Why Boris Johnson should step in to save London’s WorldPride parade

The Mayor could make an important gesture to the LGBT community in London by helping with last-minute funding problems.

WorldPride, an event that was meant to showcase London as a leading city for LGBT rights and life, is fast resembling a paltry village fete. Now, it’s up to all those who honour Pride’s core values to call on Boris Johnson to intervene, and to step up and be counted themselves on Saturday, whatever the state of the parade.

If you don’t already know (and it’s been so little reported in the mainstream press you probably don’t), last Thursday WorldPride organisers Pride London revealed that a shortfall in funding, estimated to be around £66,000 by the LGBT VSO coalition Consortium, would mean drastic last-minute changes for this Saturday’s WorldPride parade day. No special events in Soho, a reduced rally in Trafalgar Square, no outdoor drinking and late licensing in Soho and most galling of all, no floats – floats which volunteers and LGBT charities have invested precious hours and pounds in constructing (with a minimum cost of £2,500 just to secure one), and are now out of pocket for having done so. Being unable to pay for the requisite policing means the procession start time has been moved forward by two hours, scuppering thousands of pre-arranged travel plans, and the official Pride magazine, which details the day’s schedule, has been out of date since it dropped off the press. The one million or so expected visitors are currently en route to a glorified march about town, something akin to what Pride London’s bizarre sleight of spin calls "the roots of the original Pride London rallies". But 40 years later, even Peter Tatchell, the founder of that first march, considers the comparison a travesty, not a compliment: “We’re not only letting down LGBT people in Britain, we’re also betraying the trust and confidence of LGBT people world-wide. This is an absolute disaster,” he said.

WorldPride in London should have been a spectacular party which reminded the international community of the ever-pressing need to fight for the rights of LGBT people, wherever they may be. Now, both the party and the political message have been egregiously undermined by the committee’s incompetence and nonsensical hesitancy in admitting it needed funding help. If the event is allowed to fall apart, London’s claim to being a city of tolerance and social liberalism will surely be tarnished.

Meanwhile, the LGBT community and those involved with the event are conflicted about the best way forward. In an open letter to Boris Johnson, a Facebook group called Shame London have asked the Mayor "to provide equivalent funding to the Notting Hill Carnival", which would enable the parade proper to be reinstated. Since the GLA has in fact already donated £100,000 to the event, others disagree that it is Johnson’s duty to step up to the plate. Some have called out for a celebrity donor, or Soho businesses that profit year round from the LGBT community, to put up the cash; others claim to be prepared to fundraise themselves. Pride London is the only official group with the means to distribute gathered funds, but vitriol for them is now so intense that many potential supporters would not pass a penny the committee’s way whatever it could now pull off. Somebody, then, must surely act as both a mediator and a guarantor.

Late last night, Pride London confirmed that it had secured the support of two sponsors, Smirnoff and QSoft in meeting some of the deficit, theoretically enabling the restoration of the floats to the parade and the closure of selected Soho roads, should the GLA agree. A final all-agencies meeting is planned for later today where the restoration of WorldPride now depends on the cooperation of Westminster Council and the Met, or a top-down order from the only man who can demand it: the Mayor himself.

Johnson’s reticence to intervene so far is not exactly reassuring. Would Johnson not have offered help immediately if the Jubilee celebrations had been financially mismanaged? Or the Olympics? Even the most cynical of us can see that the furore presents Johnson with the perfect political opportunity to up the Tories’ liberal cuddle-credentials. So what point has the Mayor made by so far failing to step in and save the day? That you can put a price on protecting and promoting human rights, and it stands at roughly £66K?

In the meantime, besides occupying City Hall, or picketing Boris’ home, what can any of the appalled rest of us do? Well, join the Shame London Facebook campaign and email the Mayor. Or use a similar letter drafted by Consortium to put pressure on the GLA to reinstate the original plans. And – most importantly - plan to attend WorldPride on Saturday, of course, however the event turns out. Even if we can’t party as hard as we were hoping, we can still do what thousands of other individuals still waiting for LGBT acceptance around the world cannot; march with our friends and loved ones and say to the world, it’s ok to be gay. Whatever Pride London or the authorities owed us in honesty or actions, we owe it to all those denied the right to LGBT identity to show that solidarity.
 

Boris Johnson at the Gay Pride march in London in 2008. Photograph: Getty Images

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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