Once the heart of London’s art world, Cork Street’s fate seems to have been sealed with Westminster Council’s recent approval of Native Land’s multimillion-pound redevelopment that threatens the closure of many galleries. In recent years Cork Street has been rivalled as an art destination, with galleries choosing cheaper sites in east London, but as they start to move back into the centre and International big guns like David Zwirner, Pace and Hauser & Wirth choose Mayfair over Mile End, it has started to regain its position on the art ladder.
However the last nail in the ‘Save Cork Street’ coffin has been hammered with this latest consent that joins the Pollen Estate development approved earlier this year. Seven galleries’ futures (including the longest standing Mayor Gallery, established in 1925) are under threat. With the demolition of 22 Cork Street planned for January 2014, the galleries’ relocation into the new development is uncertain, as there will only be enough commercial space for three galleries and the rent will no doubt price them out of the market. With Westminster Council’s obvious interest in filling the coffers and disregard for the cultural heritage and importance of these smaller galleries paves the way for luxury apartments and retail outlets. Then again it’s not the first time Westminster have made bad art choices, they said no to Sir Anthony Caro when he offered them one of his sculptures for a public site.
Alasdair Nicholls, chief executive of Native Land said’ There is no existing protection for gallery use on site and the units can be used for other forms of retail under the current A1 use class. Our development plans will ensure that five new, purpose designed units of a total size equating to current retail provision will be restricted to selling art and antiques in perpetuity, preserving and enhancing the special character and worldwide reputation of the Cork Street area.’