant to ask anything about my tax arrangements. I’d be quite happy for them to do so.” Over the last four weeks numerous journalists, including from the Evening Standard and the BBC itself, have contacted Ken’s campaign (I have made almost 20 separate requests) asking him to honour this promise. He has refused all comers. Nor has his accountant signed off on even the figures he has provided, again unlike the others.

Ken has not “paid 35 per cent tax.”

This is the claim Ken has taken to making in debates (at last night’s BBC one, he tried the even more brazen line that he paid three times the average rate!) As I’ve explained before, we can’t say precisely what rate Ken has paid – because he won’t tell us what he earned. But even on the figures he’s published himself, and even after he quietly adjusted them upwards, he hasn’t paid 35 per cent since he established his personal company, Silveta Ltd.

Over the three years 2008/9 to 2010/11 he claims to have paid £83,658 in tax on claimed earnings of £252,740 – a rate of 33 per cent. And we know from Silveta’s accounts that he in fact earned almost as much as that – £232,550 – in just one of those three years, 2008/9, alone. Over the three years as a whole, the accounts show, more than £750,000 has passed through Silveta. My best estimate of Livingstone’s real tax rate is in the low to mid twenties.

Ken does not face “allegations” of tax avoidance.  He admits it.

This line is a particular favourite of the BBC, perhaps because so many of its own senior people use the same dodge as Ken. But in fact Ken has explicitly admitted using Silveta for a tax-avoidance practice known as “income-spreading,” where a large sum of money earned in one year is held as a cash pile in the company and taken out in smaller chunks over several years to avoid higher-rate tax.

In a taped interview with me, he said:

“We had a big influx of money in the year after I left [the mayoralty] because there were a load of people outstanding wanting me to go and advise them in various parts of the world, and then the money tailed off. So we spread it over the three years.”

In 2000, he also described the practice of holding a cash pile in a personal company as a “tax avoidance option.” As of the last accounts, Livingstone held a cash pile of £250,000 in Silveta.

He has also admitted setting the salaries of staff on his election campaign against tax – not an allowable expense.

It’s not a “row over the candidates’ tax affairs”. It’s a row over one of the candidates’ tax affairs.

Ken’s claim that Boris Johnson avoided tax was blown out of the water within 36 hours, when Boris published full figures showing that he has, if anything, overpaid. But in the desire for “balance,” some media reports have balanced a lie with the truth, or left the impression that both are up to something. It’s my favorite example from this campaign of how misleading hamster-wheel journalism can be.

Cutty Sark restoration: a clucking, Grade A, Bernard Matthews-class turkey

Aground in a giant greenhouse: the new, sexed-up Cutty Sark
New lift tower and air-conditioning plant as it will look when scaffolding removed

Today’s Weekend cover story in the printed paper is my take on the heartbreaking vandalism of the Cutty Sark, and Greenwich in general, in the name of witless, bungled, and unneccessary “restoration.”

Here’s the full text:

According to the chairman of the Cutty Sark Trust, Maldwin Drummond, visitors to the newly restored 19th–century tea clipper – to be opened by the Queen next Wednesday – will see the ship as she was in her heyday, “as though for some unexplained reason the crew had gone ashore”.

Odd: I didn’t realise they had shopping–centre–style glass lifts in their ships in 1869. The new Cutty Sark has three. One entire side of the vessel is now dominated by a 30–foot high steel tower to hold two of the lifts, rearing up above the ship’s open main deck like a small block of flats. The tower also contains an air–conditioning plant. In another conspicuous nod to the mall experience, the Cutty Sark will be the first Victorian sailing vessel in the history of the world to be fully air–conditioned. The new “steelwork lower deck, of contemporary design, incorporating an amphitheatre feature” in the main hold might come as a surprise to 19th–century seafarers, too.

Then there’s the glass pod that’s been plonked, quite clearly visible, on the open main deck to accommodate a staircase. The old stairwells were of wood, but that’s so 19th–century. There’s yet a third glass lift, cutting right through the ship itself, popping up on that open deck with a glass pod of its own. The lower end of this lift is the first thing you see when you enter the Cutty Sark, along with a bright new fir ceiling that looks like my kitchen table. All the decks, indeed, are new – the main deck is plywood, with a thin teak veneer on top. A new zinc and copper coating – a copy of the original material – has been placed on the hull to add extra bling for visitors.

