Objective 7 Safeguard the commercial viability of our shopping parades as sources of local convenience shops and services that residents need
7.1.1 At the time the St Quintin Estate was laid out, the St Helens Gardens shopping parade opposite the church was designed to provide for the majority of shopping needs of local residents. As in many parts of London, the type of shop has changed over the years and has become more limited and less useful in meeting convenience shopping needs.
7.1.2 RBKC Core Strategy policy CK2 resists loss of A1 retail use in neighbourhood centres. This has in the past given some planning protection to the two shopping parades in St Helens Gardens and North Pole Road, and the smaller parade in Barlby Road. But given the changes in shopping habits affecting all small high streets, coupled with the 2008-12 recession, this has not stopped shops in the StQW neighbourhood from becoming financially unviable.
7.1.3 Hence both North Pole Road and St Helens Gardens have seen vacant shop units stand empty for months and in some cases many years. This not only reduces the local retail offer but affects the whole street by giving it an appearance of neglect and decay. The 2014 RBKC Annual Monitoring Report shows St Helens Gardens parade as having a 25% vacancy rate, and North Pole 13% (the national average). The detailed current position as at early 2015 is set out below:
18 North Pole Road Vacant for 15 years. StQW Forum has encouraged owner to re-market the tenancy, taking into account the results of the StQW Shopping Survey.
20 North Pole Road Former Kensington Gourmet – vacant for some years but due to re-open as a health/wellbeing centre subject to planning permission
6 North Pole Road – shop (off-licence) closed. Planning application for use as an A3 cafe submitted March 2015, and change of use supported by St Helens Residents Association.
73 St Helens Gardens (former Addis Cafe) – cafe closed. Ground floor has recently been part refurbished. Not clear as yet what use will emerge.
67 St Helens Gardens (former Dotty Dots toy shop) – vacant for 18 months. Attempts to contact owner have had no response.
7.1.4 The Government introduced changes from May 2013 which allow buildings with A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, B1, D1 and D2 uses to change use for a single period of up to two years to A1, A2, A3 and B1 uses, via a ‘prior approval’ process. In March 2015 further measures were introduced, allowing greater flexibility on change of use and making some revisions to the Use Class Order.
7.1.5 As from April 15th 2015, a new permitted development right allows the change of use between shops (A1), financial and professional services (A2), betting offices, pay day loan shops and casinos to restaurants and cafés (A3). Up to 150 sq m floor space will be able to change use and the right is subject to a prior approval process covering noise, smell/odours, transport and highways, hours of opening as well as siting and design in relation to extraction, ventilation, waste management, storage and undesirable impacts on shopping facilities.
7.1.6 Given the context of long-term vacant shops in both parades, this StQW Draft Plan proposes permanent increased flexibility in allowing change of use between A1, A2, A3, B1, D1 and D2 use classes, subject to amenity considerations (e.g. noise nuisance for neighbours from plant and AC extracts). While this would not conform with RBKC Policies CK2 and CF 3d, the Government ‘s latest changes effectively create a combined A1/A2/A3 Use Class, allowing flexibility between these uses. Betting offices and pay day loan shops which fell within Class A2 of the Use Class Order are removed from that class. This means a planning application would be required for change of use to such premises.
7.1.7 A further new permitted development right allows the change of use from shops (A1) and financial and professional services (A2) to assembly and leisure uses (D2), with an upper threshold of 200 sq m of total floor space. The StQW Forum welcomes these flexibilities, which should encourage the return to active use of the vacant premises in the parades in the North Pole Road and St Helens Gardens.
St Helens Gardens – ideas for the future
7.2.1 This shopping parade was originally laid out and designed to be the heart of this part of the St Quintin Estate, with its local church and shops. It retains some of the atmosphere of a ‘village centre’, as noted in responses to the StQW Survey.
7.2.2. The visual appearance of St Helens Gardens has been much improved as a result of refurbishment works carried out by the landlord of 3 shop units in the southern section. These improvements came at a price, in that they were progressed through a series of planning applications involving reductions in retail floorspace and residential conversions to the back part of the shop units. Hence the resultant shop areas are small and with minimal storage by the standards of most retail units.
