Herne Hill is at a cross-roads

Herne Hill is at a cross roads.

Today saw the first of the many traders moving out of their premises in Station Square, moved on elsewhere so that the landlord, Network Rail can develop the site. Some of those traders have been there for decades, part of the fabric of the neighbourhood, there through thick and thin.

Next local trader to go will be Just Williams, a wonderful toy shop in Half Moon Lane. Despite surviving the Thames Water flood they have not survived their landlord Dulwich Estate stepping in and hiking their rent by 70%. Small independent traders simply cannot survive this sort of rise in their overheads.

Dulwich Estate was set up by Edward Alleyn in 1605 with the aim of creating an endowment to help 12 poor scholars; 6 poor brothers and 6 poor sisters. Last year alone Dulwich Estate raised over £6.26 million from their local properties to go towards the upkeep of the schools, the main beneficiaries of the endowment. They are a registered charity with stated aims of providing a “tangible public benefit to the community at large” via its funding of the beneficiaries. Their board of trustees is predominately made up of representatives of the beneficiaries which may lead to an element of self-serving interests for the charity.

Herne Hill has changed drastically over the last 10-15 years. From a no-where place that people just used to drive through it has gained a real sense of identity, a strong community and the vibrant and exciting neighbourhood to live in.

How has this change taken place?

It has been driven virtually entirely by the local community of residents and local indpendent traders. It was community activists who kept on lobbying and working hard to get the successful lottery bid for Brockwell Park, it was local users of the Lido who would not put up with the running down and predicable closure of their beloved Lido who got together and rescued the site, got inward investment in and breathed a new life into the pool and café. It was local residents who campaigned and planned how the centre of Herne Hill could be transformed by rolling back the traffic, creating Station Square, a centre and heart for Herne Hill. It was the local community who started to transform the station underpass, got the piano installed, started the Sunday Market. Local people started the Herne Hill Music Festival, the Herne Hill Free Film festival, the piano birthday party, Halloween parties, Christmas fairs and numerous street parties. Local residents got Milkwood Park rebuilt, local people cared enough about Ruskin Park to keep it going, to restore many of the facilities, to start a community garden. The small greening projects dotted around, traffic calming, transport improvements, better cycling facilities and so much more. Yes, the local councils did help at times but also frequently had to be coerced into action

There used to be a 27% vacancy rate for shops in Herne Hill, now every one of them is occupied. The knife fights and arson attacks related to late night bars and clubs have gone, crime is down, even the public artwork exhibitions in the underpass survive, only damaged by little fingers pointing to them.

With all the great changes has come the resulting rise in property prices. It has become somewhere that people want to live and work, somewhere to call home.

Network Rail and Dulwich Estate are two major landlords in the area, one “publicly” owned, the other a charity raising money for Dulwich College, Alleyn’s and James Allen Girls school.

Network  Rail have, by their own admission not been a great landlord. Their properties include the arches next to the station, the arches behind Norwood Road (Bath Factory Estate) and the parade of shops from the Herne Hill Builders Centre to Bleu on the corner. All properties that have been left to run-down due to a lack of investment and poor or non-existent management. The parade of shops in Station Square have suffered from leaking roofs, run down facilities and little or no maintenance. Over the years Network Rail have left the ex-fish shop empty, using the space occasionally to gain access to the roof to look at doing repairs though no effective work was ever achieved. Not just a permanent eye-sore but a key location that could have provided another family with a livelihood, another local trader and resource for the area.

With the change to the area contributed in no small part by the residents and traders who live and work here the landlords have now moved in to take advantage. Despite not contributing to the improvements in the area they have seen their “assets” rise in value, now they sense an opportunity to cash in. 

Network Rail will be increasing their rents to the refurbished properties to the new “market rent”, a market rate that they did nothing to help create. Dulwich Estates have stepped in and the first rent review for traders in Half Moon Lane was a staggering 70% hike. Just William, a popular and much loved children’s toy shop that has been part of our community for over 10 years has thrown in the towel. The proprietor Vicky has been a cornerstone amongst the local traders there, suffering the devastating floods of 2013, getting the shop back open again, finding money from somewhere to pay the staff whilst the insurance companies delayed, obfuscated and tried to wriggle out of paying their dues. Surviving the flood was one thing, trying to get trade back afterwards was never easy and the footfall has yet to return to what it used to be pre-flood. Then their landlord stepped in with a swingeing hike in rent to what they perceive is the new “market value”, it was far from “charitable”. What happened to the “tangible benefit to the community at large”?

