Savile Row gets tailor-made rules to safeguard its unique character
Suits us: new Special Policy Areas will prevent areas such as Savile Row becoming “indistinguishable” from other high streets
SOPHIA SLEIGH AND JONATHAN PRYNN
The world famous bespoke tailoring district of Savile Row and the Harley Street medical quarter are among five historic London addresses given special protection today.
New planning rules introduced by Westminster council will make it far harder for developers and landlords to dilute their distinctive character by allowing “clone” chain stores to force out smaller independent businesses.
The strategy has been under discussion for almost a decade and gained momentum after the 2012 arrival of US chain Abercrombie & Fitch Kids in Savile Row — to the dismay of tailors.
As well as Savile Row and Harley Street the other three so-called “Special Policy Areas” are Mayfair, renowned for its art galleries and antique traders, the St James’s “clubland” cluster of specialist luxury shops — including the shirtmakers of Jermyn Street — and the grand headquarters and diplomatic buildings of Portland Place.
Each has been given its own “tailor-made” set of tight planning restrictions to help preserve its character. On Savile Row new stores will only be allowed to open if they do not replace “bespoke tailoring uses”; “sell bespoke, unique, limited-edition or one-of-a-kind products”; and are “complementary to the character and function” of the zone.
On Harley Street it will be impossible to replace clinics or other medical facilities unless “the premises have been vacant and actively marketed for medical use for at least 12 months at a reasonable market value and attempts to find an occupier have been unsuccessful”.
The regulations were welcomed by existing business owners. Mark Henderson, chairman of tailors Gieves & Hawkes and former chairman of the Savile Row Bespoke Association, said: “I’m absolutely delighted. It’s recognition that Savile Row is totally unique.
“Not only does Savile Row provide beautiful suiting but it is an inspiration for British fashion and we’re always concerned that it shouldn’t become just another retail street. Training to become a bespoke tailor takes five to 10 years and we have a group of uniquely talented people whose craftsmanship will now be protected.”
Marco Forgione, chief executive of the British Antique Dealers’ Association, said the new measures were a “huge relief” for independent traders struggling to cling on in Mayfair and St James’s. He said: “Galleries exhibiting the finest art and objects are a huge draw for international visitors. They enliven their communities and help support a diverse and exciting shopping environment.
“Our antiques and art trade has come under increased pressure in recent years as developers look to transform galleries into housing or retail space.
“We welcome this policy which will protect our businesses and ensure the capital remains a vibrant hub of art and culture.”
Westminster’s deputy leader Robert Davis said: “The 17.5 million people who visit London each year come to experience our capital’s distinctive character and like a good suit, planning policy should be made to measure.
“It’s unthinkable that world renowned destinations such as Savile Row could become indistinguishable from any other high street. Special Policy Areas will ensure we retain and nurture the world-leading expertise that made these areas famous.”
Unique status of Savile Row safeguarded by council
Some of Westminster's most iconic areas have been protected thanks to a new council policy.
Westminster’s ‘Special Policy Areas’ come into effect today, ensuring that 5 historically and culturally significant parts of London including Savile Row, Mayfair, Harley Street, St James’ and Portland Place remain home to the world leading industries that put them on the map.
Savile Row, the global home of bespoke tailoring, is set to benefit as the new measures will allow Westminster City Council to reject planning proposals which threaten the character of some of the city’s most iconic attractions.
The move comes as the council seeks to protect specialist traders and prevent an invasion of global brands which threaten to change the make-up of some of the capital’s most recognisable streets.
A number of antiques dealers have disappeared from Mayfair and St James’ in recent years with commercial pressure forcing traders to close their doors. The policy will help ensure that these areas retain their historic identity.
Cllr Robert Davis MBE DL, Westminster City Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for the Built Environment, said: “Like a good suit, planning policy should be made to measure.
“The 17.5 million people who visit London each year come to experience our capital’s distinctive character. It’s unthinkable that world renowned destinations such as Savile Row, which is synonymous with quality tailoring, could become indistinguishable from any other high street around the world.
“Our historic tailors and art traders are coming under intense pressure from other disparate uses eager to rent in the area. We are using our powers to protect some of the capital’s most valuable assets and create environments where specialist traders can thrive.
“Special Policy Areas will ensure we retain and nurture the world leading expertise that made these areas famous in the first place.”
Mark Henderson, Chairman of Gieves and Hawkes said: “I’m pleased that Westminster City Council have taken action to protect specialist traders on Savile Row.
“As one of the area’s oldest tailors, we’re proud of our road’s unique status, which attracts the best talent and brings us clients from across the world.
“It’s a reputation that has been built through 100s of years of history and combined experience which makes our trade truly irreplaceable.
“It would be a disaster if all that heritage were lost and the tailors lining our road today were replaced by retailers found on every high-street in the country. Special Policy Area status will help ensure we remain home to the world’s finest bespoke tailors.”