All posts by Save Soho

WHERE IS LONDON IF SOHO IS GONE?

WHERE IS LONDON IF SOHO IS GONE?
by Caitlin Moran, published in The Times - 21st March 2015

‘How much of historic, eccentric, transgressive London can you replace with apartments for foreign investors before people stop wanting to come here any more?’
All my life, I’ve been scared of sticking with skiffle. You know – those stories of people who, when rock’n’roll came along, said, “Ooh no, this isn’t as good as skiffle. A guitar, a washtub bass, a jug and a musical saw – that’s proper music. Not like this Little Richard fellow, or those Beatles. No, I’m going to stick with skiffle, thank you very much.”

So, no. I don’t want to be nostalgic for the sake of it. My default is always to be excited about the new thing – even if, sometimes, welcoming the new thing means discarding the older things, or letting them fade away. Sometimes, you have to burn up a little bit of the past to light up the future. I get that. That’s progress. I understand about change. I am not smashing the looms.
But there are times when things are about to change when you must say, “I think keeping this would be useful to us, actually. To change this would also be to change a million other, interconnected things. To change this is to take the heart out of something – the heart of something living – just to sell as meat. This thing needs to stay the same.”

And so, London. Yes, all the wankers live here. The very worst kind, the kind who actively ruin everything. But London is still also where you’ll end up in a room with the ten oddest, brightest, most on-fire people – half of whom will be furiously engaged in trying to stop the wankers previously mentioned – and think, “London still isn’t just a place; it’s an idea. Out of this room will come hundreds of small futures.”

But ideas need a place to happen, and they can only happen in certain kinds of places. If you look through the history of culture, you will see that ideas tend to come from attic flats, dingy boozers and nightclubs full of freaks. They come from areas with manky pigeons and tiny button shops, where all the misfits – women, gays, immigrants, shy boys, hot alcoholics, and people generally on a mission – can converge.

And this is why there is a campaign to save Soho at the moment (savesoho.com). For the Crossrail station is nearing completion and it seems the moment it opens its barriers, it will blow away those hundred tiny streets of Soho – the sticky basements, coffee houses, guitar shops and furtive corners; the boozers with gravy-brown tables, burnished by a million woozily sliding elbows – and replace them all with a new plan: executive flats and office space, rendered in uniform International Architecture.

That’s the plan: to monetise Soho. To take its name, known across the world, and use it to sell this new, gutless, hand-sanitiser wankers’ farm. To take the Soho out of Soho, and turn it into … Broho. Noho.
Where is London, if Soho is gone? Once they’ve seen Buckingham Palace and the Thames, what are the millions of tourists going to see, if the places are gone that the fleeing Huguenots built, that the Italians turned into cheap eating places, where Dylan Thomas drank and Bob Dylan played, where beatniks, strippers and drag queens rubbed shoulders? How much of historic, eccentric, transgressive London can you replace with well-appointed apartments for foreign investors before people stop wanting to come here any more?
For that’s the dangerous game being played with London’s “development” at the moment – that new, faceless skyline rising up by the Thames; Camden Market’s bland, chain-store ruination; the cherry-tree gardens of Hampstead being replaced with hulking, gravel-drived supermansions.

“I’m going to London.”
“Where is London?”
“I’ll be honest, it’s not there any more. But I can show you some pictures of what it used to look like.”
Where do you go, and what do you do, when you go to Paris, New York, Berlin or Dublin? You don’t just go to a place; you travel to see if you can see other times, too: you go to the old parts, to hunt echoes and ghosts. You look for the footsteps and fingerprints of Bowie, Dickens, Gainsbourg, Joyce – the thrill of being able to stand on a doorstep and say, “This is the doorstep they would have used. They came here for a reason and I have, too. This place is a matrix, a melody, a curation – a carefully constructed and unique thing – known across the world. To change too much of it is for it to cease to exist.”

London cannot be turned into one, uniform supertown – apartments and offices, all the same, from Heathrow to Stratford, from Walthamstow to Peckham. Cities need their villages, their tiny sheltered coves, among the otherwise sheer cliff faces of high-rise glass and steel. If Soho goes, then there is truly nothing left in this city that will not be sold. We have become cheap, shit-heel butchers, selling hearts for meat.

Caitlin Moran, 21st March 2015

Demonstration on the 22nd of March at Parliament square.

The SaveSoho committee and the proposed demonstration on the 22nd of March at Parliament square.

This proposed demonstration has no authority or agreement with us and although we understand the motives, it is not a Save Soho Committee event.  We applaud this well-intentioned demonstration and we understand the passion that Save Soho has released with our campaign to save the few remaining performance venues left in Soho. We have stated from the start that we want to work with all interested parties to achieve this, and are doing so with Boris Johnson Mayor of London and the GLA as well as Westminster City Council leaders and members, the developers and many others, but we have to state that  the proposed demonstration on 22nd of March is not a Save Soho Committee event.

More information abot the march can be found here

CHANGE NATIONAL PLANNING FRAMEWORK

Dear Save Soho supporters

The Good news

Since the Mayor voiced his concerns about the government's permitted development rights, Westminster are now consulting on changes to their Local Plan to try and safeguard some of their office space. The consulatation ends in 2 days.

You and I have until this friday to put in objections on the government's National Planning Framework. This is the legislation that is curently threatening all bars, clubs, entrtainment venues and creative spaces in Soho.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Please write a letter of objection to the Government’s new Permitted Development Rights. These rights are at the heart of what is threatening the character and spirit of Soho.

Send your objection to: planningpolicy@westminster.gov.uk

Please see our own letter of objection below

More information

The time is now.

Save Soho

Objections with regard to Government policy relating to the change of use concerning previous office usage into residential units

We strenuously object to the current policy of allowing commercial premises to convert to residential usage. We find the premise this is based on has not taken into consideration the very real consequences this has on already existing premises with regards to specifically Music and entertainment venues that are already established, with residential units being either placed above or beside such venues it allows for the developers to create conditions using current enforcement legislation to force the existing business either to ruinous expense in relation to sound proofing such a venue or in the worst case forcing their closure. It seems to us that this is grossly unfair and a curtailment of an established venue by a developer who in the past would have been unable to change the usage of commercial properties without local government approval.

This is especially pertinent to Soho that is world famous for its venues, bars, restaurants and clubs that make up the fabric and define the area, rather than new residential developments that are now being proposed which are above these premises, which prior to the government policy change would remain as offices for this very reason.

To allow developers to change the usage into residential with no consultation and then allow them to object to noise from existing venues and to allow enforcement of legislation seems to be destroying the very unique character and spirit that is Soho. It also allows for the development of these venues into residential properties by exploiting this.

With trepidation for the future.

The Save Soho Committee
Stephen Fry, Actor and writer – Chairman
Tim Arnold, Singer Songwriter – Founder of Save Soho (Soho resident)
Guy Hamilton, Partner at BHB Agency Ltd – Founder Member
Benedict Cumberbatch, Actor – Founder Member
Colin Vaines, Film producer (Soho resident)
Alexander Parsonage, Theatre director
Howard Raymond, Chairman of Raymond Estates