Fitzrovia – Plan to turn “little oasis” into busy retail precinct

By News Reporters

One of Fitzrovia’s quietest streets could be transformed into a busy, pedestrianised retail destination under plans being put forward by one to the area’s largest landowners.

Derwent London who own more than 30 properties in Fitzrovia want to attract more visitors to Whitfield Street and into new cafes, shops and galleries in a scheme that will take shape over the next few years, and beyond. It also has plans to develop the Whitfield Gardens public open space.

A public exhibition showing brief plans has been set up in a gallery at Totfield House on the corner of Whitfield Street and Tottenham Street. Derwent London owns nearly every property along Whitfield Street between Tottenham Street and Maple Street and so sees the street as an opportunity too good to be missed.

Make Architects have been appointed to draw up a “mini-masterplan for Whitfield Street”. Make were also the architects appointed to the subsequently failed “Noho Square” development. They will also lead on the regeneration of the Saatchi building in Charlotte Street when the current lease on the site expires in 2013. It is possible that the Saatchi building will be demolished, or “replaced” as Derwent put it.

Derwent has declared that they will redevelop over the next 30 years as leases on properties end.

The launch of the campaign by Derwent attracted significant media attention with articles in the Financial Times, Property Week, London’s Evening Standard as well as coverage on Radio London.

Simon Silver, head of development at Derwent, told the FT: “There is not that much street life [in Whitfield Street]. There is a really good opportunity here. The mix of retailers is very important. Fitzrovia is famed for its arts and artisans, not new giant coffee chains. Someone described the area as a little oasis in Fitzrovia and we would not want to change that.”

Local residents are quick to point out that encouraging more visitors into the area will destroy the tranquillity of the street.

Linus Rees a resident of Tottenham Street said: “You can’t have an oasis of calm and more activity at the same time. The two are incompatible. This is a quiet street and the mix of offices, open space and a couple of pubs lining it strikes the right balance. Why change it? Why put more cafes along this street. We have plenty of cafes in Fitzrovia.

“Derwent were required to put housing on the corner of Chitty Street and Whitfield Street but instead succeeded to transfer the housing from the more valuable position to an inferior site at Whitfield Place. And a supine Camden Council let them do it.

“Housing along this stretch of Whitfield Street would really have enhanced the mix of the street and added to its mixed use character. But it wouldn’t have made them as much money as a grand scheme like the one they are now proposing.

“It’s in the nature of property developers to try to make as much money as possible. That’s what they do. But Camden Council are elected by residents and should act in the public interest and should be regulating the actions of big business. And they should listen to local people,” said Mr Rees.

Speaking on Radio London, Max Neufeld of the Charlotte Street Association said: “Derwent are clearly bent on bringing a lot of activity into the area. Derwent have an ambitious plan to change the quality and nature of the area. We are not against change; but it depends on the nature of the change. Derwent want to produce more activity because the higher the footfall, the higher the rent levels.

“What they have to actually understand is that although they may own a number of buildings in Fitzrovia, they don’t own Fitzrovia. They do need to involve the local community in whatever plans they are developing for the future and we would expect some community benefit.

“We would expect open space, we would expect housing, including social housing. And we really need to be involved in this development. Because what we do not want is another Covent Garden or an extension of Soho.

“Parts of Fitzrovia are frenetic and active. That’s fine. But much of it is much quieter, much more subdued and people want to keep it that way. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be change, that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be the introduction of ground floor activity like showrooms and galleries. But certainly not a lot of cafes or wall-to-wall restaurants like we have in lower Charlotte Street at the moment.

“Fitzrovia has a character of its own. Although it has always accommodated change and will continue to accommodate change, we do need to protect that quality as part of any change. And that quality is its mixed-use. A mix of shops, offices and residential together. But it’s also small-scale and it’s not massive, large-scale redevelopment,” said Mr Neufeld.

As part of their campaign Derwent has produced a colour brochure called Your Fitzrovia introducing the company and their plans. An earlier version of this brochure was published on their website in early November and contained some sentences that were later removed.

The original handout published in November

This earlier publication stated that attempts to rebrand part of Fitzrovia as “Noho … were misguided. There is no such place as Noho.” This would have contradicted their other marketing material which lists properties in Langham Place, Gresse Street and Rathbone Place as being in “Noho”.

Fitzrovia Handout

The later published version removed references that would have contradicted Derwent's other marketing material referring to Noho

Derwent’s current brochures for the Qube building in Whitfield Street and the Charlotte Building in Gresse Street contain maps showing the southern half of Fitzrovia as “Noho”. See www.DerwentLondon.com/Noho. They’ve also labelled parts of Holborn as “Midtown”. See www.derwentlondon.com/holborn-midtown

This is despite their claim that they don’t want to change the character of an area.

Simon Silver development director at Derwent told Property Week: “We are a property company with sensitivities. We don’t build big tower blocks. We want to get rid of the idea that we will come in and knock everything down.”

However, Derwent have drawn criticism from conservation groups. In Farringdon they submitted plans to demolish the historic Turnmills building and build a glass and steel tower block. After a local campaign Islington Council  refused them planning permission. [update: Derwent have now lodged an appeal against this decision.]

Derwent London were formed in February 2007 after the merger of the Derwent Valley Holdings and London Merchant Securities. Both companies had owned property in Fitzrovia and other parts of London.

Derwent London has now formed a consortium of interests with other businesses (Make, Arup and BT) in Fitzrovia and Camden Council to “revitalise the area of Fitzrovia creating a destination of choice” and to drive their plans forward.

Surprisingly Camden council are prepared to support and sit on the board of the Partnership with no place for representation from the local community.

Documents obtained from Companies house reveal that membership of the Fitzrovia Partnership board of directors is only open to representatives of “businesses who provide funding contributions to the operation of the organisation in excess of £10,000”.

The Fitzrovia Partnership Limited is a legally separate entity to Derwent London.

Gary Reeves a consultant employed by the Fitzrovia Partnership said in a meeting with a group of residents that the Partnership is merely a group of businesses that want to improve Fitzrovia for everyone. And stressed they were not Derwent London.

However, the Fitzrovia Partnership’s registered office is at Derwent London, 25 Saville Row, London W1. Companies House also lists the first registered director of the company as Nick Groves, senior investment manager, of Derwent London. Likewise the address of their website http://www.fitzroviapartnership.com is registered under the name Derwent London plc.

Update: This legally seperate entity was holding a champagne reception in Totfield House tonight (02/12/2009). Our wine correspondent wandered in to see what was going on. He reported that is was very cheap champagne.

Derwent London launches Fitzrovia Exhibition

Elsewhere

Project banks on Fitzrovia’s bohemian appeal Financial TimesDaniel Thomas – ‎Nov 5, 2009‎ A backstreet area of Fitzrovia in London’s West End is set to be transformed into a bijou retail destination under

6 Nov 2009 Derwent London is drawing up plans for a development in London’s Fitzrovia as part of wider plans to regenerate and revitalise the area to …
Boho Fitzrovia revived with ‘arty’ boutiques Evening Standard, Felix Allen 06.11.09
Fitzrovia goes upmarket “One of Derwent’s objectives is to improve links between Fitzrovia and the Heal’s and Habitat “homewares hub” on Tottenham Court Road. Evening Standard Homes and Property

2 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Fitzrovia – Simon Silver of Derwent London plc talks to Fitzrovia News « Fitzrovia News
  2. Saatchi block decision too important to be left in the hands of local democracy says Boris Johnson | Fitzrovia News

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