A GROUP of Portobello Road dealers are to lobby the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea following the loss of a prominent antiques arcade to a highstreet retailer.
In just six hours on Saturday, January 23, 1800 people signed a petition citing the apparent failure of a 2007 report recommending ways that the borough might protect its unique cultural asset.
Campaigners for the market have expressed concern over the last few years about the changing character of one of London's top five tourist attractions, including the appearance of big-name coffee chains in the area.
But much of the trade's ire is now focused on the closure last year of Lipka's Arcade, on the corner of adjoining Westbourne Grove, where 150 dealers traded, both inside and outside on the pavement. After virtually no public consultation, this prime 15,000 sq ft site was replaced by highstreet fashion retailer All Saints.
Portobello Antiques Dealers' Association chairman Costas Kleanthous said after the new outlet opened, it was "to the detriment of the antiques market, and has left dealers with nowhere to go". He has written to Kensington and Chelsea Council asking them to clarify the terms of the business conservation area status that Portobello adopted three years ago.
It was in May 2007 when the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea published A Balance of Trade, a report by the Commission on Retail Conservation. It was a widely welcomed study detailing the council's desire to protect Portobello's unique character.
Among its conclusions was that "specific functions in specific settings can be protected. We think this is now required for the antiques arcades on Portobello Road".
The market, said the Council, must not be "overrun by identikit multiples". The decision was taken to designate Portobello as a Special District Centre and make small shops a separate class in planning law.
But after promises of extra protection, dealers are questioning the impact of A Balance of Trade following the ejection of 150 dealers from Lipka's Arcade.
When the dealers vacated the two-storey and basement arcade last summer, they were assured that they would be able to return to a refurbished basement, with new retail space at ground level and flats above. Instead it was unveiled late last year as a branch of the All Saints chain.
The fashion retailers have chosen a warehouse-style frontage using fibreglass and effectively replaced six shopfronts on Westbourne Grove and four on Portobello with sheet glass. Critics say the newcomers are unsympathetic to a conservation area.
When approached by ATG, the Council said they were "investigating" possible breaches in planning regulations, but said they did not have powers to intervene in the choice of new tenants as there has been no change of use - the site remains retail.
A council spokesman said in a statement: "National planning legislation does not give councils the power to intervene when an antiques gallery is replaced by a fashion retail store.
"The Portobello area has been granted Special District status. The council can take a stronger approach to prevent shops being converted for other uses in Portobello, such as restaurants, but we do not have powers to prevent changes from one type of retail shop to another.
"We have lobbied central Government for these powers, without success, and we are currently lobbying the other London boroughs for their support."
A serious concern is that developers now own most of the antiques arcades. UK Investments, Portobello Investments and Westbourne Arcades have properties in the area. Lipka's was previously run by the Portobello Group, who have six arcades on Portobello Road.
Marion Delehar, whose family has had an antiques shop in Portobello Road for 50 years, says: "Incandescent doesn't begin to describe our feelings." She urges readers to register support for Portobello either via the written petition, which is being circulated in the market and at shops and centres nationwide, or online at www.ipetitions.com/petition/portobello or join the Facebook page at Save the Portobello Road Market.
By Roland Arkell