Back in my university days I’d pop into my local launderette when I was down to my last pair of socks and a visit home to Mum’s washing machine skills wasn’t on the horizon for a few weeks.
I’d often while away a Sunday afternoon people-watching, reading the newspapers and enjoying the chance to switch off for an hour and completely relax.
Back in the day there was a launderette on every high street. It was a phenomenon reflected in the popular culture of the time, when a TV commercial set in one rescued the ailing sales of Levi 501s. Even Dot Cotton’s fictional launderette in the soap opera EastEnders has been the backdrop for countless dramas and revelations.
In 1980 there were around 50 launderettes in Kensington and Chelsea but today just 18 remain.
While times have changed and washing machines are no longer as expensive as they once were, launderettes are still used by many of our residents who cannot afford a washing machine or when their homes cannot accommodate one.
In April, the Government granted a new permitted development right for launderettes located outside conservation areas, removing the need for planning permission to change their use to residential.
Seven of our launderettes lie outside conservation areas and to ensure any changes to a launderette’s use still require planning permission, last month the Council applied for a ‘non-immediate Article 4 Direction’ which would remove these new permitted development rights.
This would come into effect after a year (in July 2017, subject to the results of a consultation) and it’s a sensible step we’ve taken because of the huge sums of money that residential property can command.
In fact, this isn’t the first time we’ve stepped in to ensure our community has a mix of amenities. In 2015, after lobbying the government for several years, Kensington and Chelsea was just one of a handful of local authorities allowed to retain its exemption from planning rules that allows suitable offices to be converted into residential property without planning permission.
We aren’t saying that launderettes should remain launderettes forever, but that any change of use must be properly scrutinised against all of our well-developed planning policies.
The consultation on the Article 4 Direction for launderettes will run until Friday 2 September 2016. Full details are on the planning pages of the Council’s website www.rbkc.gov.uk/planning