‘Save our street’ – Ebury Bridge shop owners unite after botched regeneration plan leaves future uncertain
Campaign launched after Westminster Council decided to redraw plans for estate
04 August, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya
From left, Giuseppe Varchi, Decorative Arts; Afolabi Sodeinde, Ayanski Fabrics; Dinesh Patel, Greens Pharmacy; Laura Buttigieg, Occasions; Mark Punton, Ebury Trading and Salman Noureldin, Ideal Café
SHOP owners have launched a “Save our Street!” campaign.
Posters have appeared in a parade of shop windows in Ebury Bridge, where a botched regeneration plan has plunged an estate into the unknown.
The council has been forced to redraw its proposals and many fear this will lead to the demolition of dozens of homes. Now shopkeepers in the parade beneath the homes have joined residents in the campaign.
Mark Punton, from antiques and lighting company Ebury Trading, has worked on the parade for 12 years. He said: “There is a great feeling of anger and bewilderment. The general feeling is that the council are sending out a lot of non-information. I think their general strategy is to keep us in the dark. It is all rather worrying.”
The antiques trader, who originally picked the spot for its proximity to Pimlico Road which is famous for its antiques, said he had “weathered the 2008 recession” and built up his business after that – but now it was their “livelihoods” at stake. He was keen to use their shopfronts to display their campaign message.
He said: “All the shopkeepers are united, so we are sending a message to the council that we are upset and we are going to go kicking and screaming.”
Residents voted for a major regeneration of the estate four years ago that would retain five blocks with the rest of the buildings being demolished. Business owners did not get a vote but were told the buildings they were in would be retained.
At a recent meeting the council said the original plans would not be going ahead as they were not “commercially viable” so they would be starting from scratch and have not ruled out demolishing the whole estate.
Laura Buttigieg, who runs Occasions party shop with her mum Jane, said. “I didn’t think it involved me at all, as I didn’t think the block above was going. I went along to the meeting and listened and realised actually this does affect me. I’m still not sure what’s going on.”
Ms Buttigieg, who is a professional face-painter, said: “Someone told me not to put any money in the shop because it’s not safe. This is my first shop and I have put everything into it. We were three last week. I was saying that I want to buy a sign, I want to decorate the basement and open that up, but you don’t know because of the uncertainty, how much oomph to put into it. There is no point throwing everything at it when the concern is whether we will be here.”
She has since been calling on people to sign petitions and get involved. “If you even knocked half of them down and left us here, how quickly are you going to build them?” she asked. “With nothing there, where are our customers going to come from? With everyone it is just that question mark.”
The parade of shops in Ebury Bridge Road
Many had longstanding memories of the street, such as Rehmat Ullah, who did his first paper round as an 11-year-old in the parade. He now runs Bridge Foods, next door to what used to be the street’s post office, but Mr Ullah said their plans for the store “have been put on hold”.
“I have lived around here for 40 years so the community is important to us. At the moment I don’t know if I should improve my business, or just sit and wait. We are not getting any answers,” he said.
His family has owned the lease on the building since 1983 and used to run it as an electrical shop but recently transformed it into a health food store.
Mr Ullah added: “I have spent almost £4,000 on a sign, now we don’t know what’s going on. I would like to extend downstairs but we can’t go ahead until we find out what’s happening.”
A chemist has stood on the spot since before the Second World War, according to Dinesh Patel who has run Greens Pharmacy since 1979. “It is awful. All the goodwill we have accrued we would lose overnight. There is a big community here. Since the 1920s when the blocks were first built, the pharmacy was here since then.”
Salman Noureldin from Ideal Café said: “I have been in that coffee shop for 18 years. We would like the council to renew our leases for me and my neighbours and to carry on our businesses.”
Churchill councillor Jason Williams said: “The council needs to take definitive steps to reassure the local businesses in Ebury Bridge Road that any redevelopment of Ebury Bridge estate will not impact their business. This uncertainty is having a real impact on them and their businesses. These stores are successful small businesses with real long-term roots in the community and have been badly treated over the years by the council, especially with lease renewals discussions.
“The council should be supporting small business rather than using them as a way to continually increase rents. We should be valuing our unique local shops and giving them incentives rather than constantly trying to undermine them at every turn.”
Cllr Rachael Robathan, cabinet member for housing, said: “We are currently gathering the views of every household and business on the Ebury Bridge estate about what they would like to see from the regeneration. This includes the mix of shops and community facilities in the future. As part of the ‘listening’ period over coming weeks and months, we will be speaking with retailers along Ebury Bridge Road about their needs and aspirations. This includes organising a first meeting with retailers to take place later this month.
“Exciting proposals for the estate could include refurbishment of existing blocks through to building new, modern, energy-efficient homes of all sizes and tenures, new community facilities and improved public space. We recognise that good local shopping is at the heart of community life, and shops that serve the vibrant mixed communities of Ebury Bridge will be an important part of any scheme.”