I recently got back into electric guitar after an absence of nearly 30 years. I bought my first guitar (Ibanez RG440), as a teenager, in one of the then dozen or so music / instrument stores on Denmark Street, Covent Garden. At that time there were numerous studios on the street and several active guitar technicians who could do setups, customisations and repairs.
There are just two guitar tecs left on the row now - Tim Marten, and the aptly named Andy Gibson (nominative determinism) - and they are seriously under threat from property developers who are looking to turn all of Denmark Street into expensive flats, and landlords are not renewing leases. There are already several gaps appearing, and this London’s Tin Pan Alley will soon cease to exist, much to my sorrow.
Some of you may have been following the story about the sad and rather rapid shutdown of legendary London Club Venue - Fabric. It turns out that the licencing reviews / court hearings etc. were all just a staged show / sham by the authorities, as greedy property developers wanted to get their mits on the building - to redevelop it into - yes, yet more luxury flats.
We have seen Tower Hamlets succumb to the greed of the property developers, followed by Battersea, and now Denmark Street and Smithfield. The same is happening in Camden, where the rather sparkly Camden Lock Village Market has fallen prey to developers too - for the sake of the new Hawley Wharf development.
Old period buildings have been torn down, and the character and spirit of those areas irreparably ruined. Another strange casualty in a different way has been the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where athletes’ accommodation was supposed to be transformed into mainly affordable housing, yet we ended up with only 30% of the flats being affordable!
Pretty much everywhere you go in London, normal citizens - the lifeblood, character and soul of the city - are being pushed out of their homes and business premises by redevelopments and overpriced replacements.
I’ve been saying for several years that there is a serious housing crisis in most of our capital cities - in my homeland’s Reykjavik too - where property owners can make more money now via Airbnb rather than renting to local citizens. The young innovators, artists, creatives, nurses, doctors etc. will be priced out and forced to move elsewhere, and the population will quickly grow old and stagnant.
There was much celebration at the launch of the 24 hour weekend tube a few weeks ago, yet we have less destinations to go to than ever before. I have witnessed the decline of London nightlife since its heyday in the late 80’s and 90’s.
Boris Johnson singularly failed to stop the rot, although he did preside over a most fabulous Olympics. Successor Sadiq Khan seems to talk a good game, but we see no active policies in place yet, and no action. Councils are still pressing on with expensive and elitist developments.
There needs to be some sort of regulation that enforces a greater proportion of affordable housing, as that crisis will soon undermine most of London’s institutions, if the staff can no longer afford to live here. There should be legislation in place to - to protect parts of our cultural heritage. Losing Denmark Street and Fabric is a crying shame, London’s cultural, social and historical heritage are a big part of its draw, and a big part of what makes London great. I am certainly not anti-redevelopment - many areas need finessing to some degree. But we’re in danger of turning London into a soulless American city clone - with less and less culture at its heart, while various nightlife and retail and restaurant activities get reduced and removed to suburban strip malls.
Some of these things alas are already foregone conclusions, and we have been badly done by our public servants, who have wholly failed to stem the tide of greedy profligacy. It seems that property developers will soon be tarred with the same brush as underhanded car salesmen and ambulance-chasing lawyers - unless they amend their ways. Where are the civic-minded among them who look out for the needs of the whole community - the hard-working everyday folk.
London’s very soul is being sucked dry and replaced with pretty baubles that do little for community spirit and that very few can afford to live in. We must all rise up together and challenge this tide of profiteering before too much of what makes London - ’London’, ceases to exist.
The Night Tube will be a totally wasted opportunity if there’s nowhere to go to - I can’t see that anyone has done anything different to take advantage of the extended hours. All Londoners need to challenge the mayor, their politician and their local council to do better - there’s obviously some sort of featherbedding and corruption going on unseen here and what’s happening is not to the advantage of the majority...