Our corner of Kensington seems to be a perpetual building site. No sooner had the De Vere Gardens development finished than the one in Young Street started. With big projects like these, there’s usually a project management committee, which someone from the KCRA attends – so any problems or complaints can be addressed pretty promptly. It’s the smaller developments that often cause the greatest inconvenience. Here’s a progress report on the ones that have affected our neighbourhood most.
There is no need to repeat the long saga of this building, dating back to 2014. For the last few months it has had a new project manager, Johnathon Gillies, who is very keen to have a proper relationship with the local community. So the good news is that the scaffolding that caused neighbouring residents so much bother for so long is down. The less good news is that around Easter 2017 scaffolding will be erected again, so work on the windows and façade can be done. We are assured that it will only be up for 4 months. The whole project will take about 14 months to completion, almost all of it of course involving internal work. Meanwhile, Mr Gillies, conscious of the poor state of the garden, has hired a firm to sort it out. So the flapping pastic has gone, but the bilding won't be finished until the end of 2017. It will have been empty for 4 years!
Valentino's, Thackeray Street
This is another long-running saga. It's being going on since 2013 and is not over yet. The landlord of Valentino’s, the hair salon in Thackeray Street, decided he wanted to turn Val’s first floor into a residence (sound familiar?). After the usual spate of campaigns, objections, appeals and re-submitted proposals, the landlord finally got his way. It looked as if it was the end of Valentino’s 30 year long presence in Thackeray St. However there’s a twist to the story. The landlord has got permission to build an extension at the back of Valentinos, which would make up for some of the lost space upstairs, allowing Val to stay. The only problem of course was how could Valentino’s carry on as a salon with rebuilding going on around it. Surprise, surprise - just round the corner, in the same building owned by the landlord, was Shirtstream. Its lease came up. It wasn’t renewed. Shirtstream left. Their space has now been remodelled and Valentino moved in while the old salon is rebuilt. So we have lost a dry-cleaner but at least kept a well-liked hair-dresser. And the landlord will get his flat. So a result of sorts for Valentino's and the community who supported him. But Val has had a sword of Damocles hanging over his head for three years.
It cannot be easy to run a small business in Kensington these days, with developers prowling around looking to exploit the mouth-watering prices residential property attracts. And the government does not help, as, desperate to increase the housing stock it makes it easier and easier to turn offices and businesses into flats. As we have commented before, the long term impact of such policies is to turn parts of Kensington into residential ghettoes, as we gradually lose our shops and services to the greed of developers.
The House in South End Row
Happily, Kensington Court residents have just been spectators in this bizarre drama, unfolding round the corner from Thackeray Street. A quick reminder of the story so far: the owner is Mrs Zipporah Lisle-Mainwaring, clearly a very rich 67 year old lady, who lives in Geneva. She bought the building back in August 2012. It was classed as an office then, and she was keen to turn it into one of those residences beloved by developers but dreaded by neighbours - a basement on 3 levels, swimming pool, media room - you name it. Everybody objected, including the RBKC and of course local residents. But we know all too well what happens in these planning conflicts. If you have the money, the determination and a taste for publicity, you can keep on appealing until finally the objectors give up and the inspector from Bristol over-rules the local authority. In Mrs Mainwaring’s case, it has taken much longer than usual. It has involved her painting the building in stripes as a protest. It has cost her apparently £1 million in legal fees. But she has featured in press and on television and seems finally to have got her way. The building is boarded up and currently being demolished. It will probably only have a single basement now, given the RBKC’s new policy. But no doubt Mrs Lisle-Mainwaring will make a nice profit on the venture – and can go back satisfied to Geneva, where, I hazard a guess, the Swiss do things differently.