Place plan published – actions for West Hampstead

West Hampstead will be a place where local communities experience real benefits from the opportunities that come with redevelopment and people feel that they have influenced and shaped how investment is made in the area. Support for local business will be a key part of enhancing the distinctive village character and more local jobs will contribute to a successful local economy. Local services, housing, open spaces and facilities will meet the needs of local communities as will the quality of experience that people have moving around the area. Cooperation with local people, voluntary sector organisations, developers, businesses and the council will make this happen.

This is the vision for West Hampstead, as laid out by the place plan finally published by Camden council. From this extract it feels a bit like “local shops for local people”, but this document really isn’t that parochial. It has been quite some time in the making, and I’ve reported on its progress over the past 12 months.

You can access the original, or view a version where I’ve ringed the passages that I think are particularly worth reading (also embedded below).

The idea of the Place Plan is to set some context for local development – of which much is planned over the next 5-10 years. It has no statutory power, but the council are supposed to take it into account when assessing planning applications, and budget allocation. It is very strongly informed by local residents – even by readers of this website (as it mentions on page 10) – and I can imagine that lobbying groups are likely to refer to it heavily when responding to proposed changes.

One of the underlying objectives is to make people feel (hopefully justifiably) that they have some input into what happens around them. In this regard, the Place Plan should dovetail with the Neighbourhood Development Plan.

To quote the report:

“This ‘placeshaping’ approach is about taking the opportunity to think and act strategically about how to address these needs in terms of investment decisions, service delivery and physical changes. Understanding local concerns and priorities is at the heart of this approach which is all the more important against a backdrop of reduced Council resources arising from reductions in central government funding.”

Although it has no legal bearing on anything at all, it does purport to enable locals to hold the council to account over the concrete measures that it says it will undertake (starting from page 46). It is also a dynamic document and action plans can (and hopefully will) be updated as the situation evolves.

The plan is broken down into five sections, and each has a series of objectives.

  1. Development. To secure real local benefit from development opportunities. Key objectives: Work with the community to develop more detailed area planning guidance; involve the local community (where possible) in identifying priorities for how developer contributions are used.
  2. Economy. To support a successful local economy with a thriving neighbourhood. Key objectives: protect and promote the village character of the area; support West End Lane and Mill Lane shops and businesses; meet the needs of the people who live, work and visit the area.
  3. Environment. To provide new open space and improve the local environment. Key objectives: provide new accessible open space to benefit the area; continue to improve open spaces, food growing, biodiversity and sustainability; maintain the valued quality and historic character of the area.
  4. Services. To deliver improved local services. Key objectives: continue to monitor the demand for school places and nursery provision; continue to support local voluntary sector organisations and investigate innovative delivery of services; negotiate with developers for ‘affordable’ provision of community space for local groups.
  5. Transport. To make it easier and more pleasant for people to move around the area. Key objective: Continue to improve how people move around and between the three stations.

Generally there’s not much that’s controversial here. I’ve been at two of the group consultation sessions and these were the main topics that emerged – naturally with different people placing different emphases on them. I know some people think the idea of West Hampstead as any sort of village is risible, but it’s certainly a focal point both for transport and shopping/entertainment (more of the latter than the former these days). I’m pleased to see such specific recognition of the challenges facing Mill Lane, and a statement of intent to work on improving the street without sacrificing its character.

Amid all the bullet points and action plans, there are a few interesting comments in the overall vision and background section. Despite generally high levels of satisfaction among residents the plan recognises that different segments of the local population do not necessarily interact. Is this unusual, and does it matter? I would argue no it’s not unusual, but yes, it does matter. It matters because if we take one cut – age – 20-34 year-olds account for roughly half West Hampstead’s population, yet barely figure when it comes to deliberating local issues.

Although younger people here may not be long-term residents (largely, anecdotally, because they can’t afford to stay rather than because they don’t want to), it would be a mistake to think they don’t care. They also, inevitably, have some different priorities and sometimes a more forward looking outlook. It is to the council’s credit that one of the reasons they have involved me in this placeshaping process is because it gave them access to the views of younger people.

Although not explicitly discussed in the Place Plan, there is also something of an affluence divide. I heard at a recent local event that some of West Hampstead less well-off residents sometimes feel that they don’t fit in at lots of these community activities. Meanwhile, I wonder how many people in the “young professional” category avail themselves of the services offered by, for example, Sidings Community Centre. Just a thought. I hope that everyone feels welcome to attend #whampevents.

Do have a read of the document. There was plenty of cynicism at the first meeting I attended about the real impact such an initiative could have. At least by setting out clear actions, the council is saying “judge us on progress”, even if you think that many of them are a little vague, with a focus on “identifying”, “facilitating”, “monitoring”, “supporting” and “exploring” rather than more concrete words like “investing”, “building”, “changing”, or “upgrading”.

West Hampstead Place Plan_annotated

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  • @Marciamac

    One reason why the younger age group is not particularly catered for is that few, if any, ever come to local meetings. I've mentioned them to my (younger) neighbours periodically over the years and no one is interested.

    • That works both ways – public meetings aren’t appealing or often convenient for younger people – if you work in Canary Wharf, it’s hard to get back for a 7.30pm meeting. Local govt. needs to find other ways of reaching out to the population rather than 3hr talking shops where often little gets achieved. I think Camden has made some attempts in this direction – webcasting council meetings for example with links so you can jump to the relevant section

  • Anonymous

    Oh, lets make the meetings take place as part of a midnight DJ/Rap session then!!! Younger people cannot be bothered as they often are just renting and use relatively less public services (health, schools, libraries etc) so it is not much of a surprise. It certainly isnt cool and does not need to be. Stop thinking about dumbing things down to the lowest common denominator – thats what they did with education and look at that mess.

    • How great to see someone disproving the disconnect. I’m not sure what a DJ/Rap session is, not being that young myself any more, but I’m sure it’s how all young people consume information. Anything more complicated will just befuddle them. It’s probably best that they’re not allowed to vote on local issues, or maybe even national ones, as there is no way they could understand the details of an argument. Speaking personally, I know that I don’t use libraries much any more and therefore it’s intellectually impossible for me to get my head around the idea that they might be beneficial to society. So yes, you’re right – I should stop thinking about dumbing things down with my crazy suggestions that people watch just a segment of a video of a planning meeting rather than the whole 3 hours, or that people read an article about a local issue and then leave comments that are then read by decision makers, rather than rushing out of work and heading to a cold hall for a lengthy meeting on a weeknight. Leaving comments online is obviously a waste of…hang on a minute…

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for posting that.

    I have lived in West Hampstead since leaving university 15 years ago and have grown up with the area and now live there with my wife and children. To characterise the young people as not caring about West Hampstead is just not true. But as you say, engaging with people and competing with work commitments and valuable drinking time is essential and probably not the place of lengthy evening meetings with their smattering of septuagenarian ranting nutcases, hence we are losing this group.

    Such has been the embourgeoisement that the families around us are made up mainly of lawyers and people working in financial services or consultancy. All of whom care deeply I suspect but still have no time for the traditional fora presented to us.

    This selects out the 50% in the youngest category and the majority of the 30/40-something professionals.

    A tricky moment for West Hampstead as it decides what it is and what it wants to be but potentially being steered by those at a minority in the changing community.

    Your help in correcting this is much appreciated.