Culture club – keeping London ahead

Wednesday 28 October 2015

©Michelle Haywood

London should strive to maintain its position at the top of the world’s league table of cultural offerings if it is to keep its attractiveness as a world city in the face of unprecedented growth.

That was the headline message to emerge from a fascinating seminar at City Hall on Monday as planners and developers gathered to discuss key issues and welcome the launch of a new planning guide on the subject: ‘An A-Z of Planning and Culture’.

‘We often say in the mayor’s office that culture is London’s USP’, said deputy mayor for education and culture Munira Mirza. ‘It is one of the key factors in our success’. The culture and creative industries together are worth £35bn, she added, and account for one in six jobs, being a ‘massive driver for tourists’ in the most visited city in the world. It is also important for our quality of life, and a draw for workers to the ‘vibrant and culturally diverse landscape.’ Even the new Bond film Spectre was shot in London, including a scene in City Hall, and London is now the third busiest film city in the world. But challenges including the loss of 35% of music venues over the last 8 years and the fact that the city is set to lose up to 30% of artists studios in the next five years. The new guide helps spread the word on all the planning tools at the disposal of cultural organisations to use in order to beat that flight.

Policy and Planning deputy mayor Sir Edward Lister added that he takes potential investors to the top of the Shard to show them what a ‘green and pleasant look and feel the city has’, enhanced by the theatres, restaurants and so on. ‘It’s a place you want to live in, and because you want to live in it you want to make those funding decisions which are so important for the city’, he said. London needs £1.6 trillion spent between now and 2050 if we are to continue current growth. ‘You must ensure we aren’t just creating rows of housing’, he added, and that within that growth is ‘the placemaking piece’. ‘This is about building and baking culture into what we do.’

There is an argument for making more theatres in London, said London Theatre Company chief executive Nick Starr, but also for theatres which are more in line with the needs of the 21st century than those in the West End. London’s theatre is booming, however, up 25% in attendance over the last 14 years, with almost half in subsidised and not-for-profit theatres, aided by the lottery. Organisations like Bow Arts, said its chief executive Marcel Baettig are aiming to support the arts with its provision of affordable creative workspace for artists, with 12 sites at the moment and three in development this year. And the Mill Co Project, said its director Nick Hartwright is doing its bit with schemes such as its Haringey hotel acting as an important networking facilitiy for those in the arts.

Other highlights from the event included Barking and Dagenham director of regeneration Jeremy Grint, showing the meanwhile spaces and affordable workspaces for artists that are happening in his patch, catalysed by strong political commitment. Argent head of asset management Anna Strongman said that culture has been ‘fantastic’ for King’s Cross but was driven by a clear belief that it drives up rents and residential values. Finally, GLA head of cultural strategy Justine Simons said culture is never neat, should not be overcontrolled and is crucial for London’s liveability. It requires ‘a new form of civic leadership in the city if it is to be protected’, she said.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly


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New London Architecture and the Mayor of London hosted a special half day seminar examining the role of culture as a tool for placemaking.