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Businesses struggle as influx of designer stores in Hackney

PUBLISHED: 18:20 13 December 2012 | UPDATED: 18:24 13 December 2012

The railway arches on Morning Lane.

The railway arches on Morning Lane.

Archant

Traders complain about the impact of new shops such as Burberry and Pringle are having on the area

With an open A to Z in her hand, a Chinese tourist darts into a café on Morning Lane.

Before she can even open her mouth to speak, the barista tells her: “first on the left” – and points her towards the Burberry Store on Chatham Place.

It’s clearly not the first time he’s had to redirect a tourist – and it’s little wonder they so often lose their bearings. After all, few would expect to find a classy Burberry designer outlet in a modest red-brick building situated directly opposite a towering council estate.

Inside the building, there is an expensive hush as shoppers – stalked by beaming bilingual shop assistants – rifle through signature Burberry trench coats, reduced from £1,095 to £595. A bargain for some, perhaps, but it comes at a high price to others. The Burberry store is just the beginning of a £5 million ‘‘riot revamp’’ that will one day turn Hackney into a retail and fashion hub.

Around the corner, the Duke of Wellington pub has just been converted into a store selling the Scottish brand, Pringle.

Opposite Pringle, however, Pat O’Brien, 44, is preparing to close his six-year-old discount bed shop, Morning Bedz. He is just one of dozens of businesses that are being relocated to make way for new businesses.

The influx of tourists into the area, meanwhile, has done nothing to help existing businesses. Like many other shopkeepers on Morning Lane, Mr O’Brien complains: “We do get tourists visiting our shops, but only to ask where Burberry is.”

Worse still, he adds, the recent parking restrictions mean that his normal clientele have been discouraged from visiting his shop. Further down the road, some railway arches are being refurbished to make way for more retail development.

For 18 years, father of four Christopher Mautsi, 61, was the proud owner of an automobile repair centre under one of these arches. When he first began his business there, the building he occupied was derelict. Over the years, he invested all his savings into refurbishing it.

Apart from giving work to six employees, he trained two apprentices each year and regularly took on children for work experience – as part of Inspire, an education business partnership run by the borough of Hackney. In November 2011, he was forced to close his business. Mr Mautsi was told by the council that his automobile repair business was not “unique” enough to be saved and a new premises found. However, the Barbican Arts Group – a collection of artists – were being given affordable work spaces because it made a “significant contribution towards the economic vitality of the area.”

He said: “All my equipment is rotting outside because I’m still looking for a place,” he says.

He claims he only became aware of Network Rail’s plans to redevelop the arches when he saw a planning notice outside a local fish and chip shop in 2009.

In an email to him, dated June 2009, Hackney’s Mayor Jules Pipe admitted that the planning service had sent letters to 167 neighbours but not to the occupants of the arches themselves. However, a council spokesman insisted notification letters were sent to all of the arches for which it had postal addresses, as well as displaying site notices.

Despite running a successful business for nearly two decades, Mr Mautsi is now living on income support.

A former apprentice at a garage business under the arches commented: “The arches were occupied by hard-working people who had provided valid services to the residents of Hackney for over 20 years. I did my apprenticeship when no one else was willing to give me a chance, and it pains me to see how these people were treated.”

To offset the impact on existing businesses, the council has pledged to create 200 local jobs in the fashion hub.

It is also currently offering help to shop-owners on Morning Lane to relocate.

However, many local residents have yet to be convinced that the new development is a good idea. One sarcastic Hackney resident commented on a website. “Shopping is the answer to the borough’s problems. Hackney yoof [sic] can work for minimum wage, selling overpriced tat they could only dream of owning to Chinese visitors.”

Others are more hopeful. Margaret Asare, 44, opened an optician’s shop six years ago on Mare Street, which runs parallel to Morning Lane. Last August, the windows were smashed and all of her stock was looted during the London riots.

She describes the development plans as “exciting” and believes they will have a positive impact on her business.

“At the moment, tourists just go straight to Burberry and then leave,” she says. “But if there was more for them to do in the area, then they would be encouraged to go to more shops.”

Just a few yards from the Pringle shop, a flower-shop owner who is being forced to leave is nevertheless optimistic. “However painful it looks at present, it can only be for the good. These businesses will all be paying huge business rates and this will benefit people in the borough – including myself,” she says. Born and bred in Hackney, she has decided that she wants to move to premises as close to her existing shop as possible. “When the Tarquins and Araminthas arrive to take up residence in Morning Lane,” she says, “I hope they’ll remember to buy flowers from us.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “The scheme to redevelop the arches at Morning Lane is a joint project by Network Rail and Hackney Council to help regenerate the area.

“We have worked closely with Hackney Council to provide alternative premises to the tenants affected.”

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