Uphill battle for pharmacy facing bulldozers threat

A BELSIZE Park chemist faces losing his business after the developer of a block of luxury flats has backtracked over finding him new premises

Marc Mullen

A BELSIZE Park chemist faces losing his business after the developer of a block of luxury flats has backtracked over finding him new premises.

Atul Kantaria, who has run the Hill Pharmacy on Winchester Road for more than 20 years, collected a petition of 1,500 signatures to save his shop when plans were first mooted in 2005 to redevelop the area.

At a heated planning meeting in the Town Hall two years ago, the plans were approved after London Merchant Securities promised to find Mr Kantaria alternative premises.

But since then the development has changed hands twice, and now Galliard Homes, which is about to start work, has no obligation to find him a home.

"In essence the 1,500 people who wanted the shop to be saved are now being ignored," said Mr Kantaria.

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"In the planning meeting they were heard and listened to, but now there has been a lot of water under the bridge and the new owner has just washed his hands of his obligation to the community and to me.

"He is saying there is no legal obligation as it was not written into the council's agreement, but I was told it couldn't be put in that for reasons I didn't understand."

Galliard Homes plans to demolish the existing 1960s building and replace it with an eight-storey block of flats - 51 luxury apartments and 25 affordable homes, as well as 416 square metres of shop space.

Two weeks ago workmen began digging up the pavement outside Mr Kantaria's chemist to disconnect services ahead of the demolition.

Next week Mr Kantaria must attend a hearing at the Central London County Court, where he is expecting to be told he will be evicted. He said: "They cannot start work properly until we are moved out, so now they are putting on the pressure.

"If I don't find anywhere else within the next six months I will lose my contract to practice, so that even if there is space for a pharmacy in the new building I may not be able to reopen."

Adelaide Road resident Margaret Mills, 82, said as she was collecting a prescription: "It is terrible that it is closing. I was one of the people who signed the petition. I am now going to have to walk all the way to the Finchley Road or England's Lane which is not easy for me."

A spokesman for Galliard said: "Galliard purchased the site in Winchester Road last September from London Merchant Securities, with planning consent in place to redevelop the building.

"The company has at no stage ever promised either verbally, or in writing, to find Mr Kantari new premises.

"The lease on the property has now expired and, although under no obligation, we have been trying to assist Mr Kantari in finding other suitable premises for his business."

Belsize Park Councillor Alexis Rowell has promised to investigate whether there are any empty council properties which Mr Kantaria could move into.

He said: "It is far from clear what comes next for the shopping facilities in that area, which are so vital for the residents of the surrounding streets.

"I would like to see some guarantee that we are going to have some facilities that the community wants in the new development."