Brockley shops - no vacancies

Brockley Central is now the proud co-owner of a shop. Or rather, of a potentially crippling lease and an empty shell.

You’ll be hearing plenty about it in due course, but our shop isn’t the point of this article. The point is our thwarted efforts to locate it in Brockley.

Having urged others to invest in Brockley, we were keen to put our money where our mouth was. Not only do we think it would have been a viable location, it would have been perfect in terms of work-life balance.

The problem was finding a location. It’s not a business that would have been able to rely on local custom alone, so it needed to be close to good public transport links – in particular the ELL. So Crofton Park was out. It also needed to be the sort of place people enjoyed spending long periods of time, in a fairly attractive setting. So sticking it next to City Noodles or next to the bridge on Mantle Road was probably out of the question. It also needed to be reasonably big. The old holistic centre on the corner of Cranfield was too cramped and problematic in terms of layout. The unit next to the Shop on the Hill is tiny. And so on.

There was one site that fitted the bill. In a beautiful location, close to Brockley Station. Nice and big, on two levels. And available. The old Moore’s grocery shop on Upper Brockley Road was on the market to-let. The building was / is in a shocking state: Antiquated electrics, crumbly stairs, peeling walls and ceilings. It would have taken a lot of work. But that was OK, because the asking price reflected that and the fact that Upper Brockley Road has relatively little footfall.

We offered the asking price with the caveat that we’d need the standard rent-free period to complete the building works. Irritatingly, however, someone else was sniffing around at the same time – and we were told they were the preferred bidders. As disappointed as we were to hear that, we did at least console ourselves with the fact that if we missed out, at least we’d have a new business on our doorstep (apparently, the plan was to create a child-friendly venue of some-sort). But then we were told that the property had been withdrawn from the market altogether. The landlords had other plans. We don’t know what they are, but they obviously haven’t happened yet (months later) and we’ve been keeping a beady eye out for a planning application.

So that’s it. The last shop on Brockley’s historic high-street is gone for the foreseeable future. A business (whether ours or our rival’s), which would have created local economic activity has been thwarted.

And it highlights a wider problem. With the honourable exception of Crofton Park, the area’s supply of high-quality retail spaces is already small and in danger of dwindling. In Ladywell, the owners of the “Night Watch” shop, slap-bang in the middle of the high-street are hoping to develop the residential space above by shrinking the retail space down to about 30 square metres, which would severely limit the kind of businesses that could operate there. The Council has focused on demanding more retail space be built at the bottom of new developments on Mantle Road and Brockley Cross, but those are not where many retailers want to be, as the ongoing vacancies prove.

The answer, as ever, must be to concentrate on improving our existing high-streets. To develop high-quality sites on Brockley and Ladywell Roads and to prevent the loss of such spaces as we do have, so long as the demand from businesses demonstrably exists.

42 comments:

The Cat Man said...

Mantle Road (immediately west of the station) will look fabulous once the buildings work is completed. There will be shops either side of the street, and much improved streetscape/trees etc..

Brockley Nick said...

Catman, let's be honest, no it won't. It will look better than before, but it will be a very narrow road, with little pavement, squashed up against a bridge and next to what will remain a building site for at least a couple of years. The existing units are small and sterile - not very attractive to your average retailer (hence they are still empty). I reserve judgement on the new ones.

Anonymous said...

It probably won't look THAT bad. If you look at the front of the new development it's actually set back from the road quite a bit. The pavement will be double the width of a regular pavement - so not as cramped as it appears now.

Anonymous said...

Nick - you failed to include a resolution to the problem you faced. where did you find the retail space in the end?

Brockley Nick said...

Central London.

Anonymous said...

Near the ELL?

Brockley Nick said...

No, that would have been handy. In the West End, with a really enlightened landlord who's offered a good rent and flexible terms and who works with its businesses to help promote them and regenerate their properties.

Sigh.

Anonymous said...

This article does highlight the problem of why much of Brockley looks shitty.

I can't criticise your decision to locate your business away from Brockley because when one gets down to reality - most people are not willing to take risks with their own money - or be the one who is prepared to break new ground.

To say that you didn't want to have it on Mantle road because it relys on people wanting to be there is a little thin though - hopefully that side will eventually become that kind of place - but not if people aren't prepared to take a punt on it. Like wise Brockley road will never get better unless somebody gambles on it (Brockley road is hardly somewhere where people want to spend time but Brockley mess does okay)

I'm curious, what is the business?

