Dear Richard Branson: A political commentator has some suggestions for Richard Branson as he embarks on transforming London's County Hall into a hotel and leisure complex

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Indy Lifestyle Online
There are those of us who can only smile wryly at the plans you have just revealed for turning London's County Hall into what is, in effect, a theme park of the 20th century. After all that this building has been and seen these last few decades, what could be more appropriate? And who, dear Richard, could be a better choice for manager than you?

Well, there is always Ken Livingstone, of course. I see that the former Greater London Council leader has been invited to open the pounds 150m hotel and leisure complex that you are going to develop on behalf of the Japanese Shirayama Shokusan property company. It is only right that Ken should do the deed - fair's fair, after all, if you see what I mean, eh, Richard?

The building may have stood proudly on the south bank of the Thames for much of the century, but it was only thanks to Red Ken and his merry comrades that it was propelled into the centre of public attention.

I trust your 'virtual reality entertainment centre' will include machines that transport spectators, at the mere touch of a button, back to experience the sensation of being a left-loving Londoner in the early Eighties before Thatcher vanquished the GLC by the only means she had left - abolishing it.

And I do hope, incidentally, that the largest walk-through aquarium in Europe, on the lower ground floor, will incorporate a special section for newts, as famously endorsed by Ken as a politically correct hobby. You could head the section 'Tanks for the Memory', perhaps.

I see that you profess to believe that the development could rival Disney centres. This is an interesting concept but perhaps an inadvisable way of phrasing it. In the first place, there are many who would claim that the GLC was a Mickey Mouse outfit anyway; and secondly, is it wise to emulate Disney in Europe at the moment? After Paris?

Europe is an important part of your thinking, of course. The fact that the Waterloo terminal for Channel tunnel trains is nearby is obviously an important pulling-point both for tourists and travel operators like yourself. There are not, at present, many hotel rooms in the immediate area - apart from the kind that one always seems to find near railway stations.

And, while we're on the subject, I quite understand why you have suggested there should be a walkway direct from the station to the projected hotel complex. You must have been through that underpass beneath the Waterloo roundabout, too. I know they try to move most of the derelicts and beggars on now, but it's not a very good advertisement for life in Britain today, is it Richard?

By the way, what did happen to that litter campaign of yours to clear up our streets?

One last question. That large indicator board with the unemployment figures, with which Red Ken used to embarrass the House of Commons opposite - will you use it to advertise your room rates? Your flight times? Your train times? Or your next project?

(Photograph omitted)

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