A bombshell decision

In a decision which might not be popular with all of the neighbours an inspector quashed an enforcement notice requiring the removal of work by a noted street artist at a bar and restaurant in London’s Portobello Road, finding no harm to the character and appearance of the conservation area (DCS Number 400-024-502).

The inspector noted that the majority of the buildings on the same side of the road had rendered frontages above ground floor level, and were painted in a variety of colours. He remarked that these contributed to the attractiveness and distinctiveness of the conservation area. He recorded that the mural had been designed by the street artist Alexandre Farto, who went by the street name of Vhils, and that his work had been displayed in many London locations as well as internationally.

The inspector observed that the mural had been created by rendering over the whole of the front wall, and then parts had been painted over, whilst other areas had had the render removed, exposing the brick beneath. Large areas of unpainted grey-brown render had been left exposed, in places complete with score lines and with glimpses of the underlying metal lath mesh and beading. He considered that when seen close to, the appearance was not attractive. Objectors had made comparisons with bomb damage and vandalism and he found that it was not hard to see some similarities. When seen from just a few metres away, however, he found that rather like a trompe l’oeil, the mural could be seen as a whole, and it took on a very different character. He found that the patterns and images could be resolved by eye more easily, and the whole frontage appeared more as an artwork. He appreciated that it might not be to everyone’s taste. He reasoned that the 1920s building in its brick form would have disrupted the prevalent design, and the mural did likewise but that it did so in a lively manner, which reflected the vibrancy and quirkiness of Portobello Road.

The inspector also took into account that the bright and varied colours of the painted stucco frontages were relatively recent changes to the conservation area, and would not have been part of the original Victorian character. Nevertheless, they had become a distinctive feature, and he felt that the addition of the mural complemented this visually exciting street scene.

He acknowledged that some objectors said that they had found the pair of eyes featured in the mural as unsettling or even sinister. Whilst he did not share that feeling, he recognised that different people might react differently to such images. He had regard to the fallback position, however, that even if the enforcement notice were to be upheld, there would be nothing to prevent the same images being painted directly onto the brickwork.

He concluded that the mural at least preserved the character and appearance of the conservation area.

Section 4.24 of DCP Online concerns development in conservation areas.