It’s good to see the opening of the new “Poisson de Mer” deli in Dulwich Village and the brand new post office at Rumsey pharmacy but in Herne Hill things are less optimistic and many people are concerned about the future of their favourite shops in Herne Hill.  “Just Williams”, the toy shop on Half Moon Lane closed its doors on 24th January after 10 years “due to high rent increases”. The reason given initially was that that the Dulwich Estate, its landlord, had raised the rent level to renew the lease by 70%. 

There was a highly critical article on the Herne Hill Forum website and a considerable number of negative comments on other internet forums and Twitter - and an on-line petition asking the DE to reconsider the rent hike has already attracted over 1700 signatures.

The Dulwich Estate responded quickly with a factual note which suggested a rather different scenario, refuting the 70% increase claims. On 22nd January in an article in the South London Press, John Major of the Dulwich Estate explained “it is the policy of The Dulwich Estate not to discuss arrangements with its tenants since these are considered to be private. 

However, the facts of the situation in relation to the property occupied by Just Williams are that the tenant was offered in October 2014 a new lease from July 2015 with a rent increase equivalent to 5.8% per annum from that fixed for the five-year period from July 2010 to July 2015.

The rent from 2010 to 2015 was £22,000.  The rent for the new lease was £28,400.

The tenant failed to take this up but remained in occupation from July 2015 until January 2016 at an interim rent which reflected the then market level”

Vicky, the owner of “Just Williams” toyshop has robustly countered the Estate arguments online stating that Dulwich Estate representatives failed to respond to her emails and requests for negotiation. 

The debate continues but has widened to include other local landlords such as Network Rail.  There will be a protest march on Saturday 30th January from 3.30pm outside Herne Hill station in support of the “Save our Shops” campaign.  The petition can be found here - www.change.org/..

It is no secret that the Estate is looking to raise its shop rents on review; there are rumours of substantial increases in the northern part of Dulwich Village and West Dulwich.  Given the substantial reduction in footfall due to the Herne Hill Flood and the temporary closure of the Crown and Greyhound in the Village, increasing rents would seem counter intuitive.  But then both Dulwich and Herne Hill are attractive and popular areas for families and young professionals, and it is therefore no surprise that there is increasing competition for commercial units.  It is worth remembering too that The Dulwich Estate seeks to manage its endowments in the long term interests of its beneficiaries which include several state schools & almshouses, and its contributions to the Foundation schools help to support bursaries.

There are plans afoot to set up Neighbourhood Forums in both Herne Hill and Dulwich which will give both areas more teeth on planning and community issues.  With the live music campaign at the Half Moon Pub, concerns about the green space at the Judith Kerr Primary School and now with local shops the Herne Hill campaigners are urging The Dulwich Estate to consider the long term impact on the community of the decisions they make.

What do you think about the range of independent shops in Herne Hill and Dulwich?  What would you like to see in the area and is the mix right?

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