The decision late last month by RBKC’s planning committee to approve the demolition of Earls Court is another step towards the wholesale destruction of an established local community. The plans also pose a threat to a potential growth industry in the UK, as the Financial Times notes in an article today. For anyone concerned about jobs and growth, it makes for grim reading.
The Earls Court exhibition centre is a cornerstone of the UK’s exhibition industry. The sector employs 76,300 across the country and generated £11bn in spending in 2011. But, as the FT notes, there remains huge potential: “with only 5 per cent of Europe’s indoor exhibition space, the UK compares poorly with its continental rivals. Germany has 22 per cent, Italy 14 and France 13 per cent.”
Clearly, this could be a growth industry. But demolishing Earls Court would be a serious blow to those prospects, and make the UK even less competitive in this area.
The article reports that industry figures have called on communities secretary Eric Pickles to use his powers to call in the development. Local community groups and other figures, including myself, have joined these calls. I have made this request because, under the normal procedure, the project will go to Mayor Boris Johnson for his go-ahead or refusal. Yet as the FT article describes:
“Mr Johnson has a conflict of interest in the planning decision because he also chairs Transport for London, which owns part of the land that Earls Court sits on. The GLA and TfL have established so-called Chinese walls to avoid bias in the decision. However Nicky Gavron, Labour spokesperson for planning on the London Assembly, has written to Mr Pickles asking him to “call in” the decision.
“Given the national importance of Earls Court and the potential windfall the Greater London Authority . . . could gain through approval, this scheme should be looked at by the secretary of state,” Ms Gavron said.”
Mr Pickles has until early next year before the local authorities finalise legal agreements and send the planning application to Boris for his approval or rejection.