Category Archives: development

West End Extra reports on flue dispute

Battle to save ‘delicate ecosystem’ of Neal’s Yard

Row over restaurant’s ‘Cape Canaveral’ flue

06 April, 2018 — By William McLennan

A flue that has been compared to the Apollo 13 spacecraft 

RESIDENTS in a historic Covent Garden courtyard have said their “oasis of peace” has been overrun with restaurants.

Neighbours in Neal’s Yard have objected to the arrival of any new eateries and asked the council to intervene and protect the area’s unique atmosphere. All but one of the plaza’s shops have been replaced with cafés, bars and restaurants over the past three years, the Covent Garden Community Association said.

The area gives its name to Neal’s Yard Remedies, an up-market health and beauty company, which is the only retailer to remain a presence. Employees said that they have been forced to end therapy sessions early, after customers felt nauseas from the smell of cooking meat.

Responding to the latest planning objection to turn one of the retail units permanently into a restaurant, Mark Wordsworth wrote: “This may seem an odd analogy but Neal’s Yard is like a coral reef – it’s a very delicate ecosystem and to preserve it it needs to be kept in balance. If the reef dies then it can’t be recreated – it’s gone forever. And like all dead reefs there are no tourists or visitors and everyone loses out including the landlords and all their tenants.”

Residents focused their objections on landlords Shaftesbury Estates, calling on them to manage the mix of homes, restaurants and shops in the area.


One neighbour, complaining about an extractor fan flue that had been installed to accommodate one restaurant, told Camden Council: “Here on Planet Shaftesbury Estate, we are still trying to come to terms with the almost overnight appearance of the massive silver flue aka – Apollo 13 and which appeared out of the blue (like Dr Who’s Tardis) and now looms over us like something that wouldn’t be out of place at Cape Canaveral, just waiting menacingly quiet, for someone to light the blue touch paper and stand well back, before it hurtles off into space, to conquer hidden planets and thereby establish new communities for Shaftesbury Estates.”

Paul Hope said the area has “rapidly become a loud and busy restaurant zone” eroding the reason that people “love the yard and flock there”.

Axelle Bonaparte said: “Neal’s Yard has been here for years adding an oasis of peace and quiet in the area, and this is fading away. Can we have some corners of calmness in this city and not use every square metre for frenzy?”

Amanda Rigby, of the Covent Garden Community Association, asked Camden Council to engage in a “holistic, strategic discussion about how the place that is Neal’s Yard should be allowed to evolve”.

Brian Bickell, chief executive officer Shaftesbury plc, said the company was committed to maintaining Neal’s Yard’s vibrancy and communal spirit, adding: “It has a long history as a shared and mixed-use space – from Neal’s Yard Remedies for health and wellbeing through to the cheese shop of Neal’s Yard Dairy, and the small independent cafés and restaurants which together contribute to this extraordinary oasis in the West End.”


Nestle tries to co-opt Neal’s Yard’s image for ad campaign

On Thursday March 26, at around 9am, Neal’s Yard gets filled up with balloons.

Completely filled, for people to walk through and be filmed by some very nice, artistically inclined guys from a small film company. Come along, it’s going to be lots of fun! Well at least that was the idea . . .

Balloons fill Neal's Yard as part of an ad campaign

Balloons fill Neal's Yard as part of an ad campaign

Camden has been keen to support this funky idea and did not hesitate to provide the filming licence. Neal’s Yard, one of the most alternative, green and playful places in Central London seemed the ideal location.

Because I live and work in Neal’s Yard, have done so for many years, and care deeply about its character, I felt motivated to look into the project a little further. A different picture emerged: the carpet of reddish balloons on the computer screen application turns out to be brown. Is this some special art project I wondered? More curious now, I managed to get more information about the motivation behind the whole event: the balloons are representing the bubbles in an Aero chocolate bar. I’m a bit of a chocophile myself, but I do happen to know that Aero is produced by Nestle and that is where I draw the line. We now have a situation where a small, creative, people-friendly, green and health-promoting place is being used by a huge corporation to promote its dubious wares.

The dilemma is how can I tell these nice, well-meaning people who are making the film that this is ludicrous?! I don’t want them to lose their job. They do their best and are trying to be as creative as possible within the limits of economic survival. It brings up an important question: “Can creative and artistic endeavours flourish in this day and age without commercial sponsors?”

Looking at how Covent Garden has changed in the last 20 years, it is obvious that what attracted the big commercial enterprises is exactly what they are killing by the way they are moving in. Neal Street is a prime example of how all the interesting, specialist and small-scale shops have been pushed out and replaced by chain stores that have little more to offer than the average shopping mall. Covent Garden used to be an artistic, creative place with many original features. Where is this going or even where has this gone?

Do we need the commercial input of companies to enable us to be artful in our living environments? Can we be independent and not compromise our creativity for commercial promotion? How do we want to shape the environments we live in and what qualities are important to cherish in Central London, Covent Garden and a place like Neal’s Yard? You can add your views and comments in the comments box below.

The least we can do when corporate interests appear on our doorstep disguised as funky ideas is to be vigilant, critical and continue to ask the questions. In this changing climate it the questions that we ask now that open up the the possible routes for us to follow in times to come.

Covent Garden looks done for

On Thursday April 1, the Guardian published a poignant article with this title and unfortunately it was not a joke! In it, Michele Hanson talks about the rebranding of Covent Garden, where the future vision is one of a big posh department store without a roof to replace the quirky street performers and often outstanding opera singers and classical musicians that entertain and surprise us at present.

Away goes all that is unpredictable, creative and out of the ordinary, in with the big brand names, the elite products and marketing strategies! And, so the argument goes, this will bring the piazza back to the Londoners rather than provide for the tourists. . . Really? Are CapCo, who are the ‘brains’ behind this, seriously thinking that we who live in London will spend our time on an overcrowded underground to travel to the piazza to buy from more posh shops which are easier to access elsewhere anyway? Why is Covent Garden special? Write your comments on what makes it special for you. Read the full article