At the Society's event with the Dulwich Estate on 29 September 2009, the Estate's representatives expressed the opinion that the Estate had little control over the tenant mix in the Village. The Estate has not in my view been taking the correct advice.
Successful retail landlords will invariably have at least a 10-year plan for their retail premises and a clear and well-enforced "tenant mix policy". A Landlord can refuse to allow an assignment of a lease to a new tenant who is not in accordance with its tenant mix policy and still be "reasonably refusing consent". There are two very clear cases on the point from 1995 and 1999 where the court said it was reasonable for a landlord to withhold its consent in order to maintain a tenant mix policy. This is because a clear tenant mix policy is also in the interests of tenants as a whole.
An excellent example of how a long-term retail policy and careful, planned management can revitalise an area is Marylebone High Street. During the early-1990s it was a rather forgotten-about side-road with a higgledy-piggledy mix of charity shops, antique shops and the occasional newspaper shop, most by-passed by local residents. Howard de Walden Estates managed, through targeting specific tenants and offering them good rental deals, to transform the street and draw people in. Despite the initial discounts in rents offered to the target tenants, once those tenants were trading there, it started to create a more attractive environment. Other retailers were then drawn to that area which allowed the landlord to carefully select a range of other retail offerings which complemented each other. Howard de Walden Estates continues carefully to manage its mix of boutiques and small retailers there very successfully.
If the Estate simply shrugs its shoulders and leaves the tenant mix to chance, it will end up with a rag-bag of shops which do not create the kind of coherent offering which will attract people to the centre of Dulwich Village. The long-term rents in the Village will decline and the Estate and its beneficiaries (as well as the Village itself) will suffer.
Can I please suggest that the Estate takes some good retail management advice from a specialist retail agent and good legal advice from solicitors specialising in property and property disputes?
Half Moon Lane SE2
With regard to the future of the Velodrome, the Dulwich Estate is taking a very narrow view of its charitable duty to maximise return from this asset for the benefit of its beneficiaries. The major beneficiaries are, of course, Dulwich College, JAGS and Alleyns. Yet without major commercial redevelopment, and without securing a second access to the site, the Velodrome already offers significant potential benefit to these three schools.
Firstly, many of the pupils attending these schools cycle to school. And more might do so (alleviating traffic through the Village) if cycle safety and proficiency training courses were routinely available to pupils during the school day or after hours. Secondary school pupils, by law, should be observing the regulations about cycling. They should be cycling on the highway – not the pavement (except where there is a legally designated cycle path on the pavement). The schools and their parents should welcome the opportunity to ensure pupils are cycling safely and legally. Indeed, the schools could require pupils to have passed an appropriate proficiency test before being permitted to bring their cycles to school.
The second benefit derives from the fact that Cycling is now one of the top Olympic sports in the UK. The Velodrome is a unique facility in south London. The schools are extremely close to it. By offering competitive Cycling as one of the sports in the curriculum, these schools could give their pupils a major training advantage. This, in turn, might attract more pupils to the schools. Surely, this would be a far greater benefit than sharing out, with other beneficiaries, an annual rent derived from a commercial developer. And it is available immediately, not at some time in the indefinite future.
Moreover, it would cost the Estate and the schools nothing to rebuild the changing rooms and clubhouse facilities. Southwark Cyclists, who currently manage the site, expect to be able to secure the necessary capital from grant aid if the Estate would grant them an extended lease. What a bargain! With new infrastructure and good marketing, Southwark Cyclists would probably increase usage of the site outside of school hours and terms, enabling them to pay a higher annual rent - and benefiting other local schools and the community at large. An even better bargain!
On the other hand, securing a commercial agreement from a developer is a strategy fraught with risk and delay, even if the current economic climate improves. The only appropriate land for a second access is leased to Southwark Council who have, in turn, under-leased it to a third party until 2022. There is no guarantee this land will become available for years, nor that the Council will be politically inclined to co-operate. (Co-operation is unlikely because of voter pressure. There is active opposition by local residents to a second access, and there is strong community support for Southwark Cyclists.) The outline planning consent granted for the site several years ago is very restrictive and it is therefore unattractive to developers seeking to make a profit. As Metropolitan Open Land planning rules are also very restrictive: there is no guarantee that a new planning application would succeed.
In short, in my view, a bird in the hand is worth a lot more to the Estate and its beneficiaries than a bird in the bush! The Estate may possibly be derelict in its duties if it does not seize the chance.
Court Lane SE21
The developments at the Old Dairy (Croxted Road) and the Velodrome site are on hold following the contractors’ withdrawal, they blame the recession. Among the most vulnerable sectors in this financial climate is the retail sector. That the Estates Trustees have only been able to let the empty shop to a charity indicates that they have raised village shop rents beyond the commercially viable.
All the evidence shows that a stable and varied provision of local goods and services is essential to the vitality of communities like Dulwich Village, and that it is also a valuable element in the movement towards more ecologically responsible behaviour. The Estate Trustees should look beyond the short term financial arguments and adopt a more sensitive and balanced strategy in their management of business leases in the Village.
Marguerite and John Weedy
Calton Avenue SE 21