‘Crime hotspot’ row as Madame Jojo’s gets go-ahead to reopen
Famous Soho burlesque venue was shut down five years ago
06 December, 2019 — By Tom Foot
MADAME Jojo’s has been given the green light to reopen, five years after the famous burlesque venue was shut down sparking anti-gentrification protests across Soho.
Property company Soho Estates – run by the late porn baron Paul Raymond’s grandchildren India and Fawn James – had its licensing application for the site in Brewer Street and Walker’s Court approved yesterday (Thursday).
But Westminster Council’s decision has triggered outrage from the Soho Society which had strongly objected, warning the proposals would worsen a “crime hotspot” that after dark becomes a “sinister place where people with criminal intent loiter”.
The society has also slammed former QI host Stephen Fry for writing in support of Madame Jojo’s, urging the national treasure to stop meddling with an area he does not live in.
Mr Fry, who as a founder member of the Save Soho campaign group, set up in the wake of the club’s closure, had told council chiefs “the absence of Madame Jojo’s has tragically diminished the brightness of Soho’s inextinguishable light”, adding: “Thus I am utterly thrilled that the venue is to open its doors again. Madame Jojo’s epitomises the spirit and vibrancy of the most creative square mile in the world.”
But David Gleeson, co-chairman of the Soho Society, told the licensing meeting: “The residents who live around these commercial properties know better than people who do not live locally, like for example Stephen Fry, or possibly most of the staff at Soho Estates. If they don’t actually live there every night they don’t know the full impact of it.”
Society chairman Tim Lord added: “Yet again Westminster City Council pays more attention to property developers rather than the genuine concerns and detailed knowledge of Soho residents. Madame Jojo’s was a fantastic LGBT institution in its day but the chances that the new, larger, nightclub having any connection to that illustrious past is precisely zero.”
The society had objected to the entrance to the club being on Brewer Street instead of Walker’s Court but this was one of conditions imposed on the developer by the council.
Approving the application, the committee restricted opening hours from 3am requested to 2am and said the “premises must primarily be used as cabaret or burlesque venue”.
The Soho Estates’ application had said that “some performances may contain nudity, including burlesque style”.
Objections had claimed the area had moved on from “the old Soho of seedy clubs, sex shops, prostitutes and drug dealers” since the closure of Madame Jojo’s. Gentrification had “elevated the tone of the area, and fashion shops and fashionable cafés and eateries have been established”, the objections said.
Another added: “Another late night venue here will just add to the general madness that comes with that, drunk people, beeping taxis, drug dealers, thieves, litter, etc, etc.”
The council’s guidance is that applications for burlesque even with partial nudity should be rejected unless in “exceptional circumstances”.
The Met Police had opposed the application but mysteriously withdrew their objection shortly before the start of the meeting.
And when Paul “King of Soho” Raymond died in 2008, leaving a chunk of the estate to grand-daughters Fawn and India.
He had amassed swathes of real estate using profits from magazines such as Razzle.
Since closing in 2014 Madame Jojo’s has undergone a substantive renovation by Soho Estates – which is chaired by Tory politician Stephen Norris – with the premises incorporating the Escape club and the main hall has been built underground.
Alun Thomas, Soho Estates’s lawyer, said: “When Madame Jojo’s closed, Soho Estates got a lot of flack for it. We always said we’d bring it back and that’s why we are here today.
“It belongs on Brewer’s Street. It’s a part of Soho. It’d be a crying shame if nobody could see Madame Jojo’s because it was on Walker’s Street. It’s part of Soho’s cultural heritage.”
Licensing committee chair Cllr Karen Scarborough said: “We’re going to grant the application… we have noted the concerns of the residents and the day-to-day ones as well as the night-to-night ones and each case needs to be considered on its merits and we believe that the conditions that will be read out will mitigate the concerns of public nuisance and promote the licensing objectives.”
A council spokesman added: “We would encourage neighbours to contact us immediately if they feel any of these conditions are being breached.”