Let's Keep Soho's Ravens From Leaving Their Tower

It's very easy to feel ground down by the onslaught on this neighbourhood, but now, more than ever, the Soho which seeks to be inclusive, not exclusive, needs you. Every voice raised really does make a difference.

The Maltese Porno Boy has already lost the lovely girls from his strip club. Now he may be losing the entire joint.

To be precise, it was the "lovely girls" on the sign above the club which had to go when the peep show next door was closed and turned into a shop. As his sign extended over the top of the premises, MPB was forced to make a smaller one, with fewer enticements on it.

Now he's lost a hearing that dated back to the police raids in December 2013, when stolen property for resale was found in an adjacent lap dancing bar. Despite nothing being found in his own club, his lease is tied by his landlord to that adjacent property. And as that joint was found guilty as charged and shut down (it's now a Chinese massage parlour), so MPB's place has now been found guilty by association.

It's the climax (if that is an appropriate term) to a long-running campaign by Westminster Council to force the visible sex trade out of the area. Once MPB's club is shut down, it will leave Sunset Strip on Dean Street as positively the last gasp of a business that once dominated Soho. Rather like the ravens leaving the Tower of London, when Sunset Strip goes, for lovers of old Soho it will truly mark the End of Days.

Great news for the gentrifiers, no doubt, and anyone who longs for Soho to be "family friendly" (which seems to be the wish of the gentrifiers, given the number of couples with push-chairs depicted in every online illustration of a new development.)

But obviously another nail in the coffin of everything that made this square mile so distinct and unique.

Work is already underway to demolish the two unlisted but lovely early 19th century houses at the back of Walker's Court, along with the, admittedly, rather unlovely '50s buildings at the front. In their place will rise a faceless steel and glass tower on Brewer Street, and undistinguished buildings in Walker's Court itself and on Peter Street at the rear. From those online artist's impressions, the tapas bar, shops, "new" Madame Jojo's and resuscitated Boulevard Theatre that will replace the existing buildings have all the exterior charm and pizzazz of a suburban shopping mall.

The only thing that gives them a certain comparative razzle dazzle is another artist's impression of the buildings that will go up on neighbouring Berwick Street over the next two years, as a hotel is built on the roof next to Kemp House, and the shops below refurbished. Replacing local businesses like a hardware store, record shops and a supermarket, the Brave New World depicted has all the charm and lustre of Romford High street circa 1975; though doubtless the inhabitants of the new shops, at rents likely to be triple those of their forerunners, will be in keeping with the short-lived £180-a-pop designer hoodie shop that briefly appeared on Peter Street.

Meanwhile, local bars and restaurants continue to struggle to compete with the market stalls selling lunchtime nosh without having to pay the rates and rent of a full-time place. There is something richly ironic about our local (excellent) chippie being forced to close for these reasons, only to see two lovely fellas, spotting an opportunity, opening a fish and chip stall right outside the old location. Tasty grub, but a little pricier, and not available in the evening or at weekends. Yes, this is progress, Soho style.

All this, and the land grab continues, with almost every other building seemingly covered in scaffolding and being internally demolished in order to create expensive flats. True, some buildings are being converted for continued office occupation, and being wired for high end media use. But more than one prospective tenant has questioned the point of doing that, when the leases on offer are for as little as five years. No-one in their right mind is going to install huge amounts of equipment when a massive rent rise may force the occupants out at the end of their short initial tenure. Hence the continued exodus to north of Oxford Street, now the home of many post-production houses.

Crossrail 2 continues to claim that "no final decisions" have been made about the location of the entrance/exit station required to cope with massively increased traffic through Tottenham Court Rd after Crossrail 1 and 2 both open, but the block between Frith and Greek Street on Shaftesbury Avenue looks increasingly likely to be the only option they propose, potentially condemning residents (and London's theatregoers) to many years of demolition and construction work. Apart from the (very significant) loss of the Curzon Soho, a question mark now also hangs over some truly historic buildings on Romilly Street which back onto this proposed station site.

So what's to be done? As usual, I have only one thing to suggest to anyone unhappy with the state of things: we have to keep making our voices heard. Crossrail 2 is now inviting the public to submit views on its proposals. The Transport for London leaflets which have been distributed reveal very little detail of how the scheme is likely to impact on Soho. So please do a little research on the Crossrail 2 website and make your thoughts heard.

And please do take the time to email Westminster Council and object to the second attempt by the landlord of Rupert Street's historic The Yard to cover the outside area with a glass roof and build expensive flats at the rear. His first attempt was thrown out by Westminster Council earlier this year, after a concerted campaign by groups such as The Soho Society and Save Soho, working alongside local councillors. Now an application has been resubmitted, and the strength of opposition needs to be made clear.

It's very easy to feel ground down by the onslaught on this neighbourhood, but now, more than ever, the Soho which seeks to be inclusive, not exclusive, needs you. Every voice raised really does make a difference.




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