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 But then we were told that the property had been withdrawn from the market altogether.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.