West Hampstead / Fortune Green Area Action Group

The rain and perhaps Andy Murray on Centre Court meant a slightly below-par turnout for last Monday’s West Hampstead and Fortune Green Area Action Group meeting. On the plus side, when Cllr Keith Moffitt asked whether anyone was attending because they’d read about it on Twitter a few hands actually went up.

The evening kicked off with a presentation from Camden council’s Principal placeshaping officer, Kate Goodman. Kate talked about the Community Investment Programme, which is Camden’s scheme to turn physical assets into cash – i.e., to sell council-owned land and buildings. The focus is obviously on those facilities that are underused or with very high runningh costs. Sixty sites have been identified across the borough, but only two are in the West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. 156 West End Lane is the large red brick building that includes the District Housing office and Travis Perkins. It has been identified as a possible site for disposal, with housing units the likely end use, although there will be a push to at least retain a ground floor retail presence. The second site is Liddell Road, the light industrial estate between Maygrove Rd and the trainline, which has been mooted as a possible site for the new primary school being discussed for this part of London. An initial report was submitted to the council in December 2010 and the second report will be in July this year.

During the Q&A the audience was reminded – although clearly some weren’t aware at all – that West Hampstead has been identified as an area for intensification in the London plan. The car park between Homebase and Sainsburys has been earmarked as an ideal site for more housing, including affordable housing. A couple of people accepted that even if there was not a lot we as residents could do about some of the development plans, it was important to be better informed about them. Obviously the council can’t track all potential private developments, but there was an agreement to provide a clearer map overview of public plans at least for the next session.

There was also some grumbling that the Thameslink station wasn’t delivering on its promises in terms of an attractive eco-friendly building. It’s true that for “cost reasons”, some of the specifications for the building were changed by Network Rail after the consultation. Cllr Keith Moffitt pointed out that although Network Rail had conducted a very good consultation “A good consultation doesn’t equal a great outcome”. With regard to some of the bigger projects, and the more general intensification, he also pointed out that these projects could take years to amount to anything, especially in today’s constrained funding environment.

West Hampstead is one of Camden’s nine “place shaping” areas, and thus has a Place Plan, which aims to get developers to fit in with the local area. I’m going to a meeting next week about this so will have more details about that then. In the meantime, you can read much more about this initiative here.

The next item on the agenda was the ever-popular topic of retail. Cllr Gillian Risso-Gill has been investing time on this issue, and ran through some of the changes on West End Lane since the last meeting, which blog readers will be familiar with and mostly boil down to more cafés/hairdressers/kebab shops.

She told us that Caffè Nero had to do battle with Costa for the Atlanta site that the blue coffee chain won. She suggested that delis were closing as a direct result of Tesco, although I find this hard to believe in all cases, as the stock is usually very different. More plausible to me is a relative fall in customers’ disposable income through inflation and economic uncertainty, so less willingness to buy high-end/high-price gourmet items, exacerbated perhaps by the convenience of supermarkets.

Gillian explained why cafés such as Nero no longer needed change-of-use permission to turn a shop into a café. Elsewhere in the country, it has been successfully argued in court that cafés where no food is cooked are essentially shops. You can argue the blatant nonsense of this all you want – it’s now been established in case law and is therefore difficult to overturn. In trying to spin a positive story, Gillian said that at least there was never an empty shop on West End Lane, which is more true since Ladudu tool over the long empty Glo site.

The conversation then turned to Mill Lane. While West End Lane homogenises, Mill Lane seems to be deteriorating as shops such as the Kitchen Stores close, and the general state of many other units is far from appealing.

Following the success of the Christmas market, Gillian is now thinking of setting up an Autumn market as well as repeating the Christmas edition, but needs helpers.

After this ‘state of the union’ address, the questions flowed. There were complaints about rents with one man saying it was now £45,000 for a shop on West End Lane – equivalent to Brent Cross (he said). There were also comments about parking (better parking would encourage more shoppers), delivery vehicles (WHAT is apparently looking into this), lobbying central government for a separate coffee shop classification, and restricting rent rises for smaller shops. Cllr Flick Rea pointed out that central governments of all hues tended to see development as inherently a good thing, and that offering objectors the right to appeal decisions might help (although at a much bigger scale you could imagine this causing some projects to never get off the ground). She also pointed out that the restaurant category A3 had in fact been split into two sub-categories, but it hadn’t made any difference.

The main outcome of the wailing and gnashing of teeth seemed to be that if we could find a way to increase footfall in Mill Lane, then that would be a Good Thing. I’ve suggested separately that having some sort of banner on the railings outside Emmanuel School pointing people to the shops further down might help, as might a rebranding of the retail section of the street focusing on its quirky more artisan shops. Finally, if an organization such as Empty Shops could find ways to tackle the empty or underused shops, that might breathe some life into it. There was much excitement as before about the idea of a regular market, but finding space for it is proving tough – traders want a hard tarmac surface for starters.

