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Forcing Development Sharks to Rebuild a Bulldozed Pub Shows That London Has Had Enough

They can take our land, they can raise our rent, but they can never take our boozers.
London, GB

The Carlton Tavern before it got knocked down, and how it will presumably look when it gets rebuilt. Photo by Ewan Munro.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

We'll put up with a lot in this country. A housing market which condemns an entire generation to a lifetime at the mercy of ruthless buy-to-let landlords. The steady erosion of our public spaces, to be replaced with private plazas and shopping malls. The destruction of our shared cultural heritage in the name of profit. But we all have limits. This week, we found out where they are. The developer who tore down the Carlton Tavern in Kilburn, to turn it into flats without permission, thought the immediate storm of outrage would blow over. He was wrong. We'll put up with a lot in this country. But knock down our local pub? We're kicking the fuck off.


When the chorus of condemnation comprised the pub's landlady, councillors from both sides of the political spectrum, and the Cat from 'Red Dwarf,' it was clear that something had to be done. Westminster Council consulted its lawyers and discovered it has the power to demand that the pub be rebuilt—exactly as it was before the bulldozers rolled in. An enforcement notice is due to be issued next week, ordering the developer to "recreate in facsimile the building as it stood immediately prior to its demolition." The pub's owner and developer clearly thought the reward from demolishing the building would outweigh the potential fine. For once, a council has stood up and said enough is enough.

It was about time. Local authorities are frequently pitifully weak in their dealings with developers. There is a powerful narrative that the public sector is a brake on economic growth, which councils feel the need to disprove. Attracting "inward investment" and promoting "economic growth" for the area, even if that means kicking out locals, become the only real factors in decisions about the future of our cities. Everything else can be compromised. Affordable housing, truly public spaces, the future of a community pub? All of these can be brushed aside, because to fight for them would be to stand in the way of "progress."

It's remarkable that there are any exceptions to this rule at all. Developers have so many tools in their arsenal. Expensive lawyers. PR consultants. The sham of public consultation. But the biggest thing that works in the developers' favor? Apathy. No one gets excited about "core strategies," "supplementary planning documents," or "local development frameworks." The Carlton Tavern shows that when enough people do kick off, the developer doesn't always win.


Related: Watch our video on rapid gentrification in London, 'Regeneration Game.'

There have been other recent successes. When the Southbank Centre revealed plans to spend £120 million ($184 million) turning the entire estate into a giant Pret-a-Manger, the future looked pretty bleak for the skateboarders who had made the center their home for more than 30 years. The Save Our Southbank campaign changed all that. Faced with overwhelming public opposition, Boris Johnson eventually backed the skaters and the center's plans were dropped. Or there's the New Era Estate in Hoxton, which was due to be sold to a US investor with plans to kick out the residents and triple the rents. A high-profile campaign backed by Russell Brand saw the investor shamed into backing out of the deal. For now, the residents have been allowed to stay.

Not all developers are bastards. But enough of them are that it's not enough to rely on their goodwill to safeguard the future of our cities. There will be plenty more battles. Right now, there are plans to spend £60 million ($92 million) of public money building a "garden bridge" over the Thames—mostly because Joanna Lumley thinks it's a good idea. Apparently we're going to pay for its upkeep with proceeds from "merchandise" and "pop-up events," which is all very well if you've ever been to Hampstead Heath and thought it could do with more pulled pork and fridge magnets. Then there's the ongoing battle over housing in the capital, with residents of the Aylesbury and Carpenters estates fighting back against the tide of "regeneration" sweeping across the capital.

We won't win them all. There's also a long way to go. But more and more people are fighting back against the injustices of our development industry. Action East End has compiled a map of no less than 40 housing and gentrification campaigns in London alone. We all know development has to take place but, increasingly, we're demanding it takes place on our terms.

In the hours after the Carlton Tavern was demolished, a message was scrawled across the hoarding that stands around the site where the pub once stood. "No right to do this!" it reads. "People before profit!" Ordinarily, we might look on this as a worthy but impotent gesture. For once, it was remarkably prescient. The demand for the Carlton Tavern to be rebuilt is a sign that we've had enough of developers acting with impunity. It was well overdue.

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