One of the many retail frontages in the Portobello area.

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From September 1, 2020, a shop can be converted into a café or restaurant without the need of planning permission.

The law, that replaces the previous system in place since 1987, brings additional change at a time when many shops are struggling to reopen after the lockdown.

One property on Portobello Road with an application to convert from retail to leisure is the building containing Silver Fox Gallery. The antiques centre recently reopened, but only half of its traders have wanted to return.

Property manager Luke Mason said: “We want to have options. If stall holders do not return we could be left with two empty properties so we are hedging our bets. But we much prefer to keep it as an antiques gallery. It makes more commercial sense to remain as antiques as well as preserving the character in the street. However we need more dealers to return.”

Tourist trade drops

Chinese silver dealer Paul Dwyer, who previously traded in Portobello’s Chelsea Galleries for seven years, is in negotiations to return to the street. He said: “I am going back but it is difficult. Without the Chinese visitors and tourists coming it is very difficult to trade there.

He added “I imagine any business, whether it is a café or shop, will struggle at the moment due to the lack of visitors. We really hope things improve.”

A spokesperson at Kensington and Chelsea Council said: “Helping our businesses stay afloat and protecting livelihoods continues to be a top priority. While new planning legislation does allow for a shop’s usage to be changed, we will endeavour to work with landowners and developers to ensure that the vitality of Portobello Road and its innate character remains, and we recognise the antique trade is an important element of this.”

The buzz returns

More positive news comes from Willy Stewart who set up Gallery Rafael in 2019 at number 295 Westbourne Grove (the first new antiques shop to open in the area in a decade). He has opened a second shop at 297 Westbourne Grove.

Stewart has traded in the area for many years, most recently in the now closed Gallery 91 on Portobello Road. He said: “We have got stallholders outside and inside and people are saying our shops have brought a real buzz back to the area for antiques. Some people have said Portobello has lost its heart, but we have seen great trading here on Westbourne Grove.”

Planning classification

From September 1, a shop can be converted into a café or restaurant without the need of planning permission.

So retail units (shops), cafes, restaurants, offices, clinics, health centres, nurseries, gyms and light industrial units in England will all have the same ‘E’ classification, meaning they can all be used for other purposes without the need to apply for planning permission.

The new regulations, known as The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020, replace the previous system which had been in place since 1987. Under the new regulations, the previous classes A1, A2, A3, B1, D1 and D2 have all been incorporated into class E.

The changes to the use classes are currently subject to judicial review (challenges will be heard during October) so there may be later amendments.