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Kensington Conservatives betray real feelings about Portobello Road: "Young people prefer Ikea"

 By Lib Dem Councillor Carol Caruana
Senior Conservative councillors in Kensington & Chelsea have made an extraordinary series of on the record comments disparaging as 'hysterical' the campaign to save and protect Portobello market stallholders from being swallowed up by high-end chain stores. The campaign has attracted the support of tens of thousands of residents, traders and tourists.

Portobello Liberal Democrat Councillor Carol Caruana stood up in the Council Chamber last week to back local traders and support Portobello Road's shops and market. This was following the loss of Lipka's antiques arcade to make room for All Saints, and now the plans to change the Good Fairy market stalls into luxury flats and boutiques. "Residents will see these new developments as another slap in the face," Councillor Caruana said.

In response, the Conservative leadership launched into a outburst against not only the campaign to prevent the loss of market stalls but also the traders themselves. Cabinet member Tim Ahern said, on the record: "I'm not quite sure what this Save the Portobello Market campaign is all about." Conservative Councillor Holt said: "The market for antiques is in decline. The young prefer to go to Ikea and DFS." Conservative Councillor Daly called the traders' reaction to the disappearance of dozens of market stalls "hysterical" and said they should "stop fearing change". Deputy Leader Councillor Moylan said the loss of the antiques stalls was part of "quite modest change that will happen over time to a new trading environment."

Councillor Caruana said after the meeting: "This isn't about fearing change, it's about stopping powerful Super Landlords from trampling all over policies designed to protect Portobello - policies which we fought hard for. It's not just about the antiques traders; it's about the very character of our community. If one part of Portobello Road gets over-run with high-end chain fashion department stores and luxury flats, the knock-on effect for the rest of the street will be devastating. We must not allow this jewel of London shopping to become like any other high street."

The comments from the Conservatives appear to contrast with the official line they released to the local newspaper, the Kensington Chronicle, this week in which they pledged to "help sustain [...] the one-mile length of Portobello Road, with its antiques, food, fashion and crafts sections."

The Conservatives blame the Government for not allowing the Council to prevent independent shops being amalgamated into large units. However, in the Council Chamber, Councillor Caruana accused the Conservatives of "passing the buck," adding: "You cannot prevent a landlord swapping one kind of retail for another, but you absolutely can stop that landlord making inappropriate changes to a building in a conservation area. This would make it harder to transform small shop premises into something more attractive to a single vast retail unit. This could have prevented the All Saints fiasco."

The Liberal Democrats have demanded that the Conservatives stand up to developers who try to breach the Core Strategy. Robin Meltzer, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for the new constituency of Kensington said:

"The Conservative council's original draft policy for Portobello wrote off the antiques trade as out of fashion, dismissed the decline of the midweek market as inevitable and bunched Portobello's retail in with Westbourne Grove. This negative vision led residents and businesses, supported by the local Liberal Democrats, to demand a rewrite. I was present at all the meetings and took part in the process of deconstructing the Council's draft policy. People were so angry that the Council was forced to hold a separate public meeting to calm people down.

"That original document was then erased and in the final version of the Core Strategy, the Council duly committed to protect street markets and recognise the antiques trade as at the heart of the area, while distinguishing between the retail characters of Portobello Road and Westbourne Grove. The comments made last week in the Council chamber proved to me that the original negative draft, though formally removed, lives on in the Conservative leadership. Portobello Road is not safe in the hands of this Council."

In related news, the Liberal Democrats have called upon the Council to consider adding a selection of retail premises on Portobello Road, as they become available, to its existing property portfolio, with leases awarded only to traders appropriate to Portobello Market. The party has also called for the Council's consultation practices to be overhauled. "People must have more of a say on planning applications for Portobello," said Councillor Caruana in the chamber. "The entire local community should be consulted as opposed to merely the statutory minimum."

By Lib Dem Councillor Carol Caruana (Colville ward) 
Photographs courtesy of Peter Koneczny - www.eyeonyou.co.uk 
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#1 Darth Vader 2011-07-20 14:55
The market's full of crap.

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