Camden approves 187-199 West End Lane plan

On Thursday night, Camden’s Development Control Committee sat, and the first issue on the agenda was the 187-199 West End Lane development. This was to decide whether to accept or reject the plan. You can watch the proceedings below (it’s long – runs to 1h35), but to cut to the chase the plan was accepted with a condition to look into adding car club spaces (there is provision for two at the moment).

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The session kicked off with a presentation by Max Smith, Camden’s planning officer, which set the context for the plans. (His full written report is referred to in the video) I was surprised at this being very much in favour of the proposals rather than being neutral. Shows what I know about how councils work I guess. There were two interesting bits of this presentation. First, the announcments that the developers had pledged £30,000 to support master planning in the wider West Hampstead area in light of the large number of developments happening (a cynical person might see that as a sop to locals).

Second, the issue of building height: “Consideration was given to asking the developer to reduce the scale, but losing a floor or two wouldn’t reduce the scale significantly, and there would be a price to pay for that in terms of affordable housing or the other benefits that would be provided by the scheme.” Some photos were shown to reinforce this point, although one suspects that for the nearest of neighbours the impact would acutally be quite noticeable.

Deputations were made against the development by WHGARA’s Stephen Nathan QC and a resident of Rowntree Close, and in favour of the development by a young local resident, although it wasn’t clear who if anyone he represented. Bit odd.

The councillors then made lots of comments and asked questions of the planning officers. This all goes on quite a bit. Some councillors, notably Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea, clearly had reservations. West Hampstead ward councillor Gillian Risso-Gill abstained from the vote as she opted to speak against the development (council protocol deems this to be prejudicial, so abstention is expected). Other councillors had specific issues they wanted answers on, especially on how the affordable housing was distributed (this has slightly improved since the last plans), those car club places, and community services such as education.

There seemed to be a concern that failing to approve the plan would lead to delays, which could have a major financial impact. Let me explain. Plans of this scale that are approved after April 1st will have to pay a Crossrail levy (yes, even those in areas like West Hampstead that won’t be affected or benefit especially from Crossrail). This would amount to some £700,000 for this development. To pay for that, Ballymore and Network Rail have two options: they either try and make more money from the development, or they take the money from somewhere else. Right now, they have allocated £900,000 to improve the area around the Overground station, and indeed there would eventually be access from a new Overground ticket hall into the new development as well as out onto West End Lane. Reducing the proportion of affordable housing on the site would be another option, but one less popular with the council, and building yet more storeys onto the tower blocks is probably also a non-starter.

Given that there will be development on this site, so the issue is scale not “yes/no” to anything at all, one might conclude that the thought of losing £700,000 to the Mayor’s Crossrail fund sticks in the throat of the council more than the idea that West Hampstead’s much vaunted “village” atmosphere might struggle in the face of a 12-storey tower block flanked by some smaller brethren.

Cllr Sarah Hayward perhaps captured the mood of other committee members in favour when she pithily said “I don’t think the architecture is up to much, but given the other benefits I think we should approve it”.

What now? Well, as you’ll know, the plans now have to be sent to City Hall where the Mayor’s office will have 14 days to give the green light, or reject them. Bear in mind that the plans have already been deemed “non-compliant” with the London plan, so it would be odd if City Hall just waved them through. So, here’s a thought – as I understand it, as Camden has passed the plans, money won’t be diverted to Crossrail even if City Hall requires some changes. Had they been rejected by Camden and then resubmitted at a later date, that money would have gone.

I’ve already been contacted by one local resident asking what can be done to challenge the decision. Anyone (councillors?) who knows what the next steps are, let me know and happy to post.

Here’s how they voted
For: Cllrs Apak, Gimson, Hayward, Marshall, Nuti, Sanders, Simpson
Against: Cllrs Braithwaite, Freeman, Rea

  • Two helpful follow-ups courtesy of tweets from Cllr Marshall: a) officers usually are proposing approval, as schemes represent their negotiation with applicants; and b) in UK planning system, applicants can appeal, objectors can't. Been that way since 1948.