Griff Rhys Jones: without civic societies London would be ‘architecturally assaulted’ like Leeds

Comedian Griff Rhys Jones has said the work of conservationists in the Highgate Society has prevented London being “architecturally assaulted” like Leeds.

The 58-year-old funnyman and chairman of the Civic Trust, a national umbrella group for heritage organisations, issued a rallying cry for residents to protect the historic village.

Speaking after a talk to the Highgate Society at Channing School in Highgate Hill last Wednesday (May 23), Mr Rhys Jones told the Ham&High: “People need to stand up and make their voices heard. Despite what the government says, the planning regulations do favour the developer.

“Without civic organisations like the Highgate Society, we would have got like Leeds. I like Leeds but that city was assaulted in the 1970s by councils who thought they would add to the modern, zippy architecture.

“We didn’t go that way in London because of groups like the Highgate Society who stand up for the community.”

The Welsh actor, writer and comedian added: “I think we would have found that Highgate would have gone down hill pretty quickly if the Highgate Society didn’t exist.”

The former star of the satirical hit BBC programme Not The Nine O’clock News said London needed a city-wide plan to guide development.

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But in a swipe at London’s current and previous mayors, he said Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone lacked the “visual imagination” to create one.

Positing a radical plan to curb the building of tower blocks in leafy areas like Highgate, he said sky scrapers should only be built in certain areas like Canary Wharf.

“If you are going to have high-rise buildings why don’t you concentrate it in a particular area?,” said Mr Rhys Jones, who lives in Fitzrovia in London’s West End.

“I suggest Canary Wharf, where there are already sky scrapers.”

Insisting this policy would not ghettoise poor people in tower blocks, he added: “There are two sorts of people who live in high-rise flats, the poor and the very rich. It is a question of quality.

“We can build flats of a good enough quality so there is that social mix within the building.

“There are too many cheap and shoddy flats being built.”

Mr Rhys Jones was visiting Highgate as part of a tour of the country urging people to get more involved in their local civic society.

He became the Civic Trust’s first president in 2008.