Wandsworth: 'Gentrification won't kill our high street but a lack of parking will'

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Wandsworth resident Wendy Hutchinson remembers when businesses on the borough’s High Street would be bustling with customers.

That was a long time ago – today, it’s almost unrecognisable to her.

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She told MyLondon: “I’ve lived here forever. The High Street used to be really busy but now all these shops that open up, you can’t stop anywhere.”

Just metres away from the High Street is the Southside shopping centre.

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Wandsworth: 'Gentrification won't kill our high street but a lack of parking will'
© Kieran Kelly The Southside shopping centre in Wandsworth

As the centre continues to benefit from development, many businesses on the High Street are struggling to stay afloat.

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The main reason? There’s nowhere for customers to park.

Waz Merchant, who owns Fone Junction on the High Street, told MyLondon: “There’s been a lot of rejuvenation all around but on the High Street, in terms of business closing down, it’s untold.

“The area is dead, this street is derelict. So many shops have closed down because you can’t park or stop on this High Street.”

Once upon a time, customers would be able to park on the High Street.

When this changed, businesses suffered, as there are only a few places where people can park their cars near the High Street. Naturally, business owners like Merchant feel forgotten about.

It’s not as if the entire borough has suffered. Wandsworth experienced some of the most gentrification out of any London borough between 2010 and 2016, according to research .

Wandsworth: 'Gentrification won't kill our high street but a lack of parking will'
© Kieran Kelly Once upon a time, customers would be able to park on the High Street, but this is no longer the case and business owners say they are suffering as a result

Spend just half a day in the borough and this comes as no surprise.

As you walk from Wandsworth Town train station, newly-built high-rise flats start to dominate the landscape.

According to the research, “gentrification is broadly defined as a process in which poor neighbourhoods are transformed by the entrance of middle-class occupants who trigger a socioeconomic uplift in the surrounding area”.

For Mike Belton, who’s store Belton & Slade has sat on the High Street for over fifty years, the ‘uplift’ doesn’t always fit in with the area.

“Every small gap there is they put up a block of flats but it’s never in keeping with the area,” he said. “The designs of them.

“There’s an old-style high street and popping up are new buildings. It doesn’t fit in with the area.”

Wandsworth: 'Gentrification won't kill our high street but a lack of parking will'
© Kieran Kelly Wandsworth has had some of the highest levels of gentrification across the capital

Like Fone Junction, Belton & Slade has suffered because of a lack of parking.

He added: “I’d say we would be 20 to 30 per cent busier if there was better short-term parking. Our customers only want to be here for ten to fifteen minutes.

“If people come for five minutes, leave their car outside and get a ticket they’re not going to come back.”

According to shop-owners and residents, the focus seems to be on building new accommodation across the borough, with the High Street seemingly left behind.

Wandsworth: 'Gentrification won't kill our high street but a lack of parking will'
© Kieran Kelly For Kay Rathod, owner of Pearl Laundry for 24 years, development has come at the expense of businesses like his own

The ‘Smart Growth’ recovery plan proposed by Wandsworth council in 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic reflects this.

At the time, council leader Ravi Govindan, said: “It’s about ensuring that our children have the best start in life, building more homes for local people and making our town centres vibrant and culturally rich and the best place to start and run a business.”

For Kay Rathod, owner of Pearl Laundry for 24 years, development has come at the expense of businesses like his own.

He told MyLondon: “The High Street is empty. I think the council and TfL want this run down completely for flats and they are not helping shop owners.”

Merchant agreed, adding: “All that has happened is that flats are popping up everywhere but the prices of them are insane, who can move over there?”

The uncertainty has gripped shops across the High Street as more continue to close down.

The latest victim was the Salvation Army at the top of the High Street which shut down just a few weeks ago.

“If we put our prices up, we lose customers. It’s been hard, business has gone down a hell of a lot,” Merchant said.

The future of the High Street looks bleak.

Hutchinson said that she recognised that people need somewhere to live but emphasised that you also need community, and that the High Street remains an essential part of that community.

“There’s nothing anymore… the parking is to blame. Businesses will keep shutting down.”

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