7.2.3 In 2013 the St Helens Residents supported an application for change of use from A1 to A2 (estate agents) of a key corner shop in St Helens Parade, on the basis that this activity replaced a vacant unit and was bringing footfall and vitality to the street. The proposals included a new florists kiosk on the forecourt of the shop, as an element of A1 use. This outcome is seen by local residents as a success in bringing life to the street, and an example of how Borough-wide planning policies have needed to be tailored at times to reflect a neighbourhood level context. Following the Government’s changes on permitted development, as explained above, this change of use would now be permitted development.
7.2.4 As a local shopping parade, St Helens Gardens is more attractive than North Pole Road, with wide pavements and (private) forecourts in front of the shops. In recent years, several St Helens summer festivals have been organised by local councillors and the church, with a temporary road closure to allow the street are to be used as a pedestrian area.
7.2.5 The Forum has been investigating the scope for experimenting with more frequent temporary road closures, initially in the summer months, to allow the area to be used as a local ‘pedestrian piazza’. Discussions have been held with London Farmers Markets, on the possibility of a weekend Farmers Market in this space. Consultation with RBKC is continuing, via StQW Forum involvement in the Council’s North Kensington Streetscape Advisory Group (a group of officers, ward councillors, and local residents chaired by the RBKC Cabinet member for Planning).
7.2.6 If experiments with such use of this section of the street proved successful, the next step could be to replace the road surface with an attractive ‘shared surface’, revise the car parking and delivery arrangements, and install a means of road closure such as rising bollards
North Pole Road
7.3.1 North Pole Road is a less attractive environment as a shopping parade. The pavements are narrower and there are regular traffic queues, not helped by cars and vans routinely ignoring parking restrictions. At the end of the school day, the pavements become very crowded with school pupils using the fast food shops and convenience stores. Several shopkeepers have had to place a limit of the number of young customers in the shop. There are also problems of litter from the fast food shops, at this and other times of day.
7.3.2 For the shops and services in the street, availability of nearby parking is important if they are to survive. The chemists in North Pole Road is a much valued local facility which provides an extensive repeat collection and delivery service to elderly housebound patients and also delivers urgent medicines. Lack of ’10 minute shopper parking’ is an issue, given the limited number of Pay and Display spaces in the area. As a result of high levels of construction activity in the neighbourhood (basements and renovations) many of the P&D spaces are occupied all day by construction vehicles and builders vans.
7.3.3 The one longstanding pub in the area (The North Pole, on which site a pub had stood since 1839) was lost to a Tesco Metro in 2012, despite a local campaign to save it. The street already had three convenience stores and a butcher at that time, all of which have since remained trading.
Results of the StQW Shopping Survey and Residents Survey
7.4.1 In early 2014, shopkeepers in the two main local parades were asked what they wanted to see happen as part of the StQW Neighbourhood Plan, and what type of shop they felt might survive best in each street. Residents were also asked a series of questions on local shopping, as part of the StQW Survey.
7.4.2 Taking these two sets of responses into account, the following themes emerge:
North Pole Road
- shopkeepers did not want more aggressive parking enforcement, but would welcome more spaces for short-term ‘shoppers parking’. Additional Pay and Display spaces could be provided at St Quintin Gardens (north side of Barlby/St Quintin Avenue, Highlever ‘triangle’). Free ’10 minute parking’ would be seen as good thing if this could be adequately monitored and enforced.
- CCTV would be welcome in North Pole Road, to address risks of burglary, late night crime, and litter from school pupils using the fast food shops (followed up as an ‘Action’ in this Plan).
- more litter bins should be provided (reports of some being removed and not replaced)
- matching resident views on ‘shops we would like’ against shopkeeper views on ‘what shops would survive in this parade’ the main candidates to emerge were that of an upmarket delicatessen, hardware/basic DIY goods, a good baker, and a fishmonger.
- in terms of services, a restaurant and a health/wellbeing outlet offering podiatry, chiropractor, physiotherapy were seen as both needed and viable. (The latter proposition is being progressed in relation to one of the currently vacant units).
