Tehreem Riaz, 53, has lived on London’s Drummond Street almost her entire life.
Known for its vibrant atmosphere and Indian cuisine, the area is home to some of the capitals’ oldest South Asian restaurants and is the birthplace of household brand Patak’s Pickles and the national Indian sweet shop, Ambala Sweets.
Riaz and her parents, who hailed from Lahore, Pakistan, have run a small restaurant named after their home city’s winding Ravi river for over 40 years, serving authentic Punjabi food including biryani, chicken tikka and fresh naan.
But that business, like so many others on Drummond Street, is under threat.
The long-delayed HS2 project’s Euston terminus sits at the eastern end of the street and its construction has brought the area to a standstill.
Local businesses have struggled to cope with a toxic mix of invasive construction work, noise pollution and the demolition of key buildings, including two major hotels – the Ibis and the Thistle – which had been critical for bringing in extra customers to Drummond Streets’ iconic restaurants.
That, coupled with Covid-19 and changing commuter habits, has decimated trade and the region’s vibrancy in recent years.
It was “always buzzing” Riaz reflected, but has now become “extremely deserted”.
She had hoped for a brighter future for her family’s long-running restaurant, but told City A.M. its trading
was down at least 40 per cent and that there had been times when “we are making absolutely no money whatsoever”.
“Our dream was that we would open up our business to a bigger audience, and people would be coming… and we’d get more footfall. And then first of all we had HS2 works starting, and then lockdown happened. And then it was like, you know, we fell off a cliff from there.”
Riaz’s story is echoed throughout Drummond Street. Chutneys, a local Indian restaurant, told The Guardian in May that trade was down 60 per cent since the pandemic.
Poppy, a waitress who works at the restaurant, told City A.M. the business had seen a “massive drop” in customers, in part due to “construction work” blockages and “so many road closures”. She added that she was concerned about her financial future.
And now the community faces the grim reality that it may be all for nothing, with HS2’s Euston section delayed indefinitely as the government struggles to control its ballooning cost.
That was another blow for restaurants, which had relied on construction workers for income as visitors to the neighbourhood plummeted.
For Simon Pitkeathley, chief executive of Euston Town’s Business Improvement District (BID), the uncertainty has been the biggest factor holding Drummond Street back.
“Once you know what’s going to happen or you’ve got a reasonable degree of certainty as to what’s going to happen, then you can make plans around it,” he told City A.M.
“As I understand it… everything’s up for grabs. So what might have been clear about the station design may be rethought, it’s not just about uncertainty of when the work may start again, it’s about what those works might be building.”
Pitkeathley estimates that around a third of Drummond’s restaurants have changed hands to different owners since the pandemic.
“It’s rarely one thing that affects all restaurants in the same way… but there is this overarching drop in trade that has forced those sometimes inevitable changes,” he said.
An impact study of the street in 2019 found that 87 per cent of local businesses had already reported a drop in footfall since the project began.
Having worked across Camden and Euston Town, Pitkeathley is a veteran of the area and rued the loss of the areas’ unparalleled vibrancy, as well as “the quality and authenticity” of its, surprisingly cheap, food.
“We’ve just risked losing something that is wonderful and authentic, just by negligence really… There is a genuine authenticity in Drummond Street and we just risk losing that because no one’s paying attention.”
Nearby Brick Lane, meanwhile, is thriving, being a way away from the chaos of HS2, while still bringing in commuters due to its proximity to the City.
There is hope for the area however, with projects including The Drummond Street Neighbourhood – a collaboration between Euston Town BID and the street’s traders – seeking to revitalise its atmosphere through a series of community-led events this summer.
HS2’s woes show no sign of abating though, with a damming report from the Public Accounts Committee in July concluding that the government had no idea how to manage the “floundering” Euston project’s soaring costs.
A HS2 spokesperson argued that the station would bring “huge improvements for passengers and the local community, forming part of the last big regeneration in central London, spanning 60 acres”.
“In line with direction from the government, it was recently announced that construction of the new station would be delayed to ensure that it is delivered as efficiently and cost effectively as possible.”
HS2 also said it had supported the Drummond Street Neighbourhood Revival project through a £650,000 award from its business and local economy fund.