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11 February 2008updated 22 Oct 2020 3:55pm

Camden’s burning

Last night's fire is a blow to Camden. But in re-development, it must retain its character

By Sian Berry

It’s Sunday and I’ve just been through Camden Town, on my way back home to Kentish Town from the Chinese New Year celebrations in Trafalgar Square and Chinatown. As I changed buses, I saw first-hand the massive amount of damage done to the canalside market by last night’s fire.

The destruction is extensive, and the danger from the damaged buildings so great that all the markets have been closed for the day. The police cordon extends most of the way down the roads leading away from the scene. As I walked over the canal to catch my bus home, I could see fire crews on cranes still pouring water over the gutted shops and market stalls, more than 18 hours after the fire started.

It was so sad to see one of my favourite parts of Camden in such a state. I have been talking up the excellence of its markets a lot lately, seeing as one of the standard Mayoral interview questions seems to be, ‘Where do you shop for clothes?’ (I do hope all the other candidates are getting that one). But of course it’s not just good for racks of second-hand bargain jackets; Camden’s markets support a wide range of entrepreneurs, artisans and craftspeople – unique small businesses that must all be suffering today.

It was a reminder, too, that we have to cherish the individuality of London’s various ‘urban villages’ – whether Camden Town or Chinatown – and support them, not take them for granted. The London Chinatown Chinese Association are doing a great job maintaining the spirit and character of their area, as shown by their tremendous work organising today’s celebrations. The stallholders and small business owners in Camden are similarly united as they find themselves under pressure from circling developers. I have joined them more than once in recent years to object to the encroachment of shiny new shopping centres into the area.

This latest blow is a challenge for all of to make sure the damaged buildings are restored for the benefit of the existing businesses and householders, and that this disaster is not used as an excuse for another characterless mall to spring up in their place.

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