Brockley Nick said...

Hi anon - to be clear, the shops in Mantle Road are way too small - it's not just that they don't look right.

There are no suitable units on Brockley Road. There was one shop in the area that fitted the bill. We went for it. It went off the market.

I'll write about the business soon (some Brockley people involved, so it's at least got some Brockley in it).

Anonymous said...

okey dokey

Polstar* said...

I think this is the ongoing problem with many areas of London, not just Brockley. The high street is becoming a thing of the past and we are all gravitating towards bigger supermarkets for convenience. Although I try to avoid these as much as I possibly can.

Sue said...

Was the former monumental masons shop opposite St Andrew's (the one we had during the election) not suitable? I'd love to see that let to a good new business - loads of cellar space, but needs quite a bit of work on it to make it useable.

Anonymous said...

What sort of worthy goods will the shop be selling?

Brockley Nick said...

Anon - haha, you don't know me at all. Plus, it's not really my shop it's my wife's. And it's not really a shop.

Anonymous said...

Fried Chicken?

Monkeyboy said...

Bikes for the undeserving poor to get on?

Anonymous said...

If it doesn't sell sandwiches I'm not interested.

Anonymous said...

The former monumental masons was, before that, a shop selling old brass and iron beds. It was stuffed from ground floor to top floor with bed heads and ends, and the connecting irons. The garden at the rear was also stuffed. The owners bought them in France and Spain. In the early 80s we bought a bed there, made up wooden slats for it, and we still use it. Years ago I saw the identical bed in a spaghetti western. Happy days.

The Cat Man said...

Nick, I think that's abit harsh on Mantle road, the new block has twice the pavement width and with section 106 monies to improve the footbridge and streetscape. Additionally, the retail outlets underneath can be let singular or can be joined together (removable partitions) so I would be interested to hear why a shop on two floors was better suited than more than double the ground floor size was available right next to the station. Conservation area snobbery perhaps?

The Cat Man said...

I should also add that there is planned a new entrance to the station from mantle road on the cards, and more buildings being developed along the street. The area has also benefited alot from being a priority area for street trees

Brockley Nick said...

@Catman - Mantle Road is going to be improved over what was there before, no doubt.

To say it will look "fabulous" is a huge overstatement. It will look better. That is good.

As for the units you talk about. We'll have to see what they look like when they're completed, won't we. I was talking about the existing ones.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like good news but how do you know this Catman and where is this entrance planned for?

Anonymous said...

Its a real shame that Brockley will not be enhanced by your plans-Goodness knows it's sadly in need of some love and attention.
I used to live in Chorlton, an area of Manchester with what would seem to be a similar social mix to Brockley where fortunately some entrepreneurs saw the need and were also given the support by the local community for their particular retail enterprise- see the award winning unicorn grocery Manchester who actually raised cash for their expansion via a share selling scheme .
This is a co-operative enterprise but it is surrounded by a healthy community of other independent shops - Grocers-Bakers -Florists etc with even a Tescos express thrown in for balance!
If only this was the case in Brockley
http://spacemakers.ning.com/ may be of interest/help to others looking for spaces

Anonymous said...

if you cant find a shop in brockley at least invest in lewisham. any one lookd at hither green lane recently? plenty of shops for the taking there and loads of passing customers back and forth from the supermarket.

Anonymous said...

im not sure why crofton park is being ruled out so easily. Myself and half of my neighbours in CP use brockley stn anyway. its only a 10 min walk (healthy) or 5 mins on a bus. no real hardship there

Brockley Nick said...

Anon 13.42 - sure, CP is not the ends of the earth, but you can't rely on potential customers being willing to get a train and then a bus or a 15 min walk. I'm not that brave and I doubt most entrepreneurs would be. CP is good for businesses selling to the local community, not really for selling to the rest of London. Even Upper Brockley Road would have been a risk, but one we would have been willing to take.

Anyway, the point of the article isn't about the appeal of the area, it's about the shortage of good quality space for businesses to move into.

welcome to 2010 said...

@Sue - who's going to want to take that shop in that condition with cars parking on the pavement all the time? Maybe a money transfer business, but I guess that's not what nick's planning

Tom said...

