Archive for the ‘Local businesses’ Category

Some thoughts on business friendly parking

05 Feb

Multiple penalty notices

We are in a time of transition with cycling on the ascendency and car driving becoming an increasingly minority occupation – at least in inner city areas like Kennington/Oval/Vauxhall. However, many shops and businesses still rely on customers who drive and that is likely to remain the case for some years to come.  The challenge is to find a solution that works for everyone.

If you look closely at different commercial areas you will see a wide variety of parking restrictions in force.  For example, compare the relatively business friendly parking around Little Portugal (South Lambeth Road) with Kennington Cross and the Oval Parade  All three areas are predominately TfL controlled red routes with Lambeth controlled parking in the side streets.  None of them are even close to being ideal business friendly parking.

Consider loading bays 10:00-16:00 being a common offering on red routes. Now go into shops like Dirty Burger in Vauxhall and Abis Deli on the Oval Parade and ask them about the reality of loading bays. Legitimate delivery drivers are constantly getting tickets and some have refused to deliver. Never mind the theory, the reality is damaging local businesses.  Let’s change track for a moment and consider the big supermarkets.

The next time you go to a big Sainsburys or Tescos take a few minutes to count the cars coming in and out and ponder on what the environmental impact is. Also, count the number of bicycles in and out and the relative amounts people seem to be buying using each of those transport methods.  It should be fairly obvious that if it were not for the car parking spaces, supermarkets of that size could not exist. Look what happened to Sainsburys when they down sized. Fewer car parking spaces, higher prices. Take away their car parking spaces completely and they are on a more level playing field with other shops.Now lets go even bigger.

Large Westfield style shopping centres and retail parks
A few people have cited Westfield Stratford City as a good example of a shopping centre well served by public transport and that would certainly be true. However, let’s remember that they also have some 5,000 car parking spaces and charge £5 to park all day. In contrast, drivers wishing to shop around the Kennington Oval area would have to pay £4 per hour and as a result, very few would choose to shop

Impact of declining shops
The current situation is that many shops that people want to see in their local area have long since closed and those that remain open are suppressed.  As we lose our local shops we end up having to walk, cycle, drive  or travel by public transport further.   This adds to the demand on public transport and roads.    One strategy to reduce demand is to help local shops thrive. Unfortunately, ill thought parking restrictions do the exact opposite and have now become part of the problem. I’m not suggesting a return to the past with lots of small Victorian shops but on the other hand if we can find a parking formula that works for local shops in a particular area then we all win.

Finding a solution for an area
Now here is the rub.  In many areas like the Oval Parade there is generally insufficient pedestrian and cycling traffic for shops to thrive purely on those sources of customers.  What is particularly frustrating for  shops based in such areas is that they are subject to the noise and pollution of thousands of cars passing but get hardly any income from them .  Compare that with a well utilised supermarket car parking space each of which may be contributing to up to 10 short range car journeys per day with corresponding sales.

Different business types and their parking requirements
Of course not all businesses need car parking spaces equally. Consider an area with a mix of estate agents, take-away shops, convenience stores, delicatessens, dentists, hairdressers, butchers, pubs, restaurants etc. Estate agents generally rely on internet business these days and can survive without parking spaces.  In contrast, take-away shops and convenience stores can get away with 20 minute/30 minute bays as customers can pop in and out quickly or even take a gamble on double red lines. Cafes and restaurants on the other hand need people to stay a little longer.  Also, if a customer wants to visit several shops half an hour is not enough.

So what is business friendly parking?
Supermarkets and retail centres are the masters of this and they know perfectly well what car parking arrangements work for them – usually free parking up to 2 hours. In contrast, shops in traditional commercial areas are subject to the whims of TfL or their local authority.  I use ‘whim’ deliberately because when you start to look closely at local restrictions you quickly realise that in many cases they have little relevance to the shops they are supposed to support.  A classic example is the recent increase in ‘take-away’ friendly TfL 20 minute red route bays to 30 minutes as if one size fits all.  It may not be TfL’s policy to give a competitive advantage to take away shops and convenience stores but in a way that is exactly what they do.

Now the last thing I would argue for is free all day parking.  If you did do this, e.g. South Lambeth Road, shop owners and local residents would probably just block the spaces up with their own cars.  It may be better than nothing but comes no where near the efficiency of a supermarket car park.

There is a clear line between business friendly and business damaging parking and it is easy to tell the difference when you observe what is happening in a particular area.   I don’t pretend to have all of the answers but if the research is done then a solution will emerge.



