SNAKES AND LADDERS…

This was originally posted on Our Town! – Basildon Against Artwashing And Gentrification. We thank them for giving us permission to repost it here. As we often say…just follow the money!

You can walk around Basildon town centre and be forgiven for wondering how (and why) they can put murals up all over the place and yet not deal with the unacceptable squalor that we have had to put up with for so many years.

It’s all part of the plan.

HOW DID “CREATIVE BUSINESS” ‘THINGS MADE PUBLIC’ COME TO BE ARTWASHING BASILDON?

BTCM (Basildon Town Centre Management) are described as a consortium of landowners including the owners of the Eastgate shopping centre and Basildon Borough Council.

WHO OWNS BTCM?

BTCM has 6 Directors, 4 of whom are people from a multi-million pound capital investment company called ‘Infrared Capital Investments’ based in a huge swanky office up in the city. The other two Directors are a Chartered Surveyor and a Property Manager.

Infrared acquired the Eastgate shopping centre from British Land for £88.6 million, in 2014. Infrared then employed Hark Group and Munroe K to manage the Eastgate’s assets and property. Infrared have several shopping sites around the UK in their portfolio.

They deal in real estate asset management, property and infrastructure investments. They specialise in something called “Value-Add Real Estate”.

WHAT IS VALUE-ADD REAL ESTATE?

Value-add properties have existing income, but require some improvements to provide attractive returns. In their current state, they may be a bit run-down, or poorly managed.

But operators who acquire these properties see their potential.

With a few upgrades, operators are able to ** “ATTRACT HIGHER QUALITY TENANTS, CHARGE MORE RENT” ** (Ahaaa! There it is! ) and increase their property’s net operating income (NOI).

Real estate developers and sponsors who are experienced at investing in value-add properties can see a through-line to both appreciation and income, drawing up precise business plans to deliver value to both co-investors and tenants.

Infrared specialise in turning office blocks into residential mixed use properties, to increase value for investors.

WHO OWNS INFRARED?

Infrared are owned by Sun Life Investments of Canada. It is one of the largest life insurance companies in the world; it is also one of the oldest, with a history spanning back to 1865. They acquired Infrared in 2019.

Sun Life has a presence in investment management with over $1.3 TRILLION in assets under management operating in a number of countries. It’s revenue is $39.67 BILLION (2019)

FUTURE CITY

BTCM sought the services of ‘Future City’ a global company in the business of “cultural placemaking” that “creates cultural strategies, brokers cultural partnerships and delivers major arts projects for clients across the public and private sectors.”

Future City were asked to..

“Develop a new narrative to lead the rejuvenation of a town centre facing challenges to its retail sector from large district competitors and online retail. Immediate priorities included activating the public realm to drive additional footfall and kick-starting the town centre’s fledgling evening economy. A strategy was needed that would draw together key town stakeholders through an incremental, deliverable programme that would complement and support the ‘big moves’ of the masterplan.”

How they say they achieved this..

“Our cultural research identified sector strengths in the creative digital economy within the borough. These were combined with Basildon’s utopian heritage to form a vision for the town centre as a culturally democratic digital creative district. A provisional brand ‘BasildON’ was developed by Hat-Trick Design to signify how a new cultural energy would be ‘switching on’ the town centre.”

Especially important..**

** A team of artists and cultural entrepreneurs were introduced to stakeholders who could take the vision, principles and proposals of the cultural strategy and enact them from day one. A ** governance structure ** to oversee this drew upon the strengths of civic, commercial and cultural partners with recommendations for funding sources that could help seed cultural activity.**

So basically, Future City wrote the whole strategy we are seeing now.. even before the Arts Council award, which it all hinged on was even made.

Things Made Public were bought by Future City, ready to action the plans already laid out, delivering their usual schtick alongside. So much for real community involvement and choice.

What Future City/Basildon Council did do, to tick the “public representation” box, was to invite 2 local groups into some of the proceedings. Nobody else knew of course. They were Bas Art Index and TFEA The Foundation For Essex Arts chosen as being representative of local people, which was actually total bollocks.

Bas Art Index had the integrity to pull out, because they felt they were in no way representational of the wider community, but essentially an index of local creatives who chose to join a directory. More about TFEA later..

SUMMARY

We are still investigating “who owns what” and what the current relationship is between the Council and BTCM with regard the town centre and are waiting on FOI requests to be replied to, but basically, it does look like BTCM whoever they are, are very big players.

But that doesn’t begin to look at the other connections and dealings going on around the whole of the town centre. We predict more ladders and even more snakes.

We have tried to find out just who were on the original consortium for application to Arts Council for the £1.3 million.

Future City claim there were 27 “stakeholders”. We have asked twice but they haven’t replied.

However, it doesn’t really matter. Just with the information above, I don’t think that anyone can be in any doubt that our claims that the town centre is currently in the throws of corporate artwashing on the road to gentrification. There are sinister longer term plans going on here.

The whole lot stems from way up and it really is a tall ladder of investors and stakeholders, asset and property managers, consultants and placemakers.. and money and profit.. and very little to do with people on the ground and their community.

They use artists. They make artists complicit and therefore part of the problem. Shouldn’t artists take a closer look at what they get into? Isn’t it about looking at the integrity and moral base of your practice, when you assist in the process of gentrification?

Watch out for those ladders.. There’s an awful lot of snakes about!

There! We said it!

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