At a packed public planning meeting on April 21, Kensington and Chelsea councillors gave approval for the landlord’s application to redevelop the Grade II listed premises as a new outlet for an American fashion chain.
The 34 dealers are expecting to receive eviction notices imminently. While some are planning to move independently, a core of around 20 dealers are hoping they can find new premises together.
Silver and jewellery dealer Robin Haydock spoke for the Antiquarius traders at the meeting at the town hall. He pointed out that attempts to find an alternative space for the dealers had so far proved unsuccessful, due in part to the lack of help offered by their landlords, the retail property investment company London & Associated Properties (LAP) who bought Antiquarius in 2006.
An estate agent has been appointed to help them find an alternative space, but the lack of adequate premises available in the locality and difficulties in raising funds for a six-month deposit and stand-fitting costs have so far proved insurmountable.
They have sent a letter to LAP asking for assistance in this regard, but as yet have had no reply.
LAP chief executive John Heller said at the meeting: “We have instructed estate agents at our own expense to help dealers seek alternatives and we will continue this process.” But when asked if the redevelopment work to bring in the new Anthropologie outlet would start even if no alternative home was found for the dealers, he replied simply “Yes.”
The council’s chairman of the planning meeting, Cllr John Cox, concluded the session by saying: “We cannot enforce LAP to give dealers time and help to find a new home. All we can do is rely on them to be gentlemen.”
The suggestion was greeted with laughter in the room.
The councillors expressed their reluctance to vote ‘yes’ to the three separate applications made by LAP, but said they were obliged to do so in accordance with the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act.
As a result, they have now granted LAP permission to remove the dealers’ units, widen the entrances and carry out restoration of the roof of the building that has been a famous antiques centre since the 1970s.
“It is difficult to say that in planning law the internal partitions give the building its special interest,” said Cllr Cox. “I am sorry to say that as we are tied by planning law, we sadly have to approve all three applications.”
With strong concerns about the threat to the heritage and character of the King’s Road, the council received 292 letters of objection and a petition signed by 531 people to save the centre.
However, English Heritage did not raise any objections to the plans. A spokesman told ATG: “We have had communication with the relevant staff at the Kensington and Chelsea Council’s conservation and planning unit, but, as the building is Grade II listed and the proposals do not involve extensive alteration or changes to the fabric of the building, we don’t really have a role in terms of the application.”
Mr Haydock pointed out in his representation at the meeting that the former billiard hall and garage that form Antiquarius were two separately-listed buildings. Therefore the plans to redevelop were not merely “internal alterations” and he questioned whether the 1990 act should apply.
LAP’s planning representatives maintained that the plans would deliver “a sensitive restoration to reinstate original layout and scale. It is sympathetic to the original character and preserves the architectural and historic interest of the building.”
Although no attempt has been made by LAP to see if the dealers would be willing to contribute to restoration costs, Mr Heller said at the meeting that the building could only be upgraded with the extra rent and “covenant” that having a tenant like Anthropologie would provide.
For the dealers left looking for a new space, the fact that they have no track-record as a management group means that any new rental would require a large deposit for six months’ rent.
Chief executive of dealers’ association LAPADA Sarah Percy-Davis said: “I hope that LAP will at least take some moral responsibility for the affected dealers, as the councillors strongly encouraged at the meeting. For example, to help them find new space where they can relocate collectively or to give them plenty of time before they have to move out.”
Meanwhile, two dealers from Antiquarius have moved to nearby Bourbon-Hanby Arcade: Saint Esprit who deal in antique jewellery and Serena Ferguson, who specialises in equestrian and sporting antiques and paintings.
By Alex Capon