Raising the roof on the student housing block

The new owner of the student housing block on Blackburn Road, has put in a planning application to add 41 additional rooms (studios) to the block buy adding extra floors on top.

Blackburn Road student housing ‘as is’

The development already has 347 units and has already been given planning permission to add an extension to the internal courtyard and a new outdoor canopy to the front.

The new application is to add extra floors to the existing building(s).  Each of the constituent blocks will get additional floors. The one facing Blackburn Road will get a single storey mansard roof, the one on the corner will get a two-storey extension, the one in the middle will get one floor and the tallest will stay the same height but will have its lead roofing replaced by brick fascia to match the others.

Blackburn Road student housing ‘after’.

From an aesthetic point of view, the new design seems to bring the building more in keeping with West Hampstead Square. Unusually, the planning application explicitly criticises the ‘ugly’ lead roof – the “top single storey and a 2-storey zinc appear just dropped on the roof”. Clearly Camden didn’t feel it was too ugly first time around. One can argue the visual merits of mixed materials vs. homogeneity.

Proposal as seen from the O2 carpark.

The developers have presented the plans to the NDF (Neighbourhood Development Forum).  The NDF is quite relaxed about the extra storeys and indeed at their public meeting someone opined that the existing building was of’incredibly poor design’. Apparently, the council feels the same way as ‘the council continue to recognise the opportunity to improve the appearance of the existing building’.

The extra height will cast shadow on what could be the best location for a green space as and when the O2 car park is redeveloped, so decisions made now could influence future plans – more evidence for the need for some joined-up thinking/masterplanning.

The NDF did say that as a quid-pro-quo for development it would like to see improved landscaping at ground level. The developers have made some sensible suggestions. However, when the scheme was originally built there were improvements to the passage at the side of the building. Sadly these improvements were not maintained and the area  soon looked unkempt again. If there is no maintenance plan for the new planting, the same thing will happen again. Agreements to landscape need to come with a commitment or obligation to keep any new landscapes areas in good condition, or funding so the council can do it.

New landscaping plans, but who will maintain it?

The developers are also proposing improvements to the end section of Billy Fury Way (from West End Lane to the corner of the building). Billy Fury Way has been a problem now for some time that the council and Network Rail seem unable to resolve. No progress is being made, nor are any of the options being costed or considered on a value-for-money basis, which is surprising in an era of budget constraints.

The original landscaping in front of the building is also to be replaced having not been successful (or maintained). Planting Birches (a woodland tree) in a baking hot pavement was done by someone who didn’t know what they were doing.

Despite concerns about the impact on the area, the students don’t seem to cause anti-social behaviour (their parents are paying over £10,000 p.a. per room). Also, although it took a while, all the commercial space is now let, so overall it’s a benefit to the area. It’s just a bit odd that it is being redeveloped so soon and partly on grounds of poor design. You can add comments on the application up to the 23 January.

 

A walk up West End Lane

Following our recent walk down the Kilburn High Road, we took a similar walk up West End Lane. Joining us was John Saynor, chair of WHAT (West Hampstead Amenity and Transport), which takes a keen interest in these matters too.

We didn’t really focus on the litter situation, because – dare I say it – it seems a bit better, although we aren’t counting our chickens, or the discarded fried chicken containers.  Instead, we focused on the street clutter and particularly the A-boards that can obstruct pavements.

Without getting too technical (and with apologies for those who read the KHR piece), I’m going to introduce the word ‘curtilage’ at this point. This means the space between your property and the public highway, but which is still your land. Within reason you can do what want – deck it, put up an A-board or set out goods for sale.

However, if any of these activities take place on the public footpath then people have the right to be miffed. In fact it’s a planning infringement that must be rectified. A well maintained high street keeps the pavement clear and makes sure that it is wide enough for pedestrians (including those with buggies, or in wheelchairs) to pass in opposite directions. There are London planning standards for this – the pedestrian comfort guidance, which recommends a minimum of 3 metres width for a busy pedestrian pavement like West End Lane.

Of course shop-owners put their A-boards out to try to grab some extra custom, a manager might change and not realise the rules (implicit or explicit) or a contractor will put out warning signs and leave them, so there needs to be regular vigilance to ensure that pavements don’t get overrun with signage or other commercial undertakings.

However, the situation is not always clear-cut. At some points the pavement is narrow and any obstruction is a potential hazard, at others it is wide and it’s not such a problem. The width of the curtilage also varies, so at some points, a shopkeeper can put out an A-board but in others, where there is no curtilage they can’t, which can seem ‘unfair’.

With all this in mind, we started our walk by the stations. For years, locals have been campaigning to ensure that the pavements around and between the stations are widened and kept clutter free to ensure easy (and safe) movement of pedestrians. There have been improvements over recent years, but the recent attempt by a phonebox company to install some phone boxes here would have undone all the hard work. Thankfully Camden turned the application down. The situation will also be improved when the Overground station is finished as it will be set much further back, removing a dangerous pinch point on the pavement.

Outside the tube station, we spotted these freebie newspaper containers. They don’t look great and cause a certain amount of disruption to pedestrians in a busy section.  In the past, they have been removed, but they seem to be creeping back. Who is responsible for sorting this out? WHAT takes an interest in these matters, but is it anyone’s responsibility to report infringements? Is it the role of the Neighbourhood Development Forum? What about the thousands of local commuters who walk past daily, or the local councillors, or street cleaners or community police officers?

We asked the local councillors about this and Cllr Lorna Russell replied that the Council do rely on members of the public to flag issues as they can’t have eyes and ears everywhere. However, many people don’t know what needs reporting and even if they do, don’t know how best to report it. Likewise, the councillors themselves report things – they are avid users of the Clean Camden app.

Sometimes an issue can be dealt with by having a quiet word. Other times official action is needed and the council has to take charge.

Here is a good example. This redundant sign (from the Overground crane works) was left there throughout the week even on the very narrowest sections of pavement. A quick call to the Overground building works team got agreement to store them during the week. Success! It’s since reappeared 🙁 and now sits off to one side.

Next up we cross the road to Banana Tree. The restaurant has just lost an appeal and will have to remove its decking. The pavement is not terribly narrow here, so some will judge this a little harsh. However, the restaurant’s A-board does narrow the pavement further.  As a rule of thumb, you’re not going to get an A-board and decking on your curtilage, you have to pick one. And it’s not clear where Banana Tree’s curtilage is, if it has it at all.

Some of you will remember that this time last year the Alice House had a similar issue with their decking. It was a bit different though, as it was clear it was on their curtilage and the issue was more about the height of the decking.

Further up West End Lane, there was a particularly egregious example of a creeping A-boards by Bobby Fitzpatrick, right in the middle of the pavement! Naughty.  You can see how Bobby’s has put chairs and tables out on their curtilage, just as its predecessor La Brocca did, but that A-board is as cheeky as a 1970s comedy.

On the other side of West End Lane, Cedar restaurant too has decked out its curtilage but sometimes puts an A-board out too.

And right at the top of West End Lane, Schnitzel has three A-boards including one which narrows the zebra crossing.

Back down West End Lane, Lola’s is a recent arrival and it has started putting out an A-board too – sometimes partly on the pavement. Even though it has a relatively wide curtilage, it still had to apply for planning permission to put out tables and chairs, but again it’s the A-board that causes the most disruption, particularly because the public pavement is relatively narrow and busy.

There is good news here though, as a quiet word with one of the managers led to the compromise of putting the board as close to the planter as possible, which makes a significant difference.

It’s not all bad news. Here’s an A-board nearly placed on a premise’s curtilage. Gold star to West End Lane Books!

Outside the library we looked at the planting and seating.  It’s sad that this has been neglected since being installed a couple of years ago. Again there is a question of who is responsible for maintaining it.  It was originally installed when the Lib-Dem/Conservatives coalition gave areas the ability to choose projects they wanted, and this was one. Indeed it was very popular in this NDF survey. So it’s shame it’s been neglected.

We also noticed that some of the bus stops and seats were very grubby with an accumulation of dirt that a good jet wash would deal with. If it hasn’t been done by early March, then maybe it’s something for the Great British Spring Clean on March 2-4, 2018.

All in all, things weren’t bad (and better than the Kilburn High Road). But there is still room for improvement, though it remains unclear who is responsible for reporting the problems that do exist.

Luxury retirement development ‘can’t afford’ to pay for affordable housing

West Hampstead is facing yet another large-scale property development. It’s the third proposal to redevelop the site at the former Gondar Gardens reservoir. The history of the previous proposals have been well documented on these pages, but what really caught our eye about this one was that it offers no affordable housing either on-site or as a payment for development elsewhere. Previous schemes have offered about 35% affordable housing. The developers claim that as a care-home they are not legally obliged – but even if they were, according to their sums they couldn’t afford it!

A quick recap

There have been three planning applications for this site over the past eight years. Gondar Gardens is designated a site of importance for nature conservation (it has Camden’s only population of slow worms). Developer Linden Homes’ first scheme proposed 16 houses built low in the cavity of the old reservoir (the ‘pit’  or ‘Teletubbies’ scheme) with an off-site affordable housing contribution of £6.8 million. The second proposal was to build along the frontage of Gondar Gardens (the ‘frontage’ scheme’), which was turned down as the design wasn’t good enough. A revised frontage scheme was submitted for 28 flats, or which 10 were affordable plus a small additional off-site contribution. This scheme was approved on appeal and thus we all expected that Linden Homes would build this scheme and that would be that.

There’s a new developer on the scene

Instead, Linden Homes sold the site to a new developer, LifeCare Residences (LCR). LCR, which started in New Zealand, builds what it terms “exceptional retirement communities”. Here in the UK, it has one in Hampshire and another in Battersea. In West Hampstead, it’s proposing to build Persephone Gardens. Classicists will know that Persephone is the Queen of the Underworld. Odd choice of reference for a retirement village.

For Gondar Gardens, LCR proposes 82 self-care retirement apartments with a total residential floor space of 7,662m2. The flats include 7 one-bedroom, 62 two-bedroom and 13 three-bedroom flats.  The total floor space of the whole development is 14,088m2 – almost double the floor space of the previous two schemes combined. Both of the previous schemes included about 35% affordable housing, although Camden’s (rarely achieved) target is 50%.

If this new scheme followed its predecessors, one would expect at least 30-40 affordable flats. But the plans show that none at all are proposed – nor is there any off-site contribution.

LCR is, however, building extra facilities for the residents on site because it is a retirement home, including a 15-bed nursing home. But it also plans ‘communal’ facilities – and what facilities: a lounge, a library, a restaurant and bar, and a café, an indoor exercise and rehabilitation pool, a gym. Wow! That’s a lot, you’re thinking. There is more: a hair salon, treatment rooms (of course), the sun lounge and, oh yes, a cinema. And of course a whole host of back-of-house areas for the staff.

The chauffeur-driven cars on site have already raised a few eyebrows. The development will be car-free, so LCR is planning to have chauffer-driven BMW i3s, like at its Battersea site, at the beck and call of residents, and for those who want to be ferried around in more comfort, a couple of Audi A8s too.

Are you beginning to notice something all the residents have in common?

If this all sounds rather luxurious, that it is the intention. Comparing the flat sizes to Mayor of London’s recommended size for new developments, LCR’s are generously proportioned. The flats are substantially bigger than the recommended size for flats in the London plan; e.g. the one-beds are 69m2 vs a recommended 50m2; the two-bed and three bedroom flats similarly generous.

The architects Robin Partington stated in the Design and Access statement: LCR’s brief requires the apartments to be larger than national space standards. Residents are typically downsizing from big family homes, and although there are only 1-2 people living in each apartment, space is appreciated to maintain their way of life and house their belongings“.

Finally, a non-white face in the promo images – he’s a waiter!

The luxury nature of the development is reflected also in the viability statement: “In the assessment of market values, which have been provided by Savills we understand that the specification of the common parts and apartments will be of a very high quality and reflective of the luxury retirement living that the scheme will deliver.

Why no affordable housing?

The first argument is a bit technical and has to do with use classes. LCR states that the flats should be designated as class C2 (hospital or nursing home) rather than C3 (housing). It’s understandable that the 15-bed nursing home would be C2, but the 82 flats? One common way to determine if a property is C2 or C3, is the ‘front door test’. If residents have their own lockable front door, then the flats should be C3, and it seems that would be the case here in these generous flats. To get around this definition, LCR will offer a couple of hours of assistance per week, whether the residents want it or not.

This approach has been tried before. Another retirement home developer, Pegasus Life, tried the same idea for the equally luxurious Hampstead Green Place on Rowland Hill in Hampstead. It argued the housing was C2 (offering 1.5 hours of care a week) but lost the argument and the 60 flats are being built as C3.

The other argument used by LCR is the standard plea of poverty – or at least too low a profit margin.

Linden Homes bought the site from Thames Water for £3 million, and those proposals allowed for £6.8 million to affordable housing in the first scheme and 10 affordable flats in the second. Linden Homes sold the site to LCR for £11 million according to the Land Registry records.

What does the viability statement say?

*Warning it’s going to get a bit complicated here, but bear with us, it’s important*

LCR commissioned property consultancy Rapleys to write a viability report to submit with the planning application. It’s hard to follow as it’s redacted, but it is possible to make some educated guesses as to what the numbers might add up to on a development of this scale, with the help of industry insiders.

To reach its conclusion, Rapleys had to calculate the “residual land value”, which is Gross Development Value (basically “revenue from the sale of flats”) minus costs, planning contributions, and profit (typically assessed at around 20%). This is then compared to an appropriate benchmark value to assess the viability of affordable housing contributions.

Let’s do the sums.

First, the gross development value. To calculate this, we need to know how much private flats like these would be worth? We have a  good benchmark with the high-end West Hampstead Square development, which also has some amenities (though nothing in the league of the proposal from LCR). Gondar Gardens is further from the stations, which makes it cheaper, but also not between two train lines. On balance it’s easy to argue Gondar Gardens would sell for more than West Hampstead Square, but WH Square will be a good benchmark. On this basis (looking at recent resales), a 69m2 one-bed flat in Gondar Gardens would be £825,000, a two-bed 90m2 flat £995,000, and a three-bed flat a cool £1.35 million.

(Interestingly, in nearby Hampstead, Pegasus Life is marketing two posh retirement schemes although with fewer amenities. Nevertheless, at one of these schemes, the cheapest two-bed flat is on for £2.95 million, so we may we wildly underestimating Gondar Gardens).

Sticking with the Ballymore equivalents, the sale of the flats would generate approximately £85 million. The fifteen extra care beds have a market value, like all care-home beds, of about £295,000 each, so are valued at £4.5 million. Adding the two together gives a total gross development value of £89 million.

Now we need to look at the costs of development. Rapleys don’t disclose the construction costs but based on this nearby scheme (which is equally modern, but a bit less posh), we estimate construction costs for a development like LCR’s would be about £2,500/m2 for the 14,088m2. This is perhaps the number with the most margin for error in our calculations given that just under half of the development is taken up with all those facilities. However, LCR is effectively arguing that building all these extra luxury facilities means it won’t have any money to build affordable housing.  By comparison, a normal housing development would have 10-15% of ancillary space (corridors, communal areas etc).

In total, we estimate build costs of around £35 million. Add to that a 5% contingency (£1.75 million), professional fees at 10% of costs (£3.5 million) and marketing fees – 2% of GDV to sell the flats (£1.6 million).

Then there are community infrastructure levy (CIL) costs (this is the money that developers pay local councils and City Hall to help offset the additional public sector costs incurred by having more people and development in the area). Normally CIL is calculated on the increase in residential floor space, as this is the driver of any additional strain on local resources. For Gondar Gardens, LCR is arguing that the increase in area is 9,242m2, not 14,088m2, using the empty and derelict reservoir space of 4,866m2 as the “existing use”. There is a clear change of use, so it’s not clear why LCR does not using the full 14,088m2 to calculate their contribution.

Under its proposal, Camden would receive a CIL contribution of £2,310,500 and City Hall would take £462,100 (if the full development area was used, there would be an additional £2 million of combined CIL due).

Revenue minus costs, therefore, is calculated as £89 million less build costs of £35 million, a contingency of £1.75 million, marketing fees of £1.6 million, professional fees of £3.5 million and a total CIL of £2.75 million. That gives a gross profit of £44.m million. The accepted 20% profit margin of the GDV is £17.7 million, which leaves a residual land value of £26.7 million. The numbers are obviously not exact but our industry insiders agree this is a good ballpark figure.

This residual land value basically translates to “extra profit”, which means that it’s where contributions to affordable housing would come from. Recall, that based on a much smaller scheme, Linden Homes was offering a contribution of more than £6 million. If LCR was to make a contribution then using the calculations from the Pegasus schemes in Hampstead (for which Rapleys also produced the viability report) it would deliver a £10.6 million contribution.

Yet below is their redacted claim that they can’t afford any affordable housing contribution.

Our estimate of the residual land value of £26.7 million is considerably more than the £11 million LCR paid for the site. Even if we deduct an affordable housing contribution of £10 million (which, LCR claims it can’t afford), that would still leave a residual value of £16.7 million – still more than the cost of buying the site. Even if our building costs are wrong, they would have to be substantial underestimations to soak up all this residual value. It is therefore hard to understand how no affordable housing contribution at all is deemed viable. Perhaps the expected sale value of the flats is far lower than comparable schemes.

LCR/Rapleys instructed Carter Jonas to carry out an independent valuation of the site to form the benchmark value. They don’t disclose this, but obviously it would be interesting to know how it compares to the £11 million that LCR paid for the site (bear in mind also, that the site comes with planning permission for the revised frontage scheme and its £6.8 million affordable housing contribution).

LCR told us that that have commissioned a further independent assessment of the assessment and were in discussion with Camden’s appointed surveyor, but had no further comment.

Conclusion

This proposal illustrates a significant flaw in the planning system that gives an advantage to developers of luxury retirement schemes. First, such developers are incentivised to claim such schemes are care home and not housing, even if they pass the front door test. Then, the more luxurious they make it and the more ancillary facilities they offer (and have to pay for), the more they can avoid making any affordable housing contribution.

This analysis has also been an interesting insight into the Alice-in-Wonderland economics of viability reporting. It’s important stuff, but too often developers deploy smoke and mirrors around the planning department and unless at least some members of the public understand what is going on developers get away with it. Why, for example, should so many of the figures be redacted? We had the same situation with Liddell Road, which was publicly owned land and being used partly for a public amenity.

Part of this is due to the merry-go-round of a developer buying a site and getting planning permission for one scheme and then selling it on to another, ratching up the base value. One reason for the planning system is to capture some of the financial gain when land is redesignated for another use. Yet it appears developers can drive a chauffer-drive BMWi3 though that objective.

Baby boomers lucky enough to have bought their houses in the 1970s and 80s and have made huge windfall gains. They now get sell them and move into luxury retirement flats that avoid the requirement to build affordable housing. A competing developer that was building ordinary flats for young people and young hard-working families would have to build affordable housing. Sorry, Generation Rent, it’s heads you lose, tails they win.

Deliveroo offers locals new food options, but at what cost?

 

West Hampstead residents are hardworking and hungry, which goes some way to explain the platoon of Deliveroo bikes we see around the neighbourhood and congregating around West End Green. We are about to see a lot more of them.

Hong Kong, Dubai … West Hampstead

In its quest for world domination, Deliveroo has been trialling a new concept called Deliver Editions. The company is setting up kitchens in low-rent areas like industrial estates and leasing them to existing restaurant operations who employ chefs to share the kitchens and prepare take-away only food. Deliveroo of course is the sole delivery service available so it gets the rent and the delivery fee, while the restaurants get access to the growing home delivery market in new areas without the time and outlay (and risk) of setting up prime retail locations. Delivery is within a 2km radius making sure food stays fresh and hot, apparently.

Having trialled this in Dubai and Hong Kong, the company is now rolling it out in London – including Swiss Cottage. When it is fully operational the Swiss Cottage unit will include nine different sections/kitchens, but initially it’s just five; Lievita, Motu, Ahi Poke, Busaba and Mezze House.

Not everyone is happy

This new concept is taking take-away into new territory and it is also pushing the boundaries of planning.

In Swiss Cottage, Deliveroo has taken over a site behind 117 Finchley Road in the Cresta House car park (where the Estancia steakhouse was). It was a already a light industrial unit (it was an old Post Office sorting office which has been empty for years) so it’s unclear whether it  needs permission for change of use, but it does need permission for the extraction fans and ducting, which it has applied for. However, the operation appears to be up and running before permission had been granted. The company had also applied for an alcohol licence from the neighbouring Estancia steakhouse but withdrew the application after concerns from the police that alcohol should be delivered only with food.

Of course more Deliveroo means more Deliveroo drivers, which not everyone (possibly noone?) is excited about. Swiss Cottage resident Elaine Bodenitz says “it’s got to the point that we are so infuriated.” In response to concerns, Deliveroo has a full-time security guard to marshall the drivers. Meanwhile, Swiss Cottage councillor Roger Freeman is taking up the planning and enforcement issues with the local planning department.

Expansion of the Farmers’ market; too much too soon?

London Farmers’ Markets has applied to Camden Council to expand the operating hours of the market that currently pops up on Iverson Road every Saturday. The existing market is popular, so this initially seems like a good idea and LFM has made it very easy for locals to show their support. However, residents who’ve looked at the smallprint have some reservations, and it is far from clear whether the demand is actually there.