But the key change is even more dramatic. Twentyeight steel girders have been attached to the sides of the ship, bolted to modern thick, grey steel braces which run across and along the decks. The ship’s original planks and metalwork are essentially stuck on to this modern frame. The new Cutty Sark dangles from the girders, 11 feet off the ground, to create what the Trust calls “a corporate hospitality venue to rival Tate Modern” underneath.

All the way around the hull, extending about halfway up it and several feet outwards in each direction, sweeps a giant new smoked glass cushion, utterly obliterating the ship’s thrilling lines. From outside, at least in the daytime, you can’t see the shape of the Cutty Sark’s hull anymore. You can’t see her prow. Her wonderful, gilded stern is almost totally obscured from casual view by the glass surround. To get any real sense of the ship, you must pay up your £12 and go inside.

In her years of cutting ribbons, Her Majesty has had to smile politely at many brave new mistakes. But few can compete with this clucking, Grade A, Bernard Matthews–class turkey. One of Britain’s most precious maritime treasures now looks like it has run aground in a giant greenhouse.

“It reminds me of a funfair ride,” said Steffan Meyric Hughes, news editor of Classic Boat magazine. “Just about everybody [in the historic ship world] is agreed that the ship should not be on legs. It is undignified, as well as being structurally inadvisable.” English Heritage has condemned the lift tower; the Greenwich Foundation, which runs the Old Royal Naval College next door, called it “very disappointing… a significant visual intrusion”.

The project was supposed to take three years, and cost £25million. It has ended up taking six years, and costing £50million. The contractors and the project managers have been sacked. The Heritage Lottery Fund, which is paying most of the bills, suspended funding for almost a year amid “serious concerns” over the operation’s “governance and financial controls”. Mr Drummond admitted that his Cutty Sark Trust issued misleading statements about the project, at variance with what the trust has said in internal documents.

But what is worst of all is that for many experts, including the Cutty Sark’s own former chief engineer, Professor Peter Mason, the new Disney Sark actually puts the very survival of the ship in danger. Professor Mason resigned from the project in 2009 after computer simulations showed that hanging it from the steel girders would put unacceptable strains on the vessel. “The lifting support system will do damage to the fabric of the ship,” he said. “It will have quite an impact on it. They should not lift up the ship.”

Julian Harrap, the naval architect behind the restoration of Brunel’s SS Great Britain, said: “They are putting the artefact itself at risk, and that’s a fundamental issue.” Martyn Heighton, director of National Historic Ships, the maritime equivalent of English Heritage, said: “This is an extremely delicate object; we did not believe she should be lifted, and you don’t try out something new on the Cutty Sark.”

Some of the ship was, of course, destroyed in a terrible fire in 2007. But that fire was avoidable; and most of the new damage seems deliberate.

William Edgerley, one of the Cutty Sark trustees, asserts that the ship is under far less strain now than before, when she rested on her keel in dry dock. “At the beginning of the restoration, Cutty Sark was found to be in an even worse condition than had previously been assessed,” he says. “The conservation works have included the installation of a new steel structure inside the original wrought–iron frames. This supports the original fabric and has also enabled the ship to be lifted.” The trust insists that “almost 90 per cent” of the original materials have been kept – though according to its own annual report, 30 per cent of the hull planks are new.

Professor Mason says that dozens of the original planks have had to go or be cut to take the steelwork for the lifting mechanism – and given that the two principal decks are also entirely new (the tween deck, below the main deck, was lost in the fire), it is hard to see how the 90 per cent figure has been reached. Even if it is right, the main problem with the project is what has been added, not what has been taken away.

The air–conditioned Cutty Sark is only the flagship in a fleet of heartbreaking disasters turning Greenwich, one of Britain’s finest urban set–pieces, into a showcase for witless and unnecessary heritage “improvements”. At a cost to the taxpayer of tens of millions of pounds, one of London’s only four Unesco World Heritage sites has been systematically vandalised. Between the Cutty Sark and the Thames, the Edwardian pier has been replaced with a row of production–line chain restaurants, as found in retail parks from Dingwall to Truro. Double the height of the previous structure, the new building blocks some views of the river. The upper storey is finished in that fake gilding found only in secondrate casinos. From across the Thames, the classic view of the Naval College is now complemented by a red neon sign for Frankie & Benny’s.

