I first wrote about plans for a major regeneration of the heart of Earl’s Court way back in 2009, kept at it throughout my years as the Guardian’s London commentator and haven’t stopped since. But my latest coverage of the issue is a bit different – a 30-minute podcast for the London Society about a whole new renewal project for the area, made in partnership with top BBC Radio producer Andrew McGibbon.
Unlike most podcasts about planning and spatial development – indeed, unlike most podcasts in general – it is not composed of me having a chat with another person or two, but a scripted documentary featuring several interviews, “found” sounds from the neighbourhood and archive material going back more than half a century.
The finished result sounds exactly like a proper BBC radio feature – the sort of thing Andrew and I worked on together last summer for Radio 4 and won awards for. It is fantastic to have secured such a commission from the London Society, which has sustained a deep knowledge of and concern for the capital’s built environment for over 100 years.
The Earl’s Court podcast is the first of a series for the London Society called London Explained, which will seek to illuminate the often complex and sometimes hotly-contested ways in which major changes take place in the capital.
As well as Rob Heasman, chief executive of the Earls Court Development Company (ECDC), it features the views of an array of local people who have had input into the plans, a manager from the famous Troubadour Club, and key local politicians from the two boroughs – Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea – the development site straddles.
You will also hear excerpts from Patrick Hamilton’s famous pre-war novel Hangover Square, which was set in Earl’s Court, and from a range of shows held down the decades at the world-renowned Earls Court exhibition centre, ranging from the Ideal home Exhibition to Pink Floyd in concert.
I’ve never made any secret of my dislike for the previous and unsuccessful Earl’s Court project, which, to my mind, typified many of the worst ways of going about regeneration: a top-down, high-handed attitude with financial and ideological considerations dominant and local community concerns of various kinds taking a distant second place. It’s main achievement was flattening the exhibition centre and putting nothing in its place.
In the podcast, the ECDC receives a lot of praise for going about things differently, as well as some polite reminders that there’s still a long way to go before everyone – the boroughs, local businesses and residents, both young and old – can feel sure they will be happy with the end result. My hope is that everyone who listens to it feels informed, entertained and enlightened about the many factors that shape London’s big regeneration equations.
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