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‘Under siege’ traders stage lights switch-on demo

Business owners in ‘fashion village’ say they feel ‘ignored’ by Islington Council

08 December, 2017 — By Joe Cooper

Traders at the lights switch-on. ‘We felt this was the only way we could make sure the council will listen to us,’ one said

BUSINESS owners hijacked a Christmas lights switch-on to protest against declining trade in Finsbury Park’s “fashion village”.

Traders in Fonthill Road pulled down their shutters and descended on the festive event with placards and T-shirts complaining that they feel “ignored” by Islington Council.

In the past few years, they have become increasingly vocal about issues affecting trade – high parking charges, disruption from the City North development opposite, closure of Wells Terrace entrance to the tube station hitting footfall and rising rents and business rates.

The area, known for its clothes shops, is frequented by television personality Vanessa Feltz and X Factor finalist Alexandra Burke.

Andrew Pachalis, owner of Andrials for 21 years, organised Friday’s peaceful protest. He said his trade had dropped by 40 per cent in the last year. “We feel under siege from all sides,” he added.

Around 30 traders stood quietly at the back of the lights switch-on, to the annoyance of some parents and staff from Ambler Primary School, whose pupils were performing.

Councillors Asima Shaikh and Gary Heather engaged with the protesters and answered questions.

Mr Pachalis said: “We felt this was the only way we could make sure the council will listen to us.”

He said businesses were closing at an alarming rate. The council will not allow empty units to be converted into flats, but Mr Pachalis said the area’s status as a fashion destination was under threat.

Crowds watch Ambler Primary School pupils perform at the lights switch-on in Fonthill Road on Friday. PHOTO: @JONO_KENYON

“We would like to see the return of the parking meters,” he added. “Many of our customers are international or don’t have much English and they don’t understand how to use the app. Also, it costs almost £5 to park now, which is as much as the West End.”

The Wells Terrace entrance closed last summer. Transport for London is upgrading the station to increase capacity and introduce step-free access.

A new, larger entrance will open in Fonthill Road in 2019. The closure was carried out in conjunction with the start of construction at City North, a 355-homes development which includes a cinema.

The council stressed that it was trying to help the traders in as many ways as possible. Led by Cllr Shaikh, the council has helped secure business rates freezes by lobbying the Valuation Office Agency, has given grants for new shopfronts and is developing a small business support workshop, to start next year.

“I’ve taken a real interest in this,” said Cllr Shaikh, the council’s executive member for economic development. “The sustainability of Fonthill Road matters a lot to us. People travel from all over London to come here and we share the same concerns they have.

“We were over the moon about getting business rates frozen on the back of the Wells Terrace closure, but we are going to go back and try to help more due to disruption from City North.”

Cllr Shaikh added that the council was doing its best to improve communications between City North and traders.

“We were disappointed they chose the Christmas lights switch-on when the children were performing,” Cllr Shaikh added. “We are meeting on Wednesday to discuss the issues and how we go forward.”

Telford Homes, which is building on the City North site, has said: “Dust suppression measures are in place, with constant water spraying during demolition.”

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