The foot tunnel under the river is getting an £11.5million upgrade, with the local council promising “feature lighting” to “allow colour and animation to be subtly manipulated to create different moods”. This will, apparently, “contribute to cultural life in the locality”. The glass panels in the domes housing the lifts at either end will be stripped out and replaced with well, almost identical glass panels, only these will be aligned “in clearer association with the [Greenwich] meridian, with each segment representing 30 minutes of the time dial”.

This tunnel is not, in fact, a cultural installation, but a transport one – a job it has been unable fully to perform for the past two years, since it is now closed at night for the work to be done.

The claimed objects of the refurbishment include “improved safety”and a “more welcoming environment”. That must explain why those dreary heritage features so irrelevant to safety and welcoming, the lift attendants, have been scrapped, even though the money wasted on the refurb could have paid their wages for the next 23 years. The new automatic glass lifts finally opened last month, and were vandalised within a week. The council promises that in its new, exciting foot tunnel, every journey will become “an event in itself”. Let’s hope that event’s not a mugging, shall we?

At the entrance to Greenwich Park, what was a peaceful garden surrounding the statue of William IV has been concreted over to make a new entrance to the Maritime Museum. In Greenwich town centre, the covered market, a delightful Victorian–looking ensemble of cobbles and bustling, independent shops, is being demolished for a (privately–funded) five–storey hotel (there will be a new market and shops, but the rents are likely to be at a level payable only by the likes of Starbucks, Gap and Monsoon).

And the “village” market, where you could spend a happy afternoon picking through junk, closed three years ago to make way for a much–needed giant hole in the ground. With a certain grim symmetry, this will be plugged by Greenwich University’s school of architecture, where future generations will be trained to crank out further “iconic” calamities.

In Greenwich Park itself lies perhaps the key to all the fuss: London 2012. The dominant feature here is now security fencing, with vast sections closed to build a 23,000–seat showjumping arena for the Olympics. The entire park will be surrounded by a 9–foot fence, with spotlights every 80 feet and CCTV cameras on 16 foot poles every 250 feet. The arena site, which slopes slightly, is being levelled, its topsoil stripped to a potential depth of 1.3 feet. The park will be closed for four weeks, and the grass not fully restored until 2015.

The trees of this park are among Britain’s oldest living things. There is a row of chestnuts here that were young in the Great Fire. Courting couples of the iPod age now lie beneath the same gnarled branches that sheltered King Charles II and his mistresses. In the tight spaces around these precious trees, against the wishes of the sport’s top riders, the Olympics organisers are driving an equestrian cross–country course. The organisers insist there will be no damage – though 72 of the park’s trees will, they admit, be “pruned” – but they made that promise, it turns out, before doing any arboricultural impact assessment.

Ever since the Dome, Greenwich’s curse has been the 40–watt politician, the second–rate bureaucrat, who wants to acknowledge the place’s significance. But the best way to do that would be to simply leave it alone. Before the restoration there was nothing wrong with the Cutty Sark that a bit of care and maintenance would not have cured. She was “iconic” already. The Olympics may help regenerate Stratford, but holding the horse events in Greenwich will leave no legacy: will not create a single job.

As the cuts start to bite, the default assumption is still that public spending is good. But the fate of Greenwich shows quite how destructive it can be. The Cutty Sark project, thanks to its extraordinary crassness and its endless delay, may now itself become a monument of a different kind, a last remnant of the New Labour era when history was bad, money was no object and our heritage had to be sexed up with glass lifts.

Breaking: Lord Sugar comes out against Ken Livingstone

You really are fired now, Ken

One of Labour’s biggest donors and supporters, Lord Alan Sugar, has today tweeted:

“I don’t care if Ed Miliband is backing Livingstone. I seriously suggest NO-ONE votes for Livingstone in the Mayoral elections.”

And: “Livingstone must NOT get in on 3rd May.”

Lord Sugar donated a total of £69,424 to Labour or to Mr Miliband’s office in 2011, including £12,576 as rcently as December. He is of course a prominent member of the Jewish community and was believed to have been extremely angry at Ken’s behaviour towards Jews.

Ken’s campaign is in crisis now.