It looks like the aldermen at Camden Council will let their bureaucrats have their way on the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama’s advertising hoarding.
I use the archaic term “aldermen” to refer to the fossilised variety of local councillors. On Thursday night, the school’s appeal to the Camden planning committee, an appeal backed by local councillors including the culture portfolio holder Tulip Siddiq, neighbours and no less a gem of an alumnus than Dame Judi Dench, had failed and Camden Council are proceeding with the order to remove the hoardings that have stood on the school’s property for 27 years.
And so the £150,000 a year that the school gives to charity work each year will have to stop because – after 27 years – the council has now decided the hoardings are objectionable because their “size, appearance and environmental impact”. Even a passionate letter from Dame Judi, dismayed at the removal of “a vital source of revenue” to theatre and arts education, has failed to cut any ice.
“We’ll have to think hard about want the implications of this are,” said a downcast Central principal, Gavin Henderson. “It’s very bad news”.
The hoardings are owned by J C Decaux which earns the school a very handy £150,000 a year. There have been no complaints from the neighbours or the wider community about them. Nobody has objected. But in April, Camden’s planning department decided that all advertising hoardings in the borough must go, and ordered Central to remove them. Then Central appealed with a new planning proposal, and last week, after five months during which hopes gradually rose that sense might in the end prevail, the planning committee rejected it.
The school, now even more dignified with the title of Royal, has not used the money for it core activities, strapped as all university faculties are. It has gone to other arts activities that would otherwise not be funded, and it’s Central’s way of being in touch with the theatre community outside the classroom. £50,000 of it goes to the annual Shakespeare Schools Festival, £10,000 to the Roundhouse’s Call to Create, its global network of organisations devised to support creative youngsters. Some money goes to help education programme across the road at the Hampstead Theatre whose funding was slashed by the council.
It is a petty side to local authorities that has nothing to do with cost-cutting – Camden will save nothing with this action, and will deprive others of useful income – which goes counter to the more realistic approach of other councils that see the value of the arts in their midst, like Doncaster and its Cast theatre, and Leicester and its Curve. And that it should be an inner London borough that should be guilty of such crassness, so close the West End which provides such wealth to the London economy, makes the decision even more inexplicable.
And is there an explanation? Possibly but, as the Camden Journal (whose editor Eric Gordon has personally taken up the cause) reports, Camden Council are making no comment.