One afternoon on Liddell Road

“Shake my sleeve” said Alan, sticking out a hand covered in oily blue plastic gloves.

Alan Livingstone is one of those people you immediately like. He’s 16 – quite cherubic – and an apprentice mechanic at West Hampstead Motors. It was the 64th garage he tried for a position. Apprenticeships are hard to come by, even when the government gives employers a contribution for taking them on.

It’s not much to look at, but it’s home to more than 25 businesses

West Hampstead Motors has committed to keeping Alan even if it is forced to move out of Liddell Road as part of Camden’s redevelopment proposals.

I asked Alan if he was local. “Archway,” he replied.

“C11?”

“Yes”. He grinned. Hardly the world’s most glamorous commute, but we all know how well connected West Hampstead is. If West Hampstead Motors moves to Brent Cross, then maybe Alan will be lucky and get an even longer ride on the bus of dreams. But what if it has to move somewhere else? Alan didn’t seem to fancy the idea of working in the type of “managed workspace” that the council is planning to put into Liddell Road. He’s an apprentice, not The Apprentice.

Alan was one of several people I met last week on the industrial estate. Branko Viric, Alan’s boss at West Hampstead Motors showed me round. He’s spearheading the Save Liddell Road campaign, which is trying to get Camden to reconsider its proposal to redevelop the site for a primary school, private flats and office space.

This may be a futile cause. Sadly, in a dense urban environment and in these times of austerity, it’s rarely going to be possible to please everyone. The school places are needed, but the traders on the estate are finding it hard to see their future somewhere else and don’t feel the council – their landlord – has explained clearly enough why this is the only solution, or done much to soften the blow.

Park Royal?
Thus, the mood of most of the people I spoke to on the site was more one of despondence than anger, frustration more than fear. These are businesses that have mostly been on the site for more than 10 years, and in some cases 20 years. They have local clients and yet there is nowhere local for most of them to move to. The words “Park Royal” and “Brent Cross” kept coming up, generally with a sigh.

Relocating will mean building a new client base, and in many cases finding new staff. The number of people employed on the site is one of the areas where Camden and the traders don’t see eye-to-eye. By Camden’s reckoning, 80 people work on the site. The traders believe it to be 250. The truth is presumably somewhere in between, but the real number is moot when Camden claims that the redevelopment will deliver more jobs than it takes away.

Even if that did turn out to be true, are they the right types of jobs? Where will the Alans of West Hampstead go for work? A few doors down from Liddell Road is Handrail House, which itself is being redeveloped after agents failed to find office tenants after two years of trying.

Ironically, the development proposal for the Iverson Tyres site, also very nearby, has had a light industrial use forced upon it for its one commercial unit, even though the Iverson Tyres company want an office space there and, with flat directly above it, it would suit an office space. At least perhaps one of the smaller Liddell Road businesses might be able to move in there.

One or two of the businesses are more suspicious, there’s hushed talk of social engineering, and the most cynical believe the school will never materialise and the land will simply be cleared for housing.

That’s all too conspiracy theory for me; but when the traders complain about the lack of transparency from Camden, there’s a ring of truth about what they say. “We’re passed from one person to another,” said one trader – he’s wary to be identified in case the uncertainty spooks his customers. “Everyone tells us we need to speak to someone else if we want to find anything out.”

Something’s not right
In Camden’s cabinet meeting at which this decision was made, Cllr Theo Blackwell emphasised that he believes the council takes “extraordinary steps to reach out to people”, implying that the council had behaved in an exemplary manner in dealing with the community and businesses.

There’s a mismatch here, as elsewhere, between the council’s claims and the reaction from those affected. Some discrepancy is perhaps inevitable – people with different agendas perceive situations in different ways; when those discrepancies start to build, then they become worth examining more closely.

The trader who has been passed from pillar to post says that the council have been unclear about what would happen if businesses don’t sign the end-of-lease agreement, although they have been clear that contesting the decision would be a very expensive option.

“I am unaware of any relocation assistance from Camden,” he added. “In September I was told that a consultant had been commissioned to work with businesses and would visit Liddell Road, but we’ve seen no-one.” He acknowledges that an agent, Lambert Smith Hampton, has provided a list of possible relocation properties, although none of them are of a comparable size or rent for his business.

