London’s Soho gives locals more power over planning decisions – but who’s to assume they’ll always back the clubs in this notorious red light district?

📷: Garry Knight

If you were to say the word Soho to me, the first thing that comes to mind is prostitutes. There’s no other way for me to phrase it. I know there’s lots of shopping opportunities in the area and other things – but I’m afraid to say that top of the pile was the so-called “Models” signs…

Anyway, the residents of Soho recently voted to give themselves more power to decide on planning applications in their area. I can’t help but think this sounds to me like an excuse for politicians to swerve their responsibilities towards their constituents, but what’s happened has happened.

A lot of the media – and that inevitably includes the lazy, supine dance music press – are framing this as some kind of victory for nightlife and a defeat for the evil developers who want to build skyscrapers and expensive new apartments. But isn’t all this rather simplistic?

Isn’t there a real danger of stalemate with this kind of system? Let’s say a planning application goes in for a big skyscraper which will be filled with shops and restaurants. Locals say they don’t want it. The developers go to court. If the courts decide with the locals, it could deter investment in the area in the long-term. If the courts go with the developers, it’ll be seen as ignoring democracy.

I can see this potentially becoming very messy at some point. I happen to believe that nightclubs do need protection – although I also happen to think they could do more to help themselves amidst a context of 26% in a poll being happy to see nightclub disappear forever.

But instead of banging heads and using their diplomatic skills to get developers and nightclub owners to get on and respect each other’s right to exist, Soho politicians have decided to abdicate their duty towards the area. It’s a shameful dereliction of duty and one that’s likely to end with courts having to make more decisions on planning applications, not less…