Back in 2014 the GLA’s Artists’ Workspace Study predicted the loss of 30 per cent of artists’ workspace in London by 2019, which would leave over 3,000 creatives without workspace. The situation if anything has worsened since then.
A typical example of an artistic community under threat is the Old Gasworks in Fulham which hosts a vibrant community of over 200 creative artists and artisans but is now, as are so many such workspaces across the country, the victim of rising property prices and upmarket residential development for investment.
Changes to planning legislation has meant that creative workspaces are more vulnerable than ever to the rise in residential development and workspace providers are struggling to gain access to finance at rates that enable the businesses to grow in line with demand.
Artists make valuable contributions to community cohesion, creating vibrant and active places. The irony is that in doing so they are priced out of the very places they have made attractive and valuable neighbourhoods.
Subsequently the new London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has pledged to explore the concept of Creative Land Trust to support affordable creative workspaces in the capital and is working with entrepreneurs and philanthropists to tackle rising rents.
There other policies too which could be explored, designed to save these workspaces which are so vital to Britain’s cultural and creative future and provide affordable new space: creative enterprise zones, innovative use of publicly sector property, and rate relief.
Encouraging words were contained in the Government’s Culture White Paper back in March:
“We will encourage local authorities and property owners to make more empty spaces and buildings available for cultural activities on a temporary basis and encourage them to consider cultural elements, such as artists’ studios, when planning new developments.”
Likewise the Entrepreneurs for the Arts scheme in London was set out in the White Paper. This would “bring together property developers, entrepreneurs and small businesses to create new studio hubs and support existing studio operators”
The Government however in answer to a recent question put by me in the House of Lords has demonstrated how unprepared it is to make its words a reality and how remote it now under this premiership from the plight of creatives both in London and elsewhere. The Minister shrugged it off as “best made at the local level”
The Minister essentially prayed in aid localism, highlighting how well placed local authorities are to make spending decisions. He’s not wrong but he did fail to point out that both the Arts Council England and local authorities have had their funding cut drastically in recent years.
My party is the first to applaud genuine local decision taking but not when this is essentially an excuse for abrogation of Government responsibility. We need to keep up the pressure until they realize the need to take active steps themselves to tackle the workspace issue and cannot simply shrug this off as someone else’s problem.
The author is the Liberal Democrat DCMS Spokesperson in the House of Lords. Follow him on Twitter at @whiterhino1949