in Shaftesbury

19 Lavender Hill – revisited

19 Lavender Hill is an address I will never forget. I have only vague and uncertain memories of my various addresses at university, and could take a stab at my first home in London, but not with any confidence. But I know I will always remember 19 Lavender Hill. Which in a way is a disappointment because I’ll remember for being a dump, an unkempt eyesore detracting from Lavender Hill.

The building has been abandoned for as long as I can remember (I might just remember it being a shop, but it’s such a long time ago I’m not sure if it’s a false memory) and for a long time the council were trying to get the old owner to renovate and bring it back into use, eventually using the threat of a compulsory purchase order which seemed to prompt the owner into action. Sadly it was not to be, and they went through the motions to buy time. Eventually the council went through with the CPO and became the owner for a short while.

The building formally got new owners at the end of last month when the contract of sale was completed, and as part of the purchase deal they have an obligation to bring the building back into use.

This obligation is time-limited, and the details depend on the buyer’s wishes (they have slightly longer if they wish to apply for their own planning permission rather than use the one the council obtained) but the short story is that the building will now be made secure, renovated and brought back into use, either by letting or selling the retail and residential parts.

There is a part of me that is a little cynical, having seen the issue drag on for so long, but with luck we should start seeing work done on the building in the very near future and – at long last – start to see that down-at-heel corner of Lavender Hill start to improve.

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  1. There are some definite builders in there now, with a skip full of junk and old plaster outside. Curious passers-by can now peer inside the previously boarded-up shopfront. So we may (touch wood) finally be seeing the building back in business.

    I’ve always wondered who owns the assorted empty shops on Lavender Hill. Some are “To Let” and awaiting a new occupier, and presumably will once the economy gets back together – nothing unusual about that. But a surprising number have been empty for as long as I’ve lived here, despite the flats above being in use, with no apparent effort to let them or sign of life inside. For example the long-closed “A J Fairlee” a few doors up, or the one with the green tiles that looks like it was (long ago) a butchers shop.

    Previously, empty shops and business premises were essentially tax free and could be an investment – but as far as I’m aware following changes a couple of years back they now pay full rates after about six months. Indeed there was a flurry of lettings on the street after this change was announced.

    So someone’s paying business rates for these perfectly serviceable empty shops – but for whatever reason, not seeking any tenants(even short term ones) to cover their costs. Seems a strange approach to take – one can only assume they are owned by property holdings so large that they don’t realise they own them or are paying for them?

    • There’s a real mix of ownership. And a real mix of why they may choose to leave them empty. My recollection (and I stress my memory may be wrong here) is that 19 Lavender Hill had a ‘private’ owner who didn’t live nearby, had inherited the property, and had no need to realise it’s value. Indeed, depending on the rateable value it may well be that the increase in market value of the property was outstripping the cost of business rates. I know at least one unit is vacant because of a complicated chain of leases and sub-leases being affected by insolvencies at various points along the chain, meaning nothing can be done and the unit will remain vacant until the insolvencies are completed. And there is rumour of another unit in which the owner had insurance against vacancy which, because of the recession, means they are getting more than they could by getting new tenants, if true, that will remain empty until the insurance policy comes to an end.

  2. Interesting – I hadn’t thought of the possibility of insuring against vacancies, but I can see how it might give a somewhat perverse incentive to landlords!

    The Evening Standard had an article on empty shops a couple of weeks back – complete with figures on the percentage of empty units on London’s high streets. Apparently the London average is 12.9%, just above the national average of 12%. Surprisingly ‘Battersea’ was reported as the sixth highest in London, at 18% empty – not far behind notoriousy empty areas like Kensal Town (the emptiest of all, with half empty) and the Dawes Road in Fulham (a perennially unhappy-looking street, with about a third empty).

    18% seems a bit on the high side from what I see on Lavender Hill and Clapham Junction – the Lavender Hill probably gets to that rate at the very eastern end, but only just. But what they meant by ‘Battersea’ was somewhat undefined. It may well refer to Park Road / Battersea High Street (which has always been a bit emptier – not helped by the heavy traffic and relative remoteness from transport connections).

    I found the article online (if this lets me post links) – though the table with the percentages seems to be missing in the online version –
    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23804630-ghost-town-fears-as-one-in-eight-london-shops-lies-empty.do

    Incidentally things are moving on well at 19 Lavender Hill – it’s covered in scaffolding and builders; whoever has taken it on looks pretty serious about getting it back together.

    • 18% is far higher than any figure I have ever seen for Battersea. And bears no relationship to reality. That would mean that one in five shops is closed – clearly not true even for Battersea Park Road and High Street. I’m not sure I would rely on the London Data Company’s products as a result, and wonder if they can get many sales when their figures are so far from reality.

      We’ve been watching vacancies quite closely during the recession and the figure is more like 6%, not far off a natural churn of shops opening and closing. I’ll confess I’ve been surprised and pleased at how we have escaped with relatively low levels of vacancy, though will add that 100% occupancy alone is not necessarily a good thing (imagine a street full of mobile phone shops).

      I suspect they have taken the trick of walking past a few shops and extrapolating those results to the whole area – as you point out you could consider some very diverse areas to be part of Battersea, but you wouldn’t assume that conditions that might result in empty shops at the eastern end of Battersea Park Road would apply to Northcote Road.

      Addendum
      Just a look at the Local Data Company’s press page contains links to articles questioning their figures such as Empty shop figures are wrong from Get Bracknell today or Are 23% shops really empty in Hinckley Town Centre? from The Hinckley Times last Friday. It seems there’s a common thread of questioning how they actually count or survey for their figures and the boundaries they use.