Subject: Friends of Regent's Canal - Changes to the Lock Keeper's Cottage

Dear Friends,

I regret to inform you that Camden Council has received a planning application for change of use of the Lock Keeper's Cottage. This appears to be a retrospective attempt to justify Starbucks' efforts to dominate these premises in recent years.

Even if you do not live in Camden, this could still be very significant to you as a canal user, because I fear that this could set a dangerous precedent if a global brand is allowed to overshadow our unique local heritage.

The title of the application is "Change of use from Canal Information Centre/Cafe (Sui Generis) to mixed use of retail and coffee shop with ancillary Canal Information Centre". This will effectively diminish the role of the information centre at this popular visitor spot and will raise the profile of the coffee chain.

I am raising awareness of this now, because some of you might want to help British Waterways (or its successor, the Canal and River Trust) to resist this move. Given that the Canal and River Trust is designed to allow communities to have a real say in the running of their local waterway, this seems like a pertinent opportunity for canal users to deploy our combined knowledge and to offer free advice to the planning staff.

I have singled this out as an undesirable application because it could not have occurred at a less appropriate time. This year we are seeking ways of commemorating the 200th anniversary of the start of canal construction and our focus is very much on historic sites. At the same time, we are losing information centres, services and literature as British Waterways transfers responsibilities to the voluntary sector. We are going to need information centres and community bases more than ever and the most obvious location for such a centre is at the heart of the most visited stretch of the waterway network.

I also fear that, if this application is supported, then it will send the wrong signal to members of the public who are being asked to set up standing orders to fund the maintenance of the waterways. Can we really expect them to donate to something that resembles a globalised profit centre rather than a publicly-owned heritage centre? There are a lot of uncertainties in people's minds and hence this is not a sensible time to give the thumbs up to an application that does not appear to serve the interests of the canal.

If you are interested in some of the detail then please visit this online document.

Please contact me if you would like to share ideas with other canal users or with concerned members of the community.

Best wishes,

Ian Shacklock
Chair, Friends of Regent's Canal