Stephen Fry is among those who have signed an open letter to the British Government imploring them to save Soho, the historic district in the heart of London’s West End.
In an open letter to Chancellor George Osborne and Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, actor Mr. Fry and other leading names from the creative industries want to keep the area from becoming office and studio space. The letter signatories include fashion designer Sir Paul Smith along with author and critic Stephen Bayley.
The letter says, “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 percent of the country’s creative turnover. 20 percent 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’s area has decreased by 30,000 square meters of office space and gained twice that amount in residential. The creative clustering that makes this such an extraordinary economic and cultural engine is being challenged as a result.”
Planning Minister Brandon Lewis has said, “Our creative industries are a Great British success story, famous around the world and contributing an all-time record of £76 billion a year to our economy as well as 1.7 million jobs. Soho makes a big contribution to this and we want to keep it that way. Local people and businesses have already come together to begin work on a neighbourhood plan for Soho to shape what might be built where, supported by powers created by this Government.”
‘Save Soho’ is currently focusing on the regeneration of The Boulevard Theatre and the reincarnation of Madame Jojo’s as both proposed by Soho Estates. They say the priority is that there may be a healthy balance between affordable venues and high-end venues.
The letter adds: “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 may be considered to be 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. I also hope that Boris Johnson becomes involved in protecting Soho’s future. In the meantime we hope that the developers are sympathetic to our request.”
The London Mayor, has given Save Soho his backing, saying: “People from all over the world come to Soho to enjoy its unique character and history, its performing arts and live music, its gay and transgender scene and nightclubs.”
The UK’s creative industries, which include IT, film and music, were worth a record £76.9 billion to the UK economy in 2014, the government has said. New figures published by the Department for culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) show an increase of 9.9 percent on the 2013 figure of £70 billion. According to the DCMS, the industry’s growth was three times greater than the wider UK economy.
This year is expected to be another buoyant year for the UK’s creative talent, with new releases including James Bond and Star Wars films, new albums from Coldplay, Mark Ronson and Emile Sande, and the publication of the first illustrated editions of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.
What else might be done to make sure Soho keeps its historic and creative identity?