THE BLOG

So Long, Soho?

30/11/2014 22:34 GMT | Updated 30/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Westminster Council's latest decision to close down Madame Jojo's (following a violent incident on its doorstep) has shone a light on their far more cynical plans to demolish a large area of Soho, one of London's most beloved, historical and characterful areas, and turn it into a Disney-Style Westfield-esque centre with identikit bars, shops and offices.

Soho - an area which has housed and inspired poets, artists, romantics for hundreds of years to become a sort of Times Square family friendly experience. Is this really what Londoners want?

Westminster Council will have us believe that their approval in December 2013 for 'Soho Estates' plans - to redevelop Soho's key areas, Walker's Court and Brewer Street - are "enhancing the area", making it "safer" for visitors. As a born and bred Londoner of 33 years who has spent a good chunk of my adult life in Soho I've never felt threatened there. Is it sanitary and clinical? No. Are their occasional drunken brawls and illicit substances consumed? Perhaps. Soho has a seedy charm. A Bacchanalian attitude. A libertine spirit. But with this also comes character, romance, poetry, history, and beauty. Soho was built on sex, art and culture - and we should cherish its idiosyncratic creativity, not strive to stifle it. And don't we have enough alternative areas in London for those looking for a sterilised and family friendly night out?

"Enhancing the area" they say. For whom exactly? For 'Soho Estates'? The property empire set up by Paul Raymond which owns over 60 acres of Soho and Central London and has an estate estimated to be worth over £370million? For the huge franchise owners looking to cash in with yet another outlet, as the "long standing antisocial uses" (e.g. the sex shops) are "legally removed from the site" and replaced with offices, a supermarket and New York style delis.

I don't know about you but to me the sex shops, the transvestites, and the burlesque bars are essential parts of the soul of Soho. I don't need a multi-millionaire puritan to tell me, a grown adult, whether these "antisocial uses" are good for me or not. Not a suitable area for children? Good. They can visit Buckingham Palace and Kensington Gardens instead.

Money, consumerism and greed. They are the only winners here. And as is so often the case beauty, culture, history and the everyday people are the losers.

And this latest cynical development is simply a symptom of a wider problem here in London - on nearly ever street corner there is a new build either being erected, or recently completed. Almost each and every one (in my opinion) an eye-sore, sticking out like a sore and unsightly thumb agains their older counterparts. Where once buildings were designed and built with care, love and attention to detail, now increasingly they are built with one eye on the bank balance and one on functionality. Its the same old story. Profit over aesthetic. The owners wallet getting steadily bigger as we, the people of London see our visual experience of our city ever diminishing.

I'm not against progress, i'm really not. My father is an architect, and I believe that with the right care and attention new builds could be a beautiful addition to the London vista. But who can we trust anymore to make those decisions on our behalf?

Our councils are supposed to protect us, but increasingly this seems not to be the case. Only recently on my own doorstep plans for a 3 storey block of flats, replacing a beautiful village-like corner filled with independents shops and characters were approved. More and more plans to demolish sites of cultural importance - music venues, art galleries, historic pubs to name but a few - are being passed. Buffalo Bar, Madame Jojo's, Vibe Bar and The George Tavern are just a few familiar names that look set to join the graveyard of once loved London institutions such as Astoria, Turnmills and Hammersmith Palais.

Dylan Thomas once called Swansea an "ugly, lovely town" and in many ways this is how I grew up seeing London. Its areas like Soho providing a beautiful dose of grit and grime in its cracked walls and faces.

But without legislation preventing councils from passing plans to destroy what little we have left to cherish, without Londoners having the power to insist that buildings of cultural and historic importance (as decided by them) become listed buildings, beyond the grubby reach of the greedy fat cats' fingers, then soon there may be no "lovely" left at all. London may simply become that ugly, and yes rich, town that we once all used to love.