Thursday, 17 March 2016

Only chain stores of a certain size need apply

The one thing the team behind the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station have been very keen to stress – whether it ultimately turns out to be the case or not – is that they are not intending it to be just another luxury flat development. Yes, a studio flat may set you back £800,000 but, really, it’s a mixed development, they tell everyone they can find.

Following this theme then, they have just unveiled the first commercial tenants for the site and they are trying to reassure everyone it will not be just another identikit high street, at least not just yet anyway. Rob Tincknell, the chief executive of the Battersea Power Station Development Company, says he has been ‘approached by a number of big chains’ about leasing sections of the development but that they haveall been refused.

Instead, there will be Pedler – a sister branch to a restaurant in Peckham – the fourth Vagabond wine shop, a General Store (any relation to the hilariously hip and expensive General Store in Bellenden Road, Peckham?) and a new incarnation of Allens the Butchers, the lovely shop which once graced Mount Street in Mayfair for so many years before being forced to close by spiralling rents. (If you ever watched an episode of Poirot with David Suchet or Jeeves & Wooster with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, and a scene required a butchers, it would be Allens that would feature.)

There will also be a fourth outlet of The CoffeeWorks Project and a fifth pub from the smart pub/restaurant chain Darwin & Wallace (for an idea of the sort of thing they might offer just look here). And there will be a Village Hall space run in partnership with the Battersea Arts Centre.

These all sound very good – I’m particularly pleased to learn Allens will have a high street presence once more though it will never match the sheer romance and beauty of its previous site where the butcher's block was curved by years of use and the window was full of hanging pig carcasses – but clearly chains aren’t banned. They just have to be chains of a certain size. It rather seems to me this trend was set by the refurbished St Pancras Station which, when it first opened to acclaim, eschewed major high street stores and set a model many now follow. It isn’t fairing badly at St Pancras, though, some may feel regrettably, there are two WHSmiths and two M&S stores there now.

Whereas for many years, people feared shopping area developments would tragically lead to a disappointing interpretation of Slough High Street, with every functional chainstore turning up for duty, now it seems developers are trying to ape more apparently edgy areas. It is more likely to be the hip streets of Shoreditch, Peckham and Brixton providing the inspiration these days. So, while we wait to see whether Battersea Power Station becomes yet another lonely enclave where the wealthy have placed their money to gather decent interest or a mixed residential community, the Battersea Power Station Company does deserve credit for trying to be thoughtful and imaginative in the commercial spaces at the site. They may still be small chains in glass-fronted stores but we're not bored of them yet. 

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