There was a palpable sense of déja vu at the Public Meeting with the Dulwich Estate. Was the last meeting really twenty –one years ago? But the village hall looked the same; the ‘panel’ seated on the stage were framed by the same red curtains. There was a packed audience, although perhaps not as packed as ‘full to over-flowing’ as I reported back in 1988. There was a total 130 questions sent in, considerably less than the 300 posed before but still an indication of the massive interest by residents in the way Dulwich is administered by the Trustees of the Dulwich Estate. The statistics suggest that while more residents are satisfied with the way in which the Trustees manage the Estate, there is still scope for further improvement.
Nevertheless, it was laudable that the representatives of the Estate were prepared to put their heads above the parapet and face considerable hostile fire from the audience. In many aspects they acquitted themselves well; people better understood the pressure on the Scheme of Management office and tended to agree with the consultant architect that planning applications for changes to houses are, by their nature, often an area for conflict, inevitably with winners and losers. The audience appeared satisfied that planning applications received thorough and fair scrutiny over several processes.
There were however some topics of serious concern and the mood of the audience was certainly critical of the way the Estate is dealing with these. These topics, together with a full report of the public meeting are discussed elsewhere in this Journal
The following month the Dulwich Estate held another meeting, this time with its commercial tenants from the Village, Croxted Road and Herne Hill, to discuss areas of common concern and to answer questions of policy, current development projects and objectives. There was a good take up by traders of the offer of such a meeting, which was attended by over 35 tenants and was described as a “full and frank discussion”.
The announcement that Oxfam would not, after all, be opening a charity shop in Dulwich Village was well received but was tempered by suspicion that the only reason the Estate had disengaged itself from this debacle was because of pressure created by the Public Meeting.
The Estate appears to be reconsidering its present policy of letting to the highest bidder towards that of a tenant mix strategy in the light of these two meetings. If this is so, then it will be welcomed. The Estate also agreed to review its processes and procedures regarding rent reviews and lease renewals which had particularly irked some of its smaller commercial tenants. Altogether, the response from the Dulwich Estate towards its commercial tenants was conciliatory
Retail trends are notoriously fickle and change is inevitable. The seemingly inexorable march of large supermarkets may now be losing its impetus as shoppers (especially middle-class shoppers) increasing turn to ordering their weekly shop online and reserving purchases of particular items such as meat or fish to visits to local specialist shops. Small retail parades such as exist on the Dulwich Estate must be available to such tenants at affordable rents as these specialists shops help boost the trade of other neighbouring businesses by increasing footfall. Until the next retail change arrives it would be wise for landlords in all British high streets, and especially those on the Dulwich Estate, to accept what is known as a tenant mix policy to allow in such specialist shops.