Mixed emotions follow surprise closure of Hampstead McDonald’s

McDonald's in Hampstead High Street

McDonald's in Hampstead High Street - Credit: Archant

Reactions ranging from “absolute delight” to “real sadness” have followed the announcement that McDonald’s will be closing the Hampstead High Street branch it fought 12 years to open.

Last week the Ham&High revealed the fast-food giant would be serving its last ever burger next Sunday (November 17) after selling its lease to bakery chain Le Pain Quotidien.

In a marked change from the passionate opposition the burger giant endured during the infamous “Burger off!” campaign, traders and residents in Hampstead have reacted to the news with mixed emotions.

The firm was caught off-guard when it first applied to open in Hampstead in 1980 by what its representatives described as opposition “bordering on hysteria”.

Led by the late Peggy Jay and Pamela Shipkey, more than 5,000 residents, campaigners and shopkeepers launched the campaign, arguing a McDonald’s would “change the character of the High Street for the worse” and create “traffic and litter problems”.

But after a 12-year David and Goliath battle that gained international attention, cost the council more than £25,000 and ended up at the High Court, McDonald’s triumphed, opening in June 1993.

Hoping to fit in with its Hampstead neighbours, it played classical music, erected an English Heritage-approved facade and installed chairs worth £100 each.

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Safdar Khan, 76, who was part of the original opposition campaign and has been running the Hampstead Bazaar in Heath Street since 1967, said it felt like a “final victory for us all”.

“I’m overjoyed to see the back of McDonald’s,” he said.

“The battle was very bitter and very long but we were all fighting to keep the independent character of the High Street.

“It took us long enough but it looks like we’ve finally won.”

In a sign of the area’s changing character, reaction elsewhere has not been as jubilant.

Jessica Learmond-Criqui, who leads the pro-independent Hampstead Shops Campaign, said: “Although perhaps not to everyone’s taste, it’s never good news to hear about any shop closing if there are financial reasons behind it.

“If McDonald’s are being priced out of the area what chance do other shops have?”

Andrew Lavery, of the Hampstead NW3 Business Association, said: “My fear is that its closure might now exclude people from certain social and economic backgrounds coming to the area.

“In 1993 when McDonald’s first opened – the High Street used to be so dead. I really hope we won’t see a return to those days.”

Cllr Linda Chung (Hampstead Town), who also fought in the original campaign, said: “They seemed to settle in well.

“I have mixed feelings as we do want a good variety of shops.”

In a statement the company said it was “sad to leave Hampstead after so many years of successful trading”, adding: “We decided this was the right opportunity as we received a good commercial offer to purchase the remainder of our lease, which is set to expire in 2016.”

Le Pain Quotidien, which already has a store in South End Road, has yet to reveal when it will be opening its latest branch but building work on the interior will likely begin in December.