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Soho film industry under threat from hotel surge

Residents' warning over 'unwelcome trend' that will 'wipe out creative industry'

24 November, 2017 — By William McLennan

Developers want to turn Film House into a vast hotel

A WAVE of hotel openings threaten Soho’s billion-pound film industry and will be “another nail in the coffin” for the under-siege area, residents have warned.

The burgeoning trend, which has been likened to an economic “bubble”, has seen half a dozen applications for new hotels in the heart of the West End’s creative district.

Amenity groups and culture campaigners believe the conversion of offices to bedrooms will force the creative industries out of town.

Lifelong Soho resident Brooke Bailey, who is leading a campaign against one of the openings, said: “I don’t know who they think is going to stay in all these hotels. There is going to be nothing left of Soho to see, just a bunch of hotels and chain coffee shops.”

Tim Lord, chairman of the Soho Society, said: “The society believes this is hugely unwelcome trend for Soho. It empties buildings of the office uses which provide space for Soho’s creative industries.”

Labour MP Karen Buck said that Britain’s economy “can’t afford to squeeze” the booming creative industries, in light of the gloomy productivity fore cast announced in Wednesday’s Budget.

Ms Buck has warned against a squeeze on the industry

Ms Bailey, who works in the West End advertising industry, said that plans to convert Soho landmark Film House in Wardour Street, the for- mer base of British-Pathe and today home to numerous production firms, will protest “wipe out another huge chunk of our creative industry”.

She added: “It will also change the face of Soho for years to come, being another nail in the coffin of Soho’s heritage, culture, diversity and fundamentally – its creative future.”

Other developments include plans to open a Premier Inn in Berwick Street, two boutique hotels in Great Marlborough Street and another in Broadwick Street. The Trocadero is set to open as a 740-bedroom hotel.

Wardour Street and its surrounds became the centre of the film industry in the 20th century. While many studios moved their HQs further afield, the area is still peppered with post-production studios, distribution firms and independent producers.

SohoCreate festival was launched in 2014 to celebrate and promote the industry’s contributions to Britain. The creative industries in the West End bring in more than £14billion a year and account for 15 per cent of jobs in Westminster, according to research commissioned by the council.

Musician Tim Arnold, founder of the Save Soho campaign, said: “The continued devastation to Soho’s character has reached catastrophic pro- portions. Out-of-control development must be handled with a more sensitive approach that benefits both the residential and creative community.”

The campaign, which has the backing of Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch, was launched in 2014 after the closure of famous nightclub Madame Jojo’s and the loss of several other venues.

Mr Lord said that “the stabilisation, if not slight fall, in residential property prices” had appeared to trigger “some sort of bubble or herd mentality” among developers.

He said: “Sadly Westminster’s current planning policies support hotel uses and so the trend is difficult to reverse until Westminster sees the light and realises that a rash of hotels is undermining the very economic vibrancy it says it is trying to protect and enhance.”

Ms Buck, the MP for Westminster North, said that while hospitality is an important part of the economy, it is “far from the only part,” adding: “Given the desperately worrying figures on productivity and economic growth, and the uncertainty of Brexit, we can’t afford to squeeze other sectors, including our vital creative economy.”

She said: “Westminster Council, the mayor, and government must be proactive in keeping the balance by keeping and promoting opportunities for skilled and highly paid work.”

Sir Richard Sutton Ltd, who are behind the Film House development, declined to comment.

Their planning application states that it will create 190 new jobs. Announcing the plans for Berwick Street, Jonathan Langdon, from Premier Inn, said: “We want to bring a great new product and exciting new choice into the market while also creating jobs, integrating into the local community, and making a positive difference.”

A council spokesman said: “We are committed to protecting the character of our unique neighbour- hoods. The council considers every planning application individually based on each scheme’s merits, ensuring that development remains in keeping with the surrounding area.”

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