Half a high street or a whole high street – Lambeth plans for Vauxhall

01 Feb

I don’t claim to be an expert on high streets but as a former shop owner I do have some insights on the matter. The ‘High Street'(on the site of Vauxhall Bus Station) that Lambeth are planning could never be one. Yes, you could throw money at it – build yet more residential accommodation and put shops underneath – but it still wouldn’t be a high street.

A high street is typically the main street of a town – the place where most shops, banks, and other businesses cluster. Most date from the late 19th century. Clapham and Brixton certainly have ‘high streets’ linked into town centres but do Kennington Oval and Vauxhall have them? Kennington Cross is certainly a candidate but the mix of shops is not that of a typical high street

What about the following commercial areas?

(i) South Lambeth Road (Little Portugal)
(ii) Oval parade
(iii) Kennington Park parade
(iv) Brixton Road (from the Oval)

One thing these areas have in common is that they all have shops on just one side of the road not dissimilar to what is proposed at Vauxhall. Such commercial areas face particular challenges due to the footfall and traffic patterns. Much as we might love and support some of the local shops there, they are not high streets. Let’s call them aspiring high streets or ‘half a high street’ in the sense that they don’t have the mix of shops found on a typical high street.

The great irony is that if Lambeth had a proper plan for Vauxhall before developments like St George Wharf came along they could have had a proper district centre. The Vauxhall island site could have been that but the Kylun Towers have put an end to that possibility. It seems to me that Lambeth have arrived for dinner when everyone else is putting away the plates and then decided to take out the cooker (bus station).

Let’s be positive though. No one can doubt the need to improve the public realm area around Vauxhall for pedestrians, cyclists and those who live and work in the area. It is unfortunate that some senior officials in Lambeth have got it into their heads that the only way to do this is to demolish the bus station and build what could only ever be half a high street. Looking at the membership of the Board (TfL+Lambeth) that will oversee the project gives me no confidence that the right solution will emerge for Vauxhall. Perhaps they should consider having community representatives on that board rather than the current bilateral TfL/Lambeth arrangement.


Battle to save Kennington Park Crown Post Office hots up

25 Jan

I first wrote about the plans to ‘close’ Kennington Park Crown Post Office last year. The Post Office would have us believe that it is a ‘merger with Walworth Road Post Office’. The only thing that needs merging is the Post office PR machine with an extensive course on plain English. I say to the Post Office “Call it what it is. You are planning to CLOSE Kennington Park Crown Post Office. If you think there is no social cost to this think again. The elderly and vulnerable will suffer if this goes ahead.”

Anyway…The local Labour group had a stall outside the Post Office today getting signatures to help save the Post Office. Local councillors (existing and prospective candidates) from Oval and Princes Wards were there and trade at the stall was brisk. The battle to save Kennington Park Crown Post Office is now hotting up. Let’s see what proves to be more important, shareholders’ dividends or local people and businesses as they they are the ones who will lose the most.


Local shop Abi’s Deli part of ‘suspended coffee’ world record attempt

25 Jan

Abis Deli suspended coffeeFor those (like me) who have never heard of ‘suspended coffee’ before,  it is when you make a donation to participating shops and they use that donation to provide a cup of coffee or some food for that matter, to those in need.  It is a simple act of generosity “Caffè Sospeso” that started in Naples about a hundred years ago.  Now it is starting to glow global.

In the case of Abi’s Deli on the Oval Parade, they will also be donating any profits to charity.  There will be a world record attempt to see how many suspended coffees can be bought in one day  Please do pop in to Abi’s Deli and find out more about the scheme and how you too can help them be part of this world record attempt.


Footfall at existing and proposed Bee Urban Location

01 Dec

Bee Urban is a social enterprise based at the Kennington Park Keeper’s Lodge with outposts at multiple locations.     Although they are due to be relocated as a consequence of the Northern Line Extension, the Kennington Park Keeper’s Lodge site is on Lambeth’s disposal list so their future at the site is not guaranteed.  The current proposal is  to move them to the Kennington Park depot area.

Some businesses/enterprises like Bee Urban depend to varying degrees on footfall.
The following time-lapse film illustrates the difference in foot fall between the existing Bee Urban location (Kennington Park Keeper’s Lodge) and proposed location (Kennington Park depot area).

