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earls court

Earls Court: born again?

The idea of a new “Green venue” on the site of the former Earl’s Court halls has gained traction. CN editor Martin Fullard takes a walk around the site

Before Christmas I received a phone call from the Save Earl’s Court Action Group inviting me to take a tour of the surrounding area where the UK’s most famous exhibition (and large conference!) halls stood for 127 years. What, I wondered, would I see? The art deco Earl’s Court 1 and its late 20th Century sister Earl’s Court 2 were both demolished in 2014, and today the site is nothing but wasteland, save for the railway line. 

I took myself to West London for a peek through the fence and for a small walk around the block. There is intensive development happening all around, with glass towers rising from the ground at breakneck speed all under the banner of Capital and Counties Properties (Capco), which also owns nearby Olympia London.

The plans for the Earl’s Court site indicate that it is to be, in essence, a “new community” of “thousands” of residential and retail units. It’s a bit strange because a community exists already, albeit a battle-scarred one. 

The loss of the exhibition halls has impacted local businesses. Indeed, a local hotelier, whose property backs on to the vast wasteland, told me of his concern for how much longer his business can survive. Once upon a time he had delegates filling his rooms nightly: it’s no longer that way. And nor are the shops in the area. Pop-up merchants and pubs operate on short leases, so they can be moved on at a moment’s notice. It’s a bitter irony that these business tumbleweeds sit opposite Brompton Cemetery: a metaphor indeed. 

If ever you wanted an example of how important a role the events industry plays in its local community, here’s your case study.

There’s no denying it, London needs more housing, but what use is housing if there’s no local industry to help sell them? It is the view of many that the capital needs of more large conference and exhibition space, too. A dual-development of combined housing and events spaces is a realistic, and sensible, proposition. So, is there action? 

You bet there is.

A petition of more than 1,250 signatures was delivered to City Hall in November 2018 by local resident Bella Hardwick, calling for the “world’s greenest venue” to be built on the site of the Earls Court Masterplan. This plan is backed by the Local Authority and the Association of Event Organisers (AEO).

Assembly member Caroline Russell of the Green Party, who is also chair of the London Assembly’s Environment Committee, received the petition, and delivered it to Mayor Sadiq Khan.  

Russell said: “The tragedy of Earl’s Court has been that the focus of the whole community, the exhibition centre, was ripped down without a good alternative ready to take its place at the heart of the local economy. The Earl’s Court campaigners have come up with a creative, thoughtful solution and the Mayor should listen to them.

“Earl’s Court needs a development that not only takes into account the urgency to address climate change but will also meet the needs of Londoners and help support the local businesses that have lost so much through the demolition of the exhibition centre.”

The petition calls upon the Mayor of London “to support the building of the world’s greenest venue on the site of the Earls Court Masterplan. An international architecture competition should be launched to design a multi-purpose, green venue featuring exhibitions, music, cultural and sporting events. Tendering and procurement processes should be open and transparent with materials sourced in an environmentally, socially just and sustainable way.”

CN supports this petition.