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Clerkenwell Green revamp leaves bad taste for boss of café

Family business ‘in the dark’ over regeneration plan

26 May, 2017 — By Jane Clinton

Al Scotti says he has received ‘no information’ about plans for Clerkenwell Green, despite submitting repeated requests to Islington Council

A FAMILY who have run a café in Clerkenwell Green for 50 years have hit out at the council for “leaving them in the dark” over regeneration plans for the area that they believe could kill their business.

Al Scotti, of Scotti’s Cafe, whose regulars include the artists Gilbert and George, says he feels “let down” by the Town Hall as he and his brother, who runs the neighbouring La Rocchetta Restaurant, have been given “no information” about what the planned works will entail despite repeated requests for details.

“The Labour Party is supposed to serve the working people but we feel absolutely let down by them,” he said. “We have been here for 50 years and all of a sudden we are not good enough to be spoken to. We’ve been left in the dark.”

Mr Scotti’s mother and father, Antonio and Maria, came to London from Italy separately in the mid-1950s. They met in London and married in 1961 and started Scotti’s Cafe in 1967 which has become a much-loved institution in the area. The restaurant was opened some time after.

One of the proposed visions for the Green is for a “less car-dominated environment”.

“This is a working, functional square, the council seems to forget that,” said Mr Scotti. “There is a suggestion of pedestrianising the area and maybe having a Sunday market, but we just don’t know. They say the cars are ugly on the Green but there are not that many of them and it is odd that the cars on the nearby residential streets are not seen as ugly.”

Mr Scotti, 50, who lives above the café, fears that reducing car access will have an adverse impact on his and other businesses in the area.

Al Scotti with his father Antonio at the café

“Most of our clientele come here with vans, lorries and taxis and are people passing through,” he said. “Also, we need access for deliveries. Clerkenwell Green is a nice place to park and have business meetings, it is a central location. All the businesses who pay rates in this square came here because there is easy access for vehicles.

“We are not opposed to improvements to the Green, and we can see some are needed, but the people who use it every day are being excluded from discussions by a Labour council. The council wants an elite group – it has become very elitist.”

The planned installation of a statue of socialist Suffragette Sylvia Pank­hurst on the Green kickstarted development plans for the area.

The Town Hall has set up a working group which includes a range of local businesses and community and residents’ groups regarding the redev­elopment, chaired by Clerkenwell councillor Alice Donovan.

But Mr Scotti is not convinced. “You have got to consult all the people, not just a select, handpicked few,” he said.

Other businesses have expressed frustration at the lack of communication regarding the plans for the area.

“We know something might happen at some time, somehow, but that is about the extent of the knowledge we have at the moment,” said one trader who did not want to be named. “We would just like a more open and transparent conversation.”

A council spokesman said: “Islington Council is currently developing an initial design option for improving the Green, working closely with the Clerkenwell Green Stakeholder Group.

“To keep the stakeholder group to a workable size, most members of the group are representatives of larger stakeholder groups, including business. In response to some questions from local businesses we have suggested the group could include another business group representative, and are happy to discuss this further.

“There will be full public consultation on the initial design this summer, and all feedback will be welcomed, carefully considered and used to help inform the next stage of the design.”

Clerkenwell Green is one of London’s oldest and most historic public spaces and is where London’s first May Day march set off from in 1890 and starts off from there to this day.

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