The latest figures reveal that office space is being converted to residential in Central London at a terrifying and unsustainable rate. Of particular concern to the creative community of London's Soho, is that a quarter of that lose is on our doorstep. We are in danger of losing small creative businesses at an alarming rate. We need to protect buildings that house multiple creative businesses in soho.
There is now a real groundswell of opinion and support to protect London's Soho, including a celebrity campaign led by Stephen Fry and Tim Arnold.
Westminster City Council have also produced analyses on the devastating effect of the drive for residential building in the centre of London.
Small office space is being ripped out of Central London and converted into residential living. Westminster is faced with the double punch of having to provide new housing for a rapidly growing population but also new housing for all those high net worth individuals and property portfolios wanting to invest in the highly lucrative Central London property market.
Over the last four years the result has been a decline in the amount of small office space available in Westminster and in particular in London's Soho. Those familiar with this blog will have read the extraordinary statistics on Soho, the incredible concentration of creative industries here, making it the most creative square mile in the world.
Westminster Council and the larger property companies in Soho are working hard to protect office space, but more short term landlords are selling up fast and converting office space to residential while they can.
Central government remains silent when faced with an issue that potentially affects 20% of the entire creative industry turnover of the country. The DCMS response to date has been to defer to local authority planning. Not helpful.
Westminster is losing 40,000 square metres of office space every year but a staggering 25% of that is from Soho and its surrounds. That's the loss of hundreds of small offices every year in a place that relies on small creative businesses for its economic and cultural life.
Here's the story of just one building -
George Butler moved his video production company, Mutinymedia, into Soho from South London many years ago. He came to Soho to benefit from the close proximity of clients and other creative supply companies in the area. He runs his company out of a building in Soho's Berwick St.
He shares the building and the one next door with 17 other creative businesses: tailors, architects, design and media companies. At the beginning of this month he was surprised to see a planning application notice attached to the lamppost outside the building. When he went online to see what it was all about he found an application to convert the building into luxury flats. He and the other creative companies have just 20 days to muster their opposition with most of that time being over this Christmas and New Year.
I love buildings like George's in Brewer Street. I love the multiple buzzer systems the single stairways, the tiny offices and the camaraderie and banter from working in close proximity to other creative people and businesses. These buildings are the heart of Soho's creative community. Through one office door you find Chris the tailor who's been there 10 years, next to him is George, also a tailor, who's been there 35 years, their workrooms are probably unchanged for as long, with traditional machines, craft skills and methods.
Behind the next office door we find state of the art editing and high end video production. The digitization of production and editing technology means that businesses that would once require multiple rooms and storage can now be housed in a couple of small creative spaces in buildings like this.
The building is gently buzzing with people making things. It's a tiny part of the £7.5billion turned over by creative companies round here every year. However, buildings like this and small companies like these are the reason why Soho has become what it is.
Currently there are four workers to every resident here. It really is a place to work and play. Despite trying times the number of live music and entertainment licenses issued for venues here remains buoyant. If we allow too many office buildings like these to be converted to residential it is a matter of time before residents outnumber workers. Soon after that we will see live entertainment and late night licensing curtailed as residents object to the lively Soho nightlife.
Soho has been home to small creative businesses like these for 450 years. It remains the most creative square mile in the world and has added 10,000 new jobs in the last five years. 20% of London's new creative jobs are in Soho. But with a declining number of offices to house creative workers, this will be a challenge to continue. It will also be impossible to retain the cultural, creative and economic impact of the place if we are losing the small businesses as quickly as we appear to be.
Comments on this planning application no. 14/11716/FULL can be lodged with Westminster Council The deadline is 28th December 2014.