'Chain free Brockley'

The news that Toads Mouth Too has been put up the sale has, for some, raised the spectre that a chain might move in. The argument runs: what makes Brockley special is its chain-free status, the arrival of a chain would destroy its character.

It seems unlikely that such an awkward site as the one occupied by Toads Mouth would be taken over by a chain but that aside, Brockley is neither chain-free, nor a utopia. By our reckoning, there is a long list of big chain businesses in the immediate area, including:

Costcutter x 2
Co-Op x 2
Pizza Hut
Big Yellow
E Coomes

Brockley is a wonderful place that this blog has devoted a lifetime to documenting, but its high streets (Brockley Road and Lewisham Way) are clearly its Achilles' heel.

Yes, we have some outstanding independent businesses, but we also have rotting or empty units, shabby, half-finished shop fronts and landlords who think it's a good idea to price a florist out of their shop, only to have the money-transfer company that eventually replaced them run-off without paying their bills.

Many of our good independent businesses aren't found on the high street, they're tucked away from the squalor on side roads. Work to improve the high-street has been slow, with several false dawns.

We aren't chain free, we just have some pretty rubbish chains.

One or two excellently run, high-quality chains could undoubtedly make a big difference to the area. They could afford to invest in units to bring them up to scratch properly, they could sort out dodgy landlords and draw in new visitors to the high street, who would in turn frequent other local businesses. BC would be very happy if Carluccios took over La Lanterna and did it properly. The reality is that they almost certainly won't.

It's time to stop worrying about the threat of chains moving in and start worrying about how we sort out our high streets.