Subject : Friends of Regent's Canal - Starbucks update and other news

Dear Friends,

Before I explain our current position on the Starbucks planning application, I want to draw your attention to some upcoming events. On Sunday 29th April the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) is sponsoring a Waterways Funday at Laburnum Boat Club (E2 8BH). The following weekend, there is a 3-day Canalway Cavalcade at Little Venice. And throughout the year the IWA runs towpath walks along the Regent's Canal. Details of all these events can be found on our website, so I would encourage you to visit the following page from time to time and to offer any suggestions for things we could add to it.

Returning to the Starbucks matter, I feel that the main roles of the Friends of Regent's Canal are to promote the need for the Canal Information Centre, to identify ways that it could be utilised and run, to explain what is unsatisfactory with the current arrangements and to engage with local volunteering groups. With regard to plans to reconfigure the coffee shop I think our emphasis should be on "containing" those plans rather than trying to prevent them at all costs. In other words, as friends of the canal, our aim is to revive the information centre without alienating the customers of our shared space.

There is nothing to stop individuals or subgroups (amongst the Friends of Regent's Canal) from submitting fierce objections to the plans, and everybody is welcome to cite our website as the source of their information, but please do not assume that your priorities are shared by all subscribers.

My current approach is to identify some important conditions, to enable shared use of the building. The first three conditions relate to signage, accessibility and noise levels. Firstly, I believe that we need two, equally proportioned, signs at the main entrance, one for the Canal Information Centre and one for Starbucks, so that visitors and coffee customers all know that they are entering a public space; secondly, that visitors need to be able to walk freely to the rear of the building, without feeling guilty about not spending money at the coffee counter; thirdly that the acoustics must allow visitors and volunteers of all age groups to relax and converse, without competing with amplified music. I am assuming that most of you agree that these conditions are reasonable and inexpensive and that if they cannot be met then our only option will be to divide the building into two partitions and to re-activate the side door.

Some of us have already met with Starbucks representatives and there are some promising signals that we can converge on these types of issue. So if there are any other issues or suggestions that you want to put forward then please do so now. It is much more constructive to raise correctible issues now, while we are in dialogue, rather than wait for the committee or appeal stages.

I would like to introduce another factor that might help to put priorities into context. The current lease runs from 2002 to 2017, and the next lease will run from 2017 to 2032. So we should focus on the next 5 years. This is a pivotal period for the waterways, because the Canal & River Trust will still be finding its feet in this period. So I suggest that any revised management plan for the Canal Information Centre (and any associated Section 106 conditions) should be reviewed in 2017. A lot will happen in the next 5 years; and depending on how things pan out, it could be anybody's guess whether the next tenant will be another private company or an emboldened canal support group. With this in mind, I think it is pragmatic to work together with the current tenants, safe in the knowledge that in 5 years time we can re-evaluate the situation.

I hope that you appreciate why this seemingly minor application is attracting so much time and attention, and I welcome any comments you might have.

Best wishes,

Ian Shacklock
Chair, Friends of Regent's Canal

27th April 2012

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