PADA chairman Costas Kleanthous is now more optimistic of a positive outcome for antiques in Portobello.

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PORTOBELLO Road has moved a step closer to becoming a Business Conservation Area - protecting it from being taken over by coffee shop chains and so-called 'clone' stores.

Costas Kleanthous, chairman of the Portobello Antique Dealers Association (PADA), believes he and fellow campaigners are beginning to win local authority support after giving evidence to the Commission on Retail Preservation, an exploratory panel set up by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea "to preserve the character of our neighbourhood shopping areas and reduce the cloning effect apparent on major high streets".

Among others, the panel includes Sir Terence Conran and Andrew Ashenden, chief executive of the Howard De Walden Estates, whose substantial London freeholdings include Marylebone High Street.

Mr Ashenden, a passionate advocate of the sort of successful mixed use high street epitomised by Marylebone, is known for his harsh criticism of the encroachment of chain store multiples.

He and his colleagues on the commission are now considering submissions by local representatives, including Mr Kleanthous, on the future of the area. An interim report in May will be followed by a set of recommendations in July. Among other issues, they will look at Mr Kleanthous's proposal to impose Business Conservation Area status on Portobello "with its characteristics closely defined and with the section between Chepstow Villas and Elgin Crescent to be declared an Antiques Area".

"Within this area there should be specific protection for the antiques arcades so that, while ownership may change, the use of the premises may not without specific planning permission which should be rarely given," Mr Kleanthous argued at his presentation on February 8.

"Similarly, shop use in the rest of the Business Conservation Area should be protected so that shops may not change the goods they sell without planning permission."

Further proposals include the protection and, where possible, restoration of Victorian shop frontages, and banning the amalgamation of two or more shops into one unit in order to discourage 'clone' stores.

He also wants to abolish the Market Office in its present form and replace it with a trust formed of residents, stallholders, shops and arcade owners.

The stumbling block until now has been the council's argument that they do not have the powers to make such changes, but Mr Kleanthous believes that previous initiatives elsewhere in the country show that there are ways to go about it.

"When we see the example of Westminster City Council finding a way to protect the tailors of Savile Row and the West End theatres or that of Ludlow Council in Shropshire applying to become the country's first Cittaslow Town in recognition of the fact that a town consisting of local shops owned by local people selling local produce to locals is worth saving, we wonder whether our council is doing enough," he argued. "For example, why can't antiques arcades be protected to sell only antiques and collectables in a similar way to the West End theatres which can only be used for live entertainment?"

The major concern in imposing Business Conservation status is that it might affect property values, but, as Mr Kleanthous argued: "What is the difference between imposing restrictions to protect human activity in an area as against the restrictions imposed in a conservation area to protect buildings? The latter affect the value of property just as much but we accept them as necessary for the greater good."

What has cheered Mr Kleanthous particularly is that he has now won the support of at least two councillors - one Conservative, the other Labour - and he feels that the commission chairman, RBKC Mayor Tim Ahern, is increasingly sympathetic to their plight.

By Ivan Macquisten