Lamb’s Conduit Street, London
Category: The Great Street Award 2014
Date of Visit: 2013
The Rugby Estate has established an unusual approach to lettings. The Estate aims for maximum revenue and limited voids, rather than maximum capital return. To achieve this they assess potential tenants for their likeliness to thrive and stay in the premises for the long term and also their ability to add to the ‘mix’ of shops. That supports a more committed business community and local business pride and belonging. It is an interesting model of sustainable high street regeneration.
There has been a clear policy to encourage creative arts tenants offering distinctive quality goods. A clear ‘creative’ theme connects the shops in the street and immediate adjoining streets. This creates a specialist and distinctive shopping destination.
The Cockpit Arts Centre located just minutes away, offers designer-maker businesses on the doorstep retail opportunities. This reinforces the creative theme and a notable achievement given Lamb’s Conduit Street is situated in the centre of London.
There is a residential community in the street and the immediate area. The model fits comfortably into the local community and the street has retained some shops providing local services in the mix.
The street has a continental feel that is pedestrian-friendly. Pavement-widening along stretches of the street encourages cafes to provide outside dining. Several strategically placed trees have a positive effect on the look and feel of the street too and a traffic management scheme removes vehicles from the middle section encouraging cyclists and pedestrians.
This is a carefully restored example of an early Georgian terraced street in a conservation area. In restoring the shop fronts the opportunity to create access for disabled people has been overlooked, which is unfortunate
The really interesting thing about Lamb’s Conduit Street and its immediate neighbourhood is the rich variety of specialist independent owner-run shops. This has come about, not by accident, but by the management approach of the principal landlord.
This is an interesting example of an early Georgian terraced street with a rich history; it is a conservation area. The original shops have adapted well to their current uses and in several examples they have been fully restored. However the southern end has suffered from redevelopment.
The street itself has a rather dated but robustly designed traffic management scheme including a pedestrianised middle section.
The surface is paved with red concrete setts; the carriageway is lined with bollards and yellow lines, and it has a clutter of signage. These are all things that would be avoided in a more modern ‘shared-space’ scheme, which would no doubt be the current approach. Notwithstanding, there are several excellent features, including pavement-widening coinciding with cafes (some may have opened in response to the scheme), and a pub. Several strategically placed trees have a positive effect on the look and feel of the street.
The central section of the street is closed to through traffic and is much used by cycling commuters. It is a measure of its quality that people wander on the carriageway and the number of parked bikes suggested that many of the users of the street commute this way.
Lamb’s Conduit Street is located in a high-density area of medium/high-rise housing and employment including Great Ormond Street Hospital, Theobald’s Road, and the business district to the south. There is a mix of higher end properties to buy and affordable housing in Coram Fields.
It is home to the original (UK version) ‘People’s Supermarket’, which serves and is owned by the local community. The daily shopping needs of the local community are also provided by a corner shop at the Theobald’s Road end. Otherwise this is not a classic ‘high street’ but rather a destination shopping street with an interesting range of independent owner-managed shops offering bespoke and carefully sourced goods, some of which are designed and/or made locally. A clear ‘creative’ theme connects the shops and the few around the corner on Rugby Street including Thornback & Peel and Darkroom.
The proximity of the Cockpit Arts centre adds to this and the ‘creative’ label is clearly part of the marketing of the street and the selection of the retailers by Rugby’s agents. In addition to the pubs and cafes are local services such as a doctor’s surgery and undertakers. To the northern end there is evidence of a strong retail business community within the street.
One of the principal landlords, the Rugby Estate, has interestingly established an unusual approach to lettings whereby they aim for maximum revenue and limited voids, rather than maximum capital return. This had led to the special mix that characterises the middle portion of Lamb’s Conduit Street. To achieve this they assess potential tenants for their likeliness to thrive and stay in the premises for the long term and also their ability to add to the ‘mix’ of shops. They offer favourable terms to growing businesses, some of which are effectively the ‘showcase’ for on-line sales and/or a place where shoppers who want to buy their brand can see the full range (two of the shops are selling some of their range to larger retailers e.g. Harvey Nichols and John Lewis).
The other main landlord, the Bedford Estate has taken a more usual approach to the management of their estate. They seek the highest rental level for shop units and have undertaken redevelopment of sites at the southern end of the street, which has created a more common modern style of higher, blander buildings. At this end the police have also redeveloped the site of a Victorian Police Station into a high-rise police headquarters and steps back from the street frontage. So the southern end has quite a different character.
The success of the middle section of the street is self-evident. Whereas the approach is not likely to be replicable in every town or city, it could provide an interesting model of sustainable high street regeneration. The essential requirements are for one landlord to own a significant number of properties; the potential to achieve low turnover of tenants, supported by satisfactory rental levels and the value of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts in streetscape terms by establishing a unique sense of place. To this end the fact that this is a conservation area has helped this to outcome to come about.
Lamb’s Conduit Street appears to be a sustainable model where all of those involved are committed to making it a success and it fits comfortably into the local community. Though it only serves the local residential community to a limited extent, it is a delight to visit.