Five renowned areas in London have been safeguarded by a new policy introduced by the Westminster City Council. The local authority for the City of Westminster in Greater London has administered a new policy that will enable it to reject planning proposals that threaten the "unique character" of some of the city's well-known districts. The Special Policy Area ("SPA") guidelines come into force on Friday to protect Savile Row, Mayfair, Harley Street, St James's and Portland Place.
Each SPA has been given its own “tailor-made” set of tight planning restrictions to help preserve its character. On Savile Row, for instance, new stores will only be permitted to open if: (1) "they do not replace bespoke tailoring uses;" (2) if they “sell bespoke, unique, limited-edition or one-of-a-kind products;" and (3) if they are “complementary to the character and function” of the area. (It is worth noting that the latter element is particularly broad and will give the Westminster City Council a significant amount of leeway to dictate what businesses are fitting to reside on the famed street, which plays home to the shops of Hardy Amies, Gieves & Hawkes, Ozwald Boateng, Timothy Everest, and Richard James, among others).
The strategy has been under discussion for almost a decade and gained momentum after the 2012 arrival of US chain Abercrombie & Fitch Kids in Savile Row — to the dismay of tailors. Moreover, a number of antique dealers have disappeared from Mayfair and St James's in recent years as commercial pressure has led to traders closing up shop. With this in mind, the policy drafters aim to make it more difficult for developers and landlords to dilute the distinctive character of these key areas and the make-up of some of the capital's "most recognizable streets" by allowing many global “clone” chain stores to force out smaller independent businesses.
Speaking on the newly imposed regulations, Councilor Robert Davis MBE DL noted on Wednesday: "The 17.5m people who visit London each year come to experience our capital's distinctive character. It's unthinkable that world renowned destinations such as Savile Row, which is synonymous with quality tailoring, could become indistinguishable from any other high street around the world." David said the council was using its powers "to protect some of the capital's most valuable assets" and create an environment for specialist traders to thrive.
The five Westminster City Council-mandated SPA are as follows:
• Savile Row SPA – will encourage retail use that is unique, bespoke, limited edition or one of a kind;
• The Mayfair SPA – will support and enhance the area’s international reputation as a center for the art trade by protecting existing art galleries and antique traders;
• The Harley Street SPA – will support and enhance the role of the area as an international center of medical excellence;
• Portland Place SPA – seeks to support the existing character and function of the area by encouraging the continued use of the large historic buildings by prestigious institutional organizations e.g. embassies; and
• The St James’s SPA – to protect its character as a center of prestige, including its art galleries and niche luxury and specialist retail such as shirt making on Jermyn Street.
The regulations were being welcomed by existing business owners. Mark Henderson, the head of renowned London-based tailoring brand, Gieves & Hawkes and the former chairman of the Savile Row Bespoke Association, said: “I’m absolutely delighted. It’s recognition that Savile Row is totally unique. Not only does Savile Row provide beautiful suiting but it is an inspiration for British fashion and we’re always concerned that it shouldn’t become just another retail street. Training to become a bespoke tailor takes five to 10 years and we have a group of uniquely talented people whose craftsmanship will now be protected.”