A development which means seven Mayfair art galleries will have to find new premises has been approved by planners.
As part of that permission, the scheme at
22-27 Cork Street in London's West End is subject to a legal
agreement so that "at least five galleries will be present at all
times" at the site and an arcade will be created from Cork Street
to Old Burlington Street.
However, such support has come too late for
the existing on-site galleries who now have to look for new
premises and fear that rents for the larger spaces in the new
development will be much higher, meaning smaller, independent
galleries who take risks on little-known artists and give the area
its character will be priced out.
Westminster City Council also say a Special
Policy Area (SPA) could be brought in later this year "to further
protect the area" and create an "arts quarter in the centre of
Campaigners from the Save Cork Street group
say the proposed SPA "will not be in time to be able to save the
existing galleries". In a statement after the planning decision,
they said: "For nearly 100 years Cork Street has been recognised as
one of the most important, if not the most important street in the
world for art.
"It has launched more careers in the art
world than any other street - names such as Lucian Freud, Francis
Bacon, Sir Peter Blake, Lynn Chadwick, David Hockney, and the list
goes on and on. The small independent dealers mean diversity and
they are able to take risks, presenting emerging artists. Larger
galleries, with the costs of Mayfair, mean that they will be
dealing with only the branded names in the art world and not
championing the emerging artists."
One of those affected, the Mayor Gallery,
was the first to open its doors in Cork Street, founded by Fred
Mayor in 1925. Many artists exhibited for the first time in England
at the gallery and included Bacon, Calder, Ernst, Klee, Masson,
Miró and Paolozzi. The gallery was also the centre of UNIT ONE, a
group that included Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Paul Nash, Edward
Wadsworth, Edward Burra and others.
Waterhouse & Dodd, at no.26, have
already announced they are moving to nearby Albemarle Street.
Reports suggest that Gary Snell, owner of the Alpha Gallery, has
decided to move his business abroad because of the lack of
affordable space in Mayfair, although this has not been
Some of the galleries had launched a legal
challenge to the plans under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 but
this was eventually dropped.
A Westminster spokesman said: "The legal
agreement will restrict a certain amount of the new retail
floorspace (equivalent to the same amount of retail floorspace that
currently exists on the site) for use as art/antique gallery/shop
"Retail use falls within Class A1 of the Use
Classes Order and normally there are no planning restrictions
preventing one type of shop from changing to another. In planning
terms there is nothing to prevent the existing galleries from
changing to another type of shop.
"Normally there would be no restriction on
the type of shop that would occupy the new retail floorspace. For
that reason, securing the replacement gallery use in the
development, to protect Cork Street's character and function as a
centre for art galleries, is a major planning benefit."
He added: "There is no protection for the
existing gallery operators - only definite provision in the Native
Land scheme for art gallery space, and for it to be a minimum of
five shop units at ground-floor level.
"Rent levels and offering the existing
galleries the chance to take space in the new arcade is beyond
Five SPAs already exist in Westminster,
including one covering St James's for 'Specialist Retail/Private
Members clubs/Art Galleries'. The SPA "in practice will give more
planning policy weight to protect art gallery floorspace that will
be threatened by redevelopments".
"We will be launching a consultation at the
end of September which will run for eight weeks, and look at two
things - the suggested boundaries and the wording of the policy. So
we have yet to determine exactly the streets, though clearly the
focus is going to be on the concentrations of galleries around Cork
Street," the spokesman added.
As part of the agreement, "young artists
from local colleges will also have the opportunity to display their
own work in cases in the new arcade".
A spokesman for the developer, Native Land,
said the galleries at 22-27 would have the opportunity to talk to
them about taking new space when it became available on the market.
No guarantees had been given to provide units to them in the new
Alasdair Nicholls, chief executive of Native
Land, said: "These proposals will greatly enhance Cork Street and
the experience of visiting one of London's most established art
gallery districts, by both augmenting the gallery offering of the
building and creating an arcade with a permanent dedicated space
for young and emerging artists."
Another development affecting five of the 22
galleries in Cork Street, at Nos.5-9, by Pollen Estates, has been
given conditional permission provided a section 106 legal agreement
being drawn up secures "a minimum of 1,727 sq m of the new retail
accommodation" to be occupied "for art or antique gallery/shop
purposes, at a market rent for art gallery/antique shop use (final
definition to be agreed)".