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From bomb threats to a thread of smoke

The Planning Committee Meeting was well attended by supporters of the Save the Portobello Campaign last night. 

As people gathered round the entrance of the Great Hall of the RBKC it was clear that this meeting, whatever the outcome, would become memorable – and so it was. 

Once everyone had gone through security barriers, were searched and sat down to attend the meeting there was an air of high expectation about the whole affair. The meeting's Chairman started the proceedings by excusing the extra security and stated, to everyone's dismay, that this was due to 'bomb threats made on facebook'! This outrageous statement provoked an immediate reaction from all  with heckling and shouts of 'LIE', 'RUBBISH!'  , etc. It became immediately clear that people would not be taken for a ride and that by now, they knew how to distinguish fact from fiction. For fiction on paper was what brought the existence of the large shop floor currently under scrutiny. Unwittingly the Chairman provoked a clear definition of 'who's who' and only managed to make people hungrier. Earlier, photographers were not allowed through with their equipment, supposedly so that photos like  the one below would not be taken – image as we know, is part of the threat. 

The first speaker was Luke Perkins  from the Council's Planning Department who was asked to make his case brief (the actual case against permission is 25 pages long). Nevertheless the array of faults with the shop front were endless (from materials used to sloppy workmanship). Having finished his case, he  reminded the committee again that what was at stake here was solely the issues surrounding the shop front and nothing else. 

Questioning from the councillors followed, with particular prominence from Labour’s Councillor Cunningham who spearheaded the probing on who was responsible for planning control from the outset and on suggesting a 4 months period for the applicant to comply with the committee's decision (instead of 6). Relevant to this whole affair, it appears that the local labour group will be demanding a public inquiry into all the planning process. We will wait to see what happens. 

Perkins' reply was that they didn't know and “that is a matter for building control and isn’t relevant” . Despite the sympathy he got from his original presentation he now exposed himself to the vocal disapproval of all the attendees. Further down the line, the suggestion that 'consultation is important to us', also provoked an angry reaction from everyone.

Once the the questioning finished, three members of the public who were previously invited by the council to object to the proposal were able to speak. These were local resident John Scott, the chairman of the Portobello Antiques Dealers Association, Costas Kleanthous  and Labour councillor,   Dez O’Neill’. The three made a comprehensive exposée  of all the faults with the development in question. John Scott's speech was passionate, short and sharp and encapsulated everyone's disgust and profound resentment with what has been taking place. We will be publishing two of the objector speeches soon, so keep tuned for more on this. One thing certainly became clear: the shop front planning permission request unveiled a huge concern for the whole planning process for that large development. One suspects that there isn't smoke without fire and we will wait and see where this may lead if an inquiry will indeed take place. 

The All Saints representative also was allowed to address the committee. The highlight was the statement that All Saints makes a 'vital contribution to the vibrancy of this retail area'. This was duly heckled by all and it took him another 2 attempts to finish this last point. Questioning from the committee followed and he was 'grilled' by politicians from all parties.  There's too much to detail here, however what is evident is that the All Saints by moving into this large premises in a conservation area, brought upon themselves a huge public relations disaster. It's obvious that communities do not want to be swallowed up by large retailers at the expense of local character and small unique shops. This is a very public warning for All Saints and for any future developments in the area. 

The Committee finally came to a vote where rejection was unanimous. The room erupted in spontaneous applause. A small battle had been won in a challenge that is not by any means over. While many may think that this is a small and unimportant event, we say :think again. The council is now fully aware that Portobello Market is not to be neglected and destroyed. 

The powers that be undermined the deep sense of community and identity that exists in the area. They underestimated that Portobello Market is not just for all who live and who shop here  frequently, but also for the thousands of visitors from across the planet, that pour down the street every weekend to experience a uniquely vibrant place. 

Portobello Road Market will not be separated from its soul and turned into a travesty of itself by the force of large developers. The character of Portobello Road will not be taken away either by them, or through the complacency of the local authority for both will be brought to account – local politicians, property developers and chain shops, come and go, but the spirit of Portobello Road and its unifying power will always be stronger and outlast any attempt to kill it. 

Portobello Road Market is an easy place but in the political battle that took place in this meeting, one thing surely became apparent: this is an issue that is far too sensitive to be shoved around; it can not be undermined as its strength will only become greater. The local authority policy, the developers ruthless ambition and the chain store's vanity will have to measure their actions very carefully as they may well determine their own downfall. 
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