Susie Rushton: London's retail roads to ruin

Urban Notebook
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The Independent Online

The redevelopment of Jermyn Street – all those shops selling ties and pomade are to be given a gleaming mall-style makeover – has fastidiously-dressed men gnashing their teeth. But Jermyn Street is not the only thoroughfare of cool to be re-lined, re-stitched and re-fashioned into an ersatz version of itself.

Portobello Road, London's fifth most-visited tourist attraction, has this year suffered the replacement of one of its basement antiques markets with a colossal branch of All Saints. Property prices and rates are up, pushing out the silver dealers and Rastafarian shops from Portobello's pretty pink and blue terraces. Are identikit coffee shops and mid-market fashion outlets really what draw thousands to Portobello market every Saturday? Of course not – but myopic developers don't see it that way. But neither can the protesters attempting to stop the modernisation of Portobello Road see past their own self-interest; they talk of preserving "retail ecology", but tourists and shoppers don't clamour to W11 out of a moral duty to support independent traders. They go because it's trendy. Or, rather, it was.

For as soon as a London street becomes very fashionable its best years are already through. And finally, when Hugh Grant, Woody Allen or Guy Ritchie start filming on its pavements, you know it's buried for ever. Look at the relic of Carnaby Street. Look at Kings Road. It's frankly amazing that the hatters and cane-makers of Jermyn Street lasted this long before its owners, the Crown Estate, sold them out.

In the meantime, I'd recommend visitors enjoy the shopping streets that are just hanging on to ragged charm and hint of danger: London Fields and Columbia Road, the markets in Hackney, and foodie labyrinth Borough Market. And where will I be spending lazy Saturday mornings this spring? I couldn't possibly say.

Surgeries in need of TLC

Off to the GP surgery with a suspected chest infection. The four-floor Georgian terraced house has four steep steps up to the front door. Inside, through the gloom at reception, a screen informs me that "31 patients who have been late today have cost the NHS £3,500". A pleasant man sends me into the waiting room in the basement, down another narrow staircase; the room, which is more like a cubicle has no windows.

According to research conducted by doctors' magazine Pulse, 59 per cent of GP's surgeries in London are in substandard premises. And while it's true that my GP's building is clearly inadequate, I received such good-natured attention that I can't say I minded the paintwork. Still, it must be a bit miserable for the staff, so of course the surgeries should be upgraded. Sign me up for more tax. If only it were that simple...

Don't fall for the ad

I can't pass through Liverpool Street Station without thinking of T-Mobile, ever since they made that embarrassing "flashmob" ad in which young Londoners break out some dance moves, then film each other on their mobile phones. But be warned. Don't try filming at Liverpool St unless you too are a trendy young Londoner hired by a telecoms giant: you're likely to be picked up by police under terrorism legislation.

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