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Protection of Portobello - or another step towards its decline?

 By Clare Lees

Another RBK Council decision; another blow to Portobello.


Location: Committee Room 1, RBKC Town Hall, November 30th 2010

I have just witnessed the planning committee of RBKC agree another planning application which will not serve to Protect the Portobello Road that we all love. Permission has been granted to knock two shops into one single shop, with both shops fronts being identical. In addition, permission has been granted to excavate a basement (provided certain conditions are adhered to); excavation to a property in on old terrace, on a hill and where adjacent residents have objected for fear of damage to their homes and where there is already evidence of structural damage.

Knocking two shops into one and with frontages that will look identical. Does this seem to anyone like a scale version of what many locals and visitors alike have been objecting to; namely the Lipka’s All Saints building development on the Westbourne Grove intersection with Portobello? It does to me and it seems the thin end of the wedge. It doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to see this continuing along the road. And once shops become knocked through, they certainly become more attractive to the larger, high street brands. One councillor asked if this permission would now set a precedent - the case office nodded. Whether this is on the record is hard to say, but my heart sank.

The gates open yet again for the homogenization of Portobello Road

The problem is this. The committee states that legally it cannot object to shops being knocked through as it cannot legislate over the size of footprint. Yet, in granting approval, each of the councillors stated that they while they had “great sympathy” with the objectors they had “no option but to approve”. One even said that he “wished they could have a policy to ensure the size of retail units” and also questioned whether they could do something about this. These statements resonated with comments made by some dismayed councillors at the September planning committee meeting where they felt legally bound to grant retrospective planning for the All Saints development.

My questions are these?

Why can’t RBKC take a stand, use its muscle and push for change in planning law. Why can it not, in the interim, serve some sort of protection order over the road to ensure that;

  1. shops stay small,
  2. the retail offer remains mixed serving all strands of the community and visitors, and
  3. independent retailers are encouraged.

Or are these naive questions?

The council talks about safeguarding the amenity of areas though use of sympathetic materials - - why can’t ‘amenity’ extend to preserving the characteristics of this special road (unique retail offer, small shops, eclectic and vibrant atmosphere) which is within a conservation area.

It is a powerful council. Surely it has the political clout to make change. Given the body of support at local level (and this is at the heart of the Tory’s Big Society remit) for Protecting Portobello the RBKC should set a precedent to protect not destroy a unique local amenity.

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