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Noisy news from the noisy streets

Just when will it ever end? When will the last scaffolding come down? When will the drills fall silent? When will the yellow jackets disappear? When will the roads no longer be dug up? When will buildings around us stop expanding and crowding us out? When will the noise stop!!

The latest news from our restless neighbourhood concerns the development taking place to the south and north of Denmark Street. South of the street, opposite the Resurrection Gate, a great hole has been opened in the façade of the building opposite revealing, if I am not mistaken, the original site way back of the Rectory, or was it where Alicia, Duchess Dudley lived, or were they the same place (?) (answers please); either way a holy site in our pilgrimage, now on its way to being converted to a night-time club and bar, with late-night openings even, I think, on Sundays. Evensong followed by cocktails . . . um, interesting.

Meanwhile, the north of the street is currently under a shroud of plastic sheeting behind which shadowy workmen move. The facades of the listed properties will remain, but behind them the corporate face of the 21st century will definitely move in. Heritage is one room deep in 2019. It’s as if you can see the rents rise incrementally every week. Behind the street (facing the new underground entrance) has emerged since before Christmas a beast of an auditorium space, preparing the devour the hoards expected to issue from Crossrail (when it finally swings into action . . . a couple of years late!) What on earth is going on?

Is this what the people in Reading or Shenfield or Abbeywood (distant points on the Elizabeth Line) really want? I suppose they must, otherwise why build it? There is nothing new, after all, to partying and carrying on in the West End and then heading back to the suburbs. The people need to let off steam. Fair enough. Let us not be misanthropic when it comes to others’ pleasures.

But it all comes at a cost to those who live around St Giles (yes, people really do live here all the time) and to those, I think like ourselves, for whom the neighbourhood is more than land values and bricks and mortar. People were executed just outside our gate once and other condemned people were dragged along the High Street. The High Street! It is becoming harder and harder to imagine this as the major east-west thoroughfare it once was.

This rant is prompted by news which reaches me (courtesy of a vigilant Thomas H.) that Camden Council have just recently approved an extension to the original planning permission for this ‘stately pleasure dome.’ Variation of ‘Condition 49’ and deletion of ‘Condition 50’ will now allow the capacity of the basements music venue to be increased from 800 (already large enough) to 2000; and variation of ‘Conditions 33 and 34’ will allow the ‘urban gallery’ and basement (cafés, restaurants and ‘drinking establishments) to open between 9am and 11.30pm Monday to Friday, from 9am to midnight on Saturdays, and from 9am to 10.30pm on Sundays, with the option of remaining open until 2am on 104 occasions per year (which sounds like twice a week to me) or all through Christmas.

So, just picture the scene. It’s 2am on a warm summer’s evening and, let’s say, up to 2000 people, having drunk well through the evening, are now spilling out onto the streets of our parish. They are not quiet, they are not walking in straight lines, they are not paying too much attention to anyone else around them. They are not bad people, but they are many people and probably loud people. It’s too much. It’s on too great a scale. Places like this should be on an island somewhere separated by water, not in what are still the back streets of a densely packed urban neighbourhood. I know what the developers are thinking of (more means better business) but what is the Council thinking of? I thought they were meant to be on the side of the local community, to act as a bulwark against the most aggressive forms of capital development; or am I being hopelessly naïve?

And still I haven’t even mentioned ‘Pret’ opening up 50 yards from our front gate as part of the redevelopment of Centre Point. Now there’s something we desperately needed around here! After all the nearest one is at least 3 minutes’ walk away. I grant that the sandwiches are not bad (though the coffee is undrinkable) but what this confirms is how this once ancient and distinctive neighbourhood is becoming commercially bland and like almost anywhere else in London (and beyond). Some of the small music shops in Denmark Street are hanging on, as is my hairdresser, but you wonder just how long they can last with the spiralling rents. Developers will want to get their money back with interest and will only attract that larger brand companies that have the turnover and capital. A subtle transformation is taking place before our eyes under the guise of modernisation and even, dare I say, of apparent conservation.

It is true, of course, that the remnant of 1960’s London hereabouts was, and is, not particularly pretty and could even be shady and disreputable. But I am not sure that what we see going up now is altogether any better. Indeed, it surely signals a struggling existence for the small trader and the independent enterprise, like Andrew, who runs the coffee stall outside St Giles through the week. They belong here and always have, going back generations. They should not be forced out. Here endeth the rant.

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