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ISLINGTON Council have fought back against claims that they should be doing more to protect the antiques trade in Camden Passage. They say existing planning laws do not allow them to favour the trade over retail chains who want to take over their premises.

The statement from council leader James Kempton comes after claims by the Camden Passage Association that the council’s stewardship of the area has been "shameful and unacceptable".

The ongoing problems for the antiques trade in Camden Passage rose to the surface again in November when landlords Bush Investments told around 12 dealers they would have to quit the Angel Arcade by Christmas.

The building is being taken over by the Lombok chain, who sell retail furniture made from natural materials and recycled wood. Lombok have now submitted a planning application to change the frontage and the signage of the premises. They do not have to apply for a change of use since both retail and antiques come under the same category in planning regulations.

Karen Murdoch of the Camden Passage Association told ATG: "Some of the dealers have nowhere to go. I find it very sad. Also the Wednesday jewellery market and the Saturday military market that took place there will have to stop."

She said that the council's inability to prevent the chains moving in had angered many dealers. "As well the loss of the Georgian Village [now a Reiss fashion chain outlet], the former Gateway Arcade is now a Foxtons estate agents."

In a letter to Islington Council, the association stated that the Lombok proposals "have serious implications for many small traders based in these premises".

It continued: "Over the last ten years the elected representatives of the council have approved the demise of four of the main antiques arcades. We find this record shameful and unacceptable, showing Islington Council's utter failure to undertake the stewardship of this unique and world renowned antiques and shopping village."

However, Councillor Kempton defended the council's record. In a letter to ATG , featured in full in this week's printed newspaper, he stated: "Islington Council shares traders’ frustration with the lack of protection afforded to small shops under present planning legislation."

But he explained that current planning law meant they had no powers to prevent multiple units being consolidated.

He and his colleagues on the council believe the best way to safeguard local interest is to support the Business Improvement District's attempts to bolster the trading environment and shopping in Camden Passage. "I think this is the right way forward rather than relying on planning powers which everyone agrees are inadequate for the purposes of protecting specialist and antique shops," he said.

The council leader said he supported Kensington & Chelsea Council's move to protect Portobello Road antiques shops (see ATG No 1810), but added that, while it would allow London boroughs to protect unique shopping areas from being taken over by some chains, it would do nothing to prevent other small shops, including furniture shops, replacing antiques shops, as has already happened in Camden Passage.

Labour councillor Martin Klute, one of the strongest critics of Islington Council's policy regarding Camden Passage, told ATG: "The Lib Dem administration seems to have a worryingly indifferent attitude to the encroachment of 'clone'-type stores. In fact I think they actually like them because they look 'clean' and 'modern'.

"I met with planning officers to discuss the Angel Arcade application, and I think I have convinced them that the application is unacceptable with respect to loss of premises suitable for small businesses, loss of employment, and loss of tourist trade.

"The officers agreed to look again at these policy issues, and I have yet to hear back from them."

At least some of those who have been told to quit the Angel Arcade are more sanguine about the situation. Glass dealer Chris Peace, who has traded at Camden Passage for 28 years, said that the landlord's notice was "not unexpected" since around half the units in the arcade had been empty for some time. The dealers had also been given discounts on their rents for the last few months prior to the closure being announced.

Mr Peace was one of around eight dealers who had been forced to vacate the Georgian Village in Camden Passage two years ago when it was redeveloped by the Reiss fashion chain. He said that four of the Angel Arcade dealers, including himself, would be retiring, while a further two will try to get a space in The Mall nearby.

Meanwhile Councillor Klute believes there is increasing enthusiasm for maintaining and developing Camden Passage on the local Business Improvement District's board.

Indeed, dealers from the area remain hopeful for the future, and many shops have recently decided to open for longer hours and trade on Sundays.

This week also sees the traditional late night shopping in Camden Passage on Saturday, December 1, with all the shops and markets participating and providing refreshment and entertainment for the customers.

The Christmas lights, provided by the Business Improvement District, will be turned on by Sadie Frost and Jemima French who have recently opened their successful flagship fashion shop in the centre of Camden Passage.

By Alex Capon

• ATG also regrets to announce the death of glass and china dealer Lucy Arnold who was a passionate campaigner for Camden Passage. Her door was always open to anyone who needed help, support or a shoulder to cry on. She will be sadly missed by a great many people.