Ironically, he also recently received a letter from Camden’s head of economic development, which said “As part of our commitment to support growth… the Council has partnered with Funding Circle to provide finance to lend directly to businesses like [business name removed], to stimulate growth and create employment right here in the Camden area. Meantime, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you every success with your business and hope that you achieve growth and success over the forthcoming years.”

These sort of bureacratic cock-ups are par for the course at any large organisation, but they don’t help businesses feel any better about the way Camden is managing their “transition” (as management consultants would call it) off the site.

Vacant stares
Mark McKenna, from Swiss Cottage, runs Dynergy out of one of the end units. It’s a distribution business and Liddell Road’s location was the big selling point for him. He’s unusual in Liddell Road as he’s a new boy – he’s only been there a few months and knew about the plans when he signed the six month lease. What he found odd was Camden’s reluctance to let the unit, despite there still being more than a year from when he took it to the proposed redevelopment. “They said there were no vacant units, but I’d come and peered through the windows – this was definitely vacant.”

Mark McKenna, Dynergy

We sat in Salaheddine El Bahloul’s office at German Auto Care – Branko’s chief competitor, but the camaradarie on the estate is evident. He is more angry than most about the plans, and questions the whole notion of the need for the school. He also points out that while there are other garages in the area – especially under the railway arches around Kilburn – he and Branko both offer much easier access, which lots of customers appreciate.

Jobs are already evaporating
The estate isn’t all men and vehicles. Vicki Culverhouse runs Curtain Concepts, a bespoke curtain makers and fitters. They do a lot of work for Heal’s. She’s been on the estate for 10 years, but was in St John’s Wood and Kensal Rise before that – her customer base is definitely local. “The children of our early customers are now coming to us,” she says proudly.

Vicki Culverhouse, Curtain Concepts

“I employ two people now, there were more but with all this uncertainty there doesn’t seem any point in hiring replacements.” It’s a story I hear elsewhere. It would be good to know whether Camden took this into account when calculating jobs here – some have already been lost because of this decision hanging over them. Vicki also works with people off-site on a freelance basis and she is their main customer.

The employment reports specifically states it did not look at the broader supply chain of businesses, in fact it admits that there is a lot of data is does not have, and David Tullis, Head of Property Services talked in the cabinet meeting about having spoken to “a number of businesses” to estimate employment numbers, rather than all businesses. The report says:

Data relating to the socio-demographic profile of the commercial tenants and their employees does not exist and/or is not available. Furthermore, research undertaken by the Council to identify the impact of the Council’s CIP on local business and employment in the borough did not collect or analyse any equality data relating to the age, ethnicity, ability, religion or gender of the business owners, their workforce or supply chains in situ on CIP sites (Ref: CIP Employment Study – April 2013). The above research did, however, report anecdotal evidence that entry level jobs within the larger businesses occupying CIP sites are generally filled by migrant workers. No further information is available. (link: http://democracy.camden.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=31213 page 6)

The workforce on Lidell Road is actually quite eclectic. Sam Thomasson runs Fieldmount Terrazzo Ltd, an Italian tiling specialist. He’s well-spoken and laconic. Although his company occupies one whole unit, perhaps he’ll find it easier to downsize, he suggests. He employs four people and another eight as and when. He takes his leave, to check his friendly dog isn’t playing in the traffic on Maygrove Road.

Moving isn’t easy for some people. There’s an industrial-scale t-shirt printing business on the estate. The company moved its presses from one unit to the neighbouring unit a couple of years ago – it took the presses 12 months to settle to their new home and work perfectly.

Before heading back, we catch a few minutes with Andy from one of the two adjacent metalworks businesses. He seems resigned to it. I ask who his clients are. “Property developers, architects, builders. We produce custom-made balconies, that sort of thing, steel beams; no-one seems to like walls any more in their flats” he says.

One wonders whether any of Andy’s steel beams will be used in the flats to be built on the site. He won’t be a local supplier any more, so probably not.

Coup de grâce?
Camden can slap itself on its back all it wants. Its achievement is impressive – it’s delivering a capital investment programme despite steep funding cuts. It’s also good to hear some members of the cabinet – notably Cllr Valerie Leach – be extremely balanced in their comments about the Liddell Road scheme, while some others seem to see only the positive news story. Cllr Leach specifically noted the impact on businesses saying that “We are in the process of arranging meetings with you.” Lets hope they happen.

