Recent figures released by Westminster City Council in London show the terrifying rate that small office space is being lost to high end residential conversions. This is particularly challenging in London's Soho, long the birth place and home to so many of the country's great creative companies and performers.
Every month there are more and more applications to change small office space into lucrative high end residential.
SohoCreate has been particularly concerned about this issue and previous blog pieces have covered it in some detail. We have been contacted by many others who share our view and there is a celebrity campaign set up to Save Soho.
Soho is an incredible creative and economic engine for London, it's one of the most creative clusters in the world, but we are currently selling it off to the highest bidder.
There is a huge need for housing in London, both for the growing population but also for the growing numbers who want to base themselves here. However, many of the residential developments are way outside the pockets of most ordinary Londoners.
Our local authorities must be allowed the power to execute planning strategy according to local need, not to a one size fits all policy forced on them by central government that will drive the creative industries out into the fringes of our towns and cities.
Our Chair, Sir John Hegarty, recently pointed out that -
"Soho is the most creative square mile in the world and we are in danger of turning it into an upmarket housing estate"
Alongside many creative industry experts and supporters we have now written to George Osborne and Eric Pickles to raise this urgent matter with them.
Signatories are from Soho's property development sectors and from across the creative industries including, film, fashion, television, games and theatre.
The text of the letter is as follows -
Dear George Osborne and Eric Pickles
We write about an imminent crisis for London's creative businesses.
The square mile of Soho and its surrounds is the most creative in the world. In its way it is at least as important as the square mile in The City. Soho is responsible for 10% of the country's creative turnover. 20% of London's new creative jobs are based here. A quarter of Soho's entire workforce is in the creative sectors. It is unique and valuable.
In the last four years Soho has lost 30,000 square metres of office space and gained twice that amount in residential. The creative clustering that makes this such an extraordinary economic and cultural engine is under threat as a result. There is a very real danger that we will erode the creative fabric of Soho past the point we can ever rebuild it.
We appreciate the need for housing in London, but the massive loss of office and studio space is hugely damaging both economically and culturally. Soho has recently lost working space for 3,000 people and, therefore, up to £500million in turnover as a result of the shift to residential. The majority of new residential is also expensive and only suitable for portfolio investment or very high net worth individual purchases.
The City Council, local property developers and the creative industries all agree. It is essential that we are able to address local cluster needs within the planning approval process. Currently there are no grounds for resisting applications for conversion of office use to residential.
Any diminishing of the scale and impact of the creative industries in Soho will be a massive loss of business and prestige to London and the whole UK. We ask that you urgently address this.
London is the creative capital of the world and we must do more to ensure creative people and companies remain at its centre. The creative industries are growing rapidly and should be seen as a vital and energetic part of our cities. They generate every form of wealth. Importantly, therefore, we are all keen to know what policy commitments you are able to make in your forthcoming manifesto to protect creative industry space in London and, by extension, the UK as a whole.
Nick Allott OBE
David Evans Chairman The Soho Society
Stephen Fry Chairman of Save Soho
Sally Greene OBE
Tom Harvey MBE
Sir John Hegarty
John James MD Soho Estates
Pat Joseph CCO The Mill
Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho CBE
Ian Livingstone CBE
Sir Cameron Mackintosh
Steve Marmion Artistic Director Soho Theatre
Sir Alan Parker CBE
Lord Puttnam CBE
Cllr Philippa Roe, Leader of Westminster City Council
Sir William Sargent
Sir Paul Smith CBE
Sir John Sorrell CBE
John Spearman Chairman Framestore