We love the farmer's market, but is expansion from 4 to a potential 82 hours a week too much, too soon?

We love the farmer’s market, but is expansion from 4 to a potential 82 hours a week too much, too soon?

For years, the residents of West Hampstead clamoured for a farmers’ market, and their wish came true five years ago. Pretty much from the word go it’s been a success, as our Insight into: Brinkworth Dairy explained.

To build on this success, London Farmers’ Markets – the company that puts on not just the West Hampstead market, but most of the major once-a-week markets around the capital, including Queens Park’s Sunday market – has put in a planning application to expand the hours of operation. On Saturday, the market would potentially run until 8pm, rather than 2pm as it is now. There could be a Sunday market from 10am to 5pm and on Mondays to Fridays it is asking for permission to trade from 7am to 8pm. Add it all up and it’s a potential expansion from 4 to 82 hours a week.

Local residents in Maygrove and Iverson Road, who already are under severe parking ‘stress’ are obviously concerned about the impact on parking, and there are also concerns about rush-hour passenger and traffic flows.

Nor does it seem that the traders themselves are unanimously in favour. Many of the regular stallholders have to drive a couple of hours to get here, which would mean 5am starts (or earlier) if they were to be opening for busines at 7am (not allowing for setup time). Once they finish and pack up there’s another two hour drive home – or more in the afternoon traffic. If the Saturday market didn’t close until 8pm they wouldn’t be home until 11pm, having got up at 5am. And then get up the next day at 5am for the next farmers market? All seems rather implausible.

Other locals have raised concerns about the impact on our local greengrocers, butchers and cafés? Businesses at the farmer’s market don’t have to pay the high rent or rates that businesses with premises have to face, so would this amount to unfair competition.

Postcode survey of farmers' market users source: LFM

Postcode survey of farmers’ market users. Source: LFM

LFM says that the mid-week market would be a different animal to the weekend market. There would be fewer stalls and more food outlets. But this has been tried before, admittedly not by LFM, and was not a great success given the lack of footfall. As we all know, West Hampstead is a busy interchange so there are morning and evening rush hours but not much in-between. Traders who were involved with that market thought that, if at all, just running it on Thursday and Friday night might be a better option.

It does rather feel as if LFM is attempting to get permission for as many hours as it possibly can, and will then work out when it will actually choose to trade, with the flexibility to adjust based on demand and the seasons. The idea of more than 80 hours of trading every week is surely unrealistic.

Even those with reservations – locals and traders – think that an expansion of the hours of trading is worth exploring -perhaps a market on Sunday with similar hours to Saturday but a slightly different focus. During the week perhaps one evening to test the market. In essence let’s not kill the farmer’s market goose that lays the organic golden egg.

Planners at Camden Council are reviewing the application and have acknowledged support for it. However, they are also considering the impact on neighbourhood amenity, local traffic and highway safety plus implications for the viability of the town centre. If you want to comment, you have until the 6th of July and can do so here.

New captains take the helm of local planning group

The NDF has a new head – or rather heads. After five years of steering the Neighbourhood Development Forum, chairman James Earl stepped down at last night’s AGM.

A memory of West Hampstead to take away!

A memory of West Hampstead to take away!

James is leaving West Hampstead for pastures new. His replacement(s): NDF treasurer Nick Jackson and former Lib Dem local councillor Keith Moffitt.

In the end, the whole handover process was remarkably smooth. When James asked for nominations, Lib Dem cllr Flick Rea nominated Nick Jackson, Nick nominated Keith Moffitt and at this point Keith confessed that they has discussed it in advance and had agreed to share the role. The rest of the committee agreed to stand again, with Nick retaining his treasurer role. All rather uncontroversial. Nick has been a core member of the NDF ever since it was established, and Keith knows his way round the corridors of Camden better than anyone as former leader of the council.

Nick Jackson (L) and Keith Moffitt (R) - the new co-chairs of the NDF

Nick Jackson (L) and Keith Moffitt (R) – the new co-chairs of the NDF

In James’ final report as chair he said that in the five years since the NDF was set up it has reached 500 members, written an Neighbourhood Development Plan  that will last until 2031! and is making traction with its priorities.

In his new role as co-chair Keith thanked James for the huge amount of work he has done for West Hampstead and Nick presented him with a couple of memories of the area.

Ever since the Neighbourhood Development Plan was approved by referendum, the role of the NDF has been a little hazy. Is it there to ensure the plan is adhered to? Should it take a more proactive role in continuing to shape the development of the area? How should membership be defined? These are all questions that Keith and Nick will need to answer in the coming months.

Nick’s first thoughts were that “the role of the NDF now is to ensure that the Neighbourhood Plan is applied and enforced on all significant schemes in the Fortune Green and West Hampstead wards. We are also looking at the future of the designated Growth Area around the stations and we need to continue to press for master-planning for all the significant potential sites in the Growth Area to avoid uncoordinated development, and to maximise the value to the community of any development there”.

He added, “The immediate big challenge is to maintain the high standard of evaluation and comment on proposed schemes in the area, a process which has been very effectively led by James over the past five years, and that has won some substantial improvements to the proposals. There are likely to be several big developments coming forward soon that will need close scrutiny and robust comment. For instance, the developers of the very large and dense scheme for upmarket retirement housing on the Gondar Gardens reservoir green space say an application will be submitted this year. We will be supporting the local community in seeking a satisfactory outcome”.

James’s parting advice for the NDF going forward? “The main lesson is you do have to sit down and discuss with developers, you have to be involved. Make sure you have a seat at the table.”

Gondar Gardens: Chauffeur-driven retirees vs the slowworm

Gondar Gardens – the old reservoir site in the northern reaches of West Hampstead – has had more than its fair share of development proposals over the past few years. Some have been rejected – even on appeal – and some have been accepted. Yet nothing has actually been built.

The most recent decision was in 2014, when a scheme by developer Linden Wates to build 28 homes along the street side of the open space was approved on appeal.

The "frontage" scheme, approved in 2014

The “frontage” scheme, approved in 2014

Last year, LifeCare Residences bought the site from LindenWates. LifeCare Residences builds luxury retirement homes.

Late Sunday night, the local residents association, GARA, sent an email with more details on what was happening:

  • LifeCare wants to build 108 luxury flats on Gondar Gardens reservoir, together with a restaurant, swimming pool, nursing facilities and various offices to service their ‘retirement community’108? Not a joke? And nursing facilities too?
  • They would make their scheme “car free” by providing a chauffeur service to their residentshardly a model of sustainable transport or encouraging integration with the rest of us!
  • They would pay Camden a large sum in lieu of providing any affordable housing
  • LifeCare and their professional advisers appeared surprised to learn that the Open Space and Site of Nature Conservation Importance cover the whole site except for a small strip on the street frontagewe sent them away to look at the plans!

We already knew that LifeCare builds luxury retirement homes – hardly an amenity for local residents as we are simply not in their target market. Compare that to the currently approved frontage-only scheme for 28 homes that delivers both affordable housing and protection of the Open Space, with 93% of the land gifted to the London Wildlife Trust in perpetuity. Click here for a brief summary of previous schemes.

In case you’re wondering what creatures inhabit this space to justify its importance as a wildlife sanctuary – the answer is slow worms. Before you mock, this is one of the few habitats for them in urban areas, and the species is protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Does West Hampstead need to sacrifice a green space for some chauffeur-driven wealthy retirees?

Housing targets 90 percent fulfilled with 14 years to go!

Last week we looked at job creation in West Hampstead. This week, we turn our attention to housing.

In the London Plan 2016, West Hampstead is glamorously referred to as “Area for intensification, number 45”. The original designation dates back to the time Ken Livingstone used to commute to City Hall via West Hampstead and no doubt saw all this space around the railway tracks. The “intensification” was to increase housing by 800 new homes and jobs by 100 in the Growth Area, mapped below.

In 2015, Camden confirmed these numbers in its own plan for  the West Hampstead Interchange over the following 16 years, though this is substantially lower than the number outlined in its 2010 Core Strategy document, which was 2,000 new homes but was then scaled back to 1,000. The “Interchange” is almost exactly the same as the growth area.

It is not clear who originally drew the outline of the Growth Area, and why, for example, it didn’t include the council-owned light industrial site  Liddell Road.

WH Growth area2

In early 2017, how is West Hampstead progressing towards this housing target?

Nido. The student housing on Blackburn Road immediately presents a challenge. It has 347 beds but unless you really stretch the definition of a “home”, that does not really equate to 347 new homes. A better measure, though not perfect, is to look at it as 39 shared-flats and 52 studios = 91 units.

Asher House. Next door to the student housing is the former Accurist offices, which was fairly quietly converted to residential under a government scheme to speed up planning that improved the valuation of the building without including any affordable housing. It was converted into 25 units, however, it is possible that it may be fully redeveloped in the future, which would be likely to add a couple of stories.

West Hampstead Square. If anyone ever actually moves in, then its seven blocks contain 198 units (145 market, 33 affordable rented, 20 shared ownership).

156 West Lane. The Travis Perkins building that’s just been given the go-ahead for redevelopment will have 164 units (85 market, 44 affordable rent, 35 shared ownership).

And 198 new flats at West Hampstead Square

And 198 new flats at West Hampstead Square

That’s 478 units so far within the Growth Area, but there are a number of large developments that fall just outside the Growth Area, but at the same sort of density. Should they be included in the targets? We are talking about large-scale dense developments on the fringes of the growth area and whose residents will certainly be gravitating to West Hampstead for their transport needs in particular.

Liddell Road. The largest of these developments, Liddell Road includes 106 units of housing to sit alongside the school (indeed, paying for the school). Just four of these units will be at affordable rents.

The Residence. Next door at 65-67 Maygrove Road, this scheme includes 91 units (79 market, 4 shared ownership, 3 social rented and 5 affordable rented).

The Ivery & The Central. The old Iverson Tyres site has 19 units (15 market, 2 shared ownership, 2 social rented) while the former garden centre site next door has 33 units (23 market, 7 socially rented, 3 shared ownership).

Adding these additional 249 to the 478 gives us 727 housing units – 90% of the housing target for 2031!

There are at least three other sites in the planning pipeline, although progress is slow and final numbers speculative.

11 Blackburn Road. This attractive but run-down Victorian warehouse had a planning application for six 2-bed houses and the conversion of the main warehouse into B1 employment space downstairs with a couple of flats upstairs. Nothing seems to be happening with this at the moment, but there’s a potential 8 units.

14 Blackburn Road. Way back in 2004, permission was granted to redevelop the Builders Depot. This was for two 4-storey blocks, one with employment space and one with 8 houses and 6 flats, plus underground parking. This permission has now lapsed so would have to be renegotiated, but these 14 units, would likely be the minimum of any new proposal.

Finally, Midland Crescent. That’s next to the O2 centre on the Finchley Road – which still counts as the West Hampstead Growth Area. This has been refused planning permission three times. The latest proposal included student housing, private housing, a shop and employment space. Again any estimate of potential is speculative, but the latest application would have delivered 40 units.

That’s a potential extra 62 new units within the growth area, but on top of that there are other sites that could be – and in some cases will be – redeveloped for housing: The Taveners Yard on Iverson Road, the Paramount carpark and – the big one – the O2 carpark.

At the workshop on the 02 carpark, there was talk of 300 new homes as well as employment and retail space. In one fell swoop West Hampstead could soar past the 1,000 new homes target. Maybe then, the tube station would finally be decreed worthy of an upgrade. Maybe.

Is anyone counting West Hampstead’s job growth?

The reason West Hampstead seems inundated with new developments is that it was designated a “Growth Area” by City Hall. The Growth Area is specifically the part of West Hamsptead around the railway lines. Targets were set for 800 new homes and 100 new jobs between 2010 and 2031. Yes, 2031.

WH Growth area2

Growth Area is outlined in black

Seven years in, we are far ahead of that job target, but there seems to be little joined up thinking about the implications. The whole issue is far more complex than it should be.

For a start, Camden seems to have changed the employment target from 100 jobs to 500 jobs (or 7, 000m2 of business space) in its Core Strategy 2010-2025 document. Yet Camden’s soon-to-be-adopted Local Plan 2016-2031 still talks about the Mayor’s targets of 100 jobs, which is also the current London plan target.

Inside Ink at Blackburn House Image: Ink Global/Sidetrade

Inside Ink at Blackburn House – Image: Ink Global/Sidetrade

Nido student housing. The first development built in the growth area was the student housing on Blackburn Road that replaced the Mercedes Benz garage. It contains 2,100m2 of office employment space, which at 12m2 of floor space per job should have created 175 jobs. It took a while to let the space out, but now, the magazine publisher Ink Global operates out of the space (if you have ever read the Easyjet Magazine that’s one of theirs), and they sublet some, but in total there are 150 full time jobs on site, and the student housing itself accounts for nearly 20 full-time jobs on site. So at ~170 full-time jobs, this space has delivered as predicted but not quite as planned. And indeed that is the entire London Plan job target met in one fell swoop.

But of course it doesn’t stop there,

West Hampstead Square. Alongside the 198 flats, there’s the M&S (583 m2), which will have ~35 full-time equivalent staff. There is another 300m2 of retail space, which has been taken by the Village Haberdashery, Provenance butcher, and Johns & Co. (Ballymore’s in-house estate agent). There’s also a further five units of 100m2 each for business or healthcare still to be let. There has been early stage interest from a doctor and a dentist for possibly one unit apiece, and other businesses for the remaining units. All told that should result in another 40 full time employees. This would give a total of ~90 new full-time jobs.

156 West End Lane. Employment was a hot topic for this redevelopment given that Travis Perkins would be removed. And of course the 2,400m2 of empty council offices had employees. The new retail space (763m2 divided up into three units, provisionally two retail and one restaurant) should create ~45 jobs, with another ~70 jobs coming from the regular office (593m2) and affordable small business workspace (500m2).

Liddell Road. Liddell Road actually falls outside the Growth Area, but does that mean that its impact should be completely ignored when thinking about local infrastructure? We would argue not.

Yellow = school, blue = housing and red = offices, workshops

Yellow = school, blue = housing and red = offices, workshops

Alongside the residential units to be built there is 3,700m2 of employment space. According to the planning officers report this will create ~280-295 full-time jobs when fully let. And the new school should eventually account for ~50 jobs. 

Iverson Tyres. Also outside the Growth Area – just, as part of its planning permission the developer was required to keep 150m2 of light industrial space, however, it has since applied to convert it to B1 office or D1. This should create a further ~10 jobs.

If we add up all the jobs we know about, then we get to just over 700 new jobs in ~8,700m2 of space (including Liddell Road outside the growth area). Even if you deduct the jobs that have been lost from these sites (a hotly contested number especially on Liddell Road), there is no question that net new jobs in West Hampstead will far far exceed both the London Plan target of 100, and Camden’s revised target of ~500.

And there are still more growth area sites to be developed, such as Midland Crescent, which will add another 100 or so, and of course the O2 car park, which has the potential to dwarf every other site.

But will all the developments deliver the total jobs predicted? Is there demand for office space in West Hampstead? Only a couple of years ago, 65 & 67 Maygrove Road were predominantly office space but agents struggled to let the space and it has since been turned into 91 flats after the developer successfully argued that there was no demand for office space in the area.

Another piece of the puzzle is that much of the new employment space is labelled ‘start-up’ and ‘incubator’ space, both at 156 West End Lane and Liddell Road. Although this sounds trendy, there is no sign of anyone offering, for example, co-working space in the area. If Camden was serious about this approach, it could have tested the waters at 156 West End Lane (the upper floors of which have been empty for years now) as a ‘meanwhile’ space for start ups and creative businesses. It feels a bit like Dad dancing at a family wedding, faintly embarrassing jumping on a bandwagon.

David Matthews of local agents Dutch and Dutch, which is letting the 500m2 flexible commercial space in West Hampstead Square, is unsurprisingly upbeat about the situation. The space hasn’t officially started to be marketed yet because construction isn’t finished yet (no surprise), but he says there has been strong demand.

West Hampstead is changing, and all these new jobs around the stations will change it even more, hopefully bringing more activity during the day though also more commuters using the stations. We looked at the issue of growth area sustainability back in 2013, but nearly four years later it feels that there has been little progress in tackling the inevitable outcomes of increased employment and residential density.

Researching this article has shown how difficult it is to understand exactly how many jobs are being created.  There is no record in the planning applications of how many jobs were lost at the Ballymore site, the Mercedes Garage or even the old Council offices, so it difficult to know the net increase. Is anyone keeping track of this? Things are not helped by confusion on what the actual targets are – with different numbers  in the Camden Core Strategy, and the Camden and London plans for the West Hampstead Growth area. The same plans talk about street improvements and better environment, but when it comes to action there is similar confusion.

156 West End Lane proposal gets green light

156 West End Lane latest plans. Image via Design and Access Statement

156 West End Lane latest plans. Image via Design and Access Statement

After a lengthy debate in the council chamber on Thursday, the Labour-dominated planning committee voted 11-2 in favour of the proposed development of 156 West End Lane – the Travis Perkins building. The plan is for 164 residential units along with some retail, office and community space.

Four of our local councillors sit on the committee: Labour’s Phil Rosenberg and James Yarde from West Hampstead, and Richard Olszewski (Lab) and Flick Rea (LibDem) from Fortune Green. Flick had already stood down from the committee for this decision so that she could speak against it. The other three stated before the meeting that they were going in with “an open mind”.  In the end, Phil voted against, the other two in favour.

Camden’s planning department and the planning committee clearly have difficult decisions to make. However, when Camden is both judge and jury for applications on its own sites, as in this case, it is always hard to shake the belief that more transparency, more frankness and less spin would help get better outcomes. The full planning officer’s report is here (PDF, 15Mb download). The recommendation was to accept the proposal.

The meeting began with statements for and against the development and in a rare development, the three opposing speakers were given two minutes each rather than the five minutes collectively that is usually allowed. Yes, a whole extra minute to fight their corner!

First was Joseph Black of does-what-it-says-on-the-tin ‘Stop the Blocks’ campaign. Unfortunately, he ran out of time partly due to a technical problem with his presentation. Their objections covered a wide range of issues, from the height and mass of the buildings and resulting overshadowing, to the segregation of the development, to potential danger from the new access road. He was followed by Larry Trachtenberg, chair of the Crediton Hill residents association, who talked about the negative impact on the conservation area. Finally there was an employee from Travis Perkins who saw her job in jeopardy.

Cllr Flick Rea went next – as a councillor she is exempt from the two minute rule. She has extensive planning experience and knows West Hampstead very well. In a passionate speech she pointed out that there were more than 600 written objections to the plans, which is exceptionally high for any application. She objected to the proposed development’s impact on the conservation area, to its blockiness, to the possible danger from the access road and to the detrimental impact on the village atmosphere of West Hampstead. Finally, she got one of the few laughs of the evening by saying it ‘looks like one of the worst excesses of East Croydon town centre’. Commitee chair, Cllr Heather Johnson tried to cut off but, being made of sterner stuff, Flick managed to get her conclusion in.

These statements were followed by questions from councillors on different aspects of the proposal;

  • Jobs: The development will include 1093m2 of employment space (half affordable for start-up units and half normal office space) and 793m2 of retail space. Planning officers argued this would create 108 new jobs overall.
  • Design: Cllr Andrew Marshall raised concerns on the brick colour (and he’s right to worry).  Cllr Sue Vincent asked why the building height didn’t fall in line with the sloping land.
  • Density: Cllr Richard Cotton asked how this proposal compared to the London guidelines, and was told that at 788 habitable rooms/hectare it exceeded the 700/ha. guidelines, although this is commonly the case.
  • Overshadowing: Yes, councillors were told, the outdoor games area will be in shadow on summer afternoons, but not enough to breach any guidelines.
  • Vehicle access: The planning and transport officers argued there would be fewer entrances/exits than there are with the current builders’ yard and that it would be safe.
  • Impact on local transport: Cllr Rosenberg asked about the impact of additional users of local transport.  The officer said that the effect would be small, and they couldn’t allocate any money directly from the development to help.
  • Community space: The development will have a 63m2 room available to the community, “because there is a shortage in West Hampstead.” As our recent article showed there are nearly 30 other community spaces for hire in the area. The new room could work well but, the costs will have to be covered and these have not been specified.

Perhaps the most contentious issue is that of affordable housing. This was discussed, though some councillors seemed to have a shaky grasp of this key but undoubtedly complicated topic. Since April last year, Camden’s strategy has been for so-called “affordable housing” to be affordable-rented and not shared-ownership. Yet this application still includes ‘shared ownership’ units in order to meet the 50% affordable housing target that the council had set itself. How rich must you be to afford shared ownership? We explore this more in this related article.

After so much discussion – two hours, your slightly stiff-necked correspondent can confirm – the vote came and went in a matter of seconds. The result was not a surprise. Ten councillors in favour, including Yarde and Olszewski, and two against – Rosenberg and Cotton. Although local Tory activists were noisily opposed to the scheme, the two Conservative councillors on the committee, Cllr Marshall and Cllr Roger Freeman voted to approve the scheme. You can watch the whole glorious event unfold here or in the video embedded at the end of this article.

Vote on 156 West End Lane

Vote on 156 West End Lane. Cllrs Rosenberg, bottom left, and Cotton (2nd row right) voted against. Chair Heather Johnson (not pictured) voted in favour. 

