Chain stores could move into Swain’s Lane Highgate shopping parade

Chain coffee shops and high street stores could move into a shopping parade beloved for its independent businesses under an agreement initially drawn up to protect its rural character.

Campaigners have been fighting to protect the village-like feel of Swain’s Lane in Highgate for more than a decade, ever since plans to redevelop part of the parade were first discussed.

The Earl of Listowel, who owns the parade, pledged that only small businesses would occupy shops in the new three-storey development, which was approved by Camden planners last year.

But a caveat in an agreement made public for the first time on Tuesday suggests that chain stores could still move into the parade if suitable tenants cannot be found to occupy shops left empty for three months or more.

Swain’s Lane resident Michael Zagor said: “We are about to endure what could be two years of construction here with all the noise, dust and chaos that implies.

“It would be nice to think that at the end of that process we would have small, useful local shops at affordable rents.”

He added: “I hope that Lord Listowel continues to honour his commitment to respect and maintain the special atmosphere of Swain’s Lane.”

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Work is due to begin on the Lord Listowel development later this year. The parade’s existing traders have been told to move out of their shops by June 26.

The new parade will be made up of eight small shops and 12 flats.

Highgate Green councillor Sian Berry said she would prefer to see pop-up businesses, community initiatives or charity shops occupy shops if small businesses do not move in within three months.

She said: “On the one hand, residents certainly don’t want the shops left empty. But there are other ways to fill them with short-term tenants if the ideal independent businesses aren’t found quickly.”

She added that the deadline of 12 weeks is too short.

Lord Francis Listowel pledged to campaigners that small businesses would occupy the shops in response to fierce opposition to initial plans for a Waitrose supermarket in the new parade.

He said he remains committed to offering local traders first refusal. But he added: “A wholly reasonable clause is included in the agreement to ensure the long term viability and vibrancy of Swain’s Lane – something we all want to see.

“This clause will ensure that units do not stand empty for long periods of time should the independent traders not take up the opportunity to be part of the Swain’s Lane community.”

This week, campaigners reiterated their firm stance against more chain stores moving into the lane after rumours circulated that Costa Coffee was interested in leasing the now-closed butchers shop Elite Meats.

It is a claim strongly denied by the shop’s landlord, Alexis Stavrou.

John Slater, co-chairman of the Swain’s Lane Residents Association (SLRA), said: “It would change the character to become like a high street, rather than maintaining the village atmosphere.” A Tesco Express shop is currently the only chain store.

Residents have urged Mr Stavrou not to lease the shop to a chain, and to lower the annual rental price of £35,000 to entice local traders to move in.

Mr Stavrou told the Ham&High that Costa Coffee has never shown interest in leasing the shop, but declined to comment any further.