The topic for discussion was the Earl's Court "Masterplan." The role and actions of Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea borough councils; the decisions made by Secretary State of Eric Pickles with Mayor Boris Johnson in his dual roles chairing both TfL and the London Assembly were also given particular attention.
It was clear from the well informed panel that numerous key areas will be impacted negatively if this scheme goes ahead: the national and local economy, housing, culture, transport, the environment and population health. These were all raised as areas of grave concern.
Andy Slaughter MP (Labour, Hammersmith) said: "I expect this scheme will not achieve fruition in terms of the Masterplan.
This is a development which is unprecedented over the last 40-50 years – we have to go back to slum clearance when a lot of mistakes were made but with good intentions – but this is simply about pure profit and greed, demolishing existing structures including homes. It has been delayed by several years because of the stout resistance from local people.
It’s an absolute outrage that no public inquiry has been allowed, when other developments of similar scale or even a fraction of the size have been given permission to do so. There are 1,000 things wrong and very little which is right and I hope common sense will eventually prevail."
Karim Halwagi, CEO of the Association of Events Organisers spoke about the events industry, saying: "The year on year growth even at times of recession is testament to the dynamism of the industry as a whole. There will be an immediate loss of £25 billion over 20 years of the construction time frame. The assumption that other venues can absorb all this is frankly naive. Instead, we have members who are planning to expand business abroad to countries like Germany who fully appreciate and understand the exhibitions industry and its impact to their economy."
Local businesses which rely upon the presence of the Exhibitions Centre’s footfall are already suffering and closing given the serious downturn in trade resulting from the reduction in exhibitions taking place in EC1 and EC2. Developers Capco have also raised rents for businesses in the Lillie Road which goes past both exhibition centres by 100% in recent weeks. Earl’s Court Ward Councillor Linda Wade (Lib Dem) and Chair of the Earl’s Court Area Action Group made a very strong case for protecting the community infrastructure from such planning blight and said: “Earl's Court is becoming the epicentre of nearly every single estate agent."
Murad Qureshi AM (Labour) spoke about the joint venture arrangement which on the 5th February 2014, the majority of the TfL board decided to enter into with Capco: ‘TfL should not have rushed into this dubious joint venture under which it hands the majority of the value of Earls Court over to private developer Capco. The Board should have deferred this decision until the London Assembly Transport Committee had a chance to properly scrutinise the JV, which it plans to do at its March meeting."
Darren Johnson AM (Green Party) said of the proposed demolitions: ‘I can’t see any benefits whatsoever. I see the transfer of 77 acres of fine land – the loss of an iconic venue, the loss of two well run social housing estates and the loss of the Lillie Bridge Depot. What do we get instead? 7,000 luxury flats – and London is not short of half empty investment properties - not meeting the housing needs of Londoners whatsoever.
The environmental impacts have not been considered at any point of the planning process – also an outrage in an area where there is already 100x the legal limit of nitrogen dioxide. This plan is so flawed it simply cannot go ahead – we must keep fighting as this is a battle we can win.’
Darren Johnson, Andy Slaughter, Linda Wade and Murad Qureshi pledged their ongoing support for the Save Earl's Court campaign. Their support was warmly welcomed by local residents from LBHF and RBKC who attended the press conference.
Caroline Pidgeon AM (Lib Dem) and Stephen Knight AM (Lib Dem) were not able to attend the conference but the following statement was read out on their behalf:
"The decision taken by TfL’s Board to enter into a joint venture with Capital and Counties Properties PLC to redevelop the Earls Court Exhibition Centres represents a huge blow for both the local economy and the wider events and exhibitions industry.
The shortage of exhibition space across London is well documented, with thousands of small business relying on Earls Court to provide an essential marketing platform for their products.
The decision to remove these landmark buildings also comes at a time when other world cities are expanding their exhibition capacity in order to provide a ‘shop window’ for national industries.
Sadly TfL’s decision will create an even bigger shortfall in the space available for showcasing British business and risks undermining our international competitiveness.
The loss of existing jobs onsite together with the impact on local supply chains also leaves a big question mark over the intended benefits of this regeneration scheme.
It is a matter of deep regret that these economic impacts do not appear to have been given appropriate consideration by TfL’s Board before making their decision."
Stephen Knight AM
Caroline Pidgeon AM