Despite the lengthy debate, there was little mention of how to spend the community infrastructure levy (CIL) that the developers will pay in order to help West Hampstead cope with the impact of the development. There is a curious disconnect between the political push to impose yet another another development on West Hampstead, and the lack of any similar push to ensure there is masterplanning and spending of CIL to make day-to-day improvements so these developments can be absorbed successfully.

There was also little mention of the NDF, despite this being the first major development to be tested since the neighbourhood plan was approved. And the NDF was behind much of the push to improve the development, though the group still opposed the final version of the plan. Perhaps, the council could turn to the NDF to help with a significant role in masterplanning and that CIL spending.

Now we wait for the timetable for demolition and building, and yet more works traffic on West End Lane.

How rich must you be to afford “affordable” housing?

After many people – including West Hampstead Life – made a fuss about the lack of affordable housing provision in the Liddell Road scheme, Camden promised that the 156 West End Lane scheme would meet the 50% affordable housing quota by floorspace.

The development, which was given the go-ahead by the planning committee on Thursday, ended up with 79 affordable flats, or 49.8% of floorspace. Except, you could argue it’s not even that.

Take a deep breath as we dive into the murky waters of what is and isn’t affordable housing – and quite how much money you need to get some for yourself.

First, the good news.

Of those 79 affordable flats, 44 are “affordable rented” (and equate to 30% of total floorspace). According to the planning officer’s report, the rents have been set at Camden’s target social rented rate. In 2014/15, the average cost of Camden council’s housing rent was £475 per month. To give you an idea of how that relates to the local private rental market, one-bed flats in the area on Rightmove start from about £1,250 per month.

You can therefore argue that these rented properties are indeed affordable.

Now the bad news.

The remaining 35 units (20% of total floorspace) are ‘shared ownership’ properties. This still nominally falls under so-called “intermediate” affordable housing. Intermediate includes both affordable rented and shared-ownership but excludes social housing (aka “council houses”), which is a separate category. There is no social housing planned for 156 West End Lane.

How affordable is shared ownership? We looked at the nearby Central development on Iverson Road where a one-bed shared-ownership flat is being marketed.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of shared ownership – as at least a couple of councillors on Thursday night were clearly not – then here’s the primer:

Shared ownership means you take a stake (often 25%) in the property and any mortgage you need is based on that value. You then pay rent on the remaining share (say, 75%) to the housing association that manages the property. There are also service charges. Over time, most people try to increase their stake. The scheme is supposed to be a way to get ownership with much lower financial requirements. Typically a deposit of only 5% is required.

Let’s go back to this Iverson Road property to see what it would cost.

The full market price of the flat is £550,000. A 25% share is £137,500. There’s a required 5% deposit of £6,875.

An "affordable" shared ownership flat on Iverson Road.

An “affordable” shared ownership flat on Iverson Road.

Critically, the details specify a minimum household income of £65,000. Shared ownership schemes in London are available to anyone with a household income below £90,000. For this one, you must also be a Camden resident and almost certainly a first-time buyer (the rules here are not black & white).

The median gross income in Camden is £39,610 (higher than the London average of £33,203) [Source].

Therefore, a Camden couple who both earned the average income would have a combined gross income of £79,220, and would be eligible to buy this property. Note that the average London-wide income would only just make them eligible.

They have got their deposit together and need to borrow £130,625. Shared ownership mortgages are a specific product. We have used the Leeds Building Society shared ownership mortgages to calculate the costs.

At current rates, a 3-yr fixed over a 25-year period, reverting to the standard-variable rate after 3 years and with no fees, works out at an overall rate of 5.3%. According to the Moneysavingexpert site, this leads to an average monthly payment of £787.

But remember, that’s just on the 25% you own. Our average Camden couple have then got to pay rent on the remaining 75% and Origin tells us that this is £688/month, plus a £150 monthly service charge.

Total monthly payment: £1,625.

That’s a high monthly payment for a quarter of a flat. There are standard 25-year mortgages available at the moment with representative APRs of 1.5% (they require 20% deposits). Take one of those and you could borrow £400,000 and end up with the same monthly payment of ~£1,600. The cheapest 1-bed flat (not studio) in the area is on for £279,950, but if you wanted that nice Iverson Road flat at market value you’d still need to find a £150,000 deposit on top of your £400k mortgage. The system works therefore at one level – it makes property affordable for people who otherwise couldn’t possibly afford it.

Nevertheless, to get that “affordable” flat in Iverson Road under the shared-ownership scheme, you still need to have a household income equal to two median Camden incomes, and pay out £1,625 a month. For 25% of it. And if you’re wondering, a joint income of £65,000 (assuming you both earned £32,500 each and had no dependents) would place your household in the top 11% of household incomes in the country according to the IFS. Our average Camden couple would be in the top 7%.

The red bar on the right shows your household income relative

The red bar on the right shows a gross household income of £65,000 (net £50,000) relative to national household incomes (based on two adults each earning £32,500).

Is there a solution?
Camden seems to already recognise that affordable renting is far more affordable than shared ownership. According to the 156 report, in April 2016, the council’s cabinet stated that it would “seek to secure affordable intermediate housing… by encouraging all developers and housing associations to provide intermediate rent rather than shared ownership units as the intermediate housing element of their affordable housing contribution to developments’ [our emphasis].

This development was a test of this new strategy but clearly it’s not working.

Indeed, the report for 156 West End Lane suggests that our calculations above could wildly underestimate what a shared ownership flat might cost: “[The] increase in property values has meant that it is no longer possible to deliver shared ownership at a price that is affordable to the council’s target income groups earning £30,000 to £40,000 per year.”

Back to 156 West End Lane. On the basis of what is called “affordable housing”, yes, Camden has delivered 50%. In terms of what a reasonable person might consider to be affordable – perhaps not.

We welcome comments from council officers, or housing associations to correct any assumptions we’ve made here.

Developments pile pressure on street parking

Some residents of Maygrove and Iverson Roads are fed up with the increasingly difficult parking situation they face in light of all the new developments on these roads.

The local residents association, MILAM, wants to see a review of parking hours and is suggesting a sub-zone that has different rules to the CA-Q zone in which these streets sit. Specifically, it would like to see controls extending past 6.30pm.

CA-Q is a large zone that runs along Kilburn High Road from Quex Road all the way up to Cricklewood. It has controlled parking between 8.30am and 6.30pm. Camden is reluctant to sub-divide the zone although subdivisions are not unusual – there are already two within CA-Q. However, any change to zone rules inevitably has knock-on effects and therefore not everyone is automatically in favour of change.

CA-Q parking zone runs from Cricklewood to Kilburn

CA-Q parking zone runs from Cricklewood to Kilburn

Camden has said that for any review of parking it needs a petition signed by 800 residents of the affected parking zone. As it happens, a petition has already been set up by a resident of Maygrove Road. She was fed up of not being able to park as she used to before the recent developments opened. If you want to sign it (and you live or work in the CA-Q area) click here.

What’s the problem?
The new developments on Iverson and Maygrove – The Residence (91 units, Maygrove Rd), The Central (33 units, Iverson) and The Ivery (19 units, Iverson) – are designated “car free”, like every other new development in Camden. This creates a ‘carparteid’ between residents of new developments and existing residents.

“Car free” means no parking spaces for residents (although The Residence does offer some underground parking for disabled drivers) and in theory, these residents are also not allowed parking permits for street parking. However, as MILAM residents are finding, theory and reality are two different things. Some new residents appear able to get round controls; of course they can legally park outside the controlled hours, some can get hold of a blue badge for disabled drivers, it’s possible to get a local friend to register the car to get a permit, or to hire a local garage space, displacing another car onto the road that can legally obtain a permit, or use visitors’ permits.

Anecdotal evidence from longer-term residents such as Monica Regli, chair of MILAM, suggests that while there used to be spare parking spaces, these have filled up and people have started to park on single yellow lines.

@NW6_residents: Once again no parking for residents! Instead more arguments as not one-way!

@NW6_residents: Once again no parking for residents! Instead more arguments as not one-way!

Now the single yellow lines are filling up, which creates additional problems. Cars parking on the single yellow lines mean that traffic can no longer pull over on Maygrove Road to allow oncoming cars to pass. The result: cars getting stuck head-to-head and road rage incidents. According to Monica, there are now calls for Maygrove to become a one-way street.

@NW6_residents "Another horrendous morning in Maygrove road! Screaming arguments, reversing full length of road! Wake up @camdentalking #congestion #help!"

@NW6_residents “Another horrendous morning in Maygrove Road! Screaming arguments, reversing full length of road!”

Will it get worse?
Yes. Almost certainly. The new school on Liddell Road opens this September. At first it will be year one pupils only; but each year a new class will join. The head teacher won’t have to worry though, she gets her own parking space.

The problem is set to get worse still with phase two of Liddell Road (the flats and business space) as Camden seems to have ignored the GLA guidelines on parking. This development will have 106 residential units and 3700m2 of business space, which is approximately enough for 40-50 people. All served by two and a half disabled parking spaces.

Let’s not forget that West Hampstead Square is about to open with 196 new flats, and some employment space, and Camden will decide shortly on  156 West End Lane with most likely another 164 units and 1,800m2 of employment space. It’s true that many residents won’t have cars – car ownership in this part of London is very low, but it isn’t zero. The excellent transport links mean that employees can probably get to and from work on tube, train or bus, but firms have clients, deliveries and disabled employees.

It also seems unrealistic to think that none of these residents will have cars already, or may need a car for work (doctors, midwives, plumbers, etc.). Are more car club spaces the answer? Possibly, though demand is lower than you might think – West Hamsptead Square actually removed some car club spaces.

What are the objections to parking changes?
James Earl, chair of the Fordwych Road residents association (and of the Neighbourhood Development Forum) is not in favour of wholesale changes to the parking zone rules because of the possible knock on impact to other streets outside any sub-zone. A new resident of the Residence on Maygrove Road has also objected to any changes. She said that she was aware of the existing hours of parking control when she moved in, and that was fine, but any changes to hours now would be very problematic as her husband could no longer park!

MILAM is getting support from local councillors, Phil Rosenberg and James Yarde. Monica had hoped to put the issue as a deputation to the council, but was instead offered a chance to put the issue to a scrutiny committee.

Overground redevelopment starts in earnest

Just as West Hampstead Square is entering the home stretch to completion, building work is starting on the redevelopment of the Overground station right next door. Expect some noisy work during the days, and the occasional bit of nighttime work when they need access to the track.

Work has indeed started on redevelopment of the Overground

Work has indeed started on redevelopment of the Overground

The reason for the works is that, as you are aware, the Overground has seen a dramatic rise in passenger numbers. Last year nearly 5 million passengers used West Hampstead Overground, compared to 1.5 million in 2008/09.

The station will be kept operational during construction, so the work is being done in phases. Buckingham Group, the contractors, started on-site works in November 2016. For the first half of this year, it will build foundations, and conduct ground and drainage works. In the second half of the year, it will install the new footbridge, which should open by the end of 2017.

In 2018, lifts will be installed (making the station fully accessible, like the Thameslink), and the planned* opening of the the new station building in August 2018. Then the old station will be dismantled (and a new retail space built in its place) and – hallelujah – the footway will be widened. Finally landscaping will be completed by the end of 2018. Some way to go then.

Buckingham is trying to keep inevitable disruption to a minimum and the line will not be closed during the work. Working hours are expected to be Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays when necessary. There will be some work outside these hours.  Last Sunday in the early hours, for example, the surveyor did some track inspection works and this coming Sunday morning (15th) there will be hoarding adjustment works again in the early hours, though Buckingham claims this will not be noisy. No-one’s moved into West Hampstead Square yet, so there should not be too many people affected anyway yet.

When the work is all completed the new station should look like this.

New Overground station, view from platform. Image via TfL

New Overground station, view from platform. Image via TfL

And like this on West End Lane:

Overground station new entrance. Image via TfL

Overground station new entrance. Image via TfL

*already works are running a couple of months behind schedule.

New light is shone on 156 West End Lane’s shadows

Camden has received new daylight and light impact studies for 156 West End Lane. ‘Hang on’, you’re thinking – didn’t it already have them?

Well, yes. But, no. But, yes. Daylight studies were originally submitted with the planning application last November for the building itself and another set on its impact on neighbouring properties, plus another set in December 2015. After the design was revised slightly in June there was yet another set. These were produced by the imaginatively named ‘Right to Light consultants’ on behalf of John Rowan and partners, advisors to A2Dominion.

The reports concluded that impact on daylighyt of the development was acceptable. However, local campaign group Stop the Blocks pointed out discrepancies in the light studies and the impact on buildings/windows that could affect the ‘right to light’ of neighbouring residents. The group asked Camden to request independent advisors to report and check. Another firm – Anstey Horne was commissioned to review the figures.

Anstey Horne made a few observations, including that the existing site is underdeveloped and has higher light levels than one would expect for an urban site; that the western side matches surrounding developments so its impact should be accepted ‘flexibly’ but this holds less true for the impact of the eastern building. Despite also wondering why there was no 3D study, which would have helped explain the impact, the conclusion was that the impact of the proposed development was acceptable.

People who work in the field say that Anstey Horne has a good reputation and has to provide unbiased and factually correct information – otherwise it would be liable to a lawsuit.

Want to know more about right to light? Read on…

In effect, the owner of a building with windows that have had natural daylight for 20 years or more is entitled to object to any building that would deprive him or her of that illumination. To objectively measure any loss of light, developers use two measures from BRE (Buildings Research Establishment) guidelines: the vertical sky component (VSC) and, as a backup, the average daylight factor (ADF).

If the VSC with the new development in place, is both less than 27% and less than 0.8 times its former value, the occupants of the existing building will notice the reduction in the amount of skylight”.

Likewise, the ADF “should be 5% for a well-lit daylight space but at a minimum 2% for a partly-lit daylight space”.

According to Right to Light, who did the original studies for 156, 93% of the 391 windows studied passed the VSC test. Of the 29 windows that failed, 11 were secondary windows (i.e. there was another window in the same room, so overall there was enough light. Of the 18 windows that were the sole windows to rooms facing the development, it depends what the room is used for as to how critical it is. Bedrooms have lower light requirements than living rooms or kitchens. Having guessed at the use of most rooms, where it was not clear, Right to Light maintains that most of these will meet the ADF requirement.

From a ‘right to light’ perspective, although there will be an impact, “It is therefore considered, that when applying the BRE Guidelines the proposed development will not have a material impact to the light amenity of this property”.

Stop the Blocks also raised concerns about the impact on the MUGA (sports pitch). The reports accept that there would be an impact but “we […] remain of the opinion that the proposed development creates an acceptable level of overshadowing on the adjacent MUGA space”.

Shadow analysis of the MUGA between 156 WEL and Crown Close play area

Shadow analysis of the MUGA between 156 WEL and Crown Close play area

Liddell Road school to open with spare capacity

Liddell Road has a new name. After much careful thought and consideration it has been renamed, wait for it…, “Liddell Place”. Someone suggested an alternative, but for some reason Camden didn’t like it.

Where’s Liddell Road? It’s the former council-owned light industrial estate just off Maygrove Road that’s being redeveloped to house an infants school that will be part of Kilburn’s Kingsgate School, alongside a large residential tower block, some modern mansion blocks and some office space that will be privately developed. Was big news. You should have been there.

Anyway, work is underway on site, so time for an update.

The whole reason a new school… sorry, a new building for Kingsgate School, was needed was because of a projected dramatic shortage in primary places in this part of the borough. The new school was planned to opened in September 2016 with four-form entry. That’s 120 places.

Strange then that just a year later  (clearing the site had taken much longer than expected), the school is now to be a three-form entry with 90 kids starting instead of 120. Where did those 30 kids go?

Camden’s cabinet member for schools, Angela Mason, explained in a written response, “The proposed change is in response to our latest school place-planning data, which now suggests a slower growth in demand. If we left the admissions number at 120, the school would have to employ enough staff to cover these extra places. As school funding is linked to the actual number of pupils on roll, it would be a strain on the school’s budget if the places were not filled. This is why we’ve applied to the Schools Adjudicator to vary the arrangements for the September 2017 intake, though we expect demand to rise again in future years.”

Too few kids, too much money?

The development is taking place in two phases; first the school and second the housing and workspace. The school is on track to be finished in July 2017, ready for the new school year next September. The deadline for applying for reception and nursery places is 15th January.

Yellow = school, blue = housing and red = offices, workshops

Yellow = school, blue = housing and red = offices, workshops

However, Camden has been taking a long time to market the site for phase two. It is now due to be marketed next year.

It will be interesting to see what the asking price is. Camden refused to disclose the viability figures at the time of the planning application in 2014/15, but what we know is that Camden wanted to cover the £13.4 million cost of the new school and make a surplus of £1.9 million. Therefore if the site is sold for anything more than £15.3 million, Camden will receive more money than planned. Chances of the value of the land having gone up over two to three years?

Any additional surplus could have helped increase the amount of affordable housing in 156 West End Lane (the council justified the lack of affordable housing at Liddell Road by saying that 156 would get 50%, which it has). But Liddell Road won’t be put up for sale until after the 156 West End Lane planning decision is decided. So will additional surplus flow out of West Hampstead again?

Classrooms and construction

It may be simpler to build the school first and the residential units afterwards, but it does mean the entire construction period will be very long, and there’ll be enormous disruption for local residents, and of course for the schoolchildren on site. Construction of the second phase is anticipated to take 18 months.

Recent view of Liddell Rd. Image: West Hampstead NDF

Recent view of Liddell Rd. Image: West Hampstead NDF

Maygrove Road residents are very concerned about the impact the new school, flats and offices will have on parking in the area. They have already been affected by the adjacent Regal Homes development, called ‘The Residence’, which is now complete and occupied. Although that development is nominally ‘car-free’ , Monica Regli, chair of MILAM, the local residents association says, “We have noticed that parking has become significantly worse now that the new flats are built despite it being a “carless” development. We assume it’s because new residents are using cars to commute and parking on Maygrove outside of restricted hours. In fact, parking is becoming such an issue that a petition has been started”.  

Finally, five of the nine trees with preservation orders on the Liddell Road site were fatally damaged in Storm Katie last year.  This may be because they no longer had the shelter provided by the old buildings. Local residents have pressed Camden to replace them, after having been unclear, they have now said they will be replaced as part of the landscaping for the school playground.

We’ll keep you updated on Liddell Road’s progress and especially on how much the development rights are sold for next year.

Frustrated buyers face more delays at Ballymore

West Hampstead Square still isn’t finished. As you will have noticed.

Progress is being made as recent tweets show but it’s well overdue, and while it’s annoying for locals as the roads clog up with lorries delivering materials, for those who’ve bought apartments (some of whom are existing West Hampstead residents), the delays are going from frustrating to potentially financially damaging.

West Hampstead Square - when will it be finished?

West Hampstead Square – when will it be finished?

The original completion date was June 2015. But, in June this year, with development already a year behind, Ballymore ditched the original construction company, O’Hare McGovern, and took over itself. After taking stock of the situation, it predicted completion by the end of this year. However, since then the company has ‘encountered further obstacles’, according to a letter sent to anxious buyers, which have now set the completion date back another three months. The latest is that no-one will move in until the start of next year and some flats won’t be ready until March. Anger is starting to bubble up.

“Ballymore has taken me and other buyers for granted,” says one local buyer who wants to remain anonymous. “The delay is frustrating, but what’s unacceptable is the manner with which they have drip-fed delays this year, rather than giving a realistic estimate from the start.”

Another buyer felt “it has been very poorly dealt with and has been very stressful” but now he just “wants to get it done to stop spending unnecessary money”.

The problem buyers face is that as soon as the actual completion date is announced, they have just 10 days to provide the balance of the money. Anyone tempted by a premature completion date announcement might find themselves having given notice or sold their existing property only to end up being told to hold on – again.

One buyer, for example, was initially told he could move in by June, but was then told that completion was expected in September, then October, then late October, then early November, then late November. By the end of October it was going to be completing in early December, but just a few days later that was pushed back to the end of January.

Aside from the practicalities of knowing when to move out, these flats were sold pre-Brexit and the uncertainty in the run-up to that vote and in the aftermath has dampened the property market somewhat. Private buyers are probably OK, according to Jon Hughes at local estate agent Benham & Reeves. Overall, the market has softened though underlying prices remain stable, but transaction volume is down.

Buy-to-let investors, who will surely make up a significant percentage of West Hampstead Square owners, will find things a little more difficult. Before construction started, the predicted rental price for a two-bed at West Hampstead Square was £650-£700 per week according to one local agent. In today’s market, he suggested sub-£600 seems more realistic. In addition, mortgage criteria have tightened (though rates are still low) and there is additional 3% stamp duty to pay on second homes.

Any off-plan purchase comes with an element of risk – economic circumstances and personal finances can change unexpectedly over the course of 12 to 18 months – but when a build is running more than 18 months late that risk is exacerbated. We know of some buyers who are have had issues with the sale of their previous properties, others who have sold to release the funds and now need to ask landlords to extend their leases. For anyone not in the super-rich or professional property investor category, these delays are both expensive and upsetting.

It is not just residents who have been affected. Businesses had been hoping to move in before the bouyant Christmas trading period. The latest news is that they will be able to start their shop fit-outs in December, but they won’t be able to open until January at the earliest. Apparently, Marks & Spencer may not open until February.

