Threat to the Lock Keeper's Cottage, Camden Town
(Coffee House versus Information Centre)

signs3 For several years the Starbucks coffee chain has occupied a Grade II listed canalside building in Camden Town and has decorated it with its globalised logo and other themes that have no relationship to the historic Regent's Canal. It has also neglected an agreement to maintain and promote an Information Centre and is now applying for planning permission to expand its commercial activities at the expense of the information service.

Under the official agreement, 51 per cent of the floor area of the Lock Keepers Cottage is reserved for visitor information services and 49 per cent is available for a coffee shop. However, in fact, the coffee house now totally dominates the whole building.

What is all the fuss about?

Some observers might be wondering why such a small building is attracting so much attention and they might think that a disproportionate amount of time is being spent discussing it.

This is no ordinary little building. The Lock Keepers Cottage is one of the most photographed canalside buildings in the country, so the temptation for the occupiers to exploit advertising opportunities must be irresistible. On this basis, the freeholder (currently British Waterways) can expect to rent out this plot for a very high price.

However, it is not as simple as that. This is a Grade II Listed Building in a Conservation Area. So it is against established policies to attach signage to the outside of the building without consent. Also, the unique character of the whole area can be compromised by contemporary commercialisation and homogenisation. The Council has apparently been lenient in the past towards businesses that do not comply with the spirit or the law within this Conservation Area, but in the light of recent campaigns it probably now realises that any lenience on its part could backfire. This is because tourists will stop visiting the heritage locks in Camden Town if they think the area resembles any other clone town in the world. The general public are now putting Camden Council under increasing pressure to sharpen its teeth and to get tough on any organisations that abuse the planning policies, especially at this heritage location.

We are entering a new era for the waterways and at the same time the planning laws are being changed beyond recognition. Everybody is on a learning curve. Mistakes will be made and they need to be corrected as early as possible. British Waterways will soon be replaced by the Canal and River Trust and we (the public) have been promised a greater say in the running of our public asset (the canal network). We can reasonably assume that this will include all the publicly-owned canalside property as well as the canal and the towpath.

In the future, certain stretches of the canal will be adopted by a combination of communities and private companies and it is very important that this does not provide a green light for insensitive branding or advertising. For this reason alone, we need to monitor the Starbucks planning application very closely, to ensure that no undesirable precedents are being set. This is a real test of trust between the public, the council and the Canal and River Trust.
A lot rests on this.

News Items and Letters

Article in Camden New Journal (10th April 2003)
Article in Ham and High (19th July 2007)
Article in Ham and High (2nd August 2007)
E-mail notification to Friends of Regent's Canal (1st April 2012)
Article in Camden New Journal (5th April 2012)
Letter in Ham and High (5th April 2012)
Article in Narrowboat World (11th April 2012)
Letter in Camden New Journal (12th April 2012)
Article in Ham and High (12th April 2012)
Article in Private Eye (17th April 2012)
Article in Camden New Journal (19th April 2012)
E-mail notification to Friends of Regent's Canal (21st April 2012)
E-mail notification to Friends of Regent's Canal (27th April 2012)
Letter of Objection (6th May 2012)
E-mail notification to Friends of Regent's Canal (7th May 2012)

What can we do about this now?

We certainly cannot afford to sit back and see what happens. We need to demonstrate that we are a pro-active community, capable of defending, promoting and supporting a Canal Information Centre well into the future. The under-utilisation of this centre over the past decade is irrelevant. Very few people knew that it even existed and it has been quite inaccessible. Things have changed since 1st January 2012, when British Waterways decommissioned the floating information centre known as Jena, so it is hardly surprising that the Inland Waterways Association is lobbying for an improved information service at the Lock Keeper's Cottage.

The Friends of Regent's Canal can assist in the following ways:-
  • Promote the need for the Canal Information Centre.
  • Identify ways that the centre could be utilised and run.
  • Engage with local volunteering groups.
  • Explain what is unsatisfactory with the current layout.
  • Spread the word, to raise awareness.
  • Offer guidance on how to comment
  • Publish comments made by others. (Click here).

The deadline for online comments is 7th May. Click on the following link, to see official details of the planning application and to find out how to submit comments.
Guidance notes on how to comment.

If you prefer to send an e-mail with comments or questions, then click on the following link for a suitable audience.
Names and addresses of councillors and other interested parties.

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