As the rents for the other traders come up for renewal over the next year expect an exodus of the independent traders along Half Moon Lane. Priced out by their own hard work, not that of their landlord. 

The Half Moon Pub is a case in point. Devastated by the flood it has remained closed for over 2 and a half years. This wasn’t due to a lack of financial viability, the landlord at the time of the flood was happy to invest, do the refurbishment and get the place open again as a centrepiece of the area. Dulwich Estate dithered and did nothing, the investment offer went away, a six figure sum in rental per year went with it, one years rental loss being equivalent to over 10 years of the rent increase that Just William were told to pay. Without the Half Moon and the unique live music venue that went with it the local area has declined, footfall was down, local eateries suffered.

The local community have stepped in and registered the Half Moon as an Asset of Community Value, trying to establish just how important a live music venue is to the area and the local economy. However Dulwich Estates wish the upstairs of the pub to be a hotel and have brought in pub operator Fullers to deliver on this. There is little or no mention of any “live music aspect” to their plans, just think how the hotel would come across on Trip Advisor reviews – the two just don’t mix. To lose one of South London’s key live music and performance venues would be tragic, it leaves the local community that much poorer, not something that a successful and forward thinking actor such as Edward Alleyn would have ever envisaged happening as a result of his endowment.

It is a risky tactic by the landlords. It assumes that the local community will be happy with the chains that will move in, they are the only ones who can afford such inflated rents. The unique nature of Herne Hill will disappear, the community feel will dissipate, and after all, who can get passionate about a high street full of “the usual suspects”, a monochrome culture that appeals to no-one. A mixed local economy is a sustainable one, it can survive the downturns and keep on paying the rents. The average chain shop will turn tail and flee at the earliest sign of a downturn, why should they sit it out and struggle through, they are fast in and fast out. The landlords who were so keen on getting high rents when the sun was shining will be left empty handed when the chains jump ship. Look at any high street that has character and long term viability, it is made up of the independent traders those whose very livelihood depend on what they do, once their staff and suppliers have been paid, once the landlord has got their rent then and only then, if there is any money left over do they get a wage that pays for their rent, their family and to pay tax, to help the whole economy. They are the first ones to sacrifice their income to keep the others that depend on them going.

Cashing in on other peoples hard work may well help hit someone’s quarterly target, all well and good for them. However, they are likely to be long gone before the real impact of this short-term strategy kicks in. It is the community that built the area that will still be here having to suffer the consequences of a paucity of vision and long-term strategy that is being played out so often now across London. 

Maybe we will just roll over, maybe there is “nothing we can do”.  Those were familiar comments made many years ago when ideas to change the local area were put forwards. The community didn’t give up back then. The neighbourhood is ours, our roots are here, our children are growing up here, what is the legacy we want to pass on to the next generation?

What can we do?

We can create our own plan for the area – get involved in writing our Neighbourhood Plan on January 27th

Support the petition that local residents have created to get Dulwich Estates to behave responsibly as a charity.

Support the petition to keep the Half Moon Pub as a live music venue.

Where are our politicians in all of this? They work for us after all, get them involved.

Helen Hayes MP: helen.hayes.mp@parliament.uk (@helenhayes_ )

GLA member: Valerie Shawcross: val@valshawcross.com (@ValShawcross)

Local councillors – Lambeth

Herne Hill Ward:

Jim Dickson: jdickson@lambeth.gov.uk (@JimDicksLambeth)
Michelle Agdomar: magdomar@lambeth.gov.uk
Jack Holborn: jholborn@lambeth.gov (@jack_holborn

Thurlow Park Ward:

Anna Birley: abirley@lambeth.gov.uk (@annamayb)
Fred Cowell: fcowell@lambeth.gov.uk (@fredacowell)
Max Deckers-Dowber: mdeckersdowber@lambeth.gov.uk (@ThurlowLabour)

Local councillors: Southwark:

Village Ward:

Anne Kirby: anne.kirby@southwark.gov.uk (@ann3ibt)
Jane Lyons: jane.lyons@southwark.gov.uk (@CllrJaneLyons)
Michael Mitchell:  michael.mitchell@southwark.gov.uk (@CllrMM)

Write to them, email them, tweet to them, stop them in the street and talk to them.

