Stoke Newington building plans concern locals

Tim Watson, owner of Church Street bookshop. Pic: Emma Marvin

Local people are ‘horrified’ that an independent book store, which has been trading in Stoke Newington for over 30 years, could be forced to close if redevelopment plans for a new restaurant go ahead.

The Church Street Bookshop, which sells second-hand books, is part of a block of three retail units and a car repair garage under threat.

The developers, Boyer Planning, a planning consultancy who work on behalf of the site’s owners, who want to develop the area, plan to turn the bookshop and the building next to it, which was previously an estate agent, into a big restaurant. The garage and its yard, located behind the book shop, will also form part of the restaurant.

The other building in the proposal, rented to vintage clothes shop Casino, will be turned into a bigger unit. The entrance to the car repair garage and yard will form part of the new unit.

The bookshop has been running for over 30 years. Emma Marvin

Tim Watson, who owns the book shop said: “I haven’t met anyone who’s for the new proposals.”

One of Watson’s main concerns is that if the plans go ahead, it will set a precedent for the rest of Church Street. Currently dotted with boutiques, restaurants, cafes and florists from end to end, the street is Stoke Newington’s main attraction and draws people in from all over London.

“If you’re allowed to knock through units, then there’s nothing to stop landlords acquiring neighbouring units and letting the leases run down, keeping them empty for a couple of years, then knocking them through and turning them into whatever. It will drive up rents and make it difficult for people to establish businesses.” He said.

Another threat to the area is the proposed Sainsbury’s superstore at Wilmer Place, just off Church Street, which ELL has been reporting on.

The book shop and its surroundings are part of the Stoke Newington Conservation Area, which identifies the buildings as making a positive contribution to the district. However, Boyer Planning argues that the site is ‘run down’ and has ‘poor economic prospects’.

Under threat: Church Street Booshop, RSR Motors and Casino clothes shop. Pic: Emma Marvin

A petition set up opposing the plans collected around 500 signatures.

Tommy Cunningham, 59, owner of RSR Motors, the car repair garage under threat said: “We’ve been running this garage since 1995.

“If it comes to the crunch, then there’s not a lot I can do. I think I can still keep my customers because the garage where I get my MOTs has said that I can go and work there.”

Grant Leggett, associate director of Boyer Planning, said that he was only informed about the public opposition to the plans last week and has not been able to reach the site’s owners, therefore he was unable to comment at this stage.

Regular customer Edward Welch. Pic: Emma Marvin

One of the bookshop’s local customers is Edward Welch, 28, a PE teacher who was “horrified” when he found out about the proposals. He said that it could change the identity to the street. “There’s a beauty to Church Street. It has so many different stores and it’s very diverse.”

Anna Doyle, 30, a solicitor who lives in Finsbury Park and visits Stoke Newington on a regular basis because she loves its character, said the new proposals could be positive.  “It’s a sign that the area’s on the up and becoming wealthier and maybe that’s a good thing for some of the people that live here.”

The consultation period for people to submit their opinions has now closed.

Hackney Council is due to make a decision on the proposals at an upcoming planning committee, although a date has not yet been announced.

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