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Battle to save ‘delicate ecosystem’ of Neal’s Yard

Row over restaurant's 'Cape Canaveral' flue

06 April, 2018 — By William McLennan

A flue that has been compared to the Apollo 13 spacecraft 

RESIDENTS in a historic Covent Garden courtyard have said their “oasis of peace” has been overrun with restaurants.

Neighbours in Neal’s Yard have objected to the arrival of any new eateries and asked the council to intervene and protect the area’s unique atmosphere. All but one of the plaza’s shops have been replaced with cafés, bars and restaurants over the past three years, the Covent Garden Community Association said.

The area gives its name to Neal’s Yard Remedies, an up-market health and beauty company, which is the only retailer to remain a presence. Employees said that they have been forced to end therapy sessions early, after customers felt nauseas from the smell of cooking meat.

Responding to the latest planning objection to turn one of the retail units permanently into a restaurant, Mark Wordsworth wrote: “This may seem an odd analogy but Neal’s Yard is like a coral reef – it’s a very delicate ecosystem and to preserve it it needs to be kept in balance. If the reef dies then it can’t be recreated – it’s gone forever. And like all dead reefs there are no tourists or visitors and everyone loses out including the landlords and all their tenants.”

Residents focused their objections on landlords Shaftesbury Estates, calling on them to manage the mix of homes, restaurants and shops in the area.

One neighbour, complaining about an extractor fan flue that had been installed to accommodate one restaurant, told Camden Council: “Here on Planet Shaftesbury Estate, we are still trying to come to terms with the almost overnight appearance of the massive silver flue aka – Apollo 13 and which appeared out of the blue (like Dr Who’s Tardis) and now looms over us like something that wouldn’t be out of place at Cape Canaveral, just waiting menacingly quiet, for someone to light the blue touch paper and stand well back, before it hurtles off into space, to conquer hidden planets and thereby establish new communities for Shaftesbury Estates.”

Paul Hope said the area has “rapidly become a loud and busy restaurant zone” eroding the reason that people “love the yard and flock there”.

Axelle Bonaparte said: “Neal’s Yard has been here for years adding an oasis of peace and quiet in the area, and this is fading away. Can we have some corners of calmness in this city and not use every square metre for frenzy?”

Amanda Rigby, of the Covent Garden Community Association, asked Camden Council to engage in a “holistic, strategic discussion about how the place that is Neal’s Yard should be allowed to evolve”.

Brian Bickell, chief executive officer Shaftesbury plc, said the company was committed to maintaining Neal’s Yard’s vibrancy and communal spirit, adding: “It has a long history as a shared and mixed-use space – from Neal’s Yard Remedies for health and wellbeing through to the cheese shop of Neal’s Yard Dairy, and the small independent cafés and restaurants which together contribute to this extraordinary oasis in the West End.”

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