It seems that buyers have no legal recourse to compensation for the delays despite being strung along for months and possibly well over a year. In fact, in the small print of the contract, Ballymore can complete as late as 2018! All in all it is stressful situation for the buyers, several of whom have expressed their frustration to WHL. If you have experienced these problems or others, drop us a line. We asked Ballymore for a comment, but no-one has returned our calls.

Alice House decked by planning decision

Popular West Hampstead bar, The Alice House, has fallen foul of Camden’s planners who have refused retrospective planning permission for its outside decking. The Alice House bookends a run of outside seating spaces along that stretch of West End Lane, which includes One Bourbon and The Black Lion. Together, many locals feel they make an attractive ‘active frontage’ that brings life to West End Lane.

Decking appears to be within the frontage.

Decking in question, it appears to be within the frontage.

Cllr Flick Rea, who has long experience of planning issues in the area, was surprised at the decision, particularly when there have been so many other blatant breaches of planning policy elsewhere in our area. However, many other similiar decking areas have been in place for more than four years, which means they become automatically approved.

For example, The Petit Corée at 98 West End Lane has a raised platform that is more than four years old (pre-dating the existing business) and is therefore immune from prosecution. It also has a boundary fence that was lowered to below 1 metre, which is the maximum height allowed before permission is required. At the other end of West End Lane, Schnitzel has also had decking in place for more than four years and again no enforcement action was taken. Its fence is marginally higher than 1 metre, but it was not deemed expedient to pursue the matter. GBK, The Black Lion and Thunderbird (when it was La Smorfia) all applied for permission to retain or alter their outside decking areas and all were granted.

Hang on, you may be saying, the decking at The Alice House has been there for more than four years. True. There has been a decked space outside the building for many years, certainly before ULG, the current owners, took over the site back in 2008. However, it is the improvements made over the past couple of years that have caused the problem.

Alice and her problematic timber perimeter!

Alice and her problematic timber perimeter!

Originally, the decking was separated from the pavement by just a rope barrier. Then, when the decking needed some repair work, the company though it would be a good opportunity to replace the rope barrier with something more fixed and incorporate some built-in seating. This has proved popular with customers, but not with Camden. The Alice House saw these as minor changes to existing decking so it didn’t occur to the owners to seek planning permission.

However, when a local resident alerted Camden to a string of planning breaches on West End Lane, including The Alice House, the planners suggested that the bar submit a retrospective planning application, which it did. Only one person objected during the consultation, arguing that the decking made the pavement too narrow – specifically for two buggies to pass each other. It is true that the pavement is narrow at this spot, though no narrower than elsewhere along this stretch.

In fact, the precise boundaries of the public highway are not clear: the planning officer’s report states that the decking is on the public highway according to the Land Registry, but it actually seems to be within the line of the pavement along that stretch of West End Lane (as the photo below, taken from the application, shows), and ULG has a map from 1999 that implies the forecourt area is part of the property.

The decking appears to follow the line of the forecourt of the residential block to the north

The decking appears to follow the line of the forecourt of the residential block to the north

Camden’s objections to the decked area are that “by virtue of their siting on the public highway, [it] reduces the width and function of the pavement” and that “by reason of their size, siting and design, create a dominant and incongruous feature in a prominent corner location resulting in harm to the character and appearance of the host building”.

Camden has described the distinctive corner building as “an important site, identified as a positive contributor in the West End Lane Conservation Area”. In its more detailed report, it is the timber walls that appear to be the major issue:

“The [surrounding perimeter timber enclosures] form a solid boundary which, in terms of overall bulk, extent and materials, are considered to overwhelm the host property and streetscene and are not sympathetic to the general character of the Conservation Area. At 4.8 metres at its deepest point, it protrudes well beyond the front elevation and is perceived as an obtrusive, out of scale addition to the property. It is accepted that the decking in itself is similar to many others in the locality, it extends no further than adjoining boundary walls, and it adjoins to the north a series of front gardens enclosed by low walls and retail forecourts with decking. However the combination of both the raised decking and the surrounding wall-like enclosures form a bulky and overbearing structure and cumulatively cause harm to the streetscene, particularly at this prominent corner location.”

Camden proposed that the bar remove the planters (which are more than 1 metre high), and reduce both the height and depth of the decking, though offered no guarantees that this would result in permission being granted. Camden also wants to charge The Alice House a substantial sum, believed to run to thousands of pounds, as a table and chair fee, again claiming the decking is on the public highway. The Alice House in turn has proposed turning the clock back and reinstating the rope-barrier arrangement, which would have been automatically allowed under the four-year rule.

Should ULG have been aware of the planning regulations on this? Camden’s planning website lists common issues for which businesses need planning permission, which include change of use, shop fronts and canopies but nothing about decking.

The Alice House is at pains to point out that it is trying to work with Camden to resolve this, and as a long-standing business in the area it wants to do the best for West Hampstead. Its advisors have suggested that it appeals the decision, which it intends to do. It would seem that much hinges on whether the space is or is not part of the public highway.

And on Twitter, people have been voicing their support for The Alice House.

What do you think? Is The Alice House being made an example of compared to some other less popular and possibly more egregious flouting of planning guidelines? Or is it right that planners try and uphold their own policies wherever possible?

What will the redeveloped O2 carpark look like in ten years?

Anwer: “No idea”. But a Neighbourhood Development Forum/Camden Council growth area workshop held on Saturday began to think about it. A masterplan for this was one of the recommendations of the Neighbourhood Plan.

If you asked the 30 or so residents, councillors, Camden planners and others who turned out on a dull Saturday afternoon if the workshop was worth it, the answer would most likely be yes. It is easy to be cynical and it is clear that the process should have started earlier, but like it or not much of planning is governed by policies and ‘site allocations’, so having an input into those can pay dividends.

The first question to deal with is whether the growth area should have a masterplanning ‘strategy’, a ‘framework’ or ‘guidance’? Less a question of semantics, and more of pragmatism: there is a trade-off between them in terms of their degree of influence versus time taken to prepare. A strategy takes time but has more influence, guidance is quicker but has less weight.

David Morrissey from Camden’s urban regeneration and place team gave a really useful presentation of background information. The growth area is, according to the London plan, due to provide 800 new homes and 100 jobs; the Camden plan has similar but slightly higher targets of 1,000 homes and 7,000 m2 of business space (which would be more than 100 jobs).  Development at Ballymore (198 units) and potentially 156 West End ( 164 units), plus the student housing on Blackburn Road already takes us a long way towards meeting these targets.

Analysis of the existing area

Analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of West End Lane by the stations and down towards Blackburn Road

Camden’s population is forecast to grow from 241,000 to 261,000 from 2010 to 2030 (an 8% increase) which will need 16,000+ new homes. There five growth in Camden, the largest is round Kings Cross, within the five Camden need to develop at least 7,200 homes by 2030, although they project they estimate they will develop slightly more than that, at around 8,000.

More than 5,000 of the 16,000 homes are supposed to be ‘affordable’ and there was a good discussion on what this actually means. Apparently Barrett has stopped work on its nearby Kidderpore Green scheme because it isn’t making sales, so even expensive private housing doesn’t seem to be affordable!

As for other parameters, David talked about how transport was a key factor, but was convincing that Camden was at least considering this. The much debated school capacity is predicted to be broadly ok, although a crunch for secondary places could hit in the early 2020s. Health facility provision seems to be more uncertain due to changes in the NHS, which takes a less strategic approach than it did.

We then looked at the issue of density and the London plan matrix (link). Developments close to the tube station are ‘supposed’ to be up to 700 habitable rooms per hectare. Ballymore, Liddell Road and 156 West End Lane are all just above that, but the recently approved 317 Finchley Road (ten storeys) is over 900!

Within the growth area, there is scope for development along Blackburn Road (the Builders Depot site and the Accurist building) but the most significant remaining development site in the growth is the O2 centre car park. Between the two are the Audi and VW showrooms, sites not currently ‘allocated’ but within the growth area.

Groups around four tables then looked at options for the sites; improvements that could happen even if nothing was developed, development of ‘allocated sites’, development of those plus the car showrooms and finally the previous option with additional decking over the railway lines.

Let’s be clear – it will not be an easy site to develop, the O2 carpark will have to remain open for customers of Sainsbury’s and other users of the O2 centre and there are at least three landowners involved. But, development is not impossible either.

Discussing options

Discussing options

Each group came up with interesting suggestions and perspectives. The “zero development” group  suggested that a landscape architect/urban designer could be commissioned to develop a plan for between the West Hampstead stations, incorporating both big and small improvements, e.g., better planting on the platforms would be a small difference but one that affects the day-to-day experience of local residents. Improved access to the tube station(s) was a consistent theme, as was improving the pedestrian experience to the O2 as it was uninviting by Homebase and peters out into the O2 carpark.

The next group noted that the O2 offers only a “backdoor entrance” to West Hampstead, and suggested the whole site could be ‘greened’ up.  The third group suggested that including the car showrooms in the development would allow the path/open spaces to come down the middle. The final group was not convinced that the over-track decking would be viable.

Thoughtful discussions

Thoughtful discussions

Assuming development was to happen, the groups then discussed how it could be laid out, what density it might be, what facilities and open space it might have, etc. The groups came up with three options which could be explored/combined in future workshops: one central open space, a series of smaller linear open spaces, or raising the open space on a platform (with parking underneath). The development would probably be higher on the north side and lower on the south to allow more light and to relate better to the existing surrounding buildings.  Back-of-the-envelope calculations estimated it at about 4 hectares in total, with ‘mid-rise’ development giving plenty of scope for new housing and development.

There was huge amount to cover and in some ways the workshop only scratched the surface.  Yet it was a start, the comments were thoughtful, and having contact with Camden planners was also helpful (for them and us). There is also quite a lot of useful knowledge that came out in discussions. Getting people together and first explaining the parameters before allowing them to explore options does allow good ideas (and maybe some not so good ones) to float to the surface.  There were no developers at this stage, but when they do get involved at least there will be some embryonic ideas and suggestions to show, rather than a blank slate.  The next step is to summarise the ideas and comments.  The NDF will send out copies of all the presentations and a summary, which will be publicly available.

To find out how effective the session really was? Ask again in ten years.

Have your say on the future of West Hampstead

You can’t have failed to notice that a large amount of development is going on in the area of West Hampstead around the three stations.

Since it was set up in early 2012, the Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) has been lobbying for a ‘masterplan’ to be drawn up for the area – to set out how the area could be developed in future and how the needs of the area (particularly the increasing pressure on local infrastructure) are taken into account.

Camden Council has now agreed to work with the NDF to begin this work.

Good masterplanning creates better places and requires expertise in urban design, strategic planning, architecture, landscape architecture and community engagement.

The first step is a workshop (organised jointly by the NDF & Camden Council) on Saturday 12th November from 10am-4pm at Emmanuel School Hall on Mill Lane (includes a free lunch and tea/coffee). Everyone is welcome, so come and have your say.

What is your opinion? Have your say.

What is your opinion? Have your say.

We will be joined by Camden Council officers, local councillors, and planning professionals to assist in our work. Local residents with knowledge of planning/architectural issues are particularly welcome to advise and give their input on these issues.

The area has been classified as a ‘Growth Area’ by the Mayor of London – and while lots of development has already happened, more will come. The London Plan sets a target of a minimum of 800 new homes and 100 jobs between 2010 and 2031.

The area contains three main sites for development. The first (West Hampstead Square aka Ballymore) is due to be completed by the end of this year with 198 new homes. The second (156 West End Lane aka Travis Perkins site) is being sold by Camden Council to a developer and a re-consultation on the planning application is currently underway for a scheme with 164 new homes. The third remaining site is the 02 Centre car park, which is owned by the large property and development company, Land Securities.

While there are no plans for the third site at the moment, it’s clear something will happen here in the future and it won’t be a small development. There’s also the suggestion that the car park site could encompass Homebase and the neighbouring car showrooms. Such a development would also have an impact on Blackburn Road, which has a number of smaller development sites.

The Neighbourhood Plan (which was approved in a local referendum last year) sets out policy for the West Hampstead Growth Area (Policy 4) and also includes Recommendation C, which calls on Camden Council to draw up a masterplan for this area.

If you would like to know more (and/or be added to the NDF mailing list), please contact: moc.l1519358507iamg@1519358507daets1519358507pmaht1519358507sewpd1519358507n1519358507

You can find out more about the NDF on our website and follow our work on Twitter

Judgement day approaches for 156 West End Lane

The proposals for 156 West End Lane (aka Travis Perkins) roll on. Two(?), three(?) years after it was first announced, are we into the final stretch? The latest planning application has opened for comments and the deadline is 10th November.

To recap

The development is for 164 flats of which 79 are affordable (44 social rented and 35 shared ownership) and 85 are for private sale. Although less than half the flats are “affordable”, they are on average larger and thus 50% of the floorspace is deemed “affordable” (which is how the quota works). The proposal also includes 1,919m2 of employment space; 763m2 retail space, 500m2 of ‘start-up space, 63m2 of community space and 593m2 of office space.

156 West End Lane latest plans. Image via Design and Access Statement

156 West End Lane latest plans. Image via Design and Access Statement

There are copies of the latest summary of the proposals on Camden’s planning website and at the library, though the easiest way to read it is on developer’s A2Dominion website. Unfortunately, this latest summary focuses on the changes made to previous proposals, but doesn’t recap some basic issues. To understand the last round of plans, our July article may help.

Why a new proposal? The original application was submitted last November, but was put on hold because both Camden’s planning officer and the GLA (Greater London Authority) had concerns. Developer A2D has since tweaked (‘improved’) the plans and thus submitted a new application for consultation.

Three local groups have studied the application in depth. The Neighbourhood Development Forum and Stop the Blocks both oppose the proposal (click the links to read their submissions, although these relate to the original proposal. Doubtless they will comment again). WHAT, the third local amenity group, is becoming less active and has focussed its efforts on ensuring that affordable rents really are affordable (it seems they will be set at 40% of market rents). As you have may have read in the CNJ’s letter pages and on its own website, Stop the Blocks  is critical of the other two groups’ approach to the scheme.

More background information, as if wasn’t complicated enough already, is that the site is part of the West Hampstead ‘Growth Area’. This means that it is deemed capable of large scale development, primarily housing. However, the site is also adjacent to a conservation area, which any development is supposed to take into account.

How big is too big?

The single biggest issue with the proposed development is its scale. The original sales brochure for the site sums it up neatly: “The site offers the greatest potential for higher scaled development to the western frontage [West End Lane] and to the south towards the railway lines, with a transition in scale towards the more sensitive residential interface to the north [Lymington Road]”.

In other words, it’s a big plot of land that the agents felt could take a large building. It’s worth remembering that in a local survey a few years ago, the existing building was the second most unpopular in West Hampstead – a failed attempt by Camden in the 1970s to build an iconic building.

As it stands, the proposed building occupies the full frontage along West End Lane at six storeys (but the top one set back), reducing in height as it moves back from West End Lane along the railway tracks. Following the initial consultation, A2D has reduced the visual impact on West End Lane, arguing that the new design fits better with the adjacent Canterbury Mansions, although the corner tower in the final proposal looks a bit odd and is visually jarring.

A 3D view from a slightly earlier scheme as A2D haven't supplied a new one. Main difference is that east building is one storey lower.

A 3D view from a slightly earlier scheme as A2D hasn’t supplied a new one. Main difference is that east building is now one storey lower.

In the latest proposal, the developers have lowered the height of the east building by one storey to help reduce the impact from Crediton Hill and the conservation area. These are slight improvements from the first proposal, but at least one person with local experience of assessing these applications still feels the development is too ‘blocky’ along the railway tracks. Will the reduction by one floor be enough to appease the critics?

The new proposals (left) show the far eastern end is one-storey lower than the original plans (right)

The new proposals (left) show the far eastern end is one-storey lower than the original plans (right)

One way to judge whether the proposals are too dense is to benchmark the scheme against the London Plan’s guidelines. This considers the type of neighbourhood (West Hampstead qualifies as ‘urban’) and level of public transport (‘very good’). These criteria suggest a maximum density of 700 habitable rooms per hectare and up to 260 units per hectare. The current plans for 156 West End Lane have 786 habitable rooms and 288 units per hectare, suggesting that the development may be too dense.

Where did the sun go?

There is a “right to light” in planning law that often comes into play when tall buildings are being planned. In the earlier application, Stop the Blocks picked up on some discrepencies in the sunlight reports and were concerned that the outdoor games area would be overshadowed. Camden asked A2D to clarify: A2D’s consultants, John Rowan and Partners, maintain that sufficient light would still reach the buildings on Lymington Road after redevelopment. Different consultants ‘Right to Light’ Surveyors, asked specifically about the multi-use games area (MUGA), agree that although there would be increased shadows, the impact would be acceptable.

There is also an independent assessment by Anstey Horne which states both that “we consider that the overall level of adherence is good and where there are reductions beyond the BRE guidelines, the retained levels of daylight and sunlight are in-keeping for an urban setting“. And for the MUGA that “although there is some overshadowing in the afternoon by the proposed development, the MUGA area will meet/exceed the BRE guideline recommendations for sunlight availability“.

The jobs equation

Camden’s policies appear ambiguous on the issue of employment space. On the one hand the council wants to protect employment space and developments need to provide an equivalent amount of employment space to any that would be lost. On the other hand, the council wants to prioritise housing. As happened at Liddell Road, where the industrial estate was wiped out for a new school, flats and some office space, the idea of “equivalence” is vague. Camden does generally seem to be stricter with private developers (e.g., forcing the Iverson Tyres site to keep light industrial space, which has only now just been reclassified as office space after no tenants appeared), but more flexible when redeveloping its  own sites.

Currently there is 4,019m2 of employment space on site; the former council office space of 2,401m2 and retail showroom/builders merchants of 1,618m2. This will be replaced by 1,919m2 of employment space; 763m2 retail space, 500m2 of ‘start-up space, 63m2 community space and 593m2 office space.

Travis Perkins (TP), the existing employer on site, is arguing strongly that it should be allowed to remain. However, it is only a leaseholder from Camden, which has now given it notice, so it’s not clear on what legal grounds TP could insist on staying. TP also had the option to purchase the site and  redevelop it themselves, but chose not to.

There’s also some disagreement about what constitutes employment space. Camden argues that the Wickes showroom, the TP shop, and the old council offices all constitute employment space; TP wants to include the whole yard area, which would mean the current proposal falls short of maintaining the same employment space.

TP has pointed out that when it redeveloped its yard at Euston (which now has student housing on top) Camden insisted TP retained the same amount of employment space; but now Camden is redeveloping its own site it is allowing/arguing for more flexibility. Funny that.

The thorny affordable housing question

Camden required A2Dominion to ensure that 50% of the housing area was for ‘affordable’ units. We have discussed the issue of what “affordable” means before. From a developer’s perspective, A2D has to make the numbers add up. It has to pay Camden a reported £25 million for the site, build 50% affordable housing that is less profitable, and still make a normal development profit.

Overall, 79 of the 164 units are designated “affordable”: 44 social rented (at a to-be-confirmed 40% of market rent) and 35 shared ownership. Whether shared ownership truly constitutes affordable housing is another debate.

Different types of ownership proposed for 156 West End Lane (original plan)

Different types of ownership proposed for 156 West End Lane. Source: Design and Access Statement

What does it mean for West End Lane?

Sometimes, a focus on design and other issues can be at the expense of practicalities, for example the Sager building (Alfred Court) by Fortune Green was approved with an internal courtyard for commercial deliveries— but the entrance is too low for delivery trucks to enter. Yes really!

Deliveries could be an issue for 156 West End Lane too. The original plans claimed that the proposal met Department of Transport delivery criteria and would allow refuse collection and ‘small’ articulated lorries to back into the internal loading bay, but it seems tight. If, as with Alfred Court, it turns out to be impossible, then lorries would park on West End Lane and we’d have an escalation of the problems caused by Tesco lorries and more traffic chaos on West End Lane. No thank you.

As we discovered with Tesco, once deliveries start, it is nigh impossible to change them, so it is really important that this addressed at the planning approval stage and not left to be finalised later. There is also the practicalities of vehicles crossing the pavement onto West End Lane.

A serious issue hanging over 156 West End Lane is the size of the retail units. The focus on TP and employment space has led to less scrutiny of what the new commercial space will actually be. One reason the current building is so unpopular is that it is ‘dead’ frontage on West End Lane. To be successful it needs to be ‘active’ frontage, but another large unit on the scale of Wickes would not be much better.

Dull frontage on West End Lane - new development can, and must - do better than this.

Dull frontage on West End Lane – new development can, and must – do better than this.

Of course, planning has little control over this; it can specify only that the space should be retail, it cannot dictate the size of the units. The latest plans propose a flexible retail space potentially up to 678m2. That’s supermarket size. Yet would replacing the current frontage, which is rather dull compared to the variety on the rest of West End Lane, with another uniform frontage be any improvement? Even the option of three retail units would still see three sizeable units, but this is perhaps the least worse option.

A2D has promised that as site owners, it will be a good neighbour. Yet it is probably in its financial interest to lease the retail space as one site. With three —soon to be four—supermarkets on West End Lane, does West Hampstead really need another one?

What is the impact on local amenity?

What even is “amenity”? In this case it’s both the useful facilities of a building and the impact on the “pleasantness” of an area. The proposed development will affect amenity in both good and bad ways.

