By Owen Sheppard, Local Democracy Reporter
A pharmacist who has served Marylebone residents in central London for 40 years is “petrified” that the redevelopment of Church Street could put him out of business.
Dhimant Patel, 62, and who owns the Collins Chemist, has been told to vacate his shop by December.
That’s because the block of flats, which his and a dozen other shops sit beneath, is one of the first in a long list of buildings to be demolished and rebuilt as one of Westminster Council’s flagship regeneration projects.
The residents, shopkeepers and market traders of Church Street have been hearing for 10 years about the proposals, but it now looms large in their minds.
Patel said: “It’s sad because it feels like my professional life is coming to an end, even though I don’t want to retire. I could easily do this job for another 10 years.
“I’m petrified and I’m looking for other premises to move to. But I have 10,000 patients in my catchment area. I need to find somewhere where I’ll still have my customers.”
Asked what information he has had from the council, Patel said: “There was a gentleman from Savills [estate agents hired by Westminster] who came four months ago, but I’ve not heard from him again.
“I’ve heard nothing about compensation or a disturbance fee. It’s amazing that we still don’t know what’s going on or what’s coming.”
He added: “We have been part of the community for 40 years. We would appreciate the council saying ‘we value you and we’re going to hold your hand through this’.”
‘Council’s approach is not quite right’
Another pharmacist, Shiraz Mohamed of Market Chemist, said: “I have been in Church Street since 1981. I feel the regeneration is well overdue, but the way they’re going about it is not quite right.”
The 71-year-old continued: “When this is finished the rents in the new shops will end up being higher because they will be so much more attractive and because a different kind of people will be living here.
“We’ve not been officially told when we will have to leave. But there’s nothing official on their website.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock in June last year paid a visit to Mohamed’s Market Chemist to thank the pharmacy team and hear about the work they were doing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Westminster Council was approached for comment but it did not respond in time.
At the Edgware Road end of the street, the council plans to demolish 17 housing blocks that comprise a total of 432 flats and around 30 shop units. These are broken up into three sites – A, B and C.
A public consultation document released this week shows that the council intends to submit a planning application for the three sites by late summer.
By building taller, the new vision for Church Street looks set to include 1,167 flats, of which 53 per cent will be “genuinely affordable”. There will also be new shops units and a new library.
‘Regeneration is overdue’
Locals say they are not against the regeneration of this working class pocket of an otherwise very wealthy borough. Some think it’s “overdue”.
Naqlibullah Abitta, the manager of Pound Place, said: “These buildings are probably 50 years old, I’m in favour of them being knocked down.
“In terms of moving, we have just been told to wait and that eventually we will be able to move back. But we don’t know a lot yet.”
A shop owner who asked to speak anonymously said he is in “negotiations” with the council about compensation for having to depart by December.
And he said that combined with the adjacent West End Gate development in Edgware Road, the area would become “gentrified”.
“These million pound flats are being put up across the street. Those people aren’t going to want cheap shops like these. Anyone can see that,” the man said.
Ibrahim Katbi, 34, who owns the Paella Brothers market stall near Edgware Road, said stall holders will be relocated towards Lisson Grove while the redevelopment takes place.
“I’m not happy about it because that side is empty, the customers won’t go down there instead of this side, next to the station,” Mr Katbi said.
The businesses who spoke out are in sites A and B of the Church Street redevelopment.
First to be demolished in 2022 will be site A, a group of housing blocks bordered by Penfold Street, Broadley Street and Edgware Road.