A sequence of four time-lapse  films were shot on Sunday 1 December between about 10:30am and 1:30pm with each sequence covering approximately 30 minutes.  The films were shot a rate of 1 frame every 4 seconds. The weather was overcast.  Footfall on a sunny day is likely to be higher and on a rainy day, lower.  To reduce effects of footfall varying by time of day, the camera position alternated between the two locations being changed every 30 minutes or so.  The film was shot when Bee Urban was closed to ensure that any self-generated foot fall was excluded.

There are clear differences in foot fall between the two locations.  Although the area outside the Keepers’ Lodge appears relatively busy in terms of footfall, this is poor in commercial terms.  Based on this limited sample, footfall appears insufficient to sustain a profitable business dependent on foot fall alone.  It would suit a business which generates new footfall or one that relies on the internet sales/telephone ordering.  In contrast the footfall at the proposed depot area is virtually non existent.

Note:  Immediately behind the camera position at the depot area there is a path leading to St Agnes Place and Kennington Park Adventure Playground (the path was closed at the time of filming).  The building on the left is the café with a path in front to the right.  The current landscaping and path locations mean that the footfall on these paths is too far from the proposed Bee Urban site entrance to benefit them.  

As currently configured, the Kennington Park depot area is not suitable for a business/enterprise dependent on foot fall.  Any business located there would have to rely solely on a combination of self-generated footfall and internet sales/telephone ordering.


Welcome to Abi’s Deli at 20 Clapham Road

17 Nov

A warm welcome to the Oval’s newest business – Abi’s Deli at 20 Clapham Road – which opened for business on Wednesday 13th November 2013.I spoke to Nicky Clarke, director of Abi’s Deli about her plans for the business.

Abi’s Deli will be open 7 days per week. In addition to being a traditional delicatessen, they will be selling organic farm produce. They also have a tea room and outside area so I can see this becoming a popular place to meet. It is also nice to see them linking up with other local businesses (Some of the products they will be selling are sourced from suppliers at the Oval Farmers’ Market). Their are also plans to make use of the cellar areas under the pavement with a display on historical food markets. It will be interesting to see how this idea develops.

At the time of opening, they were still waiting for the shop design to be delivered and the interior will continue to improve over the coming months. The shop is spread over two floors and stretches out the back so do pop in and explore it. There is much more to it than what you can see through the window.


Here are some more pictures of Abi’s Deli.


1 Lambeth High Street

27 Sep

1 Lambeth High St is a proposed mixed residential/commercial development on the site of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society headquarters building near Lambeth Bridge. It was nice to see the developers/architects consulting with the public before jumping straight to the planning application stage. Although it will be sad to lose the Royal Pharmaceutical society (it has been in the area since the 1970s) the proposed new building does seem to be an improvement on the previous one and has been sympathetically designed with The Museum of Garden/History and Lambeth Palace across the road in mind.

My only reservation about this project is that it contains ground floor commercial/retail space and it remains to be seen whether this will prove viable. At the moment, local foot fall/parking restrictions/traffic flow at this location will limit the types of shops/businesses that the development can support. The nearby Parliament View development has a ground floor commercial/retail unit which, I understand, has remained empty since it was first built despite being next to a bus stop. There would probably have to be some substantial changes to the street scape on Lambeth Road to help ensure that any new commercial/retail space has a chance of success.


Royal Pharmaceutical Society

21 Sep

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (founded 1841) has been at 1 Lambeth High Street since the 1970s.  It is opposite the Museum of Garden History near Lambeth Bridge. The site is to be redeveloped and the society will be moving elsewhere.


Post Office plans to close Kennington Park branch

04 Jun

Local residents and representatives of local community groups attended a ‘pre-consultation’ meeting at Kennington Park Estate Community Centre yesterday (3rd June 2013 from 19:15). The meeting was chaired by Kate Hoey MP. Simon Burman (External Stakeholder Manager) and Julie Thomas put forward the Post Office view. Ian Ward and Peter Meech spoke on behalf of the Commercial Workers Union (CWU) whose members will be affected.  

Kennington Park Road Crown Post Office Meeting

Simon Burman stated that the Post Office were planning to “merge Kennington Park and Walworth post offices”. The euphemism was immediately seized on by the audience as it was clear that the intention was to shut the Kennington Park Road Crown Post Office. This is a very busy post office generating a high footfall. Its’ closure would be devastating to the local community and would “serve a death sentence on some local shops”.

