Working together to build a better future
Last weekend saw London come alive as tens of thousands of people from across the world flooded into the city for the iconic annual Pride parade celebrations.
This year’s theme was “50 years since Stonewall”, marking the progress we have made from a time when the LGBTQ community was persecuted and suppressed, and police often raided venues to have them closed down.
Today, unfortunately, venue closures are again a problem, but for a very different reason.
Just days prior to Pride Weekend, the LGBTQ community was hit with the unexpected news that one of the city’s premier LGBTQ venues, XXL, was to shut its doors.
In its place will rise a large upscale development that will include two 34-storey tower blocks for new apartments, hotel, offices and shops.
This news was surprising given the popularity of the venue, which caters for up to 2,000 people a night. But the decision came after club owners lost a court appeal, allowing the developers, backed by investors from Malaysia and Singapore, to pursue their project.
In recent years, the LGBTQ community has been raising alarm bells about the sheer number of venue closures, and as a result the changing composition of LGBTQ-friendly neighbourhoods, like Soho.
According to a recent report by the University of College London, the number of LGBTQ club venues in London has declined from 125 in 2006 to 53 in 2017 – a staggering loss of 58 per cent.
One of the hardest-hit boroughs is Islington, which has lost 80 per cent of its LGBTQ venues since 2006. During the same period, Lambeth lost 47 per cent of its LGBTQ venues, with Camden and Westminster both losing 43 per cent.
Despite LGBTQ venues often being thriving and successful businesses, the UCL study showed that they are closing because of external pressures such as large-scale developments, a lack of safeguarding measures in the existing planning system, and the sale and change of use of the property by landlords.
Following the UCL report, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has pushed through a series of measures designed to stem the flow of closures. This includes mediation between venue owners, developers and companies, conducted by London’s Night Czar Amy Lamé, as well as the introduction of a new LGBT+ Venues Charter.
There have also been proposals to turn Soho and Chinatown into “special policy areas” to give them additional protections.
It is undeniably important that London’s culture and sense of community need to be preserved for future generations.
London continues to attract new residents from all over the world who come here for the city’s distinctiveness, culture, and the fact that it is a welcoming place for everyone.
In order to achieve more of a balance, developers and the LGBTQ community should build stronger bridges to ensure preservation and new development go hand in hand.
The creation of an LGBTQ city planning advisory board is one suggestion that could help to ensure the views of the community are voiced at the highest level.
London needs to preserve its uniqueness to continue to attract new people and businesses, and the best way to do that is to have an open dialogue between all stakeholders.