Firstly, your personal taste will dictate whether you think the building itself will enhance the area. Few would argue that it is replacing an unloved building. But as we’ve seen, the impact on views and sunlight is more contentious.

The development will create a new public open space and improve the rundown Potteries path, both positive impacts. A2D is also building a new community room, though it is not clear who will bear the cost of managing it.

Finally, A2D will be required to pay CIL (the community infrastructure levy that replaces the old Section 106 money) although it is not clear exactly how much it will have to pay but the most likely scenario is that it will have to pay £250 per m2 on the 7,657m2 of market housing, which comes to £1.9 million (25% of which stays in the area) plus £25 per m2 of the commercial space. This would allow improvements to other local facilities though tracking how this money is spent is a whole other issue.

Conclusion

The plans for 156 West End Lane show, yet again, that the planning system doesn’t work effectively. London is desperately short of housing and this scheme provides both private and social housing. It is being put forward by a housing association (which is using private development profits to build more social housing). And all that seems to have got lost.

No wonder; go to Camden’s planning portal and there are now more than 400 relevant documents online for this one plan. It’s overwhelming and nigh on impossible to get a handle on them all. This is not to say that the proposals are bad, just that it’s extremely difficult to judge them in an objective way. In fact, the latest plans are an improvement on the original versions – the design is better and they are quite a bit lower. A cynic might wonder whether A2D chose to start off with the worst-case scenario and then be seen to reflect local feedback to end up with what it had in mind all along.

The situation is complicated further by the fact that the fate of this Camden-owned site will be judged by… Camden councillors. Camden’s planners do seem to have influence on the proposal – their reservations (along with those of the GLA), were why the scheme was put on ice last year. Nevertheless, there is an annoying – if understandable – lack of transparency on their discussions so we don’t know exactly what issues concerned them. Once the planning officer reaches his decision – which will be a recommendation to approve or not approve, the decision goes to a vote. Given Labour’s dominance in Camden, and this redevelopment helping fund the new council offices at Kings Cross, there seems little doubt that if the recommendation is to approve, the same verdict will follow.

There is one significant issue that could derail it. The issue of employment space that we set out above is being challenged by deep-pocketed Travis Perkins. It’s a technical planning issue, and not top of the list of local concerns, but it could still have an influence as a legal technicality.

West Hampstead is having to cope with a lot of new development, and 156 will add to that; but are we getting our fair share of the benefits? Camden’s other growth areas – which it needs to meet its housing targets – have had money spent on masterplanning, but West Hampstead has not. This means that there are a series of disjointed developments that lack coherence.

Are revised plans for Mario’s super or not?

Today was the final official day for comments on 153-163 Broadhurst Gardens a.k.a. “Mario’s block” for those of you can remember the Greek restaurant that used to be there.  As West Hampstead Life reported nearly three years ago during the first consultation for this site there were two options on offer: traditional or modern.

The site is in the South Hampstead conservation area, although not of significant architectural merit (it’s not listed).  It is not in the West Hampstead Growth Area but close enough and big enough to warrant interest.

At the initial presentation there was a high turnout – offering design options to local people is a recommended strategy for getting buy-in to a proposed development. It wasn’t clear what happened after that presentation as things went quiet. But in the background, the owners continued to consult with Camden planners (as they are allowed to do – and have to pay handsomely for).  The new Design and Access statement says that “there was a clear local preference at the local community consultation for the traditional building that reflected the immediate surrounding area” (although they don’t say by what percentage) and a preference for red brick over the yellower London stock.

At the consultation there was also concern about the bulkiness of the building, which has been addressed during design development. For example originally there were 19 flats in the building, the initial proposals raised this to 39 (which seemed squeezing a quart into a pint pot). This has been scaled back to 30 units. This reduction has come about by scaling back the rear of the building (originally the building was going to incorporate 23 West Hampstead Mews). The western side of the building has also been reduced to four storeys to match the height of the ENO building next door.

Design development for 153 to 163 Broadhurst Gardens ('modern' version)

Design development for 153 to 163 Broadhurst Gardens (‘modern’ version)

Final proposal for 153-163 Broadhurst Gardens (traditional version)

Final proposal for 153-163 Broadhurst Gardens (traditional version)

What hasn’t changed much is that the development includes two large (ish) retail units with storage space underground.  The West Hampstead NDF objected to the scale of the units and the Council’s own policies suggest it should ‘ensure that West Hampstead continues to provide a mix of units to serve the local area, but which will avoid the loss of ground floor units’. Is replacing the existing four or five units with two large ones, one of which may be a restaurant again, in accordance with these policies? This will also be an issue for 156 West End Lane.

The site has amazing transport links – you could almost fall out of your bed into the C11 and not much further onto the tube –  which has an impact on the density of development. It’s rated “6a” for transport accessibility, which means in practice 175- 405 units per ha. This latest plan works out at 344 units/ha, so within the range but at the upper end.

Both the NDF and CRASH (South Hampstead residents association) have challenged the lack of affordable housing, but no viability assessments have been disclosed yet. The development should generate more than £500,000 in community infrastructre levy thought – and 25% of that must be spent in the local area).

Sadly, the sole tree on the site (behind 159) would be removed and not replaced. If developments are supposed to be sustainable, perhaps Camden and the developers could look at options for replacing trees on or around the site. Broadhurst Gardens is a quirky retail area, could it be enhanced by some greenery (something a mini-masterplan could include)?

153-156 Broadhurst Gardens is a significant site in our area, which hasn’t received much scrutiny after the initial consultation. Still, it is good that local opinion has fed into the design development, which has led to a better building. It is super, no. Is it good enough? We will have to see what the planning committee decide.

Things already look brighter on the Black Path

A fortnight ago WHL asked, How can you help lighten the Black Path?, ending with an invitation to come and help start sorting it out. Those of you who use the Black Path will have seen the difference, for the rest of you, here’s what happened next.

A group of West Hampstead residents, fed up with having to duck under overgrown foliage every time they used the Black Path, turned out on Bank Holiday Monday with secateurs, shears and loppers in hand to tackle the problem. They started at the worst section, a proliferation of ivy towards the Thameslink station. After two hours of hard labour we turned this:

Before ...

Before …

into this:

... after!

… after!

Aside from the satisfaction of sorting out a local problem, highlighting the issue has generated other benefits. Former councillor John Bryant got in touch to say that the path is in fact the joint responsibility of Camden Council and Network Rail, and that they tackled the issue a few years ago. It seems that the institutional memory had been lost. Someone from Network Rail also got in contact to offer help reaching the right person.

Many hands did indeed make light work

Many hands did indeed make light work

While we were working, many passers-by were delighted this was being sorted out, and in fact most helped too. Each was asked if they wouldn’t mind carrying a bag (or two) of green waste to the collection point at the Bloomsleigh Street end. They did, and by the end there was 43 bags of the stuff!

43 bags full, sir.

43 bags full, sir. Image: Penny Liechti

There is still more to be done, so a second sessions is planned for September to tackledthose overhanging shrubs. If you want to join us please email moc.l1519358507iamg@1519358507daets1519358507pmahw1519358507rette1519358507b1519358507.

Finchley Road towerblock: Are they having a (Sky)lark?

In the outer reaches of West Hampstead, where it abuts the Finchley Road (indeed next to Finchley & Frognal Overground station) is 317 Finchley Road. You may know it as the heavily locked former nightclub. It could be transformed into a ten (10!) storey building. Could be.

The statutory consultation period for this planning application has closed but the application is still under consideration so in reality it’s not too late to comment – see below.

Skylark Court image: via planning application

Skylark Court. Image via planning application

The proposed development, ‘Skylark Court’, is from Linea Homes, a small developer that has been increasing the size of its developments over the past decade. One of its earliest developments was in West Hampstead, converting a house on Fordwych Road into flats; a couple of years later it redeveloped a house on Holmdale Road. Skylark Court is on a different scale.

For 317 Finchley Road, Linea is proposing a contemporary development with floor-to-ceiling windows, which might look good in Berlin, but does anyone need that much of a view of the Finchley Road? The ten storeys will tower well above neighbouring buildings, and has been rationalised on the basis of the flats next to JW3 (which is quite a distance away).

You may recall there was another recent application to redevelop 317 Finchley Road, however this was for only part of the site (the old pub). This got planning permission for six storeys, but the developer then sold the site on to Linea, who decided to combine it with two adjacent sites – and add four storeys.

Previous consented scheme image: via planning application

Previous consented scheme (note five storeys, plus a sixth set back) image: via planning application

Alongside all the glass, the developer explains its choice of materials:

Materials, colour, texture, patterns, structure and construction were under consideration while sculpting and breaking down the mass against a multiple of further competing criteria, namely Network Rail, neighbouring daylight and sunlight amenities, overlooking, road noise and atmospheric pollution, street and townscape, fire escape’.

No, we can’t understand it either, but it appears they want to clad it in some sort of red stone (see illustration below). What’s wrong with good old brick?

Berlin or the Finchley Road?

Berlin or the Finchley Road?

One final thing to note is that Linea is proposing a completely new entrance to Billy Fury Way, between the development and the Overground station, while still keeping the old one, which seems a bit odd.

The previous application attracted only a couple of comments, but this one has already reached over twenty, 95% opposed on grounds of height. If you want to add your comments on the application (2016/2910/P) you can find the related documents here or  you can comment here.

Hallelujah! West Hampstead is getting new community space

What do with church buildings in 2016? The buildings, many Victorian, are too big for today’s congregations and an increasingly diverse and secular London. A couple of years ago St. James Church, just south of the tube station, was converted into the Sherriff Centre.

Fr Jonathan and our Local MP Tulip Siddiq

Fr Jonathan, Tulip Siddiq and Emmanuel Church

But what you might not know is that redevelopment is underway at Emmanuel Church off West End Green at the heart of West Hampstead. This will add five different rooms/spaces available for community use. Father Jonathan Kester explains, “A number of local community organisations including the Community Association of West Hampstead have indicated that they will use the new space in the church for some of their activities and this will greatly increase what they can do. We will also be able to do more of the outreach work that is such a vital part of the life of the church. The rooms will make it possible for us to participate more fully in the Camden Churches Winter Night Shelter, for example, and to continue our partnership with Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, the Fortune Green Choir and a number of other artistic, musical and cultural activities”.

The first suggestions to add community space to Emmanuel Church were raised in 1921, so it’s only taken 95 years for it to happen (and we thought Camden Council was slow). Redevelopment was triggered by the fact that the floor needed stablising and replacing, which created the opportunity to rethink the space.

New two story rooms, with same on the other side and community space in between.

New two-storey rooms, with the same on the other side and community space in between.

The project is making better use of the space in the side-aisles. Before the redevelopment there was one plasterboard community room on the right hand side of the nave (the bottom part of what you see in the picture). This has been replaced by a brick structure (as required by the Victorian Society in keeping with listed status) with another community room in the space on top. The same is duplicated (out of picture) on the other side. And between the two sides will be a space suitable for larger community meetings. All this is situated in roughly the back third of the church, the front part will remain as a church.

The total cost is around £650,000 (plus VAT) paid for by largely by Emmanuel Church with contributions from the local community and a £50,000 section 106 contribution. Although there is still some money to raise to finish off the project. If you would like to contribute to the funding or find out about using the rooms, please contact moc.c1519358507am@na1519358507htano1519358507jrf1519358507. It is expected to open for business in mid-October. Hallelujah!

£3 million in the “Bank of West Hampstead” – but who’s managing it?

Camden has £3 million pounds to spend in the area thanks to the arcanely named “Section 106 money”. These are payments made by developers to the council and is allocated for spending in the following areas: community facilities, transport, highways, parks and open spaces, schools, apprenticeships and policy contributions. Yet, as Councillor Flick Rea eloquently stated at last week’s Area Action Group public meeting, neither she nor other local councillors have any idea how decisions are made on how this money is spent.

In an effort to shed some light on the matter, Rob Willis, Infrastructure and Growth Manager at Camden Council, came to the meeting. He handled himself reasonably well in the face of rather grumpy audience but he didn’t really have the answers. For example there was confusion between what was Fortune Green and West Hampstead, although it was agreed locally that the two wards should be seen as one area. Rob did say that the council wasn’t sitting on the money, sometimes it was waiting for matched funding and it wasn’t always clear when it would arrive.

Although even quite small developments can be forced to make s106 contributions but the bulk of the money comes from the big developments. Ballymore contributed £1.3 million, the student housing on Blackburn Road about £350,000, and the three recent developments on Iverson and Maygrove roads another £600,000, just to give some examples.

Time to spend some money on the interchange area?

Time to spend some money on the interchange area?  Pic: David Jacobs, Colour Division

Some spending has been allocated; £900,000 is going towards the Overground station, £500,000 has already been allocated to community facilities (£330,000 to Sidings, £75,000 to Kingsgate, £80,000 to WH community centre, £50,000 to Emmanuel Church and £50,000 to the Sherriff Centre). But there is no masterplan for spending the rest of the money or to provide a framework for linking developments. There is no ranking of potential beneficiary projects, little idea of how the decisions are made and scant scrutiny of how money is spent.

At the  meeting, several questions were raised:

  • There is about £250,000 unallocated money for community facilities. Could/should this be spent on the library? On the West End Lane loos under threat of closure?
  • The Iverson Road Open Space has been allocated £210,000 for improvement, but it recently had money spent on it. It’s tired and needs improvement but £210,000? Who made this decision?
  • Sumatra Road Open Space is getting £50,000 for improvement but, like Iverson, it had £50,000 spent on it only a few years ago.
  • Maygrove Peace Park, which is heavily used and surrounded by development, was promised £100,000 from the adjacent 65 Maygrove Road development, but that has somehow become just £59,000 and it won’t get it until 2019. (Again, Maygrove had £100,000 spent on it not that long agom which raises questions of maintenance).
  • There is more than £750,000 for highways and transport spending. Everyone agrees the streetscape round the interchange needs upgrading and it is an important part of the masterplanning – but will Camden consult West Hampstead residents on this?

From April 2015 this year CIL (the Community Infrastructure Levy) replaces the financial contributions of Section 106, and this money will be spent on projects identified by ward councillors. Some of these are the issues thrown up by the growth area. However, this isn’t linked with previous section 106 payments. Odd. Time for some joined up government?

Revealing the ‘history’ of Heritage Lane

We promised to investigate why ‘West Hampstead Square’ is now known as ‘Heritage Lane’ and here’s the result of our sleuthing. Back in 2014, Ballymore applied to use the ‘West Hampstead’ prefix as the postal address for the development, while it was marketing it as West Hampstead Square. There is a very simple statutory consulting process – Camden asks the Fire Brigade, who refused on the grounds it would be a duplication in Camden (and hence could be confusing). What’s confusing is whether it is the square or the road at the side that is being named but either way, it’s hard to see what would be especially confusing.

Camden says that names have been turned down by the Fire Brigade even if there is no other one in the Borough on the grounds that there is one in the neighbouring Boroughs of Islington or Barnet.

HeritageLane_text

When Ballymore was told that West Hampstead Square had been turned down, it came up with the following alternatives: Scholars/Heritage/Bohemia and Wordsmith with a suffix of Row, Way, or Lane. Seems like they were following the logic of each building being named after an author. Scholars was also rejected on the basis of duplication, leaving Heritage, Bohemia and Wordsmith. The rest, as they say, is Heritage.

The naming of buildings is governed by the London Government Act 1963 Section 43 and the London Buildings Acts (Amendment) Act 1939 Part 2, along with more recent policy guidance. If the streets of Kilburn were being named today there would no longer be a Kilburn Lane, Kilburn High Road, Kilburn Place, Kilburn Square, or Kilburn Vale. Cricklewood couldn’t have a Broadway and a Lane. However, recent developments elsewhere in London do include Oval Quarter near the Oval and redeveloped Kings Cross includes Kings Boulevard and Kings Place.

Planners say that we should foster a sense of place to create successful neighbourhoods. So they suggested this development have a square to provide some open space off crowded West End Lane, and the buildings were named expressly to reference West Hampstead.

One would have thought that someone at Ballymore would thought about all this in advance. The readers of West Hampstead Life came up with a concept behind the naming of buildings, giving them a sense of place. Since the building isn’t yet occupied, it’s not too late to change it. It doesn’t cost much and could be done if Ballymore wanted to, although there may be legal documents using the name Heritage Lane.

Yes, it was cheeky of Ballymore to ‘nick’ West Hampstead as the name for this development but given it lies next to ‘West Hampstead’ Overground station and opposite ‘West Hampstead’ tube it was not an unreasonable choice. It may well be that it will be called West Hampstead Square anyway. That could indeed be confusing for the emergency services.

156 West End Lane obscured by the fog of planning

Just as there exists the fog of war, so it seems there is a fog of planning. A2 Dominion’s redevelopment of 156 West End Lane has been amended and come back again for comments, but it’s not clear where things stand. To add to the fog, the redevelopment is being reviewed by a new planning officer.

Technically, the application did not need to reconsult because the new scheme is within the parameters of the old one (i.e. theoretically ‘better’). However, as it is such a controversial scheme, we get to enjoy another round of consultation. The closing date for comments was July 5th, but according to Camden planners, it won’t actually start until for another fortnight at least, when the official three week period will begin (i.e during the height of the summer holidays)?!  Fog of planning.  There are now more than 200 related documents to plough through on the website, so it’s becoming increasingly hard to work out where the application stands.

Two documents on Camden’s planning website provide a useful summary. They have many of the same images and explain the changes. They are the Design and Access Statement Addendum or the Townscape (scroll down to 14/6 @13:11) and Visual Impact Addendum (scroll down to 28/6). Why do two documents have the same information? Must be the fog of planning.

156 West End Lane latest plans

156 West End Lane latest plans.  Image via: Design and Access Statement

The main changes are:

  • Reduce height of the East building by one storey (making it less visible from Crediton Hill)
  • Changes to the South elevation – wavy balconies (reflecting mansion block bays?)
  • New treatment of the corner with West End Lane

The reduced height of the East Building improves the application though the the new balconies are not convincing, nor does the corner treatment doesn’t seem resolved.

Nov 15 plans.  Image via Design and Access statement.

Nov 15 plans. Image via Design and Access statement.

What stays roughly the same

  • The redevelopment provides 163 new flats (was 164); 42 affordable, 34 shared ownership and 87 private. By area 50% are affordable.
  • It provides 1,824 m2 of office space

The GLA (Mayor’s Office) commented on the previous application, so there has been an important external opinion. It felt the application broadly complies with the London plan but still had a few concerns. Camden planners too still have some concerns. but it’s not clear what those concerns are (the fog of planning again).

One concern of the GLA was the loss of employment space and the suggested ‘satisfactory business relocation measures’, which seems a big ask. Travis Perkins is fighting this hard. It wants to stay on the site but in a city short of space, Camden needs to weigh up whether light industrial usage is really the best use of this site? Travis Perkins was also interested in bidding for the site itself but decided against it.

Trying to combine employment and residential use means the proposed redevelopment exceeds the London Plan’s guidelines for residential density (odd the GLA didn’t comment on this) – buried away in the documents it calculates the net density of the residential part as being 791 habitable rooms per hectare while the London Plan has a suggested upper limit of 700.

This application faces a trilemma. Camden wants to sell the site for as much money as possible. A2Dominion offered to buy it and needs to make a commercial return. But did they offer too much, which now means they are forced to breach planning guidelines to deliver the return? It’s agreed that housing should be built, but is there enough truly affordable housing? Added to which planning policies also ‘require’ keeping as much commercial floorspace as is currently there.

The site is clearly suitable for redevelopment, and housing seems like a sensible use, but how much development is acceptable on the site? Particularly one that is adjacent to a residential area, and a conservation area at that? To be explored in part two as West Hampstead Life seeks to clarify matters further.

West Hampstead Square rebrands as “Heritage Lane”

HeritageLane_text

Ballymore’s increasingly delayed West Hampstead Square megaproject has taken another turn for the bizzare. In a marketing document seen by West Hampstead Life, the developer is selling the long leasehold for the commercial part of the development with a breakdown of who the tenants will be. The words “West Hampstead Square” appear nowhere in this glossy brochure. Instead, we are invited to take a walk down “Heritage Lane”.

HeritageLane_main

A Ballymore spokesperson told us that this was not the developer’s idea. Indeed she sounded a bit peeved given the amount they’d spent on marketing West Hampstead Square. Instead, she claimed that Camden had forced this upon them. We are chasing Camden for comment/confirmation, though local councillors and the NDF were nonplussed. It is true that local authorities and Royal Mail do have a say over new street names even on private developments. But how anyone thought Heritage Lane was a good idea is beyond me.

Perhaps if indeed Camden is responsible, the new name should have been put to some sort of public vote… Or maybe not (Blocky McBlockface anyone?). The access road for the bin lorries and no doubt endless Yodel vans is hardly lane-like, and the commercial bit out front certainly isn’t a Lane. It’s not a Square either to be fair, but it is some form of broadly quadrilaterally shaped space.

Still, all that heritage eh? Um. West Hampstead Square Heritage Lane is a distinctly modern development, all brick and glass and air conditioning units. Whether or not you like it aesthetically, it is unapologetically modern and does not conjure up images of heritage. And nor does it need to – it’s been marketed as modern living for modern people so this sudden throwback to heritage seems an odd choice?

