Liddell Road: Show your workings

The Liddell Road saga continues. Now the local Lib Dem councillors have requested a “call in” of Camden’s decision to go ahead with the expansion of Kingsgate School into Liddell Road, which would mean the end of the light industrial estate there now, and the building of 120 private flats and some commercial office space.

Calling in a decision is a formal way of stalling for time. In Camden, four councillors can ask for a decision to be called in. It’s not used very often as it is disruptive – the borough solicitor is responsible for determining whether the call in is valid.

What’s prompted the call in? Pretty much the reasons that have been articulated on these pages. It’s important to make this point: no-one is denying the need for school places; nor are people unaware that the job of politicians is to make tough decisions; there are always  trade-offs. But when those trade-offs involve the livelihoods of more than 20 businesses that have been established for many years in their local area, it is also right that the process is as transparent as possible.

More work needed
The councillors requesting the call in explain that although they recognise that the plan is largely within Camden’s policy and budget framework, they believe that more examination is needed of the numbers of jobs to be lost through the redevelopment. “The belief is that jobs are actually being lost rather than created, which we consider to be outside the policy framework. The Liddell Road Trade and Business Association believe that 250 jobs will be lost, whereas the report assumes a figure of 80-100.”

They also argue that the views of groups such as the West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum and the Sidings Community Centre were not given proper weight in the consultation process, nor was there any meaningful consultation with residents and especially potential parents north of the railway line. We’ll discuss the consultation with the businesses themselves in a follow-up piece

Understanding the equations
Then there’s the (frankly, shocking) point that all 120 homes on the site are intended for private sale, with no guarantee of any affordable units. Given Camden attempts to impose a 50% affordable housing quota on private developers for a scheme of this size (which developers are usually able to negotiate down on viability grounds), it will surprise a lot of people that in its own development the council isn’t minded to deliver any affordable housing. One wonders quite what sort of community in West Hampstead the council wants to see. This decision is even odder, when you realise that the scheme is designed to deliver a £3 million profit (I think “surplus” is the correct word, but you get the idea).

There are other more detailed concerns about the decision to expand Kingsgate rather than build a new school, which would have to be an academy and Labour – which controls the council – is opposed to the idea. These are very valid concerns, although of course there’s an argument that any party in power is going to be influenced in its decisions by its ideology – that’s why there are political parties and not just bureaucrats.

What do the local councillors want to see happen?

We request that Cabinet should revisit its decision to redevelop the Liddell Road site and to create a split-site school, and that in doing so it should have before it more complete information on the number of jobs lost on the site, the views on local groups and residents on the proposal, more complete information about the exploration of alternative ways of creating more primary school places in the NW6 area, and greater transparency around the impact on central government funding, in terms of both capital and revenue, of the decision to expand an existing school rather than to build a new school on this site or another.

Show your workings
What this all boils down to is that familiar maths teacher annotation.

  • Lets see the documents that led Camden to decide there are 80 jobs on the site. The Save Liddell Road campaign is happy to share its research that led to a figure of 250 (which it admits does involve some extrapolation).
  • Lets get a clear understanding of why Camden isn’t willing to include any affordable housing in its scheme.
  • Lets get a clear understanding of how this scheme fits into Camden’s Core Development Policy regarding employment space

On that final point, here’s the relevant policy:

Having a range of sites and premises across the borough to suit the different needs of businesses for space, location and accessibility is vital to maintaining and developing Camden’s economy. An increase in the number and diversity of employment opportunities is fundamental to improving the competitiveness of Camden and of London. The Council wants to encourage the development of a broad economic base in the borough to help meet the varied employment needs, skills and qualifications of Camden’s workforce.

Camden already has, according to its own Core Strategy document, one of the lowest stocks of industrial and warehousing space among London boroughs. There has been virtually no new provision of such premises in the borough for many years. The document also says that “it is unlikely that the retail or hospitality sectors will provide straightforward alternative job opportunities for people losing industrial/warehousing jobs in the borough.”

The Core Strategy document continues:

The Council will continue to protect industrial and warehousing sites and premises that are suitable and viable for continued use. This will help to provide premises for new and expanding businesses, support the Central London economy and secure job opportunities for local people who may find difficulties finding alternative work. In addition, we will promote development that includes space for industrial uses to serve the Central London business market.

To reiterate – councils must make tough decisions; and school places are clearly needed. Cllr Theo Blackwell has already set out here why some other alternatives are not viable. Nevertheless, if the solution is the forced removal of all the businesses and jobs on Liddell Road, to be replaced by not just a school, but office space and entirely privtate housing, then the community needs stronger assurances as to how that decision has been made, and whether there could be any way in which provision for replacement light industrial space could be built into upcoming developments (e.g., 156 West End Lane and the O2 car park).

The risk otherwise is that West Hampstead truly will become nothing but a collection of expensive two-bed flats, estate agents to sell them, and hairdressers to ensure the residents are well-coiffed.

Camden – please show your workings.

  • Expected but can I plead for just a little perspective here and nod to what I considered to be a good consultation with NW6 people?

    The matters you state were all dealt with in depth at Cabinet and over the last few months – available on the webcast, including the point about consultation. It seems from public statements that for political reasons the Lib Dems really don’t like the idea of a school expansion of an outstanding school, and would only want a Free School, despite the provider being unknown and there being no extra money, which itself is pretty ideological. That’s quite a big decision to make on behalf of local people they haven’t consulted so perhaps you can pose the same question to them?