Then we moved on to the libraries – I think I’ve linked to enough stories about this that most of you should know what’s going on. In a nutshell, West Hampstead library won’t close but will see its hours cut – as will all other libraries. Camden will, however, cease provision of library services at Belsize, Hampstead and Chalk Farm libraries and their future remains uncertain.

Finally, there was a brief presentation of Camden’s newest online venture We Are Camden. This externally funded online service is being billed as a way to carry on the sorts of conversations that residents have at these local meetings. It’s in its infancy and during the first phase the idea is that it’s a way for Camden to talk to residents. Phase 2, which sounds much more valuable, will enable groups such as residents associations to set up their own presence.

  • Marciamac31

    I left the meeting early because I was becoming so depressed at the complete lack of ability we, as residents, have to influence our community. How does this fit in with Cameron’s Big Society? Why does the government claim to support small, independent business/shops and then do nothing tangible and practical to help them?

    And cafes have never needed change of use because they are – and always have been – seen as shops, not restaurants (provided they don’t cook hot food on the premises; they can microwave, but not cook). However the A3 (restaurant) category was split, it wasn’t done in a way that required change of use to a cafe. How can we make the government see sense?

    As for improving parking to encourage shoppers, why? As there are few shops, apart from Tesco and Sainsbury, for visitors to shop at, why encourage them? I’d love for the multinationals to close (but I know they won’t) and for more parking restrictions to come in to stop people driving to West Hampstead to go to the cafes I didn’t want here in the first place. Cafes do not support a community that needs to buy the things required for day-to-day living.

    A friend asked who goes to all these cafes anyway; where do the people come from? How many WH residents go to the cafes on a regular, or semi-regular, basis? Wouldn’t you prefer to make your own tea or coffee, which is cheaper, probably better, and which you can drink in the comfort of your own home with your choice of music/telly/book/newspaper/whatever?

  • WHampstead

    Been some interesting reactions on Twitter to the “who goes to all these cafés anyway?”.
    “It’s nice to get out of the house. They have free newspapers. You feel part of a community rather than just at home alone.”
    “unless you’re Larry David, it’s not hard to imagine that sometimes people enjoying being around other people no?”
    “they do coffees which are hard to make at home unless you have a big cupboard and the right equipment.”

  • Wild_Sarah

    The same could be said of pubs. Why go out for a drink when you can have a glass of wine at home? Well…because the latter can be a bit dull if you’re feeling sociable or fancy a choice of beverages. I’d argue both are great options, for different reasons, at different times. It would be a huge shame if people always opted to stay in, especially in London, which can be a rather lonely place to live or (as proved by this weekend’s #WhampGrill) hugely friendly!

  • Having a homemade cup of tea at is all well and good, but does not compare to the variety, atmosphere or catering skills available in a cafe – particularly on West End Lane.

    West Hampstead has become so renowned for ‘cafe culture’ – this is no negative thing. What ideal venues for friends, neighbours, colleagues, community groups, to meet and discuss the types of issues raised in this meeting!

    Cafes have long been used as a base for growing and evolving communities – just look at the social/creative/political history of Paris. To have a choice of welcoming and affordable places to meet and eat (even the dreaded chains…) in the neighbourhood, can genuinely help build and enrich a community – particularly this one. I know it can – because it does for me on pretty much a weekly basis.

    Like Sarah mentioned – the events, discussions and friendships created by things such as this blog and local tweeters would be pointless if we all stayed at home.

    Lots more to say re: parking, small shop closures etc but this is quite long enough… (sorry!)

  • WHampstead

    I think the parking argument is that the streets need to attract non-residents who tend to avoid WHamp because of the parking – it's a long-standing gripe of some traders. Don't think it has much impact on the café trade especially. Whether you think more traffic is a good thing is another matter, but it is a fact that a lot of people still run errands by car.

  • It’s true you can ‘make your own coffee at home’, the reasons for going to cafes are different…
    I go to my favourite cafe (which is David’s Deli on West End Green – am I allowed to mention the name, you can always edit it out) to get – the best coffee in NW London and the best almond croissants in NW London – also to chat with the cafe owners, it’s always a pleasure to go in their because they are so friendly – and I read the papers.
    Occasionally I do go there for lunch, but it is mainly breakfast….for all the reasons outlined above.

  • bubela

    Regarding cafes, I go to my favourite local WH cafes on a regular basis: my own coffee is cheaper but definitely not better, and I find it enjoyable to sit in a friendly cafe and read the papers while sipping a cappucino.

  • Marciamac31

    I go to cafes, too – but not in West Hampstead. I go when I am out. As my tea is better than most cafes (I blend my own) and I’ve not been that impressed with the cakes, etc, I’ve had in cafes (or I am trying not to eat stuff like that and don’t want to be tempted), I don’t see the point in going to one near where I live. I have done if I wanted to meet someone I didn’t know that well and didn’t want to invite them to my flat.

