The ‘West End Extra’ reports;
“A GUARANTEE that gallery owners would be offered affordable rent was stripped from plans to turn a world-famous art street into luxury flats.
Developers had promised to offer “reasonable market rents” for gallery space in Cork Street after a lengthy campaign against proposals to bulldoze a number of historic galleries.
Gary Snell, who owns the respected Alpha Gallery in Cork Street, said the amendment had been “sneaked through”.
“I’m in shock and that they can do it without giving notice is scandalous. These points were the critical issues at the original hearing and now it’s been taken away,” he said.
Earlier this year planning permission was granted for property developers Pollen Estate to knock down the western side of the street.
But campaigners be¬lieved their efforts were not in vain as they secured a compromise meaning five retail spaces would be provided at a “reasonable market rent for art gallery or antique shop use”.
This clause meant the independent galleries may be able to return after the development and not be priced out of the market by high-end fashion outlets that line nearby Bond Street. However on Tuesday Westminster Council quietly removed the concession after a similar development on the other side of the street was not made to comply with such strict regulations.
Mr Snell said that despite the Save Cork Street campaign, that was partly backed by gallery owners spending thousands of pounds on winning the concession, no notice was served that they would be removed on Tuesday night.
He said: “It’s a scandalous thing. The most important street for art, globally, has been sold out by Westminster.”
“We fought hard to keep it art galleries and make sure the rents are right. That was no guarantee that art galleries could afford to come back in but at least was attempting to keep it open for art galleries, because art galleries cannot compete with fashion outlets, which pay about four times more in rent.”
Cllr Alastair Moss who chaired the Tuesday meeting said: “…their only fear seems to be that they won’t be able to afford the rents and other galleries will. Well I don’t want a street full of galleries that are not viable businesses and that’s the market. We have secured galleries, where there was no legal obligation on the owners to give that to us.
“Secondly, the control that we have left is that both sites have a required number of galleries and there is only limited floor space there, so there cannot be one mega gallery. There still has to be five galleries.”