Berwick Street parade shops up for sale: will this spell the end for the independent businesses in the street?
By SohoLisa | Saturday, March 12, 2011, 18:01
Anxious Soho residents and business holders have raised concerns over plans to attract a leading property investment company to revitalise Soho's Berwick Street market.
Is Berwick Street set to get a faclift?
There are fears that the historic Soho market will suffer a "clone stores" invasion, as much of the capital's shopping districts do and become just another homogenised parade of shops.
The lease for the row of retail units underneath Kemp House in Berwick Street, is owned by City Hall and have now placed the units with agents, Lambert Smith Hampton.
West End ward councillor Jonathan Glanz has attempted to allay concerns over the potential regeneration of the Berwick Street and past failed attempts to redevelop the market, arguing that the move will breathe much needed new life into the area.
Cllr Glanz said: "It is hoped an experienced commercial operator will acquire the long leasehold interest and in doing so will work with the council to revitalise the existing shops at ground-floor level and to upgrade the public realm.
"We would look to be working with an experienced party who has done similar developments.
"That means that they would share that vision and would ensure the mix of tenants is one that is distinctive, otherwise you are creating just another identikit high street."
Designed by LC Holbrook of Richies and Blythin Architects and completed in 1962 on behalf of Westminster City Council, the property consists of a rather dated retail parade fronting Berwick Street Market and has seen better days. However, it has proved difficult for City Hall in the past to approve proposals to redevelop the market, as evidence by the hundreds of complaints received by City Hall in 2004, regarding plans to redevelop Berwick Street, Hopkins Street, Ingestre Place and Silver Place which were subsequently abandoned.
There is a website advertising the development, which lists the Berwick Street parade as comprising of; "12 retail units and includes a variety of niche retailers, a café, a betting office, and a Co-operative Supermarket on the corner of Berwick Street and Peter Street. The first and second floors of the property comprise primarily commercial office accommodation".
The site goes on to say: "At present (the time of writing), the property is fully let although several of the leases are due to be renegotiated. The property's annual rent roll is approximately £710,000, however, there is considerable scope for this to be increased either through active asset management or refurbishment/redevelopment works."
Property group Shaftesbury plc is understood to be considered an attractive potential buyer by the council.
There is little doubt that the shabby 60's exterior of the parade could really do with an overhaul (though the large housing block above the units is not included in the sale and is to be retained by the council), it is always a worry for any Sohoite, when new plans surface to 'regenerate' or 'redevelop' a site in Soho. I went on the streets to see what you thought about the sale and its potential impact on Berwick Street market and the unique identity of the area. Here are just some of the responses I received;
I often pass through the market on my way to Charing Cross to pick up fruit and veg and I have thought to myself before that the shops look a bit rundown, but I've not really paid too much attention to the shop themselves anyway.
As long as the big, high street chains don't start creeping in once they've sold the shops, then I can't see a problem. The building is pretty ugly.
They are a bit of an eyesore really; I do wonder what will happen with some of the smaller, independent shops like Fair Share and Beatroot, as I imagine that whoever buys the site and does it up will really want more rent and that might price some businesses out of Berwick Street.
I don't think it will be a bad thing necessarily. It's not like it's an historical building with any ascetic merit, so it can only serve to improve the area.
As long as the market stays, then I can't see the harm. The market could do with a bit of an overhaul too I think.
So there you have it. Not all of you agree that the proposed sale of the Berwick Street parade is ideal, but it does seem that many of you agree on one thing; that like much of Soho, Berwick Street should remain largely free from the big, high street chains, but would it could also benefit from a little sprucing up! Tell us what you think here!