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September/October 2017

Soho vs. Crossrail

A battle has been raging below the streets of Soho - on one side, London’s public transport megaproject Crossrail, on the other, an industry that needs some peace and quiet. Kevin Hilton reports on how Soho’s post houses dealt with the loud neighbors downstairs


ven before it is completed London’s Crossrail project is being hailed as a great feat of engineering. Its creation is a story of innovation and careful planning to build a railway passing under the centre of London, connecting the east and west of the city. It is also the story of how this landmark development has threatened both a key creative sector in the television and film business and the district where that sector is based. The Elizabeth Line, as the service will be known when it comes into operation in December 2018, runs from Shenfield in Essex to Maidenhead in Berkshire. Shorter parts of the line branch under the River Thames to Abbey Wood in southeast London and to Heathrow Airport. The tunnels and station platform areas have been dug out by eight giant boring machines looking like something from an episode of Thunderbirds. The works have caused substantial upheaval both above and below ground. While the whole of the central section has been affected, the area that has perhaps experienced most disruption is Soho. Soho has had several lives. It was the domain of Bohemians during the 1950s and then became almost synonymous with the sex industry through the 1960s and 70s, with the interlude of Swinging Sixties Carnaby Street. Alongside all this were book and record shops with groaning shelves and

over-packed racks, all among crowded pubs and low-life drinking dens. Soho has also had a long association with the cinema business. A whole community grew up around this, providing post production facilities for films and then TV productions and commercials. Many of these are in the audio business, either with dubbing theatres or voice-over studios, both of which demand a high degree of isolation from noise and vibration. Most have been able to pick their locations to avoid any such interference from the established London Underground lines that border Soho, but it soon became apparent when Crossrail was proposed that it would run through the centre of the district, which has a serious claim to having the highest density of recording studios in the world. Before the scheme was approved in 2008 the trade body for the post-production sector, the UK Screen Association (now the UK Screen Alliance), submitted a petition to Crossrail and the House of Commons Select Committee considering the parliamentary bill. This laid out the concerns of many facilities but one post house was so troubled by the potential for disruption and interference it drew up its own petition and engaged a team of legal and acoustic experts to argue for greater consideration from Crossrail.

GRAND CENTRAL GOES UNDERGROUND Founded by Carole Humphrey and Ivor Taylor, Grand Central Recording Studios (GCRS) specialises in soundtracks for commercials, particularly voice overs. At the the Crossrail Bill started its progress through Parliament, GCRS took a lease on the building it now occupies in Great Marlborough Street. Humphrey and Taylor were worried that ground-borne noise and vibrations from the trains would have a detrimental impact on the company’s business. GCRS retained David Bell, managing director of acoustic consultancy White Mark, which designed and built its new suites, to help assess the potential effect the construction of Crossrail would have. In a 2007 interview Bell estimated that the building work would affect one third of Soho. Almost immediately Bell and other experts, including Dr Hugh Hunt, at the time senior lecturer in the engineering department of Cambridge University, came into conflict with Crossrail’s acoustics, noise and vibrations expert, Rupert Thornley-Taylor, principal of Rupert Taylor Limited. Like many in the industrial noise and vibration sector, Rupert Thornley-Taylor favours the LAmax (dBA) standard, which uses an A-weighted curve. Bell said at the time the real issue was how quiet is a room, with the answer being no louder than NC (noise criterion)-25, a figure used by Dolby, the

TV Tech Global September/October 2017  

The technical resource for the global media ecosystem

TV Tech Global September/October 2017  

The technical resource for the global media ecosystem