Sunday, 5 June 2016

A good city has industry: email from Mark Brearley to a man called Vincent, on Twitter

P Wilkinson Containers / William Say & Co, Verney Road, Bermondsey. Producing metal and plastic containers in London since 1930. They are now threatened by Southwark Council and the GLA’s plans for big scale housing development in the area.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the road a residential tower is already rising, part of a development that makes no attempt to accommodate the again burgeoning industrial economy clustered around the Old Kent Road.
Hello Vincent.

Your Twitter comment about the Old Kent Road plans, to replace an extensive mixed economy with housing dominated development, have been pointed out to me. You wrote that people need homes not the industry that is there. You launched you views in the open, and so I have taken the liberty of widely sharing my observations in response.

I am upset by your comments and I do not understand the inference that this has to be an either / or choice. Why can’t we have both? London would be a sad place if it could no longer welcome a diverse economic and civic life. Surely we don’t want our city beyond the centre to become a vast housing estate, a steroided suburb, to be unable to house the full range of activity that its people make happen, to suffocate vitality. Yes, London needs much more housing, but it also must address a wider accommodation crisis. Glib assertions that swathes of commercial activity are not needed do not help.

My business, Kaymet, has been producing anodised aluminium trays and trolleys in the area since 1947. We are proud to be a growing company that exports to 30 countries, and to be one of the hundreds of thriving industrial businesses in the area. We do not want to be pushed aside, we have no interest in leaving our city.

I do not believe it is right, or necessary, to expel all those vehicle repair businesses, the rich diversity of builders merchants, courier facilities, hirers, storers, shippers, printers and caterers. In fact people do need the aluminium and plastic container makers, the shim producers, the metal polishers and finishers, the hydraulic equipment refurbishers, the waste handlers, the powder-coaters, art restorers and steel fabricators, the set and prop, festive decoration and ceremonial hat manufacturers, the stone carvers, terrazzo producers, bakers, potters, painters and sculptors, the leatherworkers, jewellers, garment and furniture producers, the operators of ice cream vans, and more. All this is there, around the Old Kent Road, productive, dynamic, providing thousands of jobs. All this is what you claim people do not need. You are wrong.

I am sure you would not be happy if, following a process that you had no opportunity to influence, without there having been any coherent public discussion, without any options having been made visible, plans were laid out for your nice bakery to be brushed aside, to be replaced by residential focused developments. You would not like it if a councillor talked casually of expropriation, and even those running other businesses not far away started applauding, saying that you are not needed. If people started to point out that perfectly good baked items can be produced in efficient factories elsewhere, outside London, and that small scale bakers' claims to be valid are as nothing compared to the need for housing, that you and your workers can all find jobs in offices or similar, you would not be pleased, you would perhaps feel insulted. Well, you should be able to understand why we are unhappy, and why your comment is so hurtful.

Please Vincent, think again, join us in shouting out that a good city has industry, as part of its rich mix. Help us to argue that we can shape the Old Kent Road area to embrace a fully diverse economy, that this can be compatible with large scale development of housing, that bold change could seize the widest range of opportunities, could be done nimbly, inventively, inclusively. We do not need to expel, to throw away what we have, that would be foolish.



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