Planning issues affecting the future of antique trading in Portobello came to a head last week as councillors and their own planning officers fell out at a public meeting in front of dozens of campaigners.
In angry exchanges that saw Kensington and Chelsea Council officers accused of bias and misrepresentation by elected councillors, planning committee members threw out the latest attempt to gain retrospective permission for the façade of the All Saints store on the corner of Westbourne Grove and Portobello Road.
The October 25 meeting took place just days after the government's Planning Inspectorate suspended the appeal on another application recommended for approval by the planning department - to allow seven-day trading at the Admiral Vernon Arcade in Portobello - and instead called an official hearing into the matter.
Such hearings typically take place in highly controversial cases where there is strong opposition, and it means that campaigners against the proposed changes should be able to talk directly to the planning inspector rather than just putting submissions in writing.
Portobello Antique Dealers' Association chairman Costas Kleanthous, who witnessed the scene where one councillor criticised the Director of Planning personally for producing a report biased in favour of the applicants for the All Saints site, told ATG that even as the committee were summing up their reasons for refusal, the Director of Planning interrupted them to press his own contrary point of view.
This followed an earlier outburst by one councillor who upbraided the Director of Planning, telling him that it was his department's job to state the facts and let the committee make up its own mind.
Campaigners were angry that the council's planning department had recommended approval for the latest All Saints application, which appeared little different from the one already thrown out.
On the Admiral Vernon issue, as previously reported, on April 19 the planning committee met to debate the application by Holland Park Investments Ltd for permission to bring seven-day trading to the basement of the arcade.
Antiques dealers, who spend much of the week sourcing goods around the country for sale in the arcade on Saturdays, believe that seven-day trading would see them squeezed out and sound the death knell for the antiques trade in Portobello.
So they were delighted when councillors decided to ignore planning officers' recommendation for permission to be granted for the basement to be used throughout the week and threw out the application on the basis that lifting the restrictions would remove the protection for residents.
However, the landlords believed they had grounds for appeal as the council's Director of Environmental Services had said residents would be unlikely to suffer as a result.
Existing restrictions on when deliveries and loading could take place would remain in place and the records showed that there had been no complaints about noise, he argued. And he added that the ground floor of Admiral Vernon, where there are no such restrictions on trading, would be more likely to have an effect on neighbouring residents than trading in the basement, yet there is no evidence that it has done so.
"The condition prevents the efficient and effective use of the building for its permitted use and serves no reasonable planning purpose," concluded the director.
However, the Planning Inspectorate, to whom the matter was referred, does not see the arguments as that clear cut. Having cancelled several planned visits to assess Admiral Vernon and the application it has decided on a hearing instead.
Mr Kleanthous said: "As ATG recently commented, democracy is stirring at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. This is good for Portobello and it's good for the Royal Borough."
By Ivan Macquisten