Editor’s comment: Engraver’s plight is poignant

Alain was forced to break-in to his workshop on Bakers Lane. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

Alain was forced to break-in to his workshop on Bakers Lane. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK - Credit: Archant

When tenants are crowbarring their way into your property after you lock them out without notice, it’s fair to say relations have broken down.

There is a crisis of affordable workspace across London. Business rates in Camden soared by an average 40 per cent last year, with similar figures in the surrounding boroughs – and that’s without anyone paying a penny extra in rent. In reality, just as residential rents have rocketed in recent years, so have the rents on business premises: Alain Antoinette claims his has more than doubled in 13 years to £20,000.

Which is why I think Bambos Charalambos kind of misses the point when he says Alain could simply have refused to sign a new lease last year. The workshop is Alain’s livelihood – and, yes, both tenant and landlord must bear some responsibility for the fact the arrears got to £24,000 in the first place, but simply pricing Alain out isn’t really the solution we are looking for. Anyway, I’d question why the landlord agreed to renew the lease if the situation were really so desperate.

Small businesses like Alain’s make Hampstead and Highgate what they are. If you’ve been to the Heath, you’ve probably sat on something Alain has engraved. Their value to the area isn’t measured in the rent they pay: these are our neighbours, people whose work we see around us, spend money locally, perhaps even work with local schools and students. Price out the small businesses that are the lifeblood of our community and you’re left with empty blocks being bought and sold like Monopoly houses.

Landlords, both commercial and residential, must have sensitivity to concerns like these. By owning more property than they need to live in (and even owning your own home, let alone anyone else’s, is out of reach for most people my age), they are in a privileged position. With that privilege comes the responsibility to help shape and preserve our neighbourhoods. The two parties must find a resolution that works for both of them – and for Highgate.