The Liddell Road traders may have become an inconvnenience, but the least they deserve, after so many years trading, is to be treated with a bit of respect by the council that has been their landlord. In the meantime, we’re still waiting for that job breakdown data from Camden.

Related articles:
Camden steams ahead with Liddell Road redevelopment  December 4th
Liddell Road: How the night unfolded December 5th
Camden responds to Liddell Road criticism December 9th
Liddell Road: Show your workings December 13th

  • Anonymous

    When have Camden ever behaved in an 'exemplary manner'
    They are quite happy to change the use of land to accommodate developers as well as their own core policies and strategies.
    Shaping Camden document 2011 ;managing the impacts of growth and development and protecting the amenity of residents, workers and visitors ,supporting town centres and shops. It goes on ……..

    • Anonymous

      Makes one wonder whether Camden will create the conditions for the West Hampstead NDF initiative to be effective

  • Anonymous

    An incredibly biased and partisan view of the situation from WHL and the author. No attempt at balance, or taking in contrary viewpoints at all.

    Whilst a healthy local business community is desirable and drives a local economy, provision by local Councils of facilities to do so is not a statutory duty – indeed some Councils do nothing at all.

    Provision of school places – whether in an academy or a state school – *IS* a statutory duty, for which Camden could be taken to court, fined, and even sanctioned further. This is one solution to the problem, albeit one that is (understandably) unpopular with the present tenants at Liddell Road.

    Branko Viric has been brandishing a letter he wrote to Camden claiming there were 250 jobs at stake on the estate, with little or no contributory evidence himself. Perhaps he is counting in suppliers and other businesses – the Council visited the site a while back and found a grand total of 80 people working there. Why the massive difference ? Because Branko (and the Council) obviously have a vested interest in it being as high (or low) as possible. A new school on the site and a smaller industrial estate, together with 100 or so homes would contribute a certain number of jobs – why don’t we look at the net loss or gain ?

    What Camden is doing is not illegal – indeed the tenants on the industrial estate all have contracts allowing for a break clause and the Council is invoking this (and not renewing leases as they fall due). Whether it is moral or advisable is only something a politician can decide. I do think it is somewhat disingenuous of ward members to campaign against this when the reality is that, were they in power, they would almost certainly back it.

    • You’re going to have to be a bit more specific about where I’m being biased and partisan. It’s an article about people having to relocate their businesses. It states clearly that the school places are needed. It’s part of a series of articles I’ve written about the topic, which also include a long article by Camden councillor Theo Blackwell explaining the situation from the council’s perspective.

      I will add more links back to the previous articles so people can see it’s part of a series; although frankly the piece stands alone – it’s simply writing up the reaction of traders to what’s happening.

      In every article I’ve explained that everyone accepts that the school places are needed, but that the council has yet to furnish us with how it’s come to the 80 jobs number.

      I acknowledge in this piece that the real jobs number is likely to be between 80 and 250, although Branko does have a detailed file of how he came to that number, which I’ll delve into once I get the numbers from Camden.

      The first piece I wrote on this talked explicitly about net gain/loss of jobs; this article is specifically about the people.

      There is no suggestion whatsoever in the piece that Camden is doing anything illegal, so not sure why you feel the need to make that point.

      So, as I say, it would good to know exactly where you think I’m being partisan and unbiased, and it would be interesting to know whether you have your own affiliations – posting as Anonymous makes it impossible to tell.

    • Anonymous

      None of the homes will be affordable housing , which goes against Camden’s own policies . 100 new homes , sounds not many , but if you put it in context it is being built amongst nearly 1000 new homes. People who work here tend to spend money in West Hampstead ,during the week unlike people who live here , who seem to go else where to shop . We have already lost jobs on the Ballymore site , Handrail house , the nursery , and in the future Travis Perkins and Builders depot , to name but a few. Its about seeing the bigger picture . What is the point of Camden spending £1000s on policy document s if they then don’t abide them or having endless consultations , where the council do what ever they want anyway at the end of them . We need families with less kids (my child is at school where 5 siblings is the norm ) and sites for all sorts of businesses . I don’t want to be in a position where the only place I can get my car fixed is Brent cross etc. We have lost most of the interesting shops in West Hampstead , Camden council must start thinking of how to help small businesses , not contribute to them shutting down . I have always found WHL to be extremely informative and very un bias , Im glad the people on Liddle road have been allowed to put their views forward , we hear quite enough from the councillor’s and Camden council. It doesn’t matter if it is 8 , 80 or 250 , it is still too many jobs to lose . Most people are not against development , but it must be done responsibly , something Camden seems capable of doing so far in West Hampstead .

