Commerce or Culture?

A heated row is brewing about what London Wall West – the site of the Museum of London – should become.  Local campaigners ask “Where is the vision that built the Barbican Quarter in time of post-war austerity?’ 

A computer-generated image of the plans for London Wall West

BY DAVID WILCOX @davidwilcox

There are two very different visions for the London Wall West site on the edge of the Barbican estate, due for development once the Museum of London closes in preparation for a move to East Smithfield.

The City Corporation’s vision gives priority to commercial use, the traditional economic base for the City. It is currently consulting on plans for 780,000 square feet of an office-based development, and saying that revenue from the scheme will help fund the new Museum.

Opposing the scheme, the Barbican Quarter Action campaign advocates more cultural and social uses, respecting local heritage, and providing a gateway to the City’s Culture District. They favour reuse of the Museum building, and the Bastion House office block, if possible.

Initially the City also favoured cultural uses for the site, offering to contribute £6.8 million to a £288 million Centre for Music. However last year the Centre was scrapped, and funds diverted to a major renewal of the nearby Barbican Arts Centre.

When the Centre for Music was dropped, the City’s Property Investment Board chose to proceed with an office-based scheme. Other options were never discussed by the City’s ultimate decision-making body, the Court of Common Council.

The City held an initial consultation on the scheme in December 2021, and is now consulting on revised plans, saying: “Through its development, the site provides an opportu nity to create a world-class destination that attracts major businesses”.

Local councillors, and the campaign, have called for a full report on options to be debated by the Court.

The City has itself recognised the need for a change in its economic strategy, and is investing £2.5 million a year in events and other attractions. Launching the Destination 1 City campaign Policy Chairman Chris Hayward said: “We must seize this once-in-a-gen eration opportunity to redefine the City of London and enhance its leisure offer. This will boost our attractiveness to existing audiences while also opening it up to new ones, just as the Elizabeth Line is set to connect more people to the City directly than ever before.

“Destination City will be the latest reinvention in the Square Mile’s long history. It will drive our recovery from the pandemic and boost our attractiveness to talent by growing the City’s cultural offer, in turn revitalising our streets and reinvigorating our businesses”.

The London Wall West consultation pack proposes new open spaces, a cultural events space, plus community and learning facilities. These are said to support Destination City.

But the campaign says the cultural dimension is a very small part of the total and asks on its London Starts Here website: “Where is the vision that built the Barbican Quarter in a time of post-war austerity? Why has the City lost its imagination and courage to do great things?”

At the Court of Common Council in late July Mr Hayward rejected calls from several members for a debate at Court on alternatives to the office scheme. He said that offices would provide the greatest financial return – essential in order to fund the move of the Museum of London.

Discussion over the next few months may focus down on the future of one particular site, or may widen into a broader debate about the sort of development that the City, and London, needs in the changed circumstances brought by the pandemic.

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