One of the highlights of last night’s Lambeth council planning committee meeting that backed redevelopment of Brixton Arches by owner Network Rail, was the impassioned plea of local shopkeeper James Castle, speaking as a formal objector to the plans. This is an edited version:
This planning application holds, in writing:
Objections – 947; nine, four, seven.
Comments of support for this planning application – one five. 15.
One of these observes: “But I would like the existing tenants to be looked after properly”.
The announcement of evictions of these longstanding shops at the railway arches, galvanised many of us Brixton people into action.
Already seriously alarmed at some of the council’s property plans for raising revenue made necessary by government cuts, there had only been talk and much shaking of heads. What exactly, and how? Something must be done.
Network Rail came to the rescue, such was the seismic impact of their plans. Normally easygoing and apolitical locals of all types and all backgrounds rose up and said: “No! Not the shops – step away from the Brixton Arches shops.”
Reclaim Brixton was born and, within two weeks of our first meeting, around 5,000 people filled Windrush Square.
Some marched to form a large hand-holding ring around the threatened arches. I saw big grown men weep – family fishmongers who had been there 80 years – their gigantic Italian marble slab and Welsh slate fish bath a testament to the years of Brixton commitment.
They did not know they were quite so loved.
Part of the neighbourhood and community built up and survived through many years of neglect, controversy, trouble and change. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
My formal objection, entirely relevant to this planning application, is the detrimental effect it will have on the character of the neighbourhood. From which it may not recover. Both in terms of the community and of the businesses elsewhere throughout the town.
The arch shops beneath this spine of railway amongst the markets of Brixton are at the centre of our vibrant community.
They are part of the attraction for us and for visitors from the four corners of the Earth – one of prized and quirky assets; independent shops and services grown organically over decades. Not High Street chains.
There is no good reason why Network Rail could not refurbish each arch, where it needs it, on a piecemeal basis. This would prevent shutting down the entire area as a construction site for the years it will take.
It is not the job of the planning committee to have anxiety about the economics.
In their application, Network Rail are critical of the piecemeal development and the addition of various “features” added by local tenants over decades.
It is true that these features are, to some people, ugly and dirty and they do not conform to each other. This is partly the nature of British shops historically speaking.
Mate. Didn’t you know. We don’t all want to live near Guildford High Street.
Repairs and replacements are needed. Revealing the original shape of the arches and other features is desirable to me personally and I like that idea. But I would not impose this on the community if it destroys that community in its re-makery.
If Network Rail want to bring back the grand and glorious original shape of these Victorian arches and other charming original architectural features, then this is thoroughly desirable – and can be done on an arch-by-arch process of strictly necessary renovation.
It might cost more as there are fewer economies of scale in construction and it might be more inconvenient. But it will preserve this organic and very valuable asset of loved shop people in our Town Centre.
I urge you to turn down this application as it is on the grounds I have outlined and also on the grounds that the application is not in accordance with sections of Lambeth’s Local Plan.
And just because the overwhelming majority of Brixton people don’t want it.
Talking to the Blog after the meeting, James Castle said that one of his concerns is the non-preservation and throwing away of important historic or heritage artefacts, which keeps getting forgotten in writing and reporting.
“In particular, I’m talking about the Mash fishmongers arch which is living history – the gigantic marble slab from Carrera, Tuscany, Italy, and the heavy, shapely slate fish washing bath are great examples of life before refrigeration. And the Edwardian tiles which I’m not convinced Network Rail will remove properly, as it is expensive to do so. We need this in writing properly contracted.
“Mashes are closing early forever on 13 August, even though it is my guess that this will rumble on for another year given the conditions brought up last night and Network Rail’s appalling record on work schedules.”
Castle said he could not find one trader “who has not been exasperated by the men from Network Rail. They are perfectly nice people, of course, but just don’t get it. Not from round here geographically, politically, culturally, humanly.”
He imagined the conversations around how their nice, shiny, new, clean, sleek arch designs are rejected in favour of the filthy, battered, urban-art Mad Max look currently in Atlantic Road.
“I felt like shouting last night: ‘They like it looking dangerous’.”
James Castle is the owner of The Society For The Protection of Unwanted Objects at 125 Dulwich Road, Herne Hill.