Westminster City Council will set out their detailed vision for protecting the art trade in Mayfair by the beginning of next year.
Council deputy leader Robert Davis explained what would happen
over the next few months during the talk hosted by ATG that he gave
at the summer Olympia fair last week.
The council hope to establish another Special Policy Area (SPA)
centred on Cork Street and covering the area of Mayfair between
Piccadilly and Oxford Street that, along with St James's, is home
to the greatest concentration of galleries and auction houses in
This would pave the way for enhanced protection for art
galleries, in particular, under local planning rules, extending
Westminster's policy of working closely with developers and
landlords to safeguard the cultural profile of the area and the
"vibrancy, dynamism and unique character" that Cllr Davis
attributed largely to the influence of the art and antiques
He explained how Westminster was taking a dual approach to the
The first approach involves negotiating directly with developers
and allowing them certain concessions in return for legally binding
agreements concerning usage, such as a commitment to providing
gallery space in new buildings at reasonable rents.
The second is to make more direct use of Section 106 of the Town
and Country Planning Act, which is aimed at mitigating the impact
of what would otherwise be deemed unacceptable developments by
negotiating 'developer contributions' to the local community. Often
these are in the form of affordable housing, but an S106 agreement
also allows local authorities to stipulate specific uses at
reasonable rents for parts of the development.
As Cllr Davis explained to the audience, an S106 agreement is a
contractual obligation that applies to the development itself and
remains in perpetuity, even if the building is sold on.
The draft proposals, outlined in a consultation document,
Mayfair & St James's: Developing Westminster's Local Plan, last
November, attracted around 260 responses during the recent
consultation process; an "excellent return", said Cllr Davis.
The council are still considering those responses, continuing to
meet with landowners, such as the Crown Estates, and will prepare a
further set of draft proposals for formal consultation later in the
year, with the adopted policy finally being introduced early in
If the SPA is adopted as expected, it will join existing SPAs
covering St James's and Savile Row, both set up to protect their
unique respective retail and cultural characters.
However, as audience questions at the talk made clear - and Cllr
Davis himself advised - there are significant obstacles to the
success of SPAs.
Central government policy at the moment tends towards taking
powers away from local authorities rather than enhancing them, and
however innovative and willing the council may be to protect
galleries, in the end they are restricted by the external
constraints of planning law.
So while it may be easier to negotiate strongly on a new build,
Westminster have far less leverage over refurbishment and change of
use in existing buildings.
There is also an option to try to persuade the government to
change the law, but even if that received a favourable response,
the process would take a minimum of three years.
Martin Clist of antiquities dealership Charles Ede was concerned
that landlords might try to set rents at ridiculous levels to
prevent the art trade from signing up, but Cllr Davis said that in
such cases there would be an independent review to establish what a
reasonable rate would be in the circumstances.
John Martin, who deals in Contemporary art in Albemarle Street
and is one of the organisers of July's London Art Weekend in
Mayfair, suggested that landlords should be reminded of what
happened at the end of the 1980s when soaring rents last forced the
trade out of the area. "Mayfair became a ghost town for two to
three years," he said.
He is also concerned that the SPA and any potential change in
planning law will come too late for many: "No one with reviews
coming up now - and there are about 25 galleries - can afford a
trebling of rents," the level to which the market has been driven
by luxury brands and fashion houses prepared to use their shops as
brand loss leaders in order to have a presence in Mayfair.
Cllr Davis argued that, as well as adopting SPAs, the best hope
for protecting the character of the area lay with continuing to
talk to landowners, who he said appreciated the long-term value to
their estates of doing so. And he reassured those present that he
would remain wholly committed as an advocate of the SPA policy.
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