“We want to examine Portobello Road, amongst other areas in the borough, to see what changes have taken place in recent years, current trends and local concerns. The hope is that the work of the Commission could lead to the protection of the borough’s special and much-loved local retailers and also assist those in villages, towns and cities throughout the country.”
Perhaps even more interestingly, the mayor summed up the main questions to be answered as:
1. “How best can we get the right balance between popular chain stores, smaller or specialist shops, boutiques and restaurants?”
2. “What new ideas and perhaps legislation could help balance market powers with the needs of local communities?”
3. “Can local retail areas be protected in a similar way to buildings?”
As we later reported in October 2007, the Commission persuaded the council to effectively create an enclave for small shops that could act as a blueprint for other shopping and tourist destinations across Britain.
Andrew Ashenden, then chief executive of the Howard De Walden Estates, had been invited to join the Commission as a key figure following his landmark transformation of Marylebone High Street into a mixed-use community shopping centre.
As a passionate advocate of the sort of successful high street epitomised by Marylebone, he was equally known for his harsh criticism of the encroachment of chain store multiples – of the sort that AllSaints have now brought to the corner of Portobello Road and Westbourne Grove.
Mr Ashenden was as delighted as the rest of us when the council decided to adopt the measures put forward by the Commission. Interestingly, though, he also said he would reserve judgment on their effectiveness until he saw how far the council would go to implement them.
Did he know something then that we didn’t? And what does he think now, I wonder? Has the council achieved the ‘balance’ it talked so convincingly about? It certainly doesn’t look like it to many.
When you add all the above – most notably the mayor’s nod to the possibility of new legislation as a protective measure – to the council’s expressed intentions as set out in the borough Core Strategy document, which ATG reported on last week’s news pages, the same question arises yet again: Why does there appear to be no willpower at the town hall to campaign for change on planning powers?
What has happened in the last three years to make the council throw up its arms in defeat as the developers tighten their grip on Portobello?
We keep being told that the council is the champion of the small shopkeepers and Portobello’s antiques trade, but when we ask for detailed evidence as to exactly what this means, we are met with the same stonewalling reply: “Claims that we don’t care about Portobello Road simply cannot withstand objective scrutiny.”
Tell that to the 34,454 people registered on the Save the Portobello Market Facebook website.
Being in denial won’t make this issue go away. In fact, it is attracting more attention from a much wider audience by the day, as I found when radio station LBC invited me on air on July 9 to discuss the matter – the threat to Portobello being the theme of one of their main features that day.
By Ivan Macquisten