The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has dealt a critical blow to the UK events industry by approving the controversial plans for redevelopment in Earls Court and West Kensington.
The plans for the 77-acre site are for 7,500 homes and a raft of infrastructure and public realm improvements over a 20-year construction period. Earls Court Exhibition Centre will be demolished as part of the scheme.
It is expected that the plans led by EC Properties, a subsidiary of site owner Capital & Counties, could generate 36,000 jobs in construction as well as a further 9-10,000 permanent jobs in the longer term.
The plans still need to be approved by the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and there are several legal challenges contesting the legality of the scheme and its consultation, but this is another piece in the puzzle for the owners.
The project, designed by architects Terry Farrell and Partners, was passed to the Mayor for his consideration after being given the go-ahead by both The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham Council last year.
“The Mayor’s decision is a huge disappointment and a clear message that he isn’t listening to the very people he claims to serve,” says Association of Event Organisers (AEO) Chief Executive Officer, Karim Halwagi. “The decision also highlights a blinkered and biased perspective, without proper and educated consideration of the longer term, detrimental effects this will have for the UK exhibitions and events industry and the UK economy as a whole.
“With a purported ‘vision’ for London to be a leader among world cities – as stated on the Greater London Authority website – this move has condemned the capital to fall even further away from today’s leading world cities, where we are 36th in the world on venue space and Paris successfully sustains two major venues in the world’s top 10. We will not let this decision rest.”
The scheme will see development for a wide range of residential, commercial and retail use, including new offices, hotels, a new school, health centre, sports and leisure facilities, a new park and public squares.
It will also deliver a range of improvements to public transport links, including at Earls Court, West Kensington and West Brompton tube stations and West Kensington and Gibbs Green housing estates.
“I’m in no doubt that the development proposed for Earls Court and West Kensington will provide a massive boost not just to this part of the capital, but to London’s wider economy as well,” said Johnson. “It is a landmark project that will deliver much needed jobs, new homes and improved infrastructure and will make this strategically important part of the capital an even better to place to live, work and visit.
“I am acutely aware of the concerns that some residents affected by the project have but I’m reassured by the measures being taken by both councils and the developer to make sure the needs of local people are properly addressed. Having weighed up all of the considerations I’m of the firm view that this is a project that will deliver huge benefits to the area and beyond for years to come.”
Johnson chose not to regard appeals from the AEO and London Assembly opposition members to halt the Earls Court decision.
They called for an independent study on the economic effects of the loss of exhibition space and the feasibility of the loss of Transport for London’s (TfL) Lillie Bridge site to the tube network. A TfL report is due in December on the impact of the site’s loss. Under the masterplan the depot, a key infrastructure site for Tube repairs, would be redistributed to other sites around London. Johnson is TfL chairman.
The Labour London Assembly Member, Tom Copley, sent a comment on social networking site, Twitter, saying: “Very disappointed but not at all surprised that the Mayor has approved demolition of Earls Court Exhibition Centre. An appalling decision.”
Green Party London Assembly Member, Darren Johnson, told the BBC: “Boris Johnson claims to be a champion of the London economy and making it more attractive to foreign investment. Yet he has backed the demolition of the exhibition centres that are estimated to be worth over a billion pounds to London’s real economy, that attract one and a half million visitors.”
Earlier this year, Earls Court owner EC&O Venues said it was “time to move on” from the venue.
Any conference-related news? Email firstname.lastname@example.org