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Mead on property: West London is losing its cool

by Deleted Subscriber Content
16th Feb 12 1:14 pm

Our property writer bemoans west London’s “image uplift” and the increasing loss of Chelsea’s edge

What sort of car do you drive? What sort of car do you think you should drive?

The curious thing is there’s no getting away from the fact that the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality is alive and kicking. This is shown by the phenomenal growth in sales of BMW, Audi and other upmarket brands.

Many people will happily spend far more than they need in order to get behind the wheel of something that makes them feel good – and will persuade their envious neighbours they’re doing well.

Image is everything it appears, even though often more mundane fare will do the job admirably whilst saving a large amount of money.

The domination of the consumer culture is at its most visible in London where it’s impossible to move without being run down by a 4×4.

Road space is limited and if everyone drove something smaller we’d probably all be safer but every new model of an established brand seems bigger than the last. Despite entreaties by governments to strangle emissions and tax us into smaller cars, which doesn’t seem likely to suceed.

The same seems to be happening with our shops. This is most visible somewhere like Chelsea.

Sloane Street has always been smart, but it WAS Sloane Street, a mix of international and quaint English shops that catered for the local populace. It was possible to walk out of your front door and buy a pint of milk and a newspaper within two or three minutes walk.

Try that now.

Landlords in the area have obviously decided, in their wisdom, to no longer offer us what we need – instead blinding us with what they think we want.

This desire to attract the “right sort” of shop means they can charge enormous rents, as brands jockey for position on a parade walked by the richest on earth.

These landlords are happy to surround themselves with the vacuous trappings of wealth, ignoring the deleterious effect moving up market has on the community that lives there.

The benefits for landlords are substantial, with some streets in SW and W1 now attempting to charge more than £1000 per square foot per annum in rent. Only five years ago £1000 per square foot was some sort of watershed for selling a top end residential space.

Established long term tenants who’ve helped give streets their charm and image are being moved on as landlords seek to use rents paid by avaricious newcomers to renegotiate theirs.

The Kings Road in Chelsea has been similarly blighted and now resembles Festival Place in Basingstoke with homogenous brands considered a better covenant than those edgy shops that gave the Kings Road its image.

Sloane Street could easily be any street from Milan to Abu Dhabi.

Where it ends is anyone’s guess. For those of us that benefit from incomes generated by the “image uplift”, it’s a drug that’ll be difficult to give up. But it’s tough to watch the artistic edge that gave London its image subjugated by the money men.

Just as the balance of wealth in the world seems to be shifting east, it seems that the spirit of London seems to be deserting the traditionally trendy areas and moving to places like Shoreditch and Dalston in east London.

With the Olympics tightening that focus even further, perhaps those that can, should think about what they can do to recapture the essence of what made West London cool.

Ed Mead has been an estate agent in Chelsea for over 30 years. He sits on the Board of the Property Ombudsman and has written about property for the Sunday Times and the Telegraph. He’s never afraid to say what he thinks and is a tireless campaigner for higher standards in estate agency.

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