Mary Portas at an earlier protest in Primrose Hill
Published: 15 April, 2015
By DAN CARRIER
SHOPPING guru Mary Portas has welcomed shock news that a quiet cobbled mews in Primrose Hill which has housed small businesses for decades will no longer be turned into luxury homes.
Utopia Village, in Chalcot Road, had been at the centre of a long-running planning row after its owners aimed to use the Localism Act of 2010 to make a fast-track switch from offices to housing – without the need for Town Hall consent.
A battle by campaigners and councillors to halt the plans seemed to be lost when government minister Eric Pickles ruled the offices and workshops could be turned into housing earlier this year.
But now a firm called Market Tech, which owns markets in Camden Town, has bought the site for £44million – and has said it will scrap the housing project.
Ms Portas, who lives in Primrose Hill, told the New Journal: “For local communities to thrive we need a mix of business, retail, social and private housing. Utopia Village played an essential part in not only giving small creative businesses a place to develop and grow but they are also a key part of the daytime economy.
“I’m thrilled we are keeping them. Eric Pickles take note. Building million-pound flats does not solve a housing problem.”
Market Tech owns Camden Lock, Hawley Wharf, Buck Street and Stables markets. A spokesman said it plans to use the 29 Utopia Village offices to provide workspace with a focus on creative industries.
He added: “We want designers, people who work in advertising, design and technology. We believe Utopia is suited to accommodating these types of companies instead of housing. It is part of a wider vision for Camden Town and we are lucky to have found the site so close to our other holdings.”
Tiffany Coppersmith-Heaven, director of designer clothing firm Sahara, based in Utopia for seven years, welcomed the news, but hoped the new owners would keep a diverse mix of firms.
She said: “We want to stay here. It is encouraging that they claim they wish to keep Utopia for businesses but how that plays out has yet to be revealed.”
She added that, if Market Tech was interested in using the entire mews for serviced offices in the tech industry, her firm might not be the right fit.
Primrose Hill Community Association chairwoman Maureen Betts said the sale was welcome. She added: “The uncertainty surrounding Utopia had already affected other businesses, such as cafés and shops. There was not as many people around during the day, as the offices are almost 90 per cent empty due to the threat of being turned into homes.”
Meanwhile, Labour councillor Phil Jones, the Town Hall environment chief, has said he will seek a legal ruling in the High Court to overturn the Pickles judgment, despite the sale, to offer businesses further protection.