Council spurns relocation bids by Brixton’s threatened SW9 bar

Alan Culverhouse outside the SW9
Alan Culverhouse outside the SW9

Lambeth council has twice turned down attempts by SW9 bar proprietor Alan Culverhouse to re-establish his popular community café/bar near its current home on Nursery Road behind Marks & Spencer.

Alan, who has run the bar for 20 years, will get just £18,000 compensation when the anonymous offshore company that owns the SW9 premises terminates his lease as part of a hotel development.

He says he is “sick” at the way he has been treated.

When plans for the 96-bedroom hotel were first announced, the SW9 was not affected.

Then new plans emerged extending the development to the SW9’s premises and replacing it with an in-house café.

In May this year, yet another change to the plans was made to include an “independent” bar in roughly the space now used by the SW9.

The council is recommending approval of the plans.

Alan, who has worked 11-hour days six days a week to see the SW9 through all the difficulties of a Brixton bar from 20 years ago until today, applied to to relocate to premises owned by Lambeth council on Landor Road, which runs between Clapham North and Stockwell Green.

After he had been turned down once, he was asked by the council to apply again for the same premises – only to be turned down for a second time.

Despite having run a successful community bar/café in the centre of Brixton for 20 years, he was asked what “he was bringing” to the area by a five-person panel including a representative of estate agents Lambert Smith Hampton.

Alan says that, compared to his £18,000 compensation, the cost of starting a bar like the SW9 from scratch are enormous. You would need “key money” of between £30,000 and £60,000 and six months rent upfront, he says.

For the first time in 20 years, he is clear of debt, having paid off everything borrowed to equip the SW9 – but that equipment is now almost worthless as the planned redevelopment would see the bar completely remodelled.

Computer-generated impression of the hotel from Nursery Road
Computer-generated impression of the hotel from Nursery Road

Neither are local residents happy. Several have told Alan that they were unaware of the impact of the plans for a six-storey hotel that will dominate the area.

The latest version of the planning application says that there was a 14-day consultation on the new plans for a bar in the development – which was news both to Alan and the Brixtonblog.

A Lambeth council spokesman said that a letter detailing the changes to the plans for a bar had been sent to 90 local addresses, the Brixton Society; the Clapham Society; the Brixton Business Improvement District; and the Brixton Business Forum.

Letters were also sent to people who had earlier commented on the plans after a “first round of consultation” in November last year.

This “consultation”, organised by the developers and not Lambeth council, consisted of an exhibition in a sports hall on a Saturday that ran for two and a half hours and was visited by 15 people. At the time, there were no changes proposed for the SW9 bar.

Just one of the aspects of the plan that local residents are concerned about is its effect on local traffic.

The hotel entrance would lie between Brixton Road – where, as local taxi drivers know their cost, stopping means a certain fine – and the narrow Nursery Road, which is already used by Marks & Spencer, Superdrug and Costa Coffee for deliveries.

The application quotes policies set out in Lambeth council’s “local plan”, including ED12 “Hotel and other visitor accommodation”. This states clearly that: “All visitor accommodation must … provide appropriate off-street pick-up and set-down points for taxis and coaches”.

But in the planning application, policy ED12’s “must” is changed to “seeks to ensure”. The application says that, because the site “is not serviced by a dedicated access point”, any coaches dropping off or picking up are to be “directed to existing bus stops” on Brixton Road.

The application also notes that the hotel would have “no proposed taxi drop-off area” and that guests should be dropped off in Nursery Road and hail taxis on Brixton Road.

Visitors to the hotel would have the choice of a windowless room in a basement, one a few yards from a railway track, or one overlooking of the roof of Marks & Spencer complete with its massive air-conditioning units and anti-pigeon netting.

The Lambeth council planning committee due to rule on the application is due to meet at 7pm on Tuesday 1 August at the Karibu Centre, 7 Gresham Road, SW9 7PH.


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  1. Brutal, sad, unjust, but the reality of modern business. The power of money is how the world operates of course, it is such a shame the way it has the effect of crushing the spirit of innovation and small business enterprise though; that same spirit that Alan and others like him have had the chance to explore to follow their ideas and dreams in places like Brixton.. As the muscle of money backed commerce moves in to capitalize on the effort that the Alans of Brixton have made, with its persuasive lawyers and influence among the council leaders, it will be sad to see the smaller startups strangled into submission.
    I am white, middle aged and middle class, not a radical and definitely a realist, but can very much sympathize with the Alans and their predicament. I rue the unjust way they become the victims of their own success and are forced to relinquish any hard earned rewards from the benefits they created for the community which they serve. We can all help I am sure by buying a drink from SW9 before it is closed, note to self, made,

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