The general reaction of the audience was one of shock that the Post Office was even considering closing such a busy branch. Simon Burman put forward the argument that this particular branch was un-profitable and was unlikely to be turned around. Although many shops would like to have the foot fall of post offices, the financial reality was that many of the items/services had very low profit margins making them unviable [Comment: Not sure how this is helped by moving all the work to one branch as that would just result in longer queues for the same low profit margins items] The unions countered that the Post Office was using an invalid assessment which favoured some parts of their business at the expense of Crown Post Office making them appear to cost more/contribute less than they actually do.

Several residents and representatives of local groups emphasised the adverse impact on local people particularly the elderly and infirm. The proposal was insensitive to their needs as it was clearly not practical to expect such individuals to commute to the more distant Walworth Road office which, in any case, had much poorer transport infrastructure compared with the Kennington Park Road office which is between Oval and Kennington Stations and well served by local bus routes. Questions were asked about the socio-demographic differences of the populations served by the post offices and it was evident that this had not been considered. The Post Office was asked to make available all of the underpinning data and assumptions behind their proposal.

Another was the impact on small business particularly charity and community groups. One local charity representative stated that it would be difficult to continue if the branch were to close.

Michael Keane (Oval Partnership) outlined the impact of the closure of the sub-post at 12 Clapham Road some years ago. The effect was immediate and devastating on local shops with several closing in the following months and years. The parade has yet to recover. Another consequence of the closure was that a local sheltered housing block, from which residents could walk to the post office, had to start taking cabs to the more distant Kennington Park Road Office. If this office closes, they will need to travel even further.

As this was a ‘pre-consultation’ meeting to gather initial views from the local community it was hoped that the Post Office would change its mind. If not, their will be formal 12 week consultation phase at some future date to be announced.

Kate Hoey closed the meeting thanking the speakers. This is clearly an important issue that will gather pace as the local community becomes aware of the proposal to close the Kennington Park Road Crown Post Office.


Kennington Park Post Office Under Threat?

01 Jun

There will be a public meeting to discuss the future of the Kennington Park Crown Post Office on Monday 3 June at 19:15 in the Kennington Park Estate Community Centre . Speakers include Kate Hoey MP and a representative of the Post Office. If you care about your local post office you should attend the meeting, find out what’s going on and let your opinions be known.

Kennington Park Post Office


Impact of post office sell off/closures

If post offices are sold off it is perhaps inevitable that the new owner would wish to reduce costs and focus on those branches/services which produce the most profit. In the event of the Kennington Park Post office being under threat of closure it is worth knowing the consequences if does close.

Post offices, particularly larger ones like the Kennington Park Post Office, generate a lot of ‘footfall’. Local businesses benefit from this footfall as a proportion of people visiting the post office will go into other shops. When the smaller post office near the Oval Station closed, the effect on some local shops was devastating. Once it closed, there was an immediate reduction in footfall with many local shops reporting a reduction in customers. This pushed some shops into the red and the local shopping parade has yet to recover. Another unintended consequence of the closure of this particular office was that residents of a local sheltered housing block reportedly had to start taking cabs to the more distant post office – whilst they could walk a few hundred meters to the shops, a return trip of a mile was more than many could manage.

It is always dangerous to make forecasts but this is one I would bet a lot of money on. If the Kennington Park Post Office were to close I forecast:

(1) An immediate reduction in local footfall in the Kennington Park Road/Kennington Road area;
(2) Certain local businesses reliant on footfall will notice a reduction in the number of their customers; (Note: Not all businesses are equally affected. Some, like pharmacies and estate agents, tend to generate their own foot fall and will be less affected by the closure of the post office. Others will be devastated.);
(3) Some businesses along the Kennington Park Road will almost certainly see a significant reduction in their turnover. Although Kennington Cross shops are a little further away, there too some shops will be adversely affected as potential customers go elsewhere;
(4) There will be an increased turnover of local shops/business (As footfall reduces, the numbers and range of shops that the area will support changes. Businesses already affected by high local parking charges and unhelpful red route timings may well be pushed to the brink and close sooner or later. As each shop closes it accelerates change often to the detriment
(5) Small fledgling businesses, like those relying on mail order, may be discouraged from even starting
(5) As businesses start to close and foot fall reduces, the need for a local bank comes into question. High street bank branches are also under threat and it would be easy to see a scenario where the one remaining local bank – Barclays – also closes.

It may be the case that if you could fast forward 10 years, a new thriving commercial area might emerge. In the short term, following closure of the post office, it seems much more likely that the area will go into decline which could result in increased street crime. If the Post Office is going to close then it would be much better to plan for a replacement business that helps maintain the foot fall. The area does not need another derelict shop.