Above all, care because when it’s gone it’s gone. 

Giles Gibson

Chair: Herne Hill Forum 


Why do we pay a management fee to Dulwich Estate? To support these elite schools and the Estate's splendid management of the community?

It's important to clarify about the Dulwich Estates Management Charge, or at least start by taking the Estates' own statement about this at face value, by default. The Estates has seemingly been aware of the criticism by residents that the Management Charge goes into the Charity coffers which in turn help with the costs of the various schools connected with the Estates.  Or at least, for whatever underlying reason, the website includes a statement which in effect denies this:

"The operation of The Dulwich Estate's Scheme of Management, a non-charitable activity, must not result in a drain on the Charity's resources and thus the costs are kept separate: the net effect is cost-neutral to the Charity, i.e., the Estate makes neither a profit nor loss in operating the Scheme."

I suppose this statement is open to testing by any Dulwich Estates residents who have the right to see the relevant accounts, to verify whether there really is no cash flow from the Management Charge to the schools.  But before people get too carried away with righteous indignation about the Management Charge, it's worth checking the website for this and all the other details there.


Disclaimer: I am not in any way connected with the Dulwich Estates, its Management Charge or any other of its operations or processes, and have no underlying reason to represent them.


I think it is correct that the management scheme is cost neutral. My main gripe with that aspect of the DE's activity is that the scheme seems to be designed to maintain Dulwich Village & does very little for Herne Hill.

Their eagerness to exploit rising property prices (leading to the eviction of my neighbours last year) and to increase commercial rents is a greater concern. Still, if we were able to organise a 'charge strike' in protest at the way they are treating local shop keepers might that give them pause for thought?

Having engaged with the Management Scheme and the people who administrate on it on the ground, and knowing various people around the Estates who have done so too, I can say that a lot of the work of the MS consists of a small committee receiving and assessing residents' proposals from any property owner around the Estates (not just the Village) who wishes to change or restore their properties. (Sorry to anyone reading this who knows all this.) Indeed owners are required by mutual agreement to make these submissions.  Current submissions are on open file and make interesting reading.  Decisions on these proposals are not simply meted out by the relevant committee, since the proposals are also submitted by the committee to closest neighbours who are invited to return comments to it.  These are seen (or so I was told) by the committee before it makes its decision.  On paper at least, the whole process is intended to 'maintain the character of the Estates' [my paraphrase] and to incorporate input from residents.  Again, I am neither defending nor attacking this process, simply putting out the facts as I have experienced them.  On the other hand, I admit I have reservations about this process, which I can explain another time.  Here I am simply trying to say that this part of the work of the MS operates evenly right across the Estates including those parts of Herne Hill which fall within the Estates boundary, not just to the advantage or detriment of one area more than another.  This is not to say decisions are always consistent and fair, but that's a separate story. 

The other point here is that as I understand it, matters concerning leases and rents are a completely different process from people applying to build extensions on to their houses, re-pave their drives, etc.  Leases and rents are surely decided by the DE directly, not the MS.  And yes, I do agree that the DE's decisions and policies on that seem unreasonable and self-serving.  This begs the question, though, about who exactly is making these decisions (naming-and-shaming, anyone?) and how far residents, small businesses and local bodies like the Herne Hill Society and Dulwich Society are involved in this process (I have no idea).

The DE does act evenly across the estate area as overseer of a quasi-conservation area. But my understanding is that they spend money on maintaining common areas (for example the small greens in Dulwich Village) as well as just administering quality control. If, for example, they contributed to the cost of the murals in Herne Hill or something of that nature I would feel better disposed towards the estate charge, but as far as I know they spend nothing on the communal upkeep of Herne Hill. I'd be very happy for someone to tell me differently.