Ballymore did hold a local competition to help with the naming of the tower blocks, but we all naively assumed that West Hampstead Square would be the permanent name of the whole scheme.

HeritageLane_aerial

The winning entry suggested the blocks were named after local authors, and apparently Camden has agreed to this, so the first five blocks at least will be named (I don’t know in what order) Orwell, Milne, Lessing, Beckford and Hardy.

So what’s going to be in Heritage Lane?

We all know that Marks & Spencer is opening a food store there. This is a large 5,800 sq foot shop (ground floor), for which M&S will pay just shy of a quarter of a million pounds a year in rent. To give you an idea of size, that’s larger than the Little Waitrose and Tesco Express on West End Lane combined.

Next door is an M&S “Hot Food on the Move” café. The final ground floor unit is being occupied by The Provenance Meat Company, a butcher that has a Notting Hill outlet. After years and years (and years) of people whining about not having a butcher in West Hampstead, we’ve suddenly got two… and a farmers market. Are they all sustainable?

On the upper floor, it’s been well known for a while that the Village Haberdashery is moving from its cramped Mill Lane premises to take over a large 1,400 square foot space that will be both shop and workshop.

"Heritage Lane". Photo via Annie Barker

“Heritage Lane”. Photo via Annie Barker

Owner Annie Barker has big plans for the space, and it’s genuinely pleasing to see that a local business has been given a sizeable space there at reasonable rent – at least for five years when her rent will be reviewed. Finally on the upper floor, the news you’ve all been waiting for… yes… another estate agent. According to the brochure, this has not been confirmed yet, though it’s described as “specialising in premium new homes and luxury real estate with multiple offices in London and the Far East.” All in all, the annual rental income in year one comes in at £325,500.

And what is all this commercial space on the market for? According to one source, the asking price is somewhere around £6.75 million.

Overground redevelopment starts soon… and takes how long?

The long awaited redevelopment of West Hampstead’s Overground station is poised to start in August. And to finish two years later.

Not that you need reminding if you use it, but this is to cope with the exponential growth of Overground use since the line was upgraded.  In 2009/10 there were 1.3 million entries/exits from the station. By 2014/15 this was 4.7 million, up over 250% and by 2015/16, on current growth rates, it should be more than 5 million. Interchanges to other stations rose even faster, from 138,000 in 2009/10 to 513,000. Something needed to be done.

Overground station new entrance. Image via TfL

Overground station new entrance. Image via TfL

TfL will be building a totally separate new station, between the existing one and Ballymore/West Hampstead Square. The old station will become a ‘retail opportunity’. The new improved station will have accessible lifts for both platforms (paid for by a £1 million Section 106 contribution from Ballymore). There will be more ticket gates, wider platforms and steps that will be a third of the way down the existing platforms. At the entrance there will be a wider forecourt and pavements for passengers interchanging.

New Overground station, view from platform. Image via TfL

New Overground station, view from platform. Image via TfL

It won’t be easy to do the work as this busy station will remain open the whole time. TfL aims to minimise disruption to residential neighbours. So work is being phased. The prep work starts this August, construction of the new footbridge begins in January next year, the new station itself will take a year to build, starting in March and the station is set to open by Easter 2018 (Sunday April 1st!). Finally, the conversion of the old station and completion of the project in the summer of 2018. Full details, with plans and CGIs and brightly coloured arrows can be found here.

The new station will be between Ballymore and the old one.

The new station will be between Ballymore and the old one.

Combine improvements to the Overground station, the continued growth in Thameslink passenger numbers, plus all the new West Hampstead residents moving in over the next few years and it seems logical that, unless something is done soon, West Hampstead tube station will be swamped. TfL, are you listening? WHL also wonders what Camden Council is doing to ensure coherence in the streetscape and landscape between all these developments. Many trees were destroyed to build them, but what is being done to replace them?

Local planning initiative seeks strong mandate in referendum

It’s now more than three years since the Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) was set up to draw up a Neighbourhood Plan for our area.

The work of the NDF has been covered frequently by WHL in that time, but if you’re new to the concept of neighbourhood planning, it was introduced by the last government in the Localism Act. There’s a short explanation here.

The Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan has been drawn up by local people (all volunteers) and is a result of a great deal work – as well as extensive consultation and engagement. The plan is a long document, but the “Vision” on page 12 gives a good overview of its aims.

The Plan was approved by an independent examiner in January, and is now at the final stage: a referendum of all those living in the area.

It’s the first Neighbourhood Plan in Camden to get to the referendum stage – and only the second in London.

In advance of the referendum, we’ve delivered an information leaflet to every household in the area. This gives people the chance to see the Neighbourhood Plan and related documents on our website and to get in touch with us to answer any questions.

We’ve also had numerous campaign events in the past few weeks – and will be having more in the final few days of the campaign.

The YES campaign is being backed by nearly all the local groups in the area and has cross-party support. Our referendum campaign was launched by our new MP, Tulip Siddiq, who lives in the area covered by the Plan and is backing the YES campaign.

We are urging people to vote YES to the Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan on Thursday 9th July to:

  • Promote good design & protect the distinct character of the area
  • Improve public transport facilities
  • Support local businesses & jobs
  • Provide the services our community needs
  • Protect green & open spaces
  • Get funding for local projects from developer contributions

If you have any questions, want to be involved in the work of the NDF, and/or want to be added to our mailing list, please email: moc.l1519358507iamg@1519358507daets1519358507pmaht1519358507sewpd1519358507n1519358507

You can also follow us on twitter @WHampsteadNDF and use the hashtag #WhampVoteYes for the referendum.

We do hope as many people as possible can join us in voting YES on Thursday 9th July – to make sure the Neighbourhood Plan is approved and comes into force a legally enforceable document.
(If there’s a NO vote the Plan doesn’t come into force and Camden Council can disregard it).

Where to vote
Thanks to those who’ve already voted YES using their postal votes. For those voting on Thursday, the polling stations are open 7am to 10pm and are at these locations:

Fortune Green ward: Emmanuel School, West Hampstead Community Centre (opposite Beckford School) & Templar House social hall.
West Hampstead ward: WH Library, St James’ Church Hall & 19 Wedgewood Walk, Lymington Road.

The referendum is being run by Camden Council. All the information about the vote, including contact details for the electoral services department, can be found here.

Thanks very much to everyone for their support so far. Please do turn out to vote YES on Thursday, so we can demonstrate that there’s strong support across our community for people to have a say in the future development of our area.

James Earl
(Chair, Fortune Green & West Hampstead NDF)

First look at 156 West End Lane plans

Developer A2Dominion held two drop-in consultations this week, revealing its first plans for 156 West End Lane. The redbrick site, currently occupied by Travis Perkins, has been sold by the council as part of its Community Investment Programme to raise money.

A2Dominion 156 West End Lane _ preliminary plan

The plan is for a mixed-use development, with 202 dwellings spread across three blocks. At the moment, the developer is saying no building would exceed eight storeys. There would also be retail frontage on West End Lane, a small amount of commercial space, and improvements to the Potteries Path as well as some public green space within the site.

The existing buildings, yard and playground that form the site

The existing buildings, yard and playground that form the site

Although the developer has said it is committed to delivering 50% affordable housing on the site (as promised by Camden in light of the Liddell Road scheme), its website makes no such commitment and simply says that there would be both private and affordable housing.

The development is likely to be the first test of the Neighbourhood Development Plan. The plan is due to be voted on in a referendum on July 9th and assuming it is passed (no-one has yet launched a “No” campaign, so a rejection would be a surprise), then this site will be the first major development that must adhere to its guidelines.

In its comments on the site, the NDP says,

Any redevelopment of this site needs to provide a mixed-use development, satisfying or making an appropriate contribution to the following needs:

  • Housing, including a significant amount of affordable homes and 3 or 4 bedroom homes (see Policy 1).
  • Offices for small, micro and start-up businesses – including the possibility of serviced offices and studio space.
  • Flexible commercial and retail space that can be used for a range of employment uses.
  • Retail space on the ground floor along West End Lane, which is fitting of the character of the Town Centre (see Policy 13) and set back from the pavement.
  • The design of any new building will need to reflect the design of neighbouring buildings and the neighbouring Conservation Area (see Policies 2 & 3), including use of red brick.
  • The site shall provide an improved design relationship to the adjoining Canterbury Mansions and West End Green Conservation Area, to protect and enhance the character and appearance of the area. Therefore, the height of any new development should ensure the overall design and transition in massing achieves an appropriate relationship with neighbouring properties – and it can be demonstrated that no harm is caused to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area, its setting.
  • The provision of new green/open space to address the deficiencies outlined in the CCS.
  • The provision of space for a community meeting room for local groups and businesses.
  • Improvements to the neighbouring Potteries Path to provide a safe route for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • The investigation of opportunities for a pedestrian bridge over the railway line to the O2 Centre car park.

The ground floor of the site is currently occupied by the builders’ merchant, Travis Perkins (TP). The company has been based in the area for many years, is a significant local employer, and is keen to remain on the site. Protection for land in viable existing employment use is given in this Plan (see Policy 12) and also the CCS (CS8 & DP13).

Travis Perkins, which at one time was thought to be interested in bidding for the site itself, has sent letters to locals in an attempt to bring people on side with its campaign to retain a presence on the site. The letter argues that that it provides jobs to around 30 people and it wants to be “designed into the scheme”, retaining a presence on the site albeit in a new format, with homes alongside and above.

[update] A2Dominion has contacted WHL to tell us that, although it was not mentioned in the original plans, there is provision for a community space of approximately 60 square metres. This now appears below
Site plan
[/update]

Lymington Road residents, whose houses back onto the site, will be by far the most affected by any redevelopment of the site.

Lymington Road back gardens

The plan sites the highest parts of the buildings as far away from Lymington Road as it can, but there can be no denying that the impact will be marked – not least during the construction phase. The site does lie in the designated Growth Area, which more or less means that some substantial residential development will be granted permission here. The devil will be in the detail.

156 West End Lane building typology

In the images published so far by the developer, perhaps the most surprising ones are the projected views. Two in particular give a sense of the scale of the project:

View from Crediton Hill

View from Crediton Hill

View from Iverson Road

View from Iverson Road

A2Dominion’s ambitious timeframe has this going to Camden’s planning committee for a vote next February with construction starting in early 2017. However, these are early days and sketches at this stage can have little relation to the submittted plans.

The developer certainly needs to be much clearer about the extent of affordable housing it expects to deliver, but if this is the 50% that Camden has promised for the site, then local residents would have to expect a reasonably dense development in order to make the project financially viable. Three blocks peaking at eight storeys may not be a bad outcome, but if this scheme delivers less than 50% affordable then don’t be surprised if the developers increase the massing or height to meet that target.

You can have your say on the initial proposals here: http://www.156westendlane.co.uk/have-your-say.

Get creative with public spaces in urbanism competition

Urban Commons

Organisers of a new competition are inviting Londoners to re-imagine the city’s urban spaces in a practice known as “commoning”, or reclaiming public spaces to be used by the communities in which they are located.

With London’s open spaces increasingly being developed for profit and managed by private owners (sound familiar in West Hampstead at the moment?) the organisers Theatrum Mundi, a group of urbanists and artists, feel that “the range of activities permitted in urban spaces is becoming increasingly narrow”. How best to reclaim and use these spaces?

Feeling inspired? Perhaps there’s somewhere local, such as the Travis Perkins building on West End Lane, you feel could be used to benefit the local community.

You don’t need to be a professional designer or architect to enter your idea – it’s open to all. Full details can be found on the Urban Commons website, and the closing date is May 1st, so there are still a couple of weeks left to develop your idea.

Ten selected proposals will be awarded £300 toward the implementation of their proposal and will be featured at an exhibition at the LSE as part of the London Festival of Architecture.

“Vote Yes”: Neighbourhood Plan referendum campaign gets started

It’s now more than three years since we started work on the Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan. It’s been through eight drafts and numerous rounds of consultation.

The Plan successfully passed its independent examination in January – an important step. The examiner recommended a number of changes to the Plan, which have now been agreed between the Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) and Camden Council, as the local planning authority. The final version of Neighbourhood Plan has now been published and can be seen here.

The last stage of the process is a referendum on whether to adopt the Plan. All those on the electoral register in the area covered by the Plan, which is the two wards of West Hampstead and Fortune Green, will be able to vote. The referendum date has now been set for Thursday 9th July and the NDF committee is starting work on planning for the referendum campaign.

We’ve already agreed the designs for our referendum publicity, which you can see below. Thanks to our local graphic designer, Purni Gupta, for her work on this.

NDF_Referendum_poster

We’re now looking for help with the ‘Yes’ campaign, so if you would like to be involved in any way, please let us know.

We’re also looking for sponsorship for events and the cost of the campaign. If you are a business or individual who would like to help out financially, please get in touch!

We plan to hold several events in the run up to the campaign, including the next NDF meeting on Tuesday 12th May; a workshop on how to promote the Plan on Saturday 30th May; and a launch event to start the campaign (early June, date tbc). If you would like to be kept up to date about our work, please ask to be added to our mailing list. Our various contact details are below.

NDF_Referendum_sticker

Thanks to everyone for your support so far; we do hope you can join us in campaigning for a YES vote on 9th July!

James Earl
(Chair, Fortune Green & West Hampstead NDF)

moc.l1519358507iamg@1519358507daets1519358507pmaht1519358507sewpd1519358507n1519358507
www.ndpwesthampstead.org.uk
@WHampsteadNDF

West End Lane could soon be clear of agents’ boards

Last February, we reported on local resident Alan Grogan’s campaign to rid West End Lane of the large number of estate agents’ boards that were attached to many properties along the road. Many agents responded swiftly to our article and, within a couple of weeks, had voluntarily removed their boards from buildings. However, quite a few of the signs still remain up more than a year later.

This week, just as Foxtons added to the glut of estate agents on West End Lane, Alan got the news he’d been hoping for. Camden Council has submitted the Regulation 7 Application to ban all estate agents’ boards for the stretch of West End Lane between the tube station north to David’s Deli. This means that barring any major objections, the proposal should pass in the next few months.

Alan said that he is hoping the ban will come into effect “in time for the summer and we’ll have a very, very nice looking high street”.

Two of the signs still on West End Lane that would have to come down if Camden’s proposal is passed

 

 

 

Liddell Road scheme given green light

Camden councillors voted tonight to give the go ahead to both the proposal to build the school and to build the housing and employment space that will help fund it.

The debate lasted just over an hour and a half and got rather tetchy at times. It brought home how complex the funding issues are and how hard it is to make decision, or criticize them when no figures are made public.

The first vote was whether or not to approve the school and all the committee voted in favour
The second vote was whether or not to approve the rest of the scheme. Cllr Flick Rea (LD) and Cllr Claire-Louise Leyland (Con) voted against, it looked from the webcast as if Jenny Headlam-Wells (Lab) abstained (WHL has contacted Cllr Headlam-Wells to clarify), and everyone else voted in favour so both applications were passed.

Liddell Road vote

We now get to see whether the numbers did indeed add up. There was some suggestion from the independent viability assessor that it was possible there would be more capital receipts from the scheme than originally anticipated. Should that happen, that money would go towards affordable housing, though this would not be on the Liddell Road site itself.

It was sad how little mention was made of the jobs and businesses that will have to leave the premises.

Decision time: The Liddell Road refresher

It’s decision time tonight for Liddell Road, but what’s at stake and why has it been so controversial?

What’s the deal?

The council has an obligation to provide enough school places for local children and the projections are that some 400 places are needed in the West Hampstead area in the very near future.

Where to build this school?

The council decided that Liddell Road, a light industrial estate that it owns just off Maygrove Road, was the best site. The school would take up about half the site.

Rather than build a new school, which under government rules would have to be a free school, it decided to expand Kingsgate School in Kilburn, which is the best part of a mile away on foot. The youngest children would attend the Liddell Road site, the older children would be taught at the Kingsgate site. Astonishingly, even now, the admissions point for the new expanded school has not been settled.

How to pay for it?

Like many councils, Camden has been hit very hard by budget cuts, so to pay for the school it’s decided to sell off the other half of the Liddell Road site for housing and office space. By selling this land to a developer, it would get enough money to build the school and have some left over to fund improvements to other schools in the borough.

Why has it been so controversial?

Jobs
The problems started more than a year ago when there was a big discrepancy between the number of jobs Camden stated would be lost from existing Liddell Road businesses and the number that the traders themselves came up with. The traders’ number was treble Camden’s number (250 vs 80), and Camden never published the results of its employment survey despite promising to do so.

Some traders also claimed that Camden was less than helpful in assisting them finding new premises, which was next to impossible anyway for those who wanted to stay local. Camden disputes this.

Consultation process
In the first consultation about the scheme, the number of respondents who were residents AND parents was incredibly low – in fact it appeared to be just two people. There were three high-level questions, and just two responses to each from this segment: one person was in favour of expanding Kingsgate, one didn’t know; one was in favour of the split school site, one was against; one was in favour of the redevelopment overall and one against. Had this consultation reached the right audience?

The tower block
In the run-up to the council elections in May 2014, Labour campaigned on more school places, which was popular, and won five of the six local seats from the Liberal Democrats. At this stage, the early plans for Liddell Road looked like this:

LiddellRoadplan_before

After the election, the plans looked like this:

Revised Liddell Road plan with 14-storey tower block

Yep, a 14-storey tower block had appeared. Residents weren’t keen, and many pointed out that this site falls outside the designated Growth Area, where people have come to accept that higher density housing will be permitted (for example, West Hampstead Square, which has a 12-storey building at its heart).

Camden’s argument was that it needed all the housing to pay for the school, and all the office space to create jobs (more jobs than existed on the site before if you take their numbers, fewer if you take the traders’).

That £6.7 million grant
Camden received a grant from central government of £6.7 million specifically for new schools. First it wasn’t going to spend this at Liddell Road, then it was, then it was going to spend some of it. The detail has always been unclear. Camden has also said from the outset that it wanted to make an additional £3 million from the project to invest in schools elsewhere in the borough.

Many locals felt that money made from the site should be invested in West Hampstead. The council countered that West Hampstead schools have received a lot of money in recent years that has come from outside West Hampstead. That £3m has since come down to £1.9 million because the council underestimated the cost of clearing the land.

Affordable housing
Initially there was to be no affordable housing in the development. Camden would normally say that 50% of a large development should be affordable, though that’s rarely achieved in practice. Camden argued that the provision of a school completely offset the need for any affordable housing.

In its final revision of the plan, the tower block dropped to 11 storeys, and four of the 106 flats were to be affordable (initally, 1 social, 3 intermediate, but in the final report all four will be social housing). How the economics had changed to accommodate these changes was never made clear.

Opponents have argued that the surplus from the site could be used to increase the affordable housing, the council has said that it would add only a few extra units and it would rather spend the money elsewhere. Councillors also made much of the fact that the site at 156 West End Lane (Travis Perkins) would be developed with 50% affordable housing, but opponents have argued that is impossible to judge the merits of one scheme based on a promise that the council may not be able to keep on another that hasn’t even come close to a planning application yet.

Other issues
There have been a raft of other issues that have caused concern: the siting of the tower, the decision over access roads, the challenges facing parents with siblings at both sites, that admissions point problem, etc.. Camden has responded to all these, except the latter, though not of course always to the satisfaction of locals.

What are the alternatives?

Camden Labour councillors in favour of the scheme, which appears to be all of them except for Fortune Green’s Lorna Russell, have argued very forcefully that the school is essential and at a time of constrained budgets this is the best way of paying for it. They also point out that no-one who has opposed the scheme has come up with a viable costed alternative.

Proposing a costed alternative is difficult when Camden refuses to release any of the financial information associated with the scheme. Indeed it published a heavily redacted report in response to an FOI request. The NDF tried to work out the costs itself, and although it was forced to make a lot of assumptions, it calculated that the council could make an additional £10 million from the site.

Will it pass tonight?

Labour dominates the development control committee (the formal name for the planning committee), which will vote on the plans tonight. It is hard to imagine that the applications won’t be approved as this is one of the flagship schemes in Camden’s Community Investment Programme – its attempt to continue to deliver quality services in the face of swingeing budget cuts.

Complicating matters, the scheme is spread across two separate planning applications, for reasons that have never been clear given that one is entirely contingent on the other – i.e., Camden can’t realistically pass the school and reject the housing.

Many of the groups objecting to the scheme have tried to argue for a delay in order that the detail of the scheme can be discussed more thoroughly and perhaps improved. Very few are arguing that the whole idea should be thrown out wholesale, instead the questions are around the exact implementation. The council, however, is arguing that the school must get approval as soon as possible because it needs to open for the 2016/17 school year.

The upshot therefore is that to meet its statutory requirements on school places, the council has to press ahead with the school now and as the school will be paid for only by the flats and office space, they must be approved too. In other words, the planning committee is a hostage to time. This begs the question as to why this is all so last minute. To quote from a planning officer in one of the early consultation documents,

For a number of years families in the North West of the borough have struggled to find a local reception class place and Camden’s school place planning indicates that there will continue to be a pressing need in this area in the future.

Camden may point out that their predecessors did nothing to act on this when they were in power. It’s a fair point, but Labour has controlled the Town Hall since 2010. Perhaps if planners had had more time, a more equitable solution might have been found rather than forcing one through that has run into quite so many problems with locals who are not, by and large, against the underlying idea of the scheme.

