Survey revealing number of empty shops in West Hampstead sparks concern

Mark Hutton and Virginia Berridge outside one of the empty shops in Mill Lane in West Hampstead

Mark Hutton and Virginia Berridge outside one of the empty shops in Mill Lane in West Hampstead - Credit: Archant

The side streets of West Hampstead are beleaguered with boarded-up shops and empty windows, a new survey has revealed.

In the first complete survey of Mill Lane, parts of Finchley Road and Fortune Green, figures show that some buildings have been left untouched for more than two years, sparking a debate over their future as residents call for action.

Mark Hutton, a member of West Hampstead Amenity and Transport group (WHAT) tallied all the commercial spaces in the area last month, and was surprised to learn that 15 per cent of the shops in Mill Lane lie empty.

In comparison, West End Lane, has only five per cent of shops unoccupied. Mr Hutton said: “Most of the concern raised locally was about Mill Lane – people here are worried about the empty shops and there’s a bit of debate as to what should happen.

“If we allow some to be converted into housing, we could make a contribution towards the housing crisis, which is a terrible thing What happens if the area gets worse and becomes run-down? People won’t come shopping.”

Virginia Berridge, chairman of WHAT, said part of the problem is shops on side-streets do not benefit from passing trade.

“There are some good shops and restaurants on Mill Lane, but that doesn’t mean much when no one is walking by,” she said.

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“The small Sainsbury’s and Tesco on West End Lane have been a success and helped other shops, but they’re never going to open on Mill Lane because not enough people walk past.”

She added that the internet has also changed the way people spend their money, with shops like The Village Haberdashery in Mill Lane now only opening on weekends because most of their business is online.

However James Earl, chairman of Fortune Green and West Hampstead Development Forum, which is bidding to be formally recognised by Camden Council, said that their research has reached a different conclusion.

“People are keen to have restaurants and shops because they want a lively commercial centre,” he said. ‘‘Converting those ground floor units into housing isn’t supportive of a vibrant centre.”

Independent shop owners have said that although there is less foot-fall around Mill Lane, other business models have helped them stay afloat and they are not struggling.

Kate Rader, owner of Achille Florist, said: “We can do events outside the area so it is a bit different for us, but compared to the flower stalls next to Tube stops, we don’t get that kind of business.”

Andrea Zani, who opened his independent wine shop 18 months ago, supports converting some of the empty shops into housing.

“It’s not always busy,” he said. “You don’t get what you get on West End Lane, but here rents cost one third of the price.’’

“If there were more people living here, I would of course get more customers.”