Knocked Down By A Train

Those who’ve organized or signed a petition to save The Astoria in London have no doubt done it for the best rock ‘n’ roll reasons, but sending their cause to site owner Derwent Valley Holdings looks to be wide of the mark.

No matter how many signatures are on the petition, and there were 27,000 as of September 26th, the reality is that Derwent Valley has no control over what happens to the site.

It’s subject to a government compulsory purchase order and likely to be leveled if the “Crossrail Project” – a new rail link across London – ever becomes a reality.

A spokesman for Derwent Valley Holdings managing director John Burns said the company “has no current proposals for the site” and has “approached the existing tenant to inquire as to whether it is interested in extending its lease,” which runs out December 2008.

The fact is the lease isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if the government takes the land to build a new railway station at Tottenham Court Road.

London mayor Ken Livingstone has already backed the redevelopment of the area, but even if it should include a new venue, it’s unlikely to be completed within a decade.

Irish promoter Denis Desmond and Live Nation, who took over the lease on the 1,000-capacity venue when they bought The Mean Fiddler Music Group, may well decide to take up Derwent Valley’s offer to extend it. But all parties involved know there’s no point talking about saving the venue and The Mean Fiddler, which is on the same site, because the matter is out of their hands. Both will have to close if the government decides it wants to run trains through them.

Derwent may well negotiate with Desmond and Live Nation to extend the lease, but it’s likely to be no more than a stay of execution. Only the government can grant a reprieve.

Despite having no control over the site, paying £27.3 million for it still looks to be good business for the developer. It already owns the neighbouring parcel of land at 135-145 Charing Cross Road, which means it now has the entire block running from Oxford Street to Goslett Yard.

If it’s forced to sell to the government, it probably wouldn’t get the full market value. But the chance to redevelop the area around the new station – and take advantage of any grants that are thrown at it – would be a gilt-edge long-term investment.

It would certainly be a better deal than Derwent Valley bringing in the bulldozers, which is what the petitioners fear, and redeveloping the site itself. The Astoria is a listed building so it certainly wouldn’t have a free hand when it came to knocking it down and putting up a shopping arcade.

While there’s no doubting the motives of Sarah Tennant and Jade Dickinson, the two Royal Holloway College students who started the petition, the British Music Inc. performing rights organization and the various trade magazines that are backing it might have given them a little more guidance on where to send it.

– John Gammon