The Demise of Local Chiswick
Emma Brophy on the steady decline of smaller locally owned businesses in Chiswick
For some years now Chiswick has experienced a disturbing trend with more and more small business being forced to close due to escalating rents and impossible competition from large national and international companies.
A survey by property consultants Donaldson’s, showed that local shop rents have risen faster than anywhere else in London, up by a staggering 40% over the last few years. This report also highlighted how areas such as Chiswick are catching up with the West End in terms of cost with small units asking as much as £50,000 per year. Vacant premises with their extortionate rental price tags are only attainable by large corporations and chains. That said, it would be naïve to expect landlords to accept lower rents or become more selective whom they choose to lease premises to.
It is possible to split Chiswick into three main shopping areas. The primary area being the High Road, secondary Turnham Green Terrace and tertiary Devonshire Road. Ironically our primary shopping area is packed with chain stores who trade in products and services of infrequent purchases, chief examples being estate agents and mobile phones.
One could argue that abundant supply of certain services and products means lower prices for local people, but with the cost of a cup of coffee exceeding £1.50 and estate agents fees averaging 2%, it would be easy to disagree.
It would not, however, be right to demonise these organisations for their aspirations to expand and profit from market conditions. They pay their taxes and do bring a certain level of prosperity to the area. What raises concern is the speed at which these chains are taking over the High Road resulting in a loss of character and ambience that makes Chiswick ‘Chiswick’.
It is, for the most part, our secondary and tertiary shopping areas that provide us with the one off shops, cafes and restaurants, which in turn form Chiswick’s village atmosphere. Rents in these streets are somewhat lower than the High Road’s but are steadily rising, and, especially in the case of Devonshire Road, premises are remaining vacant for some time.
Recently we have lost a number of locals, The Chiswick Restaurant, Palatino, Dumela, Café Coco and Millennium Cleaners amongst them. And, later in the year, we will lose Jones’ Timber, a long time resident of Turnham Green Terrace.
Groups such as the Chiswick Business Association and West Chiswick & Gunnersbury Society, are loyal supporters of, and campaigners for, local Chiswick traders. However, without the added support of the Council and community, their quest is too immense.
One local Councillor believes that “It is essential that the local community feels that it has some sort of ownership over the future development of the High Road”. He goes on to explain that the Council has little, if any, scope to oppose organisations such as Starbucks from taking over former coffee shops as they are not seeking to change the designated use of the premise.
At present the Council can exert a certain level of authority over a change of usage from retail to food, although these powers have proved ineffectual when faced with a Planning Inspectorate and when contested by razor-sharp legal teams.
Planning Application For Development Upheld
An appeal by Foxtons was recently upheld by a Planning Inspectorate, based in Bristol. They ruled that Foxtons should be allowed to take over the former Chiswick Electrics shop next door to their own premises and expand their offices to create a ‘coffee house’ agency. Whilst their coffee serving will prove no threat to local cafes, they are taking over yet another retail outlet for an alternative use.
The Council opposed the Foxtons development claiming that it was against the principles of Unitary Development Plan and would “discourage variety”. The Inspectorate disagreed and felt that this decision would not create a harmful precedent and neither would the development generate additional parking problems, an argument which many residents of Linden Gardens would strongly oppose.
Threat To Our Local Post Offices
Of the 17,000 Post Offices in England, the overwhelming majority of outlets are sub-post offices run by private businessmen and women. Whilst the demise of our community’s Post Offices cannot be attributed to corporate giants (that blame lies firmly at the feet of Government policy) it is another sad indictment of how hard it is for our local businesses to survive. Notice has been given that the Post Office on Church Street, Chiswick Mall is due to close soon and the Southfield Road branch is to shut down this July.
What can we do as a community?
To encourage the boycott of certain outlets is not only improper, it contravenes the principals of a free market. However, we should bear in mind that if, as a community, we wish our enclave of West London to remain full of character and vitality, we must make a conscious effort to support our local traders. In doing so we will discover excellent customer service, quality merchandise and the most mouth-watering of treats all presented with that all important ‘personal touch’.
June 18, 2003
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