    • Anonymous

      I wrote Camden being capable , so wrong its incapable , nearly always .

    • Totally agree with the point about ensuring the development is done responsibly. The council isn’t CPO-ing freeholds here, but ending/expiring leases on land people rent from it. Remember councillors are local residents too and we have great sympathy and want to work with anyone impacted to help them relocate – decision-makers are making a call in good faith and that should be respected in our discussion. So I don’t see how a letter on the new Funding Circle loan scheme is a “bureaucratic cock-up” (should we not have sent them the same letter to everyone? What message does that send if we didn’t?) nor is there back-slapping – as I explained there are limited options to provide a school here, or not at all, but doing so involves trade-offs. There aren’t any “management consultants” wordsmithing for the council either, although admittedly language can be quite dry and appear insensitive. Also, previous talk of council £3m “profit” from this doesn’t consider what happens to the money – general fund property money raised is invested back in schools and community facilities and housing land into new council housing or repairs: just as the surplus from another development somewhere else (or borough capital reserves) funded the new building at Emmanuel school in WHamp.

      Anyway, we get to look at all of these questions again in the New Year, and planning questions during the planning process, so there is plenty of time to explore all of this further and hopefully seek more detailed understanding and improvement to the proposal.

    • Hi Theo, once again, thank you for taking the time to respond to the issues.

      The recipient of the Funding Circle letter certainly saw it a bureaucratic error – it suggests that one part of the council doesn’t know what the other part is doing (fairly common in large organisations, so not really a criticism). A letter to a business that’s being booted out of its premises that wishes it every success with no reference to its immediate predicament is unlikely to sit well with those who receive it – it’s a sort of accidental insenstivity, which for the traders unfortunately reinforces their view that Camden isn’t on their side (whatever the actual content of the letter).

      As to the back-slapping, I’m afraid that when I watched the webcast of the cabinet meeting some members were rather gushing about the achievements (wihch as I said, are indeed impressive), but with no acknowledgement of the negative side-effects. Maybe we are supposed to take that as read, but in these public pronouncements it behoves councillors to think carefully about what they do/don’t say.

      Apologies if I implied management consultants were involved, that wasn’t my intention – rather to point out that the language does, as you say, often feel dry and insensitive.

      I completley recognise – and have made the point clearly in other articles – that these are not easy decisions and it is politicians’ job to make them. We can’t please everyone, I know.

      I look forward to seeing more about the proposals in the New Year – and to seeing those detailed job figures, which don’t seem to have materialised yet, but should not be forgotten. Perhaps that’s something you could ping an e-mail to the relevant person about?

  • Anonymous

    I’m the Anonymous that “WHampstead18 December 2013 12:53” posted about.

    You state “You’re going to have to be a bit more specific about where I’m being biased and partisan” – the whole article! It reeks of unfettered oppositionism. You interview and evidence solely the cons of the project, not the pros. If it was an opinion piece, I’d perhaps understand, but you labour under the misapprehension that you’re somehow providing balance, when that clearly isn’t the case.

    Whilst I agree with you that it’s an article about people having to relocate their businesses, you adopt a tone that doubts any of the evidence that the Council provides. If you honestly think that stating school places are needed and then unilaterally discard the only realistic option of providing them, then how can I or anyone else reading this come to any other opinion other than you have written a biased piece of reportage.

    Whilst you state that “everyone accepts that the school places are needed” – almost all articles then go on to suggest a wide variety of scatterbrained schemes to provide this, all of which anyone independent would dismiss out of hand – 156 West End Lane being a case in point – completely inappropriate for a school and bound to cause myriad traffic and parking problems that would make Liddell Road look like a walk in the park but touted far and wide by traders like Gospodin Viric as a panacea to all our school place problems. The council I am sure will you furnish you with how they came to the 80 jobs number – I’m not sure Mr Viric will give us the source of his vastly inflated figures, though. .

