He has sold newspapers to residents and visitors to Sloane Square for nearly three decades, offering directions and a friendly word from his popular tube forecourt kiosk.

But now Mark O'Brien has been told by jobsworths at Kensington and Chelsea council that his pitch is illegal, despite 29 years trading without complaint.

Mr O'Brien, who pays £375 a month to Transport for London for the pitch, has been told to redesign his kiosk or face closure by December 7, leaving him with little time to find other ways to sell papers in the station forecourt.

The council has cornered him with a little used by-law which was introduced in 1990, meaning Mr O'Brien must have a license to sell papers to customers who are standing on the pavement in front of his kiosk.

"They have had nearly 20 years to ask me for a license, why are they doing it now?", said Mr O'Brien. "They say I can stay in my kiosk, but it is illegal for me to serve someone who is on the public highway. It's ridiculous. I'm providing a service here that I think many people appreciate and have never had any issues about customers buying from my pitch. I can't understand it."

The council has so far rebuffed Mr O'Brien's suggestions of a compromise, which include paying extra for a joint license between TFL and the council.

Around twenty placard-waving Chelsea residents joined Mr O'Brien this week (November 23) to protest against the council's interference, claiming he is being bullied by officious Town Hall employees.

"He's been a fixture here for decades and there is absolutely no reason why the council is suddenly persecuting Mark," said Justin Downes of the Residents First campaign. It's another example of a local Town Hall that has too much money and not enough to do."

Some of the protesters linked the threats to Mr O'Brien's business to the introduction last year of a larger 'beehive' kiosk on the other side off Holbein Place, which is licensed by the council.

Critics say the council, spurred on the by planning supremo cllr Daniel Moylan, is targeting the Kings Road and Sloane Square area for unnecessary changes to street furniture and pavements.

A council spokesman said: “Following a review of the legal status of traders on Sloane Square, the Council concluded that the street trading on the forecourt of Sloane Square underground station was unlicensed and therefore unlawful in its current form. The Council has written to the trader about this, and he has responded. We are listening to what he and others have to say about the matter.”