Kate Hoey MP and councillors from Lambeth and Southwark joined more than 60 local residents in The Cut on Saturday lunchtime to protest against the closure of small independent shops.
The Cut has lost three shops in three months: Panbros – a newsagent and dry cleaners – closed its doors at the end of December and the launderette closed at the end of January. Southbank Glass & China will close at the end of this month.
Existing shops in The Cut could face further competition from new beauty, floristry and coffee outlets at Southwark College's Waterloo centre which have been set up as part of the Shard Southwark Vocational Programme to provide students with a real working environment while they study.
Saturday's protest against the tendency for chain restaurants and coffee shops to usurp small independent traders was organised by the Octavia Hill Residents' Association as rumours circulate that Costa Coffee is planning to open in the former Panbros premises.
"It's getting ridiculous now that every shop that becomes vacant – because people have had to leave because the rent has gone up – is turning into a brand name Costa-something-or other," said Kate Hoey MP.
"We are wanting to say here today that we will oppose any change of use. If people who rent these shops want to turn them away from be useful shops for local people we will oppose that change of use."
She also called on Lambeth Council to use its planning policies to resist change of use applications.
"The council, if it really supports small businesses, has to recognise that you need a mix of small businesses. What we're seeing in The Cut is just ridiculous."
The Vauxhall MP welcomed the large turnout at the demonstration: "It shows that there is a great community in north Lambeth and north Southwark around Waterloo," she said.
"It shows that people more and more are not just sitting back and saying 'well, that's the way things are going, we have to let this happen;' they are actually prepared to come out and protest.
"We can't win everything but I think this is the beginning of a real fightback against the exploitation of people by the rents going up and up and up. We've put up with one or two shops moving, but I think that [Southbank Glass & China] closing was the last straw."
Southwark councillors share the concern of Lambeth politicians about the future of The Cut which is split by the borough boundary.
"We are really clear that one of the things that gives the area its special character are these locally owned businesses some of which have been here for generations," said Cllr Geoffrey Thornton (Liberal Democrat, Cathedrals ward).
"My fear is that if you end up with a load of national chains moving in, you end with an identikit high street: you are not only going to destroy those local businesses but the community links with them."
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