Clerkenwell used to be affordable. In 1996 I worked on the Living Bridges exhibition at the Royal Academy with Nigel Coates who had offices in the pre-refurbishment Morelands Building at the junction of Goswell Road and Old Street. It was big and cold, the loos were dickensian, but it was only £4 a sq foot. The same space now would cost you fifteen times that amount. not great for small companies, nor great for start ups. OK, so if you can’t afford Clerkenwell, why not move east where its cheaper - for the time being? But the new businesses which are the future of the London economy cannot keep moving further and further out, they might as well go to Birmingham, Bristol or Berlin - and quite a lot of them are. Which it is why it is very important that Sadiq Khan should make the provision of affordable workspace a key part of his planning policy in the new London Plan that he is working on right now and which will determine the future shape of London for the next 30 years. More easily said than done - Islington have supported affordable space near the Old Street Roundabout but even with a 50 per cent grant rents can work out at around £40 a square foot, which is hardly cheap. The Mayor’s plan should look strategically at where affordable space should be provided and come up with a scheme that makes affordable workspace a key element in all new development, just as he does with housing. In London’s economy it is impossible to stop rising rents - or gentrification if you like - that can only be balanced by some sort of public intervention. Co-working spaces and less onerous leases have helped new businesses but are unlikely to be enough in the rough and tumble of the post Brexit economy.
This article first appeared in the Clerkenwell Post
Peter Murray, commenting on London, architecture, cycling and cities