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Harrods café? Not in our back yard, say wealthy neighbours
Robert Mendick, Chief Reporter
Millionaire residents of Knightsbridge are threatening legal action against Harrods, claiming its new outdoor café has made their neighbourhood resemble 'downtown Kuwait'.
Protesters including bankers, aristocrats and international businessmen gathered outside the department store to demonstrate their anger over the opening of Ladurée cafe at its rear three weeks ago.
They claim it has led to traffic gridlock and noise as well as helping to attract prostitutes, drug dealers and beggars to the area.
The pavement outside the café has been widened by several feet to accommodate customers paying £15 for a club sandwich - but in the process it has narrowed the road, causing mayhem, say the objectors.
Farih Tabbah, a Jordanian businessmen who is orchestrating the protest, said he would meet lawyers this week in a bid to overturn planning permission for the café, which was granted by Kensington and Chelsea council. He plans to seek a judicial review in the hope of having Ladurée shut down.
Mr Tabbah, 56, who lives in a £5 million house in Walton Place, opposite the café, said: 'It's worse than Piccadilly Circus - it's more like downtown Kuwait. They have taken away part of the road and all they have done is increase the traffic. The result is the biggest gridlock in central London. The traffic is at a standstill from 5pm. I cannot even sit in my own garden because of the noise.'
In two hours outside the café the Evening Standard witnessed near-permanent gridlock, with cars parked illegally on street corners, and a constant queue for tables at Ladurée. Many of the high-performance cars going past had numberplates from Kuwait, Qatar and United Arab Emirates.
Faisal Naif, 23, from Qatar, a passenger in a Lamborghini which went by at least four times, said: 'What can I say? I cannot make the engine quieter.'
Martin Diggle, 46, a fund manager who lives opposite Mr Tabbah, said: 'It is blighting the area. My children get woken up at night by the noise. I have even seen fistfights caused by road rage. It is an absolute farce.'
Actress Helen Forbes-Watt, 52, whose husband was a chief economist at the UN, said: 'The noise is driving us mad. It's like living in the middle of Brands Hatch. It starts at 5pm and goes on until 11pm. I rang Harrods and they told me they have 28 restaurants inside the building.'
A petition circulated by Mr Tabbah claims the cafés in the area are attracting 'street buskers... beggars and drunkards... prostitutes and drug dealers' and even 'salesmen selling pornographic materials and other illegal merchandise'.
The café, at the corner of Hans Road and Basil Street, was given permission to run for five years to have 25 tables and 100 chairs, and to have the pavement widened. It is a branch of a famous Paris chain. The manager, who refused to give his name, said: 'You should talk to Harrods. We are just operating the concession for them. But we are really sorry for the noise it is causing in the neighbourhood.'
Harrods' owner Mohamed Fayed spoke with Mr Tabbah yesterday to say the store was doing all it could to minimise noise and other disruption. A Harrods spokeswoman said: 'Mr Fayed always likes to reassure residents personally where appropriate and will contact them personally. Our managing director has also spoken to Mr Tabbah and sought to reassure him we take his concerns seriously. Obviously this is a new venture and we are always open to discussion about how to manage it effectively. But we have planning permission to extend the pavement and this is a very busy time for Harrods. Many of our Middle Eastern customers choose to come at this time of year.'
She denied the café had encouraged prostitution or drug dealing.