    As for locals coming to visit the traders – what traders have we got left, apart from West End Lane Books? (And the owner of that owns his freehold, so he’ll only leave when he wants to, not because of high rent increases.)

  • Richard

    Funny, when I go to West End Lane, I think of it as being “out”. I chose to live here precisely because of all the bars and restaurants that line the streets.

    Can I suggest that instead of spending money in other areas that you patronise your local high street and visit the (remaining) shops and cafes there- that might encourage them to stay open. Unfortunately, too many people seem to think it’s the government’s or the council’s responsibility to take action, like capping rents when really, what they should be doing is taking responsibility and supporting local businesses.

    For all their faults, Tesco and Sainsbury’s sell things people want to buy at prices that people can afford in a way that all the other shops that have come and gone over the years never did. It must be true or there wouldn’t be a queue in each of them every time I walk past, whatever time of day or night it is.

    So instead of people blaming everybody else, perhaps they should think about how they spend their disposible income and support their local high street. If you don’t, you can’t complain when it’s gone.

    And finally, let’s not forget that whilst all those people who have lived in the area for decades complain about the area changing for the worse, none of them seem overly upset at how much their houses are now worth.

  • It is a different feeling when you go to cafes to have your favorite coffees.

    Private Schools

  • Another thought about ‘cafe culture’ – wasn’t it introduced here (Swiss Cottage/Finchley Road/West Hampstead) in the 1930s, by the Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany? They brought with them the cafe culture of Berlin and Vienna – yet anther thing we have to thank them for! (did you know that their arrival is sometimes called ‘Hitler’s Gift to Britain’?!) Sadly, the cafe culture in Finchley Road has ceased to exist – who remembers Louis’ Patisserie? And Cosmo? It’s now just a boring old High Street, could be anywhere…..
    But fortunately cafe culture survives in West Hampstead!

  • I visit Cafes to discuss philosophy art & aesthetics or to read new unpublished poems or plays my friends have written. We discuss my latest musical compositions In the modernist style and I try hard to impress the alluringly mad ballet dancer come chanteuse Coco, hoping one day to wake up to her signing wistfully while making a bowl of coffee to dip brioches in after a night of intense lovemaking.

    No wait a minute that was Paris 1910

    I visit my favourite cafe (Cafe Bon) for a few reasons. I work from home doing a job that is solitary, sedentary and mind engaging it is a break to walk up the road and have a change of scenery and to talk to some human beings.
    They make better coffee than i can and over the years they have got very good at making it how i like it. Finally i like to go into the community to watch the people come and go,to build up a memory of the patterns of the place the movements of the place to feel part of it like hearing the words ” your usual coffee?” or ” Try this new cake we are interested to know what our valued customers Think”

    I like West Hampstead, many things have changed over the past 20+ years and things will change in the next 20 years Cafe life allows you to feel the “sprit of the Place” as it is now.

  • Marciamac31

    I do support my local (independent) shops when they are good. I use Ramco chemist in preference to any other; I use the book shop; I used to use Dizar and Atlanta and West End News; I use Mistry (top of WEL); I used to use Grog Blossom, the best off license I’ve ever seen, now long gone; I use George on Mill Lane and sometimes the Chinese greengrocer on WEL. I didn’t use either of the two delis because I didn’t think they were very good and they were WAY too expensive – but I travel to South End Green to use the Italian deli there, which although not cheap is much better value for money because the stuff is so good. But I don’t consider the large number of cafes an asset to the area: in fact, because they take away our shops, I think they are destroying West Hampstead.

    As for Tesco and Sainsbury, some people come from outside of the area (watch them park, especially on Fortune Green Road, dash in and dash out again); some go there because there is no choice now in WH; and some go there because they are brainwashed into thinking the multinationals provide better quality and cheaper price. They don’t. Another example of the way in which the multiples have made things worse in WH: I went into Sainsbury last night for Haagen Das vanilla ice cream. They only have Ben and Jerrys, which I don’t like. Atlanta used to sell both, giving consumers a choice everyone claims the big supermarkets provide, but don’t. And please don’t suggest I try Tesco because I won’t set foot in there.

  • I have to put in a good word for DAVID’S DELI, it’s my absolutely favourite cafe/deli in the area…they do the best coffee (sorry to contradict Simon about Cafe Bon, where I do sometimes go for a sandwich at lunchtime) and the best almond croissants…they too offer ‘your usual coffee’…that’s what I especially like about it, I just go in there and say good morning, and they know what I have – same with all their regular customers.

    With regard to Sainsbury’s – I find the Local Sainsburys branches don’t stock the things I really want! e.g. not Sainsbury’s basics….so i still prefer to go to Kilburn High Road.

    I don’t go to Tesco either…….
    George on Mill Lane is one of the best greengrocers around!