Time is running out to have a say on Westminster Council’s bid to create a protected enclave for art and antiques galleries in Mayfair.
The proposal published in November's Mayfair & St James's: Developing Westminster's Local Plan outlines a vision of Special Policy Areas for different types of retailer in Savile Row, St James's and Mayfair - galleries would enjoy enhanced protection under local planning rules in the latter two. Part of the proposal is to extend that protection by legal means in some circumstances.
The public has until February 14 to submit their views officially in the consultation process.
Westminster City Council Councillor Robert Davis, who is spearheading the move, wants to stem the tide of gallery closures as big fashion brands move in to the area, pushing up rents. In recent months the exodus of galleries from Bond Street (only a handful are left) and Cork Street as property is redeveloped has attracted widespread media attention.
"The aim of SPAs are to protect and promote specialist uses and clusters which are unique to Westminster," writes Cllr Davis in the document. "While the Savile Row and St James's SPAs are adopted in Westminster's City Plan - Strategic Policies, this booklet contains proposals for a new SPA for Mayfair, focussed on and around Cork Street."
The proposals recommend:
• protecting existing art galleries (class A1 Retail and D1 Non-residential Institutions) and antiques traders (class A1 retail); and
• encouraging the establishment of new art galleries and securing their status by legal agreement.
They also suggest that new retail uses should fit in with the character and function of each street or area in which they are located (e.g. art galleries in Cork Street, jewellery or international fashion in Bond Street), and offer appropriate items or services that are bespoke, unique, antique or limited edition.
However, despite the ambition of the proposal, Cllr Davis concedes that effective implementation will essentially rely on the cooperation of landlords, because of the limits on planning control and the opportunity to secure higher rents from other businesses.
"We therefore put emphasis on working collaboratively with landowners and developers to develop strategies and work in partnership in Mayfair and St James's to maintain its world-leading status as the home of high-quality retail and luxury services," he said.
Needless to say, the art trade strongly support the SPA initiative. In August 2012 Christopher Battiscombe, secretary general of the Society of London Art Dealers, told ATG that SLAD had asked the council to award Cork Street similar protected status to the private clubs and art galleries of St James's, but that such a scheme might take a couple of years to implement.
News of the proposed SPA comes too late for seven of the 22 galleries in Cork Street, as landlords Native Land have already started their redevelopment of 29-30 Old Burlington Street, which includes a stretch of Cork Street.
But galleries in Mayfair's surrounding roads, such as Albemarle and Dover Streets, are also worried about their future.
John Martin, who has a Modern and Contemporary art gallery at 38 Albemarle Street, is keen for supporters to express their views, but he is preparing for the worst by setting up a second gallery at 80 Fulham Road in Chelsea, which opened on January 31.
"Although there are many good reasons for having two spaces, my decision is also in no small way determined by the uncertain future for anyone with a gallery in Mayfair. So it is partly a fallback position," he said.
Rises in Rent
Rents in and around Bond Street have more than trebled in the past two years, said Mr Martin. "Not only will this have a devastating effect on the future of smaller, independent ground floor galleries, but the loss of galleries and the traditional destination businesses of Mayfair (eg tailors) is seeing footfall diminish.
"So while rents are rising, art collectors seem to be falling in Mayfair. There are other contributing factors - offices being turned into flats being the main one, but Mayfair is definitely losing its sparkle."
Mr Martin believes that SPAs could be important to the wider trade across the country, too, "simply because it may give some confidence to local authorities to protect the character of towns and cities; in due course this may help affluent towns like Stow on the Wold, which may well get onto the radars of luxury goods and fashion retailers".
• ATG urges readers to write to firstname.lastname@example.org in support of the SPA proposal.
• Comments can also be sent by post to: City Planning, 11th Floor Westminster City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London SE1 6QP. Comments will form part of the statutory record of consultation and will be made available on Westminster Council's website and to the public, but contact details will not be published.