The By George! antiques centre in George Street, St Albans, has an uncertain future.

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The owners of By George!, an antiques centre and crafts gallery in the historic city's George Street, state in their application that "owing to a decline of the antiques trade" they want to reduce the amount of floor space currently in use at the Grade 2 Listed building.

Talking to ATG, one of the dozen dealers at the centre, none of whom wish to be named, said: "We're all angry and worried about this and have distributed around 250 flyers in and around St Albans asking for support in objecting to the proposed change of use.

"This has been an antiques centre for 20 years and the 12 dealers here run it as a co-operative. Nine of the dealers are on the ground floor with three on the first floor. Five of the ground-floor units at the rear of the centre and all of the first-floor will be lost if the planning application succeeds. What remains of the antiques centre - possibly three units - would be so small as to be unviable.

"The loss of the antiques cenre will be all the greater as it is now the last bastion of the antiques trade in St Albans - 20 years ago there were 17 antiques shops in the city."

The planning application for a restaurant concerns the first floor, which is currently in use as an open-plan loft-style flat, which owners Skytop Ltd state has been difficult to let and which they consider is more economically viable as a restaurant.

The St Albans Observer ran a story recently about the possible closure of By George! and asked Skytop for their comments on the future of the site. None have been received and nor has there been a response to ATG's own enquiries.

Heyden Todd is the planning officer at St Albans District Council who is dealing with Skytop's application. He said: "We have had many objections to this application. A lot of people feel that there are quite enough restaurants in George Street and are concerned about the noise and pollution. Others want the antiques centre to remain, as it is the last shop selling antiques in St Albans. Unless the application is refused on or before March 19, it will go to the planning central committee who meet on April 16."

Eric Roberts is the chairman of St Albans Civic Society and he is incensed at what might happen. He told ATG: "The loss of No 23 George Street as an antiques centre could set a precedent - there are strong rumours of more shops in the vicinity being put under pressure to change from A1 usage (shop) to A3 (restaurant). There are far too many restaurants in St Albans, let alone in George Street where there are seven. There is a real threat to the loss of the retail base here - we are seeing the development of a 'night-time economy' with its emphasis on eating and drinking."

The St Albans Observer is running a Save Our Shops (SOS) campaign in the paper and asks readers on the dedicated SOS site to comment on how trade could be improved. Most of the comments target the city centre's traffic gridlock, disruptive and lengthy roadworks and nightmare parking.

The site at No 23 George Street was built around 1420 as a probable guest house for visitors to the nearby Abbey.