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Councillor Dez O’Neill urged the planning applications committee on April 13 to reject what he called the fiction of the “disingenuous application” approved in April last year to convert the Lipka’s arcade into alternative retail units.

Instead of the multi-unit development preserving interior and on-street market stalls, as set out in the drawings supporting the application, developers The Portobello Group went on to create a 16,000 sq ft megastore, said Costas Kleanthous, chairman of the Portobello Antique Dealers’ Association. He added that people entering and leaving the main entrance had caused congestion and blocked the pavement to pedestrians on Saturdays.

Together with local antiques arcade owner John Scott, Councillor O’Neill and Mr Kleanthous reminded the committee of how matters had progressed since an original application to develop the site in 2004 was withdrawn after more than 150 objections were raised against plans to demolish the individual units at Lipka’s to create one big store.

A subsequent application appeared to retain the individual units and market stalls and so multiple objections were not raised, explained Mr Kleanthous.

Considering what was actually built, he argued that the plan “seems to have been a deliberate attempt to hoodwink us”, a view echoed by Mr Scott, who said that the application had been “so misleading and inaccurate” that he was calling on the council to set aside the consent and revoke permission for the conversion.

Councillor O’Neill, meanwhile, was outraged on behalf of the residents of Portobello Court, 18 metres away and facing the site, who were never consulted on the development and were now subjected to a megastore with seven-day opening and lorries loading and unloading at all hours.

Their entreaties were made in the packed chamber of the Great Hall off Kensington High Street as around 200 supporters heard committee chairman Councillor John Cox and local authority officers remind those present that the only subject for discussion was the retrospective application made by All Saints for permission to retain the shop frontage they had erected along Westbourne Grove and Portobello Road.

The case officer, Luke Perkins, set the tone from the council’s perspective at the outset by emphasising that neither the change of use from an antiques arcade to another retail activity, nor the alteration of units from six to one, required planning permission.

He was echoed by the committee chairman, who told the gathering: “I know this is a hot issue locally, but if the law is to be changed then it is a matter for the Government.”

However, it was clear that whatever the law may state, and whatever the council might advise, the majority of those who had come to hear the debate were having none of it.

To start with there were shouts of outrage and denial, as well as demands for an apology, when the committee chairman explained that tight security, which had involved electronic body scans and bag searches for everyone entering the council offices, was the result of a bomb threat on Facebook.
Where the committee unanimously agreed with the hecklers in the room was that the All Saints frontage was unacceptable. Its scale, scope, design and use of materials all came in for criticism and the fashion clothing company was given six months to replace it with a suitable alternative.

It was a small victory for the campaigners, but they were also advised that All Saints had the right to appeal right up until the last day of the six-month period, in the event of which a further lengthy process would have to be undertaken before any change could take place.

Speaking for the application, the planning adviser to both store designers Brinkworth and retailers All Saints stressed that All Saints had no connection with the development or its associated plans before February 2010 and so could not be held responsible for them.

He, and earlier the council’s case officer Luke Perkins, were questioned closely by the committee’s Councillor Keith Cunningham.

Councillor Cunningham wanted to know whether All Saints or their representatives had checked what the planning consents were before they started erecting the shop fronts, but All Saints’ planning adviser said that he had not been a consultant to the firm at the time and so could not say.

Councillor Cunningham was scathing of the council’s building control programme, demanding to know why nobody from the building control inspectorate had informed the council that the All Saints shop fronts were not being constructed according to regulations during the period of several months that it had taken to erect them. An investigation is to follow.

He also objected to All Saints being given six months to change the frontage, saying that, bearing in mind the strength of local feeling, four months should be ample. However, he was overruled after officers advised that anything less than six months might give All Saints grounds for appeal on the basis that a shorter period was unreasonable.

After the meeting, Mr Kleanthous, who had reminded the gathering that Portobello’s annual antiques trade was worth £500m, with additional benefits to local business, was pleased with the outcome but cautious about the future.

He is fearful of what might happen next and had told the committee that rumours were already abounding about the prospect of similar developments in Portobello. He wants any future development applications – even if they are deemed not large enough – to be referred to the main planning committee because of their sensitive nature.

By Ivan Macquisten

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