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Battle to save launderette as landlords warn nobody uses them any more

Westminster block conversion to estate agency, but decision now subject to appeal

09 June, 2018 — By Richard Osley

IF the movie scripts were true to life, they’d be the perfect place for hipster 20-somethings to find romance. If the famous Levi’s advert is more your thing, then at any moment a heart-throb could pop in to wash his jeans while waiting for the spin cycle to finish a pair of white smalls.

If EastEnders is actually the most realistic portrayal of an afternoon spent watching a whirring washing machine, then it may all be just a little more down to earth.

Either way, planners at Westminster City Council are worried about the loss of launderettes and have moved to block one in Victoria being turned into a new estate agency. The case, which partly centres on whether there is still a need for launderettes in central London, is now set to be ruled on by a planning inspector.

Landlords are appealing against the council’s refusal to grant planning permission. The coin-op service – known simply as Launderette – which sits in Regency Place, near Horseferry Road, was protected in a recent refurbishment of the rest of the building but now it is argued that the demand for somewhere to wash clothes has fallen.

In an appeal to government inspectors, launched this week, planning consultants Fuller Long said: “The number of users of the launderette has steadily declined over a number of years. Its main source of income used to come from the large block of flats on Page Street. However, as those flats have been renovated, the occupiers now have their own washing machines.”

The firm representing the landlords added: “The trade has been increasingly reliant on workers, and even this aspect of the business has also diminished, as workers use (increasingly so) dry cleaners for their suits and shirts. There are seven dry cleaners in the immediate locality (five of which are within 250m walking distance from the site) and three of these have been created within the last five years. It is a fine example of moving trade from washing of clothes to dry cleaning.” The change of use was rejected by the council earlier this year. Three neighbours had raised objections, with concerns that an estate agent’s office would cause more disturbance than a launderette.

Meanwhile, Lucy Peck, from the Thorney Island Society – Thorney Island is the name used for streets near the Thames – said in a letter of objection: “Although we are aware that the launderette can cease to trade even if another use was not permitted, we believe that as long as local people are dependent on this service – and some still are – a change of use should not be allowed.”

The closure of launderettes across London and the UK has been a source of debate over the past few years. In the 1980s there was a rush to open new ones but it was estimated last year that the capital now has fewer than 500 in operation with 97 per cent of households owning their own machine.

The council’s verdict had said the proposed change “would be detrimental to the convenience and service it provides to residents, visitors and local businesses”. But the planning appeal document said: “There is never more than two people in the launderette at any one time (when it has previously been a community focal point). The use of the premises as an estate agents is more commercially viable and will allow for a new business to become operational.”

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