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Griff Rhys Jones: We must save historic Camden from ‘commercialisation’

TV presenter was awarded an OBE in Queen's Birthday Honours

14 June, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

GRIFF Rhys Jones has warned “commercialisation” is not the answer to everything and that big-money developments should not be allowed to ruin Camden’s historic neighbourhoods.

The comedian and conservationist was speaking to the New Journal after being awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for his work with civic societies – and suggested more neighbourhoods should be considered conservation areas.

“We need less belief that outright commercialisation is the only proper solution, and more recognition of the value of the non-iconic. We all know areas that are right but not ‘listed’,” said Mr Rhys Jones, who lives in Fitzrovia.

“There should be less belief in grand projects and big solutions, and more encouragement of neighbourhood initiative.” Mr Rhys Jones, loved for Not The Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones, has long been involved in the National Civic Society Movement, and while he originally earned fame in comic series, in recent years his TV appearances have focussed on documentaries with a historical slant.

He said he was honoured to have been given an OBE, adding that he accepted it on behalf of all those who give up their time to look after the place where they live.

“We should have more conservation areas and more recognition of townscapes that work and why. How many officers have ever been abroad to make comparisons?,” said Mr Rhys Jones.

He said that the concept of having designated development zones might be counter-productive. “We should encourage more ‘tidying up’ and mini-improvements, instead of clearing away and starting again,” he said.

Mr Rhys Jones added that he respected the work of Camden’s civic groups, from the individual societies such as the Heath and Hampstead Society, and the conservation area advisory committees, and that such volunteer-led bodies were crucial to protecting heritage.

He said: “I know that architects can raise their eyebrows and sigh when I talk about civic societies and amenity groups, but I feel it is our duty to help people understand the extraordinary good and valuable work they do. I have been barracked at meetings for voicing opinions about central London by ‘professionals’ who resent interference. We have to educate that we are not a threat. We want inevitable change managed well and we want to stop some coteries believing that they are experts in areas that affect all of us. Argument, debate, criticism – they are vital for the architect, too.”

He added: “I think that planning is strong but some decisions are made at council levels which the majority would reject. We need more open, simple, considered debate. Citizens should start to vote according to issues that matter to them, like trees and high streets and development. Then we would see more care taken.”

Library assistant who became best-selling author

FORMER Camden library assistant and author Sarah Waters has also been given an OBE for her services to literature. Ms Waters has written best-sellers including The Paying Guests and Tipping The Velvet.

Sarah Waters

She said: “Writing is, by its nature, a very solitary pursuit – you spend most of your time as an author hidden away. So to receive this kind of very public honour is a huge thrill. I’m absolutely delighted, and a little bit dazed.”

Roundhouse chief executive Marcus Davey, who oversees the Chalk Farm performance space and arts training centre, has been awarded a CBE.

He said: “It is an acknowledgement of the amazing team and volunteers at the Roundhouse. It is such a joy to work here.”

Highgate sculptor Rachel Whiteread was given a CBE for services to art, while Robert Cohan, artistic director at dance venue The Place, in Bloomsbury, has been awarded a CBE for services to choreography and dance.

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