In my last article I noted how Dulwich was experiencing a summer of road works. While we can argue whether we had the summer weather, we are certainly having the road works. Not only is the Dulwich Village junction being radically altered, new water mains are being installed in the upper part of College Road, and there are also ongoing major alterations at the two roundabouts where Fountain Drive meets Sydenham Hill. On the positive side, one piece of good news that has come though recently is that it does appear that there may be an acceptable solution to the problem of the coaches driving down Calton Avenue. It will not stop coaches coming through Dulwich but they will no longer drive through the way they do now. How quickly the changes will happen is down to Southwark, and the Dulwich Estate - who are reported to have been very helpful in sorting out the changes that will be required to the College Road/Dulwich Common junction.
Substantial roadworks, like those at the junction in the Village, take time to complete and have a wide impact, particularly when previous users find alternative routes. And this is what has been forgotten, the effect on the trade in our shops. We have all experienced the traffic delays, and the parking problems, and many will no longer go into the Village as a result. The contractor has taken up all the parking in front of the Commerce Place (one has to ask whether that was really necessary), and then there are the temporary barriers, and the difficulty in crossing the road - if you can go elsewhere you will.
The Society has surveyed the shopkeepers on how the ongoing works have affected their business and it is severe. Some takings are down 40%, the number of prescriptions filled at the chemist is down 30%, and there are certainly no queues at the Post office. Dulwich Books’ busiest time of the year is the three months leading up to Christmas. Further south, even the coffee shops have noticed a drop in their trade.
The Council will not be liable for their losses unfortunately - but here is a golden opportunity for the Dulwich Estate to show a little magnanimity - how about a rent reduction to reflect the lack of business? It must be in its interest to avoid any closures. - and there are fears that some shops could close. What is very clear, though, is that if residents want the Village to be full of shops in the future, now is the time to demonstrate our support for them, and use them. Make the effort, come to the Village and do your Christmas shopping there if you can.
McColls, the Village paper shop, finally closed on 17 November. The announcement in the Estate’s letter which came with the annual Scheme of Management bills in early September came as a surprise to everyone - not least the Society and, apparently, the shop staff. The closure was only finally confirmed to them by the area manager on 24th October. The reason for the closure is related to the Estate’s plans to carry out work in the shop as part of bringing the flat above the shop into beneficial use as a separate tenancy. It asked the shop to move into temporary accommodation while the work was carried out and offered them a new lease to return. Unfortunately, and the Estate should have seen this coming, the tenant then has the right to break the lease, and it took it. McColls have said that they are looking for a larger shop in the area as they are keen to continue the delivery service, but it is unlikely to be in the Village.
So, not only is there no convenience store in the Village there is also nowhere to buy a paper. What can residents do? They can write to the Estate, and some have done so, but will emails or letters make them act? The advertisement for the new Dulwich Estate CEO talks about engagement with local stakeholders, perhaps this is finally the time for the Estate Trustees to make sure it happens. They should instruct the management team to prioritise securing a convenience store and a newsagent even if it means subsidising the rents.