Last Wednesday, the usual suspects along with a few welcome newcomers gathered in a chilly hall in Dennington Park Road to discuss the draft vision and action plan for West Hampstead’s place shaping programme.
In small groups we discussed whether we agreed with the broad vision statements. There was some disagreement about the need to “attract visitors”, with the more business-focused people arguing that West Hampstead very much should encourage more visitors to help support the local businesses here, while some of the longer-standing residents felt that we had visitors aplenty thanks to the stations and the congestion on the roads was already too much.
The meeting focused on what some of the concrete actions were that would help realise the vision and, in true Big Society fashion, who the groups or people were who might be able to help – including the council of course. Stimulating local business and encouraging local shops proved popular topics again, with the proviso that seems to be need to be repeated ad nauseum that the council can’t control specific companies moving in to the area. There was some interest in the community supermarket idea, especially if the Transition West Hampstead movement gets going and produce can be grown locally.
One area where the council can have influence, and that some of us have been suggesting for some time, is in the guidance to new retail developments – or residential developments that have retail components, such as the Ballymore 187-199 West End Lane site. Encouraging/forcing developers to focus on small format stores rather than large retail spaces would inevitably encourage smaller retailers who could afford the rents, and discourage the chains who thrive on economies of scale. It’s not a sure-fire way to keep local businesses, but it’s a good start. Certainly for developments that take place on council owned sites, such as the existing Travis Perkins/Wickes site, which is likely to be sold off, the council would be able to set such terms.
I’ll publish the full report as soon as it’s available. In the meantime, the draft reports are available here. And if you have any contributions, please do contact Kate Goodman, our place shaping officer, before February 20th with any concrete suggestions – the more practical the better.