A cup of tea with… where we sit down and chat with those who make Victoria what it is. People with a passion for Victoria, people who live or work here and know the area, its history and its future better than anyone else. This month we talk to Councillor Robert Davis MBE DL, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Business, Culture and Heritage.
How long have you worked in Victoria?
I have worked in Victoria since 1982.
What was the biggest change you have experienced in Victoria?
How retail has taken off! When I first started working here there was very little retail. There was the old Army and Navy department store, (better known as the House of Fraser now) and pretty much that was it. If you needed to do any real shopping you had to go up to the West End, so the explosion of retail is quite amazing.
What is your favourite spot in Victoria?
The Sir Simon Milton Square, which is the new square created in Nova. And the reason why is because it is named after Sir Simon Milton who was my partner who sadly died six years ago. He was Boris Johnson’s Deputy Mayor of London and before that he was leader of Westminster City Council, where he was knighted for his services for local government. They named the main new street in Victoria after him. So that is for me a very special spot.
If you could change one thing in Victoria, what would it be?
The area in front of the station. Which is now a bus station when it should be a beautiful piazza. The people arriving via the underground, mainland station or bus should walk into a beautiful open piazza very similar to King’s Cross Station. I think it is a disgrace that Network Rail don’t seem to be doing something with it and it is about time London Transport and Network Rail come together and move the bus station elsewhere.
What is your favourite story?
A very special story for me surrounds what was called the St James Theatre (and is now called The Other Palace) that essentially wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for me!
The building had been a theatre in the Fifties but was bought out in the Sixties. It was initially used as a religious centre but then mysteriously about 15 or 20 years ago it burned down and it remained empty for years.
Then a private developer bought it and wanted to turn it into a block of flats. I was strongly opposed to this as I wanted a theatre there again. He gradually agreed to put in a small theatre with residential units above it, but after a year he came back and said it didn’t work commercially and that the theatre would have to go. He offered me £100,000 which he said could go to Arts programming but I said no and insisted on a theatre going back in there. He reluctantly agreed but asked if he could put another floor in to make it work. My team weren’t happy about another floor but I said if it gets us the theatre we would do it. A year later he came back again and said it still doesn’t work, and asked for another floor! I was of course losing patience but he needed two floors in order to fit the stage and I was insistent he got it built. And all of a sudden it miraculously got built and now we have this fantastic theatre (which as you know just was bought by Andrew Lloyd Webber) and is home to award winning musicals and showcasing new talent. I feel many would have given up and taken the £100,000 he was offering us but I am so glad I stuck to my guns and insisted it was built.
What is your message for the people out there in Victoria?
They should remember Victoria is more than a commuter belt; there are fantastic shops, restaurants, cafes, and most importantly three theatres! The Victoria Palace is about to be refurbished and they will show Hamilton. Then there’s The Other Palace and the Apollo Victoria. This is a real destination now, not just a means to get to Gatwick or get home! It is a place to dwell and enjoy.
What is the biggest issues/ challenge Victoria is facing?
Managing the change, because it is changing so drastically that one has to make sure it is managed properly. Getting the balance right so there are enough retailers, enough restaurants, enough housing, and not allowing one element to overwhelm another element is crucial.
What is your favourite lunchtime spot?
My favourite restaurant, which I go to regularly is called M Restaurant. I love their steaks and I love the atmosphere.
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