BULLDOZERS are set to roll into a historic Soho street after a massive redevelopment was given the green light, despite a string of objections claiming it would “sanitise” the area.
Soho Estates was given permission to demolish parts of Walkers Court, Peter Street and Brewer Street to create new nightclubs, offices and a restaurant. The narrow backstreet Walkers Court is famous for the scores of brightly lit sex shops and the legendary Raymond Revuebar, opened by porn baron Paul Raymond in 1958, is at the centre of the redevelopment.
The £10million scheme was given permission by Westminster Council on Tuesday and they said the benefits of removing “sex-related uses” outweighed their concerns, which included the loss of “unlisted buildings of merit”, the increase in height of the buildings and the “poor-quality” studio flats that would be built at another part of the development in Wardour Street.
Raymond’s grand-daughter Fawn James, who is director of Soho Estates, submitted the application earlier this year and plans to open an “off-Broadway” theatre in the old Boulevard Theatre and return the famous Revuebar neon lights to their former glory.
But there has been widespread opposition to the plans. A review of the proposal compiled by planning officers admitted: “Many objectors consider that the loss of the sex-related uses would harm the unique character of Walkers Court and the character of Soho.”
More than 50 letters of objection were received from residents and business owners, which argued: “The changes would be harmful to the character of the area. The seedier side of the area is one of its vital features, the proposals would sanitise Soho and accelerate the transition to a bland and characterless area.
“Walkers Court is the heart of Soho and a destination spot because of historic connections. It is a tourist attraction and should be protected.”
Responding to the objections, council officers said: “We don’t think the loss of these uses would be in any way harmful to the area.”
The Soho Society objected to the design and said they had concerns about the number of people that would be pouring out onto the narrow street when four new venues opened with a total capacity of 1,068. They said too much glass was being used in the development “in conflict with the aim of enhancing Walkers Court as a pedestrian route”.
English Heritage also opposed the development and said they objected to “the loss of building of merit on Peter Street, and the poor design of their replacements, which would result in harm to the character and appearance of the Soho Conservation Area.” They said the application should be refused.
Members of the English Collective of Prostitutes attended the hearing on Tuesday wearing metallic red wigs and sunglasses and heckled the committee when they failed to mention the scores of sex workers who would be kicked out of the “walk-up flats” where women had legally been working for decades. They shouted “shame on you” as the proposals were rubber-stamped. They said: “Excuse me, you haven’t raised the harm caused to sex workers when they are thrown out of their flats that they’ve been in for 25 years or longer. You didn’t even mention it.”
Planning committee chairman Robert Davis told them: “Could you please be quiet. We don’t like members of the public shouting and screaming. It is not the way we do things here.”
Voting in favour of the plan Cllr Davis said: “The new designs are very exciting. They are very open and I like the idea of a lot of glass because it does allow a great transparency in the area. I’ve no problems with the height, the design or the demolition of the new buildings.”