Sad to hear the last shop in that row has gone. I used to live a few doors down and each morning on the way to work could imagine (and have seen pictures) of how it looked when it was a more vibrant shopping street. Not surprised tho to hear Moore's has closed ... there needed to be an infusion of young blood methinks ...

Paddyom said...

The former Green shop in Brockley road would be ok if it didn't have gangs of men from Another Level hanging around drinking, throwing litter and spitting in broad daylight. Not to mention the careless parking and dangerous pavement. Why are the Council not sorting this out? Sue you are in politics, what's the story? That parade drags the whole area backwards.

Anonymous said...

What about New Cross Rd near NCG (ELL) station?

Anonymous said...

Must be great having everyone telling you that there are suitable tenancies nearby. Even though that know nothing about the bussiness proposed.

Sue said...

@Paddyom one of the problems with the parade is that the Council is only responsible for the narrow strip of pavement - the wider forecourts adjacent to the shops are the responsibility of the property owners (who in some cases are overseas landlords rather than the business owners, and often reluctant to invest in their properties) and previous attempts by the town centre manager to get agreement from them to spend money improving the forecourts has proved problematic, even when a bit of ward localities fund was available to help with it. There were also proposals to strategically locate some bollards/planters to restrict forecourt parking, but nothing came of these, partly because sometimes there is a genuine business need to park on the forecourt (for unloading etc). As they are private forecourts, the Council can't stop people from parking on them, but theoretically they could stop them crossing the public footpath to do so.

I did manage to make some headway with getting some of the street clutter on this parade removed while I was a cllr, namely the disused post box and the advertising board that went up without planning permission in the middle of one forecourt, plus various trolleys that were regularly stored on the footpath. We also managed to get all the wheelie bins removed, by arguing the case with the waste team for the parade to switch to bagged waste collection instead. And eventually, after asking politely for ages, I managed to get the huge pothole in one forecourt filled in, by threatening to float plastic ducks in it and send the photos to the local papers.

I also worked with several of the businesses and residents to try and address some of the ongoing ASB issues. Certain concerns were flagged up with the local police team, and others with the Council's noise enforcement team. The problem with noise enforcement is that it takes an awful lot of persistance and diligent recording of events, times, regularly calling out the enforcement officers in the middle of the night to measure noise levels from inside your property etc to be able to secure any action, and ultimately, none of those suffering from the problem were willing to work with the enforcement officers to build up the dossier they needed. I know some tenants moved away due to the noise problems while others continue to suffer. It's unfortunate, but there is a fear/reluctance by busineses/residents to rock the boat and potentially worsen the situation.

In short, I agree the parade's a mess, the forecourts need resurfacing and we desperately need a high quality business to move into the empty shop unit. However, I think the Council can only do so much, and there comes a point where businesses and property owners need to agree to work together to improve things and take a bit of responsibility too. And in the current financial climate, where many businesses are barely breaking even, it's a big ask for them to invest lots of money in them.

Another possibility, which councils elsewhere have opted for, but Lewisham has been reluctant to do due to cost, is for the Council to buy back forecourts, take responsibility for their maintenence, and rent them back to businesses.

Anyway, it's over to the new cllrs now!

Sue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bea said...

Thanks for this Sue.

I'm all in favour of "the Council to buy back forecourts, take responsibility for their maintenence, and rent them back to businesses" so long as it doesn't end up with a PFI situation and the Council does indeed maintain them!

Anonymous said...

what is your business Nick?

Forest Hill Society said...

We would have welcomed you with open arms in Forest Hill ;) Unfortunately, we have plenty of vacant units at the moment, although things are looking up with several new coffee shops opening recently and plans for Antic to open a bar along the lines of Jam Circus. The businesses which seem to do well here rely on people coming from all over London and we are only 5 minutes away!

Good luck in your venture.

Brockley Nick said...

Thanks, yes we did toy with the idea of Forest Hill, but only would have given the right work / life balance and in the end, the shop we found was too good an offer.

Interestingly, having also looked at the likes of East Dulwich, Blackheath and Greenwich, they're no cheaper to locate in than many parts of the West End.

Brockley Nick said...

@Anon - once the website's up and running, I'll post a link.

Monkeyboy said...

So long as it has the word 'space' somewhere. As in 'creative space' 'work space' 'meeting space' then it has my endorsement.

Anonymous said...

Spacemonkeyboy

The Cat Man said...

Spacecatman

Anonymous said...

'Mungspace'

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