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You are in: London > TV > Television > Inside Out > Portobello

Portobello Road Market

Portobello Road Market

Portobello

Is Portobello Road Market, one of London's most visted places, under threat? Find out how locals and traders plan to save the market...

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Every Saturday if you head over to west London 60,000 pairs of feet will be trotting up and down Portobello Road Market. They come from all over London, Britain and the world attracted by the market’s bohemian mix of shops, antiques, fashion and fruit and veg stalls. It’s been going for more than a century and is now one of the top ten most popular attractions in the capital.

But its very character that’s made it so popular is now under threat because the quirky charms of the market, has now wooed chain stores. Slowly Portobello is changing as big businesses buy out the local smaller independent shops. Alongside this rents in the area have rocketed as it’s got so popular.

But now worried traders and locals are getting together to fight to save the market. But can their ambitious plan work?

Costas Kleanthous

Costas Kleanthous

At the Notting Hill end of the road is the antiques market which is a real magnet drawing in many foreign visitors. For nearly 40 years, Costas Kleanthous has worked here. He opens on a Saturday only – but business is good.
“I started on a small stall here in 1967 and have grown with the market. If you're going to be in the antiques business, Portobello Road is just about the best place to be in because it's the world's biggest antiques market.

“We watched the market growing and growing until every shop in the area has become antiques. We get the local people, the local collectors, people who have come to London to come to see the market and then by about 10.30am we start getting the coach parties. It really gets very busy,” said Costas.

Around the corner, is Lyndons art shop run by Peter Kalyan. He’s worked in this area for over 10 years and up until for months ago his business was in the heart of Portobello Road. But then the rent review came and his landlord told him the rent would have to double.

“I couldn’t believe it I anticipated a 20% rise which is sort of in line with inflation, “said Peter.

After negotiating with his landlord, the rent rise was fixed at 60%, but this was still too much for Peter. He had to move out. 

Peter Kalyan

Peter Kalyan

“I had to move round the corner. And business is worse its down by 20 per cent. I miss Portobello road it was a great place and great atmosphere. In all honesty the way things are going I think I might stay in business about another five years but after that not likely”

Peter’s isn’t the only business that’s had to move out of the area. More and more of the small independent traders along Portobello are going out of business or selling up to bigger stores who can afford the higher rents. 

Costas and many other traders think this rapid development is a little short sighted.

He said, ”Further down the road we've had some property developers who have come in, basically doubling or more the rents, driving out traditional family shops. With the sort of rents they're asking for, they can only attract the sort of shops which are in every High Street in the UK. This isn’t good”

The big chainstores are starting to move into the local area, and their presence is having an impact on the stalls that line the street too.

Bella Devlin’s 21 and has worked on her family’s fruit and veg stall all her life.
Her great -grandfather started the greengrocer business back in 1910. Since then generations of Devlin’s have been working in the same spot they’ve had for nearly a century. 

Bella Devlin

Bella Devlin

“The market rules your life. You don't have a life basically. We start at 2 in the morning, work right round till about half 7 in the evening and it's pretty hard work really. We used to have a day off in the week and then Sundays too. Now we work six and sometimes seven days to make any kind of profit” said Bella.

The changes in the area have been obvious to Bella. The clientele are changing and with more and more chainstores and supermarkets taking a foothold in the market fewer people are buying their daily groceries from the market stalls.

“I’ll be lucky to sell a bag of spuds these days. All these posh shops have started to open. It's kind of turning into a Chelsea and you really don't want Portobello Road to be another Chelsea.” She said.

Kings road in Chelsea which was once the height of British cool back in the sixties and seventies it was packed full of innovative shops designers like Vivienne Westwood and Mary Quant got their first breaks here. There were independent retailers everywhere today it’s full of chain stores very much like any other high street and that’s what the traders in Portobello fear will happen to them.

It’s a viewpoint shared by the New Economic Foundation. They surveyed high streets across the country and found that they were all beginning to look the same. Their report called Clonetown Britain highlighted the problems as policy director Andrew Simms explained, “There’s this strange phenomenon that as the big out of town super stores developed lots of town centres were completely killed off so called Ghost towns. But in other areas we saw a different phenomenon where lots of similar shops came in – chainstore and soon a street in London or Lincoln looked the same so called clonetowns.
   
“It’s certainly market forces at work but the problem with market forces is that it can be destructive. We can choose if we want our surroundings to be changed beyond all recognition or to do something about it, “he said.

And that’s what is now happening. Traders and locals have joined forces to form a pressure group called the friends of Portobello road. And they have proposed a novel solution. They want to turn the market into Britain’s first business conservation zone that would mean if a business closed or moved those premises could only be bought by a similar business. So if a fish shop closed it could only be replaced by another fish shop. 

Costas explained what it might achieve, “We are asking for the preservation not only of the buildings but of the activities, of the people, which are making this area what it is, which gives it a unique character which it has. They have something similar in Paris where it works very well. We don’t want to fossilize but we want to protect the business. “

Councillor Nicholas Paget-Brown is from Kensington and Chelsea council. He’s the man in charge of development and regeneration for the area.
He sympathises with the traders concerns but he says he‘s powerless to do anything about it.

Sumit with Councillor Nicholas Paget-Brown

Sumit with Councillor Nicholas Paget-Brown

“One of the problems is that virtually all of the businesses here are privately owned and we have no power to stop anyone selling to whomever they want. Of course we want shops for local people and to keep the character of the market. But there’s a misconception the council can just stop development and that’s not true.

“there is a planning law which allows us to stipulate a certain proportion of a site is given to say social housing or the right kind of facilities but that only applies to new developers building a brand new site. Not here.” He said. 

Although the local council and the pressure group are working together, they both believe that ultimately the power to save Portobello Road rests with government. Without its help, all that which make’s this west London market so special might soon disappear.

last updated: 22/01/2008 at 17:01
created: 30/01/2006

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