Are West Hampstead entrepreneurs being short-changed?

Is Camden council doing enough to help new businesses in West Hampstead? Local Lib Dem councillor Gillian Risso-Gill thinks not, and had a hefty swipe at the council in a letter to the Ham & High this week to say just that:

“Empty retail and business units have been allowed to stay empty for years, enquiries are rebuffed, premises are not marketed and then put up for auction.”

I have heard stories like this from local businesses – indeed there was one last month that happened on Twitter:

Cllr Risso-Gill also writes: “There is a woeful lack of available business premises in the area and units and sites are still being allowed to change from commercial to residential use.” This is also true, although one prominent example, Handrail House on Maygrove Road, has apparently been empty for some time as the landlord simply can’t find businesses to occupy it. From a residents’ perspective, it is important to remember that the local economy is not just about shops and restaurants, but business services and (light) industry too. What are the conditions they need to operate profitably?

Gillian Risso-Gill at the opening of the first Farmers’ Market

Many of you will be aware that Rock Mens’ Salon has moved from its premises in the death-row strip of shops from 187-199 West End Lane. John, the owner, was able to move fast and take the Broadhurst Gardens site that had been the Millennium Café. Yet he was also able to strike a deal with Network Rail, which still owns those premises, and open the new coffee shop Wired thereby taking advantage of the empty space. Yet, the car hire premises next door remain empty and the leases on all the units there expire in the spring. It is far from clear that building work on that site will start then however, so will the sites remain empty? Cllr Risso-Gill again:

I have asked the council for help to secure temporary tenants in the retail units currently being vacated on the 187-199 West End Lane site, to prevent the area becoming blighted prior to development, but resources are not available.

Of course, Camden’s resources are stretched under the current budgetary regime, yet there is an argument that lack of attention here is depriving the council of revenue from business rates. Lib Dem Risso-Gill finishes her letter with a direct attack on the Labour-led council:

We have a Labour administration that cannot be bothered to manage its assets to generate income and… takes the easy option of mothballing and then selling off every available site [while] the local business community and entrepreneurial spirit that could boost the local economy and create jobs, is being neglected.

Camden’s finance chief Cllr Theo Blackwell responded on Twitter:

What do you think? Should this be a priority at a time when public services are being cut back? Is the money that would come from renting out small premises sufficient to justify the extra cost?

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