Local resident and activist Max Neufeld regaled an audience last autumn with tales from his 60 years in Fitzrovia, and his descriptions of the recent and many pestilences that have been rained down on the neighbourhood and which are destroying its special character.
At the event in Holborn Library on 27 September 2022, more than 60 people squeezed into the second floor Local Studies and Archive Centre to hear him speak.
Neufeld, now in his tenth decade of life, painted a picture of a 1960s neighbourhood full of characterful small shops, delicatessens and restaurants run by immigrant communities alongside back room tailors making suits for boutiques in Savile Row.
He described living as an architecture student in a shared Georgian house in Berners Street, before buying a bombsite with his wife Yolanta to build a terraced house which he himself designed.
He was witness to a rapidly changing central London which was being flattened by property developers. Most of his activism was centred on what is today’s Charlotte Street conservation area — a designation that he and his colleagues helped to establish to preserve the area’s architectural heritage.
Having attended an planning appeal with one of his neighbours he was encouraged to fight the developers — who were sniffing around Fitzrovia “like truffle hunters’ dogs” — and preserve the scale and character of the neighbourhood that he had quickly grown to love.
Sometimes he and his colleagues at the Charlotte Street Association won, but many times they lost.
He identified “seven plagues” that are today destroying the character of the neighbourhood: 1) business use being the priority in the central area; 2) changes to the planning use-classes; 3) the Tottenham Court Road intensification area in the London Plan; 4) Camden’s failure to implement its own development policies; 5) The Fitzrovia Partnership Business Improvement District; 6) AirBnb; and 7) Crossrail.
He concluded his talk by speculating if things could have turned out differently. He argued that a land development tax would have mitigated the excesses of property development, and provide the community with resources to create more social housing and greater and improved public open spaces.
His talk was recorded and has been transcribed and is available to read and listen to below.