Del Bremner, of the Friends of Regent’s Canal, pictured outside the Camden Lock Starbucks earlier this year
Published: 15 November, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
STARBUCKS are locked in a legal battle with the Town Hall over an historic former lock-keeper’s cottage in the heart of Camden Town.
The coffee giants took over the building, dating from 200 years ago, in 1999 and were given permission to serve coffee if they used 51 per cent of the floor space to run a canal information centre.
But Starbucks have used the cottage to run a café – with little other information available. Camden Council have issued an enforcement notice, after Starbucks withdrew a planning application that would have rectified the issue.
Since the café opened, the “information centre” has seen its own entrance locked shut.
Earlier this year, Starbucks put in an application that would have included information for visitors. But they withdrew the plans at the last moment and now Camden have said enough is enough. Starbucks have appealed and a Whitehall planning inspector will have to review the two competing arguments.
Regent’s Canal Conservation Advisory Committee chairman Anthony Richardson has called on the council and Starbucks to thrash out an agreement before it goes before a planning inspector.
He said: “Starbucks have dominated the space over the years and there is no sense at all that this is meant to be a dual-purpose building. Their serving area has just got bigger and bigger. It must be shrunk back.”
The chairman of the Friends of Regents Canal, Ian Shacklock, said in a letter sent to the group’s members that the deadlock should be fixed.
He said: “If Starbucks win their appeal, then in theory they would be legally entitled to abandon all their visitor information promises for the remainder of their lease. I would be amazed if they chose this course of action, because it would attract very adverse publicity and because their staff recognise that a dual-use building offers a win-win opportunity.”
He also warned that if Starbucks lost they could simply close the cottage and walk away.
An email seen by the New Journal sent by a Camden planning officer spells out why Starbucks were issued with an enforcement notice.
It said: “Planning permission was granted for the use of the premises as a canal information centre and not as a retail unit as it has been used. The reinstatement of a canal information centre within the lock-keeper’s cottage in the 1999 planning permission was of great importance not only to the character of the area but also in terms of its tourist and community function.”
The Town Hall have said Starbucks should comply with the agreement.
Councillor Valerie Leach, cabinet member for regeneration and growth, said: “It is extremely disappointing that Starbucks has been unwilling to follow the original planning agreement for the lock-keeper’s cottage to be run as a canal information centre with café.
“The council values Camden’s heritage and believes the use of the lock-keeper’s cottage as a canal information centre is important to the history and appreciation of Regent’s Canal, and this was made clear in our original planning decision to retain the information centre. Officers will put this case to the government planning inspector at the public inquiry. ”
Camden Town and Primrose Hill Lib Dem councillor Chris Naylor said he believed the council should have taken action years ago.
He said: “I’m confused and surprised. I’ve been in meetings with the Friends of Regent’s Canal, with the Canals and Rivers Trust, with conservation and heritage groups – and with Starbucks – and it’s felt as though we all more or less want the same thing: a 50:50 shared canal information centre and a café.
“The meetings have been positive. So I’m at a loss to explain why this is now heading towards a public inquiry – it feels like a sad waste of time and money to fix something which was very nearly fixed anyway.”
A Starbucks spokesperson declined to answer questions as to why they have ignored planning law or appealed against enforcement. Instead they issued the following statement: “Following on from feedback we received from local interested parties, we have submitted a new planning application for a mixed canal information centre/coffee shop use of the building.
"Prior to submitting this application, we liaised with many local groups, including Friends of Regent’s Canal, Regent’s Canal CAAC and Inland Waterways Association. These interested parties have contributed to our proposals in terms of supplying comments and suggestions in respect of design, layout, external signage, and possible content for the canal information centre.”