 

The meeting starts tonight at 7pm. Liddell Road is the fourth planning application on the agenda so they should get to it. There are people going speaking against it and it’s likely to take some time to discuss. You can go to the Town Hall and watch in person, or you can watch the webcast here.

Guest post: NDF sums suggest £10 million missing from Liddell Road calculations

As West Hampstead Life reported a few weeks ago, Camden Council refused to disclose the finances related to the Liddell Road development [its scheme to develop the existing industrial estate, which it owns, in order to build a primary school there funded by the sale of housing and offices on the same site]. The council claims these numbers would let private developers know how the council values land, which would undermine it in future negotiations.

Leaving aside the fact that developers can employ armies of surveyors who are well versed in development economics to work such things out, the fact is that the inputs for development models such as rents, comparable sales prices, ‘allowable profit’ levels and building costs are widely available. The NDF therefore decided that in the absence of disclosure from Camden it was worth trying to do the sums itself. The results suggest that the council may make an additional £10 million from the development.

To help with its calculations, the NDF had advice from someone working in the property industry. Development economics are complicated and it is hard to imagine that all the councillors who sit on the planning committee – and thus who will vote on the scheme – have a perfect understanding of them. The general public certainly do not. To help the councillors, and as part of its legal obligations, the council does refer the scheme to an independent assessor. Members of the planning committee will see the assessor’s report before the committee meeting, though even here some financial figures are also redacted.

We would argue that in cases such as Liddell Road, where the council is both developer and approver as part of its Community Investment Programme, it is even more important that numbers are clear and transparent.

Lets do some maths

The actual calculations are relatively simple, and although we have had to make some assumptions, we feel that broadly we should be on the right lines. If Camden would like to correct us on any of these numbers, we would very much welcome their input.

Camden has explained that the sale of the flats and the office space will pay for the building of the school, and deliver a surplus. That surplus was originally £3 million but, in the final report to councillors, it’s been reduced to £1.9 million as the costs of clearing the land appear to be higher than anticipated.

To calculate how much money the council might make we need to work out

a) the value, to a developer, of the land with full planning permission for flats/offices
b) the costs of building the development + various other associated costs (including the developer’s profit margin)

This leaves a residual land value, which is the amount Camden can sell the land for to a developer and is what they will use to pay for the building of the school.

How much is Liddell Road worth to a developer?

The planning application is for two residential blocks and one office block. Lets take each in turn.

Housing
The application is for 106 flats (40 in a tower block and 66 in a mansion block) of which 4 are affordable. In total this is 10,247 sq m of floorspace and 319 habitable rooms. But what are they worth?

A good comparison is to look next door.

Adjacent to Liddell Road is 65 Maygrove Road (formerly Handrail House, now ‘The Residence’) which is currently being turned into 91 flats. These flats are already on the market with asking prices starting at £650,000 for one-bedroom flats and £780,000 for two-bedroom flats.

At those prices, the price per square metre is ~£7,500.

10,247 sq m x £7,500 = £76.9 million. To take account of the four affordable housing units, we’re rounding this down to £76 million.

Therefore, the estimated total sales value of the housing is £76 million

Office space
The application also seeks to build 3,727 sq m of office space. Based on comparable spaces in Queen’s Park and Camden we estimate an expected rental of £295/sq m.

The expected annual rental income from the office building would therefore be £1,097,000. According to commercial property estate agent Cushman & Wakefield, an office building like this could be sold for £20.5 million (based on a standard yield of 5.25%).

Total
Add together the £76 million for the housing and the £20.5 million for the office block and we get a gross development value of the site once developed of £96.5 million.

Deduct the costs

Now we need to look at the costs, which include construction costs, the developer’s profit and other costs.

Build costs
According to the BCIS (Build Cost Indexation Service) of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, an inner-London mid-height housing and office development costs about £2,750/sq m (including fees), though our research suggests this is on the high side for a development like Liddell Road.

Nevertheless, using this guide, the build cost of the 10,247 sq m of residential buildings is £28.2 million and the cost of building the 3,727 sq m of office space is £10.2 million.

To assess other building costs, we have drawn on data from bank BNP Paribas’ introduction to development economics seminar. Landscaping would cost about £1 million, infrastructure costs (roads, pipes) £5 million and a 15% contingency of £6.5 million would be normal.

Total construction costs = £50.9 million

The developer also has to make money and is allowed a 20% profit margin. For a scheme like this, we understand the margin is likely to be based on costs not sales, which gives us a figure of £10 million, but this varies from development to development and is subject to negotiation.

Two other costs can be deducted: financing and marketing costs. Interest rates are very low at the moment but at a rough estimate these would total £5 million. There are also marketing costs to sell the development (those swanky ads in the Evening Standard) generously estimated about at 5% of gross sales, so a further £5 million. Giving total ‘other’ costs of £20 million.

Total construction costs of £50.9 million + other costs of £20 million gives a grand cost total of £70.9 million.

What does this leave?

If gross sales = £96.5 million and total costs = £70.9 million, this leaves a gross residual land value of £25.6 million. This is what the council might expect a developer to pay for the land and what will fund the school

Normally, councils try to capture some of this uplift and get developers to include extra affordable housing and section 106 agreements for community facilities. The situation here is slightly more complicated, but in simple terms, the equivalent payments as set out in the planning report seem to total less than £200,000 (not all are costed, so precision is difficult), which is extremely low for a development of this size. As of April, when the new Community Infrastructure Levy comes into play, a private developer would be expected to pay £2.6 million on a housing/office development like this.

This £25.6 million (£25.4 if you want to strip out £200,000 for section 106-type payments) is supposed to finance the new school on Liddell Road and leave a £1.9 million pound surplus to be invested in schools elsewhere.

What does it cost to build a school?

Camden has said it will cost £13.4 million to build the school and has acknowledged that some of that will come from the £6.7 million central government grant the council received, though have not publically said how much.

According to the BCIS, the cost of building a new primary school of more than 2,000 sq m in inner London is £1,866/sq m. This is in line with the National School delivery cost benchmarking report of June 2014, which gives a figure of £2,170/sq m.

Going with the more expensive figure would give a cost for the school, which is 2,392 sq m, of £5.2 million. It is not clear therefore, how Camden has come up with a cost of £13.4 million – more than 2.5 times the national average.

Money left over?

Even if the school does cost £13.4 million and the council decides not to use any of the £6.7 million allocated for new school places here, our calculations suggest that there would be a further £12 million left over. Deduct the £1.9 million surplus that the council states it wants to make to fund other improvements to schools in the boroughs, and there’s still £10.1 million unaccounted for.

The property expert we spoke too clarified that his view “is given as a personal opinion on the market but is not an official valuation. That said if a full valuation was commissioned from a valuation surveyor, I am sure the view would not differ and in fact they might even come up with a higher site price’.”

The NDF would very much welcome Camden pointing out anywhere where our assumptions are wrong. Clearly the build costs and the sales costs have the biggest impact on the overall numbers, so it would be very interesting to know if Camden’s figures differ significantly from the benchmarks that we have used.

Locals objecting in numbers to Liddell Road plans

Camden has extended the deadline for comments on its Liddell Road redevelopment planning applications to February 12th. In practice, if you still want to comment, then submissions will be considered right up to the time of the vote, which is likely to be in early March.

Of the non-statutory responses Camden has published so far:

  • Objections: 32 (including two residents associations)
  • Sitting on the fence: 1 local organisation (WHAT)
  • In favour: 1 (a WHAT member)

The nature of the objections vary; many are about the scale of the development, but some are very specifically about the details of the school, including the admissions point problem.

The Neighbourhood Development Forum’s response is not online yet, but West Hampstead Life has a copy. It’s long but the key message is in the final paragraph.

“Overall, it is clear to us that this scheme – as reflected in the two planning applications – is in breach of a number of key policies in the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework], the London Plan, Camden Council’s LDF [Local Development Framework], and in the Neighbourhood Plan. The two proposals must therefore both be refused as together neither are planning policy compliant. The NDF remains committed to working with Camden Council and local residents to bring forward a scheme that is compliant with adopted and emerging planning policy – and which reflects the wishes of our community.”

If you wish to read the whole submission, it’s embedded below.

The statutory responses from Thames Water and London Underground give the developers (that’s the council remember), no cause for concern. The response from TfL concludes, however, by saying:

“There are some question marks about how the mixed uses’ ‘shared’ needs will work in practice in a way that does not create extra activity at the kerbside especially in view of the increase in vulnerable road users associated with the Primary School and nursery.”

It also states,

“Unfortunately the applicant has not responded to pre-application advice that its blue-badge [disabled parking] space allocation is wholly inadequate and does not meet London Plan Standards (aminimum of one space per ten residential units).”

Read the full TfL response.

Whether the councillors on Camden’s planning committee, who include West Hampstead councillor Phil Rosenberg and Fortune Green councillor Richard Olszewski, will be swayed by the antipathy to the details of this proposal remains to be seen.

The one thing they should not be swayed by is the argument that the development of 156 West End Lane will deliver substantial affordable housing and that this mitigates the dire lack of it at Liddell Road. Whether this turns out to be the case or not, no scheme has yet been brought forward for 156, and thus a decision on one proposal cannot be made on the basis of a hopeful promise.

If you feel strongly about any aspect of the development – whether it’s for or against – do submit your comments to Camden and/or contact one of the West Hampstead or Fortune Green councillors: James Yarde, Phil Rosenberg, Angela Pober, Lorna Russell, Richard Olszewski and Flick Rea [firstname.lastname @ camden.gov.uk].

NDF Response to Liddell Road Consultation by WHampstead

Blackout: Council redacts Liddell Road viability report

Camden council claims that it cannot reveal the costings and valuations behind its proposal for Liddell Road “in accordance with the legal advice we have received.”

This led to a farcical response to a Freedom of Information request made by former Conservative council candidate Andrew Parkinson. Andrew had asked to see the Liddell Road viability report, which many locals are keen to look at in order to understand how the council has come up with a scheme that involves an 11-storey tower block, a mere 4% affordable housing and a sizeable surplus.

Copyright issues on FOI responses are a bit confusing, so to be on the safe side, I’ve only published the appendices of the report. Appendix A is the Financial Appraisal and Appendix B is the Cost Plan.

Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_20 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_21 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_22 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_23 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_24 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_25 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_26 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_27 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_28 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_29 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_30 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_31 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_32

All the numbers in the report – both in the body and the appendices have been redacted.

Andrew Parkinson said, “I personally don’t think its acceptable for the Council to entirely redact the figures in the report.”

James Earl, chairman of the Neighbourhood Development Forum, said:

“We welcome the publication of the Viability Report, which we believe should have been published with all the other documents relating to the planning application. However, the decision to redact every figure in the report is ridiculous and is an insult to the local community. This is not a private development – it is a scheme proposed by Camden Council which involves public land and public money. Local residents have a right to know about the financial position on which the proposed development is based.”

From the outset, Camden has been reluctant to show its workings. Promises to publish its survey on Liddell Road employment numbers evaporated over time, despite the council’s figures differing substantially from those cited by the businesses on the estate who were being forced to relocate.

Stephen Nathan, QC, chairman of local residents’ association WHGARA, said of the redacted report “This is absurd. Camden keep on forgetting that they are acting as a statutory planning authority.”

This latest move will do little to persuade sceptical locals that West Hampstead is getting the best deal here. A recent survey by the Neighbourhood Development Forum revealed that the broad concept for the land is popular, but the details – specifically the tall tower block and the lack of affordable housing – are far more contentious.

Only one hurdle left for Neighbourhood Plan

The West Hampstead and Fortune Green Neighbourhood Development Forum has had two good pieces of news in the past week. Yesterday it announced a £6,000 grant from the Lottery, which will help enormously in setting up a sustainable Forum that can last beyond the delivery of the plan. Secondly, and even more importantly, the draft plan was passed by an independent examiner – a critical step in the process.

The Neighbourhood Development Forum has been featured on these pages for so long that some readers must be wondering whether the plan it has been developing is ever going to come into force. However, last week’s decision by John Parmiter, an independent planning examiner, to pass the plan means that it’s now assured of going to a referendum later this year.

The independent examination, to which all Neighbourhood plans must be sumbmitted, tests whether or not the plan [latest version] meets certain basic conditions that are in line with planning law. It is not a test of the plan itself and whether it’s “good” or not; more whether it is viable. The examination of the West Hampstead plan, rather unusually, took the form of a public hearing. These are used only when the examiner feels there are issues that need to be discussed or specific views that need to be heard – generally from people who have submitted comments in the consultation phase.

That meeting took place in December and the findings were published last week. You can read the full report here. The tone of the examiner’s remarks is notably constructive and although there is some criticism of the lack of supporting evidence for some of the plan’s policy recommendations, the report talks positively about the level of community engagement and the attempt to reflect the community’s aspirations.

The examiner has recommended (which is code for “insisted on”) some wording changes, some of which inevitably water down NDP policies that simply won’t work as they stand because they are not in line with national or local planning policy. Both building height and the protection of views are affected by this though the spirit of the NDP’s proposals stands.

For most people, the most signifcant change the examiner made is to strike out completely the policy on basements. The plan said there should be “a presumption against basement development more than one storey deep or outside the footprint of the property (excluding lightwells)”. The examiner found “no, or insufficient, evidence to support the… policy”.

Overall, however, the examiner’s report is good news for the NDP. Once the changes are made and Camden gives final approval, the plan will go to a referendum of people in the area – that’s everyone living in West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. A simple majority of the people who vote is all that is needed to pass the plan. Although it would seem to make sense to combine the referendum with the general election on May 7th, Camden apparently does not like this idea, so the vote may now be in early July.

West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Plan map

The boundary of the area covered by the plan, which is the same as the two wards of West Hampstead and Fortune Green

 

Only 13% of locals support Liddell Road tower

The West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum has been running a survey since the start of November to gauge locals’ reactions to the council’s proposals for Liddell Road.

In total, there were 128 responses, and the full results will be published on Monday; however West Hampstead Life has been given an exclusive preview of some of the findings.

Do you support the 11-storey tower block? Yes 13% No 87%
 

is 4% affordable housing too little (80%,), too much (7%), about right (13%)
 

Overall do you support Camden's Liddell Road proposal Yes 27% No 73%
 

James Earl, chairman of the NDF, said “The NDF will submit the results of the survey to Camden Council as part of its response to the planning application”.

School, 106 flats and workspace: Liddell Road planning application is in

Liddell Road from Maygrove Road

The Liddell Road mansion block from Maygrove Road

The council’s controversial plan to build a school, flats and employment space on the Liddell Road industrial estate took a step forward on Friday when the planning applications were submitted. Yes, applications plural.

Although all the documentation that accompanies the applications is presented as a coherent set of documents, the applications themselves are split into Phase 1 (the school) and Phase 2 (the residential and employment). Given that the school is contingent on the apartments being built and sold, this seems strange. One thought is that that council expects it might run into some problems with the residential part of the plan – which is what locals have objected to most – but doesn’t want to jeopardize the start date of the school.

The final applications are to build 106 residential units, of which four are designated “affordable“: three intermediate and one social housing for a wheelchair user. These will be split across an 11-storey tower block of 40 flats and a 5-storey “mansion block” fronting Maygrove Road of 66 flats. The school will be a two-storey infant school that is an extension of Kingsgate Primary School in Kilburn, and will house 420 pupils. The employment space is a 5-storey managed workspace falling under class B1.

B1 building use is use for all or any of the following purposes:
(a) as an office other than a use within class A2 (financial and professional services),
(b) for research and development of products or processes, or
(c) for any industrial process, being a use which can be carried out in any residential area without detriment to the amenity of that area by reason of noise, vibration, smell, fumes, smoke, soot, ash, dust or grit.

Liddell Road mansion block

Liddell Road mansion block

There are a lot of documents to wade through if you want to get an overview of the scheme. As always, the Desgin & Access statement is the best place to start, but it runs to 246 pages. The appendix of views will be of particular interest to many locals. You can access all the documents from Camden’s planning website, but West Hampstead Life has merged all 246 pages together, which you can download here (large PDF file).

Locals have objected to the scale of the residential development, specifically the height of the tower block (which at an earlier consultation stage was going to be 14 storeys), and the lack of affordable housing (which was initially zero), when the council is expecting to make a £3m surplus from the development and has received a further £6.7m central government grant for schools.

There is one section of the document that many will find especially galling. After setting out a perfectly valid case for the low affordable housing quota (by Camden’s own standards, there should be ~50% affordable housing), the developers (remenber, that’s the council) then try to pass blame onto campaigners who wanted a lower tower block.

Splutter

The precise number of flats intended for the site has always been fluid. At one point it was 120, at another 100, at another, 105. We’ve now ended up with 106. Amid all the documentation, WHL has yet to unearth the viability calculations that explain precisely how the affordable housing quota has been determined. Apparently the housing market can be thanked for this sudden largesse although quite what role it has played is of course unclear. Many will also be irked by the implication above that the council would love to have had more affordable housing if it wasn’t for those pesky locals demanding a lower tower, given that the council’s original plans had no such units until locals started clamouring for them despite a bullish housing market at the time the plans were first drawn up. There are no doubt some who would like to know how many affordable units would be possible if 14-storeys had been retained in order that people could make an informed trade-off.

Liddell Road tower block from Maygrove Peace Park

Liddell Road tower block from Maygrove Peace Park

In response to the objection that such a low affordable housing quota runs contrary to Camden’s own policies on vibrant mixed communities, councillors are keen to say that the development of 156 West End Lane will deliver 50% affordable housing. It’s a bold promise they may find difficult to keep, and it is unclear how West Hampstead residents are expected to judge one application on the basis of another development, especially when the latter is not even on the drawing board after Camden “deselected” the developer last month.

Residents have also objected to the siting of the tower block at the eastern end of the site, where it most overshadows the Sidings Estate and Maygrove Peace Park. Newly-formed residents association MILAM has challenged this several times but the architects and the council have decided to retain it in the east. Their argument can be found in its extensive Q&A document. There will also be a new main access road into the development, although the existing access road will be retained.

Consultation on the applications has been extended to take account of the Christmas holidays, so anyone who wants to comment on the application has “at least” until January 30th to do so. The Neighbourhood Development Forum, whose draft plan is quoted many times in the application documents, is also running a survey to try and get as comprehensive a view as possible on locals’ thoughts. You can fill in the survey here.

Given Camden Labour’s overwhelming majority on the council, it is hard to see how this plan would be refused by the development control committee when it comes to a vote. There could still be some tweaks here and there of course, but it is a stark example of the problem in the planning system when councils are both developer and ajudicator of the same proposal.

Liddell Road tower and workspace looking east

Liddell Road tower and workspace looking east

Liddell Road mansion block from Maygrove Road artist impression

Artist’s impression of Liddell Road mansion block from Maygrove Road

Liddell Road development masterplan

Liddell Road development overview

Liddell Road colour scheme

The Liddell Road brickwork will be mostly red

View of Liddell Road from Black Path

View of Liddell Road development from the Black Path

Development triggers new Residents’ Association around Maygrove Road

A constitution for West Hampstead’s newest residents’ association has just been finalised, and residents are now waiting for a meeting to formally adopt the constitution and elect its committee.

maygrove_road

The MILAM Residents’ Association will represent the interests of people living in Maygrove, Iverson, Loveridge, Ariel and Medley Roads.

As with many residents’ associations, the catalyst for setting up MILAM was to fight a particular cause, in this case the disruption caused by construction work on the Regal Homes development on Maygrove Road.

Monica Regli, who lives on Maygrove Road, said that she and many of her neighbours became frustrated with the lack of communication both from the developer and Camden Council when the works started. A short stretch of the road was closed for three months, causing significant problems with traffic which affected not only Maygrove but also the surrounding streets.

Monica Regli, of the new MILAM residents' association

Monica Regli, of the new MILAM residents’ association

A few people complained, but Monica felt that residents’ concerns were not being addressed satisfactorily. “Individual complaints were just being batted away – we needed to unite,” she said. She set up a Facebook group and Twitter account where Maygrove residents could air their views, and immediately noticed that as a group, they started to be taken more seriously. Among the group’s first followers on Twitter was Regal Homes, closely followed by many local councillors.

Fortune Green councillor Lorna Russell suggested that residents formalise the group by setting up a Residents’ Association, and also open it up to residents of the surrounding streets facing many of the same issues. The area now covers about 1,000 households. Monica said she was nervous about taking on this task, not having had experience of setting up such an association before, but received overwhelming support from Lorna and other councillors including Flick Rea and Philip Rosenberg, James Earl, chair of the West Hampstead NDF, and Sue Measures of Sidings Community Centre, where meetings were held.

James Earl, who is also chair of the Fordwych Residents’ Association, said that the FRA welcomed the establishment of MILAM. Maygrove Road used to be covered by this neighbouring group, although the other four roads were not. “We think an RA for this area is badly needed and will be able to do a very useful job in representing the views of residents in this (often overlooked) area.” he said, adding “I hope the FRA and the MILAM RA will be able to work closely and productively in the years ahead.”

Cllr. Flick Rea, too, said she hoped that MILAM would “flourish,” and explained why she is a keen advocate of such groups: “Working together achieves so much more, and gives residents a stronger voice when making representations to the Council. They can also help bring people together and create a sense of community, which can be difficult when there is no obvious focal point.”

