diamond geezer

 Friday, September 15, 2023

London's Soap Streets

I've already been to Albert Square E15 and Albert Square SW8.
I would have gone to Coronation Street but the capital doesn't have one.
Today I'd like to take you to another soap street, in yet another example of me going to a road simply because it has an interesting name and then trying to find something vaguely interesting to say about it.

Come with me to the borderlands between South Ruislip and South Harrow...

Brookside Close HA2

This namesake cul-de-sac can be found beside the big roundabout on Field End Road, which is very much the dividing line round here. To the east is the London borough of Harrow and a swathe of housing built just before the war, and to the west the London borough of Hillingdon and a swathe of housing built just after. Brookside Close is on the Harrow side but younger than its surroundings, having been squeezed onto an irregular plot of residual land in the late Fifties. If anyone had planned ahead it'd be well connected to its surroundings, at least by footpath, but the wall of surrounding semis has made Brookside Close a labyrinthine dead end which nobody bar residents and delivery drivers need ever visit.

At first sight it looks like it's all going to be flats. An impenetrable three-storey buttress curves round one side of the roundabout, making it a lot more awkward for residents to nip across the road for a takeaway from Greggs or Eastcote Kebab and Burger. The oldest blocks face inwardly around a daisy-clustered lawn, part-occupied by fruit trees, shrubbery and an austere rotary drier. Most of the communal entrances have signs affixed addressing 'Residents Brookside Close Estate', seemingly printed and laminated by a community-minded jobsworth imploring action against litter, flytipping and vermin. In the Scouse soap I suspect that would have been Paul Collins, but in wider TV-land Martin from Ever Decreasing Circles.

The innermost blocks contain maisonettes with shady stairwells and balcony access. Some of their residents are houseproud enough to have created colourful floral shields out front, comprised either of sunflowers or geraniums depending on storey. Others have simply bunged a couple of chairs into their porch, or perhaps all their unwanted electrical goods, with levels of communal pride decaying the further you venture towards the extremities. The scope for long-running soap storylines pitting neighbour against neighbour ("This was an upstanding estate until you moved in") is strong.

Where Brookside Close goes marvellously off-piste is at the far end of the longest tarmac finger. This suddenly fades out to a grassy track bordering half a dozen skew bungalows, each rotated to fit this slender strip of land while still providing a sliver of garden front and back. These are the best-tended homes, individually dressed up with a low picket fence, a jungle of potted shrubs or an excess of garden centre ornaments, perhaps the whole shebang. It's very much the Harry Cross end of the close, although Edna would have done all the work.

The reason the track goes no further, and what stopped the surrounding estate encroaching in the first place, is the presence of the lowly River Roxbourne. This minor brook is just about to disappear through the Field End Screen and enter a culvert under Victoria Road, but for the last mile it's been trickling down from Rayners Lane resolutely unburied. I blogged about the Roxbourne back in January when I walked its full length, and have therefore found myself awkwardly trapped in Brookside Close before. But on this visit the ambience was very different because something of genuine consequence has happened - all the garages have been demolished.

They weren't nice garages, more short banks of car-sized lockups of the kind that would have been provided as standard for original residents. Including copious amounts of parking space was once the done thing, the default. But land is much more valuable now, which is why when Harrow council was scanning its estates for potential building sites they alighted on Brookside Close's 'surplus' garages. Two sites were targeted, one near the entrance and the other a longer strip where a pair of large parking spaces and a 'community room' could also be snaffled. Demolition started in May and both sites are now razed flat.

The plan is for four bungalows to fill the linear site, again skew to match the 60s originals, thereby increasing provision for elderly residents in the borough. The architects have added an attic space allowing visitors (or carers) to live-in, not to mention solar panels and heat pumps because the 2020s are more forward-looking than the 1960s. Meanwhile over by the central green a block of four two-bed flats is planned, plus a replacement community room with much better internal facilities. Modern regulations stipulated no new flats could be provided at ground level because of flood risk, so if the Roxbourne ever overtops only the existing residents will be inundated, but that's living in Brookside Close for you.

Some existing residents hate the idea of their estate being infilled. "My wellbeing will seriously be affected", wrote a 93 year-old anticipating her life becoming "miserable and unbearable" during construction. Others resented the parking needs of new residents, complained that the number of clothes lines was already inadequate, wanted more recycling bins instead of new homes, bemoaned the loss of vitamin D from blocking out the sun and anticipated higher heating bills, in a series of identical letters Julia Brogan might well have penned and Ron Dixon merrily signed.

If these are the objections to just nine new homes in outer suburbia, what hope is there of ever solving the housing crisis? But as Liverpool's finest soap opera once demonstrated even six brand new homes can bring chaos to a cul-de-sac, including armed sieges, incest, heroin overdoses, low level scallying and bodies under the patio. Every Brookside Close has its dramas, and Harrow's is no exception.

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