War veteran spearheads campaign to save Italian cafe in South Hampstead

A disabled war veteran is spearheading a campaign to save his favourite Italian restaurant – which claims it is being forced out of business by a 9pm curfew.

Gastronomia La Delizia deli and restaurant in Fairfax Road, South Hampstead, provides a livelihood for nine people.

But the owners insist it will go bust if it cannot open later.

Now Lord Peter Eden wants to save it.

The 91-year-old, who lives in nearby Fairfax Place, warns that the restaurant's parade of shops will be left with yet another empty unit if it closes.

Lord Eden, who says he sustained a shrapnel wound in his right leg in north Africa and survived a torpedo attack in the Irish Sea, said: "I come here and I sit here and I read the paper and it's nice. There is only one other caf� and it's always full of workmen.

"There are already other restaurants in the area, which are fully licensed, but this one they are trying to kill."

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Gastronomia La Delizia opened earlier this year after its proprietors decided that their furniture shop, which had been on the site since 2001, had no future.

Nico Potenza, who runs the business with his parents, has ploughed thousands into converting the double shop into a deli and restaurant.

And he has twice applied to Camden Council for permission to cook and serve hot food from the restaurant side.

But while the council did grant permission the second time round, it wants Mr Potenza to voluntarily enter into a binding agreement to close at 9pm.

The council's stance has been greeted with a sigh of relief by the 40-odd neighbours worried about noise and disturbance.

Ingrid Bethell, 45, lives with her husband and two sons, Sam, seven and Archie, three, behind the restaurant in Fairfax Place.

She made a poignant plea to councillors to reject proposals to turn the shop into a restaurant opening until 11pm, saying it would make caring for Sam, who is autistic, "far harder".

Mrs Bethell said: "He is quite volatile.

''He, me and my husband need a good night's sleep so we can cope."

Stephen Garford, also of Fairfax Place, added that there would be "unprecedented noise, vehicle movements and general disturbance" if the restaurant was able to open late.

Mr Potenza, who claims he has a 250-strong petition in support of the restaurant, is planning to appeal the council's decision.

He is only willing to shut at 9pm as a temporary measure - while he proves that he can be a good neighbour.

Mr Potenza, who faces a �15,000 bill for legal costs alone, said: "Shutting at 9pm kills the business. Our rent and rates are �72,000 a year. I can't agree to this."

Camden Council was unavailable for comment.