OPINION - I’m glad Greggs won its battle, but London is losing the nightlife war

Rohan Silva
Rohan Silva

Thud. It was the unmistakable sound of a Greggs pasty hitting an armoured car.

In perhaps the most surreal moment of my time working in politics, the then chancellor’s official car was being pelted with pies — as part of a protest against the so-called pasty tax. I was sat in the back of the car, hoping the protesters would lob a steak bake or two my way — I bloody love those.

I’ve been thinking about Greggs again because the company has just won a court battle with Westminster Council to be allowed to open its Leicester Square bakery into the wee hours.

Sadly, most shops, bars and music venues don’t have Greggs’ financial resources, clout or media contacts — so can’t do anything about it when local councils ban them from opening late.

It shows. Between 2007 and 2017 alone, London lost a third of its live music venues — many as a result of clampdowns by officious, wrongheaded local councils.

It’s a similar story when you look at the capital’s club scene. Over the past year, spaces such as Space 289 and The Cause have closed down, leaving London with the lowest number of clubs since at the mid-Nineties.

And on top of all that, councils across the city such as Hackney have imposed draconian licensing rules and curfews that have forced dozens of clubs, pubs and music venues to close down.

The aggregate effect of these shortsighted local decisions has been terrible. London is a less appealing and interesting place. That obviously matters to everyone who lives here — but it also hurts our competitiveness, because it makes us less attractive to global talent.

When I decided to open an outpost of Second Home (the creative workspace company I co-founded) in Lisbon, a big reason was the fact that you can easily stay out late in the Portuguese capital, and local leaders were helping new bars and venues to open rather than closing them down. London has been heading in the opposite direction for a long time.

You find the same story again and again — people are drawn to big cities that have a vibrant nightlife. As David Hockney has said about quitting the UK and moving to the US: “It was more open, with 24-hour cities and pubs and restaurants that didn’t close.”

There are some heroes trying to fight back, like Mike Kill, who runs the Night Time Industries Association, which is doing a great job of making the case for the economic and cultural value of our nightlife.

Is there any hope? To be fair, the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, gets it — he just doesn’t have enough power to overrule local councils and build a truly 24-hour city. If that changes — and it really should, given that the Mayor of London now has far fewer direct powers than his counterparts in Birmingham or Manchester — then we could be in with a chance.

Until then I fear London’s nightlife will continue to fall behind other major global cities, leaving the capital a sadder, quieter and duller place.

This unforgettable Premier League season

I’m in a few footy-obsessed WhatsApp groups, and my phone lit up this weekend as Arsenal mates were getting taunted for “bottling” the title, Chelsea fans got stick for their club’s mess while Spurs supporters copped flak as usual.

It’s getting near what pundits call the “business end” of the season — and I reckon this Premier League campaign might be the best ever.

My faves until this year were 1995-6 (Keegan rant, Newcastle blowing the title, Asprilla getting off the plane, Euro 96 etc) and 2011-12 (peak Luis Suarez, Mario Balotelli setting off fireworks in his bathroom, Fabrice Muamba miraculously surviving a heart attack, THAT Sergio Aguero goal).

But despite VAR and everything else sucking the joy out of the game, this season possibly tops all that — thanks to Todd Boehly at Chelsea, Arsenal’s collapse, Man City’s Erling Haaland, left, the weirdness of a winter World Cup in Qatar and all the rest. Football — bloody hell.