- vacant units, with dilapidated shopfronts have a depressing effect on the parade, as does fly-posting under the railway bridge, and a fly tipping ‘hotspot’ (old furniture/domestic goods) at the corner of Brewster Gardens. The STQW Forum will continue to raise these issues with building owners and the Council.
St Helens Gardens
- a similar request from shopkeepers for less parking enforcement or more availability of short term shoppers parking , if the shops and cafe in the parade are to remain viable
- the importance of the ‘school run’ (in relation to Bassett House School and Oxford Gardens Primary) in bringing potential customers from a wider area to the street twice a day.
- reliance from shopkeepers/services on ‘regular customers who know us’ as opposed to passing trade (this is matched by survey responses from residents saying they shop and use services locally because of a neighbourly village atmosphere and ‘supporting local shops’, with a willingness to pay more than at nearby larger supermarkets.
- empty shops and dilapidated shop fronts have the same damaging effect as in North Pole Road
- in matching resident views with what was felt to be viable, the candidates to emerge included a brasserie/restaurant, hairdresser/beautician, butcher, and laundrette (there are two dry cleaners in the parade at present).
7.4.3 This evidence and analysis demonstrates that the local shops and services survive (some with difficulty) within a commercial eco-system that is sensitive to quite small changes. Were a school to re-locate, or parking restrictions to increase, some businesses might be forced to close. Similarly, quite small measures to improve availability of parking, improve the appearance of the parades, or introduce new elements (such as the arrival of the florists stall at St Helens Gardens) can have a significant positive effect.
7.4.4 Policies on ‘the development and use of land’ in a neighbourhood plan can have only a limited impact here. The ‘Actions’ in this Plan are also designed to improve the viability of local shopping parades and improve their physical environment. Equally important is the ongoing work by the StQW Forum and St Helens Residents Association to encourage absentee landlords of vacant units to take action to refurbish and market their premises. With the Forum’s expanding membership and network of contacts, there is growing chance of bringing together building owners/landlords and prospective tenants through small-scale and very local interventions.
Draft Policy StQW 7
7a) Within the StQW area’s three neighbourhood shopping parades of St Helens Gardens, North Pole Road, and Barlby Road, to allow permanent change of use between;
- A1/A2/A3 – shop, retail warehouses, hairdressers, undertakers, travel and ticket agencies, post offices (but not sorting offices), pet shops, sandwich bars, showrooms, domestic hire shops, dry cleaners, funeral directors and internet cafes, financial services such as banks and building societies, professional services (other than health and medical services) including estate and employment agencies and betting offices), restaurants and cafes
- B1 – offices and light industry appropriate in residential areas
- D1- non-residential institutions – clinics, health centres, crèches, day nurseries, day centres, schools, art galleries (other than for sale or hire), museums, libraries, halls, places of worship, church halls, law court
- D2 – Cinemas, music and concert halls, bingo and dance halls (but not night clubs), swimming baths, skating rinks, gymnasiums or area for indoor or outdoor sports and recreations (except for motor sports, or where firearms are used) use classes
Subject to amenity considerations.
Reasoned justification: Levels of vacant shop units in both shopping parades have demonstrated over recent years that greater flexibility on use classes is needed. Parts of the above draft policy have now been put into effect at national level, as a result of changes to the General Permitted Development Order taking effect from April 15th 2015.
7i) To request RBKC to review the balance of residents and P&D (pay and display) parking bays in the immediate vicinity of North Pole Road and St Helens Gardens, with a view to creating more short-term parking for shoppers and users of local services.
7ii) As part of the North Kensington Streetscape Review, to work with the RBKC Transport and Market Management Departments to provide for temporary road closures in the northern section of the St Helens Gardens shopping parade, to create a pedestrian area suitable for permitted market trading and outdoor consumption of food and drink.
7iii) Through participation of the StQW Forum in the North Kensington Streetscape Advisory Group, to follow up on other potential improvements to the shopping parades in the neighbourhood, as indentified via the StQW Survey and retail questionnaire/interviews.
7iv) To continue to contact owners and managing agents of vacant shop units to encourage refurbishment and re-letting, alert them to new flexibilities on change of use, and identify potential matches with resident aspirations for new uses.