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We at Guilt Free have our roots firmly planted in Soho, the company was born here and it’s where we do all our business. We’re not only convenient for the neighbouring companies we work with, we’re nestled in the creative hub of one of the best cities in the world.

Being in the heart of W1 is a huge part of our identity – whether we’re walking out of the studio doors across to the historic French House pub, or popping over to the Algerian Coffee Store for our daily caffeine consignment. Not to mention the food stalls on Berwick St, without which our lives would be a bland blur of Pret sarnies.

Yet as with so much of London, investors and developers are moving in and snapping up real estate wherever they can find it. In many cases this means office and studio space, which is worth more as luxury accommodation. Yet this is not to aid the housing crisis, this is to make the rich richer and forces out small businesses owners and local residents. Soho in particular is under siege from redevelopment and business premises are being transformed into residential property at an alarming rate. The area is invaluable to London’s economy and character and as such has provoked fantastic support from the public and public figures alike. This open letter below details the potential impact of government inaction and pleads for chancellor George Osbourne’s attention.

Dear George Osborne and Eric Pickles

We write about an imminent crisis for London’s creative businesses.

The square mile of Soho and its surrounds is the most creative in the world. In its way it is at least as important as the square mile in The City. Soho is responsible for 10% of the country’s creative turnover. 20% of London’s new creative jobs are based here. A quarter of Soho’s entire workforce is in the creative sectors. It is unique and valuable.

In the last four years Soho has lost 30,000 square metres of office space and gained twice that amount in residential. The creative clustering that makes this such an extraordinary economic and cultural engine is under threat as a result. There is a very real danger that we will erode the creative fabric of Soho past the point we can ever rebuild it.

We appreciate the need for housing in London, but the massive loss of office and studio space is hugely damaging both economically and culturally. Soho has recently lost working space for 3,000 people and, therefore, up to £500million in turnover as a result of the shift to residential. The majority of new residential is also expensive and only suitable for portfolio investment or very high net worth individual purchases.

The City Council, local property developers and the creative industries all agree. It is essential that we are able to address local cluster needs within the planning approval process. Currently there are no grounds for resisting applications for conversion of office use to residential.

Any diminishing of the scale and impact of the creative industries in Soho will be a massive loss of business and prestige to London and the whole UK. We ask that you urgently address this.

London is the creative capital of the world and we must do more to ensure creative people and companies remain at its centre. The creative industries are growing rapidly and should be seen as a vital and energetic part of our cities. They generate every form of wealth. Importantly, therefore, we are all keen to know what policy commitments you are able to make in your forthcoming manifesto to protect creative industry space in London and, by extension, the UK as a whole.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Allott OBE
Stephen Bayley
David Evans Chairman The Soho Society
Stephen Fry Chairman of Save Soho
Sally Greene OBE
Tom Harvey MBE
Sir John Hegarty
John James MD Soho Estates
Pat Joseph CCO The Mill
Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho CBE
Ian Livingstone CBE
Sir Cameron Mackintosh
Steve Marmion Artistic Director Soho Theatre
Sir Alan Parker CBE
Lord Puttnam CBE
Cllr Philippa Roe, Leader of Westminster City Council
Sir William Sargent
Sir Paul Smith CBE
Sir John Sorrell CBE
John Spearman Chairman Framestore

It’s a read which fills you with dread, hopefully the powers that be will be able to intervene and we can find a compromise between creativity and capital.

Why not sign this petition to make Soho a heritage site in the meantime? Stand together Soho!!

GF x