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Why not insist developers have all contracts in place before businesses are removed?

11 May, 2018

• IT is now more than three years since demolition work first began in the Kemp House development, yet still Berwick Street Market reverberates with the sound of drills breaking concrete.

It was April 2015 when local businesses in the heart of Soho – such as Beatroot café and That’s Andy hardware shop – had their leases in the Kemp House podium terminated and the stripping of the building began, although the heavy demolition didn’t get into full swing until after the Co-op was cleared out in November 2015.

The seemingly endless demolition work and the loss of cherished businesses has made Berwick Street Market a less than welcoming environment – and now only two fruit and veg stalls remain. As for the businesses on the east side of the street, on top of this disruption they have to contend with rent and rates rises; how many will survive the development?

Meanwhile, residents of the Kemp House tower block in the middle of the site, aside from the interminable noise and dust, suffer floods from the building site whenever there is heavy rain.

Remember that the Kemp House freehold is owned by Westminster City Council: the council chose the developer (PMB) and granted planning permission for a scheme that was promoted as being an 18-month project from start to finish, with completion expected by March 2016. Now, it seems, the development will most likely take around four years, with completion set to slip into 2019.

Other recent projects of similar scale, such as those on the adjacent Broadwick Street, have been completed more quickly, so why has Kemp House taken so long?

There have been some structural changes to the initial plans, and there are always a few unknowns at the commencement of such a project, but we’re told that there have also been delays arising from contractual issues: wrangling over the Co-op lease after other businesses had been removed; delays over bringing in a building contractor after demolition had already begun; a late redesign of the layout for the proposed boutique hotel to fit in more rooms once Premier Inn signed the lease.

My long-term question to Westminster, being both landlord and local authority, is this: why not insist that property developers have all their contracts in place before they remove long-standing businesses and commence demolition works which threaten local livelihoods?

More immediately, what will Westminster do to support those currently suffering for the council’s profit? Reimbursing three years of market-pitch fees, business rates and council tax would be a good start.

Berwick Street, W1


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