With all due respect, John90, there still seem to be some misunderstandings about The Dulwich Estate ('DE' in your comment) as a whole and the workings of the Dulwich Estate's Management Scheme and Management Charge in particular.  I don't know what is the 'Estate Charge' to which you refer, unless you mean said Management Charge. The last (annual) notice I received for this (Sep 2015) was headed "To Owners of Properties subject to the Scheme of Management" and sub-headed "The Scheme of Management Charge". My point was that this Scheme applies to the entire Estate as is clear from one of the relevant paragraphs on its website:  "The Scheme requires freeholders living on the Estate to obtain prior written consent before undertaking any works to trees or alterations to the external appearance of a property or change of use".  In other words the Scheme is a kind of instrument for planning consent, like a smaller scale version of what our Boroughs impose on us, but with rules of its own too, course.  It's not a fund-raising levy as such. 

As far as I understand, the Scheme (MS) also works as an operational entity in its own right (see below), which mainly grants or withholds consent, and requires "freeholders to maintain the external appearance of their property (including boundaries and gardens) in good repair and in a clean and tidy condition."  With regard to how its funds are used, the Management Charge is not intended for projects like the Herne Hill murals, as far as I understand.

Interestingly however, the website also says, "The Scheme also defines Amenity Areas (the largest of these being Dulwich Woods) which are maintained by the Managers and the cost of which is included in the Scheme of Charge."  The Amenity Areas would seem to include the greens to which you referred. I don't what the historical origin of these Amenity Areas is, or how the DE chose them in the first place, and at a guess, the DE may have inherited them as a very ancient designation as well as the obligation to maintain them.

In the light of yours and others' comments about the 'Estate Charge' (i.e. Management Scheme Charge) not contributing anything to the communal upkeep of Herne Hill', my understanding (see below) is that this could not constitutionally come out of the funds raised by this Scheme.  I also guess that only properties and areas within the DE boundary would be eligible for DE funding anyway, and much of 'central' Herne Hill may well lie outside its boundaries (I have no idea where these run in the Herne Hill area, and it would be good if someone could say where we can see the DE boundaries to help us with our deliberations).

I really don't want seem like an apologist for the DE and the MS but on factual grounds, but I think it's a bit hard to accuse the MS of being more concerned with the Village, if it so happens that for historical reasons this is where the Amenity Spaces happen to be. It would be a bit like accusing the London Borough of Lambeth of not contributing to maintenance of areas of Southwark. But it would be good if someone could tell us the origin and history of the DE Amenity Areas, and whether one could campaign to have other areas added to them.

Finally, and further to what else the MS uses its funds for, the following statement at the end of the most recent letter addressed to those of us subject to the MS, is particularly interesting:  "Finally, it has come to my attention that some [property] owners are under the misconception that the Scheme Charge forms part of the net income of The Dulwich Estate which the Charity then distributes to its Beneficiaries [like its Schools].  This is not so - the Scheme of Management Charge is solely to reimburse the cost of running the Scheme of Management; there is no profit or gain to The Dulwich Estate from this Charge." (signed by the CEO of the DE.)

Brian, that clarification is useful and you are probably right that the DE can't spend money outside of prescribed geographic areas, although that doesn't make me feel any better as a Herne Hill resident about paying for the upkeep of Dulwich Village. I would imagine it is possible for the trustees of the Estate to change their charitable objectives with the consent (presumably) of the Charities Commission.

Thank you John90.  I hope others found the information useful too.  And sorry if I sounded a bit like a barrack-room lawyer.  And if any kind of campaign is to start about what the Estate might to contribute to the Herne Hill part of its territory, please could someone tell us where we can see a map of the Estate boundary, ideally on something like Google Maps.  (I suppose I should ask the Estate offices, or the Dulwich Society.)  But I still can't see why the Estate should be expected or asked to contribute to something which does not fall within its geographical limits, except perhaps as some kind of 'good neighbourly' gesture. I also wonder if there is any kind of representation of property holders within the Estate boundaries on any of the bodies whose actions affect them. Again, perhaps the Dulwich Society can tell us.