If Councillor Moylan was a regular reader of ATG, he would know that this publication is well versed on the issues surrounding planning in Portobello and has been reporting on them for years, most recently focusing on the views of developers The Portobello Group.
Reducing the dispute to the level of a mere electioneering tool ignores the years of campaigning that has gone before and disregards those who have devoted considerable time and effort to pursuing it.
Councillor Moylan adds: “Some easily checkable facts may help ATG readers see things as they really are.”
I could not agree more. So let’s put that right.
He criticises me for comments connected to the way in which the Lipka’s arcade was altered from being antiques retail to clothing retail. He says that because no planning permission was required for such changes, no such application was made and, consequently, no one can have been misled.
He further dismisses concerns over the way in which the old arcade-style layout was ignored by the developers. This, he believes, was “entirely irrelevant” to the application under scrutiny, and concludes that no one should have been “hoodwinked” as a result, as Portobello Antiques Dealers’ Association chairman Costas Kleanthous claims to have been by the application.
The first of these points simply ignores the case being put by the protestors. Yes, we know the council currently have no powers to prevent such change of use. What they are calling for – and what was one of the main thrusts of the commentary – is that the council should campaign vigorously to acquire them as a means to protecting Portobello. This reinforces the council’s own Business Conservation Area initiative of 2006.
As for arguing that the inclusion of detailed drawings showing the arcade-style layout was “irrelevant” to the plans under consideration, that’s not what the interested parties consulted thought. The developer’s drawing showing the market stalls retained in six separate units was clearly titled ‘Proposed Ground Floor Plan’. What value is the planning process, as it stands, if what is built can be so vastly different from what is set out in the proposal drawings? If they are irrelevant to the process, why include them at all?
As it was specifically the drawing, that set the community’s mind at rest and prevented the repetition of the mass protest that greeted the previous plan to build a megastore – a plan that was withdrawn with a pledge not to inflict such a store on Portobello – it is hardly surprising that so many people feel misled.
As I said in the commentary on this page three weeks ago, if businessmen such as Mr Kleanthous, who are experienced in dealing with the planning process, can be “hoodwinked” by such a move, as he told the meeting, then what hope have ordinary members of the public of negotiating the consultation process?
As for the Councillor Moylan’s claim that the council “swiftly discovered” that the All Saints shop frontage did not match the plans, the planning applications meeting I attended made it abundantly clear that this was not the case. Councillor Keith Cunningham openly criticised the management of building control and could not get an answer out of the council’s own officers as to why it had taken six months to spot the problem when checks should have been made on a regular basis during alterations. They could not even say whether building control for the project had been overseen by the council’s own department or by a sub-contractor. Such was the concern that an investigation into what went wrong was agreed to at the meeting.
Councillor Moylan argues that “changing consumer taste is beyond the council’s control”. But no one is asking him or anyone else at the Town Hall to change consumer taste. They are just asking them to listen to the people they represent and act in their interests. Is the introduction of major new developments in Portobello really being driven by changes in consumer taste? Isn’t it simply a matter of developers successfully realising the financial potential of their property assets? I have no problem with that per se, but when important local considerations that should be taken into account are seemingly ignored in the process, few can be surprised at the backlash.
The deputy leader goes on to say that the council are “are vigorously lobbying for more power to prevent the loss of small units where antiques traders can thrive”. Then why was the message so clearly given by the chairman of the planning applications committee and the officers present – as well as the distinct and widespread impression gained by the 200 to 250 protestors who attended – that the council could do nothing about the changes under dispute and that it was a matter for central government? As the meeting told us, there are currently no local powers to prevent multiple units being knocked into one, as happened here. The protestors, however, would like the council to campaign for such powers to be introduced.
At no time was even the slightest hint given that anyone on the council was lobbying, “vigorously” or otherwise, for more powers. If Councillor Moylan and his colleagues are lobbying for this, then they would appear to be doing a very poor job of spreading the word around the wards to gain public support for their stance. I would be delighted to provide the space for them to publicise their efforts in detail on these pages.
Finally, his argument that “claims that we don’t care about Portobello Road simply cannot withstand objective scrutiny” is hardly objective itself. If the council really do have the interests of Portobello at heart, why have more than 30,000 people signed up to the Save Portobello Facebook site because of their fears for the future? Just read the multitude of views expressed thereon for an idea of how the council is viewed by many on this topic. Is Councillor Moylan arguing that all these people are part of some party political conspiracy?
By Ivan Macquisten