    You also have to consider that if Liddell Road isn’t taken by Kingsgate, the likelihood would be that the “NW6 for Nice Middle Class Churchgoing Children and Absolutely No Scratters from Brent Or Kilburn Secondary School” would be next in line to grab hold of the land. But, since WHL seems to unilaterally back this scheme, maybe you’d be slightly less hostile..

    When you state “there is no suggestion whatsoever in the piece that Camden is doing anything illegal”, so that’s why some of the traders are taking Camden to court, then, because they, er, observed the law ? This is why I “feel the need to make that point”.

    My affiliations ? I work locally and have experience in the field, and now when a campaign is being run that has little or no evidence to support it. My anonymous status is because my employers may take a dim view of my postings.

    • This will take two comments to respond to
      “The whole article reeks of unfettered oppositionism” is precisely the sort of non-specific answer that worries me.
      You write: “You interview and evidence solely the cons of the project not the pros”. As I said in my first response, this article forms part of a series. This includes a full unedited response from Camden council – not sure how I’m supposed to be more unbiased? This particular article is about the businesses that are almost certainly going to have to relocate or close – from their perspective there are no pros. I discuss why the new school is needed in an earlier piece, and mention it again here.

      You write: “It adopts a tone that doubts any of the evidence the council provides”. This piece set out explicitly to reflect the views of the traders. I have already written a piece that asks to see that evidence. Do you think it is unreasonable that when jobs are being lost the responsible body shouldn’t be transparent about how it’s come to its findings. I don’t believe you are someone who always accepts everything you are told.

      You write: “If you think that school places are needed and then unilaterally discard the only realistic option of providing them…” Where do I do that? Every article acknowledges the school places are needed, no article unilaterally discards the Liddell Road option – I do question which other options have been looked at; again, it seems reasonable to ask to see the evidence when the impact is so negative for one group of people. Do you disagree?

      I write that the traders’ campaign: “…may be a futile cause. Sadly, in a dense urban environment and in these times of austerity, it’s rarely going to be possible to please everyone. The school places are needed, but the traders on the estate are finding it hard to see their future somewhere else and don’t feel the council has explained clearly enough why this is the only solution.” You’ll need to explain to me how that is unilaterally discarding this option. I read it as saying “this is likely to be the final outcome and it may be the right one, but that’s of no comfort for the traders”. What here do you disagree with?

      You write: “Whilst you state that “everyone accepts that the school places are needed” – almost all articles then go on to suggest a wide variety of scatterbrained schemes to provide this”. Almost all articles might, but this one does not. The only alternative scheme any of my articles have given any credence to is the Kingsgate Workshop idea, and my comments there were hardly wholeheartedly supportive – once again, they ask to see how Camden has come to its decisions. Theo responded to this, and I accept his points. The 156 WEL idea is clearly not viable and nowhere do I support it. Please don’t criticise me based on what other people write.

    • You write: “The council I am sure will furnish you with how they came to the 80 jobs number – I’m not sure Mr Viric will give us the source of his vastly inflated figures”. I’m still waiting for the council document – I’m hoping that it materialises once everyone is back from the holidays. Mr Viric has a binder that he offered to give me, but I said I’d wait until I had the council numbers so I could compare. As I say in this piece, I don’t believe either number is correct, but it will be interesting to see how the two parties have produced their figures. Hopefully I don’t have to go through the FOI process to get Camden’s.

      Your comment that WHL “seems to unilaterally back” the NW6 Free School campaign is so risible that it’s unworthy of a response and merely reinforces an impression that you have a specific axe to grind.

      Your penultimate paragraph confuses me. Your initial comment from before Christmas mentioned this thing about Camden not acting illegally even though I never implied it was. It was an odd thing to write – and now you tell me that some of the traders are taking Camden to court? That’s news to me – you are well informed. Once again, it’s some sort of criticism of my writing based on something I didn’t write and in this case didn’t know about.

      All of which makes your anonymity even more intriguing. Your passion for this story implies far more than a passing interest, but it seems we will never know who you are or why you are quite so exercised by my writing – I reiterate, one article in a series about what is a contentious topic.

      What I find most baffling is that your attitude towards the traders – and the Virics in particular – seems to imply that you think they are behaving badly. Whether or not you think that a primary school is a better use of this land than the businesses that are there today, and whether or not you think Camden has behaved impeccably, it seems unduly cold-hearted not to feel some sympathy for people whose livelihoods are being turned upside down by the decision.