    Camden is in the odd position of having schools and housing money taken away by the Lib Dems in government and then attacked by them for not having enough money to build schools and housing in wards they represent.

    It is generally accepted that if you provide a school or a community facility on a planning site, then affordable housing or other benefits will diminish: this happens everywhere else and the reason is affordability.

    Camden has shown it workings, and will do so again – but don’t you think it is now incumbent on the Lib Dems to tell us how they would pay for the school as the site isnt big enough for a school, all the existing businesses and affordable homes? Their silence on this, and their real confusion and mistakes over school funding, suggests there may be something more going on here than community concern about the consultation process.

    • Anonymous

      I’d just like to thank you Theo Blackwell for engaging thoughtfully with criticism, though it would be helpful to leave the party politics out of this.

      The people of Camden don’t care about the lib dems, free schools, the unfair and twisted funding system and party political cat fights, they care about an education for their children, and over half of them currently send children outside the borough – that’s pretty shocking.

    • Thanks for taking the time to respond. It would be fantastic if Camden could circulate the relevant documents so we can see them – especially on the jobs issue. I will certainly go and look at the webcast to see which other questions that addresses. Hopefully it explains why some/all of that £3m surplus couldn’t be directed towards some affordable housing on site?

      I agree that any alternative would need to be costed up, and I accept that this solution may well be the best one. However, I also think it’s incumbent on the people making the decision to ensure everyone understands that they have gone through the most rigorous procedures possible in order to reach this decision when so many people’s livelihoods are at stake. You only need to speak to the people on the estate to see that this is not the case. Perhaps I could arrange for you to meet them? They’re a remarkably friendly bunch considering.

      It’s a shame if this becomes a party political issue. The businesses on the estate don’t particularly see it that way, and almost universally they accept that school places are needed.

      I am not party political, and I can imagine that council officers have indeed worked hard to solve the equation. Nevertheless, my heart sinks when I see yet more of West Hampstead’s mixed economy and demography being eroded and I would like to feel more confident than I do in how decisions with that outcome have been reached. You can complain about political stirring, but anyone who wants to enact change of this scale needs to bend over backwards to explain it to the people most affected, even if that means repeating yourself, republishing documents, and rearguing the case. Blaming party politics belittles the impact this has on people’s lives – both those schoolchildren without classrooms, and the tradespeople without workshops.

    • Well, the party political points first started appearing on this site so it’s only fair for us to try and set the record straight here as well – especially when trade-offs we have to make are getting a bumpy ride due to factors largely beyond our control.

      We didn’t rush into this and our over-riding concern here is to get solutions for local parents, businesses and invest in public services in NW6 given that we will all live with austerity budgets for the rest of the decade.

      We’re reaching out to the traders and helping them if they want help, I can’t think of examples where other landlords would do this with tenants they rent properties to, but, as I said, there’s limited land in this area to sort the problems that we see and Anonymous talks about.

    • You’re going to have to help me out on where the party political points started appearing on this site – at least in terms of what I write. Just looked back over the first two pieces I wrote on this story, and can’t see any mention of political parties at all.

      I work hard to ensure that these pages don’t have political bias so if you feel I’ve erred, then I’d appreciate a more specific reference. I have, after all, given you an entire article to state your case.

      I personally find the implication that local residents can’t have thoughts of their own without being influenced by local councillors somewhat insulting. I’m interested in transparency of facts, and I appreciate that you have taken the time to elaborate on many of the issues that have been raised.

      Do please send over the detail of the jobs survey when possible – would be great to cross-reference that with the traders’ stats to try and find where the discrepancy has occurred.

    • Well the erroneous ‘ideological’ motivation point has been used – when we’re really trying to get the best solution.

      (Also, not wanted to pick up on every point, but I’ve never said/implied that residents don’t have minds of their own without being influenced by local councillors – I don’t think any cllr of any party would hold that! ).

      Will get back to you on the jobs points…

  • Here are some of the documents:
    The report presented to Cabinet (page 20-28)
    The relevant appendices
    There's a confidential appendix on costing. I don't know why it's confidential, or whether there's some information within it that could be shared?

  • James Earl, Chair Fortune Green & West Hampstead NDF

    Thanks Jonathan for blogging on this; thanks to Theo for attempting to offer an explanation. As the Neighbourhood Development Forum has sought to explain to council officers all along, the current proposal has a number of flaws and is a long way from having the support of the majority of the community. Everyone agrees on the need for additional school places – but not everyone agrees that a primary school should have two sites a mile apart; not everyone agrees that hundreds of local jobs and dozens of businesses have to go; not everyone agrees that a housing development of 120+ new homes should have 0% affordable housing; and not everyone agrees that Camden Council should be making a profit of £3 million from this development. There are number of other options that have been put forward – but these don’t appear to have been considered by anyone at the Town Hall. There’s also been a distinct lack of consultation and engagement about these proposals (flying in the face of the promises about consultation and engagement in the Camden Plan). It’s a shame party political mud-slinging has to dominate this debate. Most people in West Hampstead aren’t party political – so why not let’s have a rethink, and work together to find a solution that benefits our community and has widespread support in our community?

    • Anonymous

      is this a sign of things to come re effectiveness of the NDF?