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Future of Earls Court in doubt beyond 2012

test 2 March 2010

UK: The iconic London exhibition and event centre may form part of a major regeneration scheme following the Olympic Games, writes David Davies. Earls Court & Olympia (EC&O) Venues owner Capital & Counties is considering the possibility of a 70-acre regeneration plan that would include the exhibition centre as well as adjacent areas owned by Transport for London and the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.

A subsidiary of the property company Liberty International, Capital & Counties has had a controlling 50% stake in EC&O since July 2007, but in recent weeks it has acquired the remaining shares. Liberty International is currently in its silent period and is due to release full details of the changes later this month.

Despite widespread media suggestion that the demolition of the Earls Court exhibition centre is the preferred scenario, Capital & Counties spokesperson Chris Rumfitt tells PSN-e that, at present, "we are still at the stage of keeping our options open". Discussions are ongoing with adjacent landholders Transport for London and the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham about the possibility of creating a large mixed usage site, but it is unlikely that any decision will be reached "for some months to come". A document seeking planning permission, meanwhile, could be more than 12 months away from submission.

"If the [other landholdings] do come into the scheme then putting the three together would give you an area of opportunity of such a scale that you could do something truly fantastic in terms of sustainable city-making," says Rumfitt. Residential and retail developments could be complemented by a "destination" component that "builds on the heritage of Earls Court", while the exhibition facilities at Olympia would be "enhanced".

Although no changes could take place prior to the venue’s role in the 2012 Olympic Games, there is a general feeling of regret about the possible loss of Earls Court, which provides a home for events as varied as the PLASA Show, the BRIT Awards, the Ideal Home Show and the Great British Beer Festival. It has also hosted some of rock music’s most iconic residencies, including Led Zeppelin in 1975 and Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ in 1980.

The latter holds especially fond memories for Brit Row’s Bryan Grant. "Earls Court was one of the few places on the planet where they could actually stage that concert at the time," he recalls. "We were able to treat the building with vast numbers of banners and drapes. It was a spectacular event and really showed the building off to its best."

Grant readily acknowledges the venue’s acoustic issues – "it was an engineer’s graveyard and a soundman’s sweaty nightmare in the early days before we worked out how to handle it!" – and expresses the need for a new, major central London concert space should Earls Court fall victim to the wrecking ball. "For one of the cultural capitals of the world, London is actually rather underserved in terms of large venues," he says.

As well as depriving London of a sizeable performance space, Earls Court’s demise could also mean a change of location for the PLASA Show. Whilst admitting that the possible development is "a cause of concern", PLASA director of events Nicky Rowland says that the organisation is in "regular contact" with the venue’s senior management and, whether or not a shift in location is required, the focus will be on continuing to produce "an excellent event for the industry which gives people what they need and meets their expectations. Whichever venue can best help us with that will be the venue that we will obviously use."



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