Monica’s background in law helped when it came to drafting the constitution and ensuring that all residents’ feedback was captured. She is keen to emphasise, however, that she does not intend to take charge of proceedings and that MILAM is for all residents, whether they simply want to sign up or get more heavily involved.

What’s next on the agenda for MILAM after the Regal Homes development? Liddell Road – and its planned tower block – inevitably looms large. Even for West Hampstead, these five streets are surrounded by an unusually high concentration of planned development, and residents understandably want to be aware of, and have a say in, how these proposals will unfold in the months and years to come.

But Monica insists it’s not all about the negative. “This is also a positive way of bringing people together” she points out, saying that since the group came together on social media, her road has felt like more of a community. Social events and street parties are some of the plans on the horizon. “It’s great to feel that we’re keeping an eye out for each other and making the area feel more secure.”

You can contact the group through its Twitter or Facebook pages, or by emailing moc.l1519358507iamg@15193585076wnev1519358507orgya1519358507m1519358507.

Is affordable housing promise at risk as developer “deselected”?

The minutes from the last Neighbourhood Development Forum meeting contain an interesting snippet towards the end.

156 West End Lane: Stuart (representing Travis Perkins) reported that the site was marketed last year and Mace was selected as preferred developers. Mace have now been ‘deselected’ by the Council and a shortlist of developers have been asked to submit new bids by 21 November… …It was pointed out that the Council’s promise of 50% affordable housing on the site (as made by Cllr Phil Jones at the Liddell Road meeting in September) may now be in doubt. James [Earl, NDF chairman] asked to be kept informed of developments. Local councillors should also be asked for information and greater clarity about the sale process.

This matters because one of Camden’s key arguments for having so little affordable housing in its Liddell Road proposal – just four units out of 100 – was that 156 West End Lane would deliver 50% affordable housing (note that this meets the quota for the site, it doesn’t actually compensate for the lack of affordable housing on Liddell Road). This has been “promised” several times, as noted in the minutes.

Camden’s extensive Liddell Road Q&A document says “At 156 West End Lane the Council is seeking 50% affordable housing from the sale of the site to a private developer.” Words like “promise” tend not to appear in print. Of course the only way that a planning decision on one site could be made contingent on what happens on another site, is for the two sites to be treated as one development and consulted on and voted on accordingly. That has never been on the cards.

Scooter showroom fails to comply in bike parking row

Residents in Fortune Green have become increasingly unhappy with motorcycle showroom Capital City on Fortune Green Road, and have persuaded Camden to take action. Capital City has, however, failed to comply.

According to locals, who are reluctant to be named after what they claim have been some altercations with the showroom owners, the business continues to break numerous rules: parking motorcycles for sale on the pavement and road and thereby making it hard for pedestrians to pass (especially those with pushchairs or in wheelchairs), trading at unauthorised times, and causing noise disturbance.

The business is, they point out, also unauthorised to place vehicles on its own forecourt, as the premises is classified for A1 retail use, not a motorcycle showroom. Nearby neighbours complain that the parked vehicles can at times occupy up to five parking spaces in an area where parking is already limited, and that they are being disturbed by the noise and fumes of cycle repairs being carried out.

Camden’s planning department has issued two enforcement notices, the first of which was issued in March and concerns a timber structure erected to the rear of the building used as a garage, for which Capital City has no planning permission. Elizabeth Beaumont, Appeals and Enforcement Team Manager at Camden, confirmed in an email that “The enforcement notice for the rear extension was not complied with and prosecution procedures have begun.”

The second enforcement notice deals with the various breaches of planning controls. Capital City was given the choice to either cease using the unit as a motorcycle showroom, or to cease storing bikes on the forecourt, cease causing disturbance with repairs and only open for trading during designated hours and days. It had to either appeal or comply with the notice by October 4th, but Elizabeth Beaumont confirmed that this, too, had received no reaction: “A visit yesterday [Oct 7th] confirmed the notice had not been complied with and we are now commencing with prosecution procedures for this matter as well.”

This was also verified by a local resident who photographed the shop the day compliance was required. It clearly shows bikes parked outside.

Motorcycles on the forecourt and road

Motorcycles on the forecourt and road

Open for Sunday trading against regulations

Open for Sunday trading against regulations – note the ‘OPEN 7 DAYS’ sign

The same resident also alleges that Capital City has been using the road outside its premises and that of its neighbour, Nautilus, to park its motorcycles for sale, contravening the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 which prevents more than two motor vehicles from being sold outside on a public highway within 500m of each other.

West Hampstead Life spoke to Capital City about these alleged breaches of the planning regulations and asked if it planned to comply. Nick, one of the business’s owners, claimed not to have received the enforcement notice concerning the planning breaches, but said that he was in discussions with Camden’s planning department about making alterations to the wooden garage structure. He was unhappy to have received “abusive letters from people” and been “shouted at” whilst “trying to adhere to the rules”.

He said he was aware of the rule preventing vehicles to be advertised for sale on the road, but that motorcycles parked on the street were in fact “customers’ bikes brought in for repair”, and were legally parked on a stretch of the road which is available for public parking after 12pm, not residents’ parking bays.

This is countered by a photograph taken by another neighbour, who also claims Capital City had two cars for sale outside its showroom.

Img_1582_600

It now seems that the only end to this situation is if Camden successfully manage to prosecute the business. Residents meanwhile are increasingly frustrated by Capital City’s unwillingness to change its behaviour, and by the slow-moving processes of the planning department – the issue was first flagged to Camden at least 12 months ago.

West Hampstead’s Neighbourhood Plan enters final phase

After two and half years work, the Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum has produced the final draft of the Neighbourhood Plan for our area – which has been formally submitted to Camden Council.

The Plan is based on extensive consultation, engagement and research – as well as the previous seven drafts of the Plan drawn up before this version.

The final document has been amended to reflect the comments submitted during the consultation period on the “pre-submission (7th) draft” during January and February, help from Camden Council planning officers and advice from independent planning consultants.

The Neighbourhood Plan – and supporting documents – can be seen in full on our website: www.ndpwesthampstead.org.uk

The Plan covers the two Camden Council wards of Fortune Green and West Hampstead (see Map 1 in the Plan). The main focus of the Plan is set out in the Vision and Objectives (see page 10). The objectives cover six areas: housing, design & character, transport, public & community facilities, economy, and natural environment.

The Plan contains 18 policies (in blue boxes) on a range of issues from housing to business, from cycling to trees. If the Plan is adopted, these policies will be used in deciding planning applications in area – so could have a direct impact on your street, as well as the wider area.

What happens next?

  • Camden Council will carry out a six week consultation on the Neighbourhood Plan from 18 September to 31 October – when further comments can be submitted.
  • The Plan, and comments received, will then be submitted to an independent examiner – who will write a report and decide if the Plan can proceed to a referendum.
  • If all goes well, the referendum on the Plan will take place in early 2015 – everyone on the electoral register in the area will get a vote.

The NDF will keep people posted as to how things progress over the coming months:

We’re also looking for people who can help with the referendum campaign – if you’re interested, please let us know.

Finally – a big thank you to everyone who’s played a part in helping the NDF and the Plan reach this important stage.

James Earl
(Chair, Fortune Green & West Hampstead NDF)

Neighbourhood Plan_final draft cover

Foxtons starts process of moving into former post office

It’s been a persistent rumour ever since the post office announced it was moving from its site on West End Lane to St James’ Church. Now it looks like the rumour is true. Estate agent Foxtons – it of the ubiquitous green and yellow Minis – has applied to the council for a change of use for the post office site so it can open there.

Those who argue that West Hampstead already has a lot of estate agents might find it hard to come up with strong objections – taking over an empty site is always going to be an easier sell to the council. Objectors would have to hope that Camden considers the claim that “the occupation of the unit by Foxtons would contribute to the vitality and viability of the town centre” is nonsense and that instead another estate agent on a street that already has about a dozen instead contributes to the creeping homogenisation of the town centre and adds very little to what is already a crowded market.

The supporting documentation for the application can be found here, and is the most interesting read. The full application is here. Consultation runs until September 9th. If consent is given, expect Foxton’s “modern, café-style, open environment” to be appearing on West End Lane very soon.

Is Liddell Road tower a “middle finger to West Hampstead”?

Last night’s public meeting to discuss Camden’s proposals for Liddell Road was always going to get tetchy. Alex Bushell from Camden’s planning department struggled to keep on top of an audience that grew increasingly frustrated as the evening drew on.

The seeds of dissent were sown when architect Prisca Thielmann from Macreanor Lavington failed to bring the one slide everyone really wanted to see – the cross section of the site showing the 14-storey block. She also found it hard to talk about the development in terms that lay people understand. Phrases such as “the tower block will animate the park” didn’t go down well with an audience that seemed predisposed to be sceptical.

View from the park

View from Maygrove Peace Park looking east

Readers of West Hampstead Life wouldn’t have learned much new about the proposals. One fact that came to light is that the £6.7 million Camden received from central government to build a new school is now going to Liddell Road. However, this simply means that another £6.7 million from the site can be spent elsewhere in addition to the £3 million surplus the scheme will already generate, so it’s having no material impact on the scheme.

Apparently, West Hampstead residents are expected to take this on the chin because the new Emmanuel School building was funded by money that came from outside of West Hampstead. It’s a fair point, but overlooks the fact that West Hampstead residents are experiencing an incredibly rapid period of growth that has been forced upon them and that will irreversibly change the fabric of the community. If money generated by this growth then leaves the area when it could be used to mitigate or alleviate some of the pressures this change will bring, it’s no suprise that residents are unimpressed. To expect otherwise would be to expect a degree of altruism that few communities would be likely to display. More school places are, after all, a statutory requirement not a frippery.

Naturally, there were plenty of questions last night about the height of the tower block and whether there is any way in which it could be lower, or moved to the other end of the site, or both. The block was memorably described by West Hampstead NDF chairman James Earl as a “middle finger to West Hampstead” in his barnstorming speech last night. There were also questions about the school – although it’s worth remembering that the school has already been approved by Camden. There is still debate about the catchment area, however, and lots of questions about the traffic impact.

There was strong feeling about the lack of any affordable housing, especially in light the additional £6.7 million funding, but the argument remains that for the scheme to be financially viable there can be no affordable housing. Financially viable means also generating that £3 million surplus, although why this is £3 million and not £2 million or £4 million is not clear.

Five of the six West Hampstead and Fortune Green councillors were present (Angela Pober (West Hampstead) was at Frank Dobson’s grand farewell announcement instead – an apology for her absence would probably have been appropriate). Phil Rosenberg (West Hampstead) and Lorna Russell (Fortune Green) both spoke, requesting that the scheme be looked at again to see whether there wasn’t some way to reduce the massing and to work with the community to improve the scheme.

Cllrs Flick Rea and Richard Olszewski chose not to comment specifically on the plans, as both are on the planning committee and speaking now can prejudice their position and leave them unable to vote. Cllr Rea did however suggest to the chairman that another such meeting would be valuable given the strength of feeling and the numbers of people in the room who were unable to get a chance to speak. No such commitment was forthcoming.

The lack of clarity and transparency over the economics of the site is a problem Camden councillors and officers must address (and is one that’s been raised before in conjunction with the loss of jobs on this site). The better understanding residents have of the business case, the more likely they are to appreciate the challenges that the council faces in delivering the much-needed school. It’s a long shot to suggest that it will bring everyone on board with a 14-storey tower block, but greater transparency on the proposals might at least foster a more sensible debate and give residents some confidence that West Hampstead is not simply seen as a cash cow by the Town Hall.

Bluffers Guide to Liddell Road

Ahead of tonight’s public meeting about the Liddell Road redevelopment proposals, West Hampstead Life tries to cut through all the jargon and give you the bluffers’ guide to what’s going on.

What’s being proposed?
A school, some housing, some offices.

What’s there now?
It’s an industrial estate with a mix of businesses, including car repair places. It’s tucked off Maygrove Road, bordering Sidings estate and the mainline railway lines.

Who owns the land?
Camden council.

Do we need a new school?
Yes. It’s a primary school and the projections are that this part of Camden does need a new primary school.

Isn’t there going to be a “free school” though?
Maybe, maybe not. One free school has approval in Kilburn, another free school is waiting to hear about approval. Irrespective of that, Camden has to provide enough school places for the area.

Well, a brand new school – that’s nice?
Not quite a “new school”. It’s an expansion of Kingsgate School, which is about a mile away.

That seems odd?
Yes. Camden Labour argues that it’s simply expanding an outstanding school. Critics argue that this is the only way it can build a new school that isn’t an academy or free school.

But the new school’s a done deal?
Yes. And no. The school was approved despite a consultation process in which only three parents submitted responses and less than 40% of respondents were in favour of siting the infant school at Liddell Road. However, to pay for the school, the council needs to build (and sell) the housing and office space and that’s a separate planning decision.

What happens if that’s not passed?
Good question. Although with Labour’s enormous majority in the council it’s pretty inconceivable that it wouldn’t pass in some form.

So, the housing and offices pays for the school. I guess they’ve done the sums and that adds up exactly?
The last reckoning had them making a £3m profit from the scheme.

Three million? Where’s that being spent?
We don’t know – it’s going into the general pot of Camden money.

OK. But didn’t the government give Camden some money for a new school?
Yes, £6.7 million.

So that’s included in the calculations right?
Wrong. That’s also being spent elsewhere.

You’ve lost me now. Camden is going to build lots of houses and a school and come out of it with almost £10 million still to spend?
Yes. Clever eh? And that’s based on assumptions from last year, that number might have gone up or down in the meantime. Given the property market, up seems more likely.

Still, with such a profit, the council’s clearly got some leeway to include some much needed affordable housing, right?
Um…

There is affordable housing right? Aren’t they building 120 homes and isn’t there some law about 50% affordable housing?
It’s not a law, just a policy. As things stand, this development will have no affordable housing. Camden argues that the community benefits come from the school and employment and that the affordable housing should be at 156 West End Lane.

Wait, what? Where?
156 West End Lane – that’s the Travis Perkins building to you and me – is up for redevelopment. Camden has sold it, and is saying that the affordable housing will be there.

Well, that sounds reasonable. If that’s all affordable housing then overall West Hampstead still benefits.
It won’t be all affordable housing. The latest information is that the developers have bought the site on the condition that they submit a plan that includes 50% affordable housing. However, as there’s no planning application to look at it’s hard to know for sure. It’s possible some additional affordable housing could be paid for by the redevelopment but not be in West Hampstead.

Er…
So we could end up with two large developments that between them have approximately 20% affordable housing.

Is the Liddell Road site big enough for 120 homes, offices and a school?
Apparently so. If they build a tower block.

Another tower block? Wasn’t there a right kerfuffle over that one opposite the tube station?
West Hampstead Square. Yes – that has a 12-storey tower block. Camden is proposing a 14-storey block for Liddell Road.

Fourteen storeys? That’s, er, high?
Yep.

I’m surprised Labour did so well at the local council elections if it was promising to build a 14-storey tower block in the area.
We didn’t know about the tower block then

Oh, but I thought these plans had been floating around for a while?
They have – but the plans people looked at last year didn’t show a tower block.

So, they’ve added more housing to the scheme since then, hence needing to build higher?
Funnily enough, no. It was 120 flats then and it’s 120 flats now.

It all sounds very strange to me, but no doubt the council knows what it’s doing.
Perhaps – it’s selling off a lot of land to cover the drop in funding it gets from central government. Obviously that only works once. There are lots of complicated calculations to be made, for sure, but it’s hard for residents to understand that if those calculations aren’t made readily available or digestible.

Let me check I understand. Camden wants to build 120 flats to pay for a school. There’ll be no affordable housing even though it’s received money to help build the school and plans to make a profit on the site. The nearby site won’t have enough affordable housing to offset the lack of it at Liddell Road. There’s a 14-storey tower block, which wasn’t in the original plans when the school was approved. And a load of local businesses are having to move out so we lose jobs too?
That’s pretty much it. There is going to be office space though apparently aimed at fast-growing small companies.

Is there a demand for that?
It’s not clear – office space a hundred yards down the road couldn’t be let for two years, but the economy has picked up by then, so maybe. And there are jobs for teachers being created.

And I guess the teachers can live in the new apartments!
Doubt they’ll be able to afford them.

Camden already assuming just 25% affordable housing at 156 West End Lane

Camden councillors have been claiming that they expect the redevelopment of 156 West End Lane to deliver 50% affordable housing, but figures from their own 2014 report into primary school provision predict only 25%.

[UPDATE 5.30pm: Cllr Phil Jones has left a comment below explaining that this 25% number is outdated, and the sale to the developers was made on basis of 50% affordable housing]

There is heightened interest in this because the Liddell Road redevelopment proposals have no affordable housing component. Camden is arguing that Liddell Road and 156 West End Lane need to be considered together (which is difficult when one is at planning stage, and the other is nowhere near).

The data used for Camden’s recent work into determining future primary school provision shows assumptions about the housing mix at both 156 and the (much further off) O2 car park redevelopment. In neither case is 50% affordable housing on the cards.

The data given is based on number of units, while the quota for affordable housing in a development is based on floorspace. Nevertheless, it’s quite possible to do some back-of-the-envelope calculations to make a good guess at the floorspace figure. All the data can be found in Camden’s Primary School Places Planning Report 2014.

Item 9 Appendix E Primary School Places Planning Report

At 156 West End Lane, Camden is assuming a total of 93 units will be built of which 65 would be market and 28 would be affordable (there’s actually an error in their arithmetic in the table, so this could be 27). Assuming it’s 28 units, then that’s 30% of total units. But what about floorspace?

To get an idea of floorspace, we can use the size of flats at the West Hampstead Square development. They vary slightly but roughly speaking 1-beds are 52 square metres, 2-beds are 80 sqm, and 3-beds 94 sqm. There are no four or five bed properties listed at the moment at West Hampstead Square, but there’s a 4-bed flat on the market locally that’s 110 sqm. Modern five-beds are rare and older properties tend to be larger, so lets guess on the low side (which would help Camden’s formula work) and say 140 sqm.

This would give us market unit floorspace of 5,294 sqm

If we assume (again to give Camden the benefit of the doubt) that the error in the table is due to an affordable housing 4-bed flat not being recorded then affordable floor space would come to 1,814 sqm.

Total floorspace: 7,108 sqm of which 25.5% is affordable.

Clearly there are a lot of assumptions here – but unless there’s an enormous discrepancy in the size of affordable and market properties with the same number of bedrooms, it’s impossible to see a situation where we get close to 50% affordable housing.

Liddell Road raised in council meeting

At Camden council’s full council meeting yesterday, Phil Rosenberg, newly elected Labour councillor for West Hampstead, used the open session section of the meeting to share some of the feedback so far on the Liddell Road scheme.

He mentioned the height and the lack of affordable housing and mused – somewhat tentatively – that maybe these issues could be looked at again. However, as this was not a Q&A session no-one from the Camden cabinet was obliged to respond and one suspects that a far more robust argument will need to be put forward by councillors and locals if they really want to see some change to the plans as they stand.

There is another drop-in event tomorrow (Wednesday July 16th) at the library from 5pm-8pm where you can find out more about the plans, but the real fireworks should be at the public meeting on the 22nd.

Affordable housing for 156 West End Lane

The surprisingly large 156 West End Lane site

The surprisingly large 156 West End Lane site

The proposed redevelopment of Liddell Road includes 105 flats of which precisely none are currently designated for affordable housing. Camden’s policy is that 50% of floorspace in any development of more than 50 units should be affordable (although understanding what affordable means in practice is not easy, as we’ll see later).

Why then does a development Camden is pushing itself have no affordable housing when its own quota is 50%? The council argues that it’s to pay for the school that will also be built on the same site. This starts to make more sense, although critics have pointed out that Camden is set to make a £3m surplus from the redevelopment and is redirecting central government funding of £6m – specifically earmarked for schools – to other parts of the borough.

Camden’s other argument is that the redevelopment of another large site it owns – 156 West End Lane, aka the Travis Perkins building – will reach the affordable housing quota. You can see the Twitter conversation where Cllr Phil Jones confirms this.

50 percent tweet

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that one development meeting quota doesn’t offset another that doesn’t; however, if you are prepared to accept the argument that the market rate housing pays for the school then it’s a lot better than nothing.

The challenge is that the 156 West End Lane plans are still some way off and plans can change – as we’ve seen with Liddell Road.

Liddell Road proposal from last year (acknowledging it might change)

Liddell Road proposal from last year (acknowledging it might change)

Revised Liddell Road plan with 14-storey tower block

Revised Liddell Road plan with 14-storey tower block

The Travis Perkins site has been sold to a private developer (sources tell me for “top dollar”), it will be interesting to see how Camden plans to enforce that 50% quota. Failing to do so would continue to propel West Hampstead down a track of becoming an increasingly homogenous affluent youngish community.

Many might think that sounds quite nice. Others might think that the best communities are those that are more mixed, offering suitable employment and accommodation to a wide range of people. There is a risk that the existing council estates in the area become more marginalised, that any sense of social cohesion is eroded and that the services and shops in the area cater increasingly for one – well heeled – section of the community only. Bear in mind that a key tenet of Camden’s core strategy is that it aims “to minimise social polarisation and create mixed and inclusive communities across Camden”.

TravisPerkins

Still empty above the ground floor

Underpinning much of this is the question, “what does affordable mean?”. It’s a simple question that turns out to be almost impossible to answer in a way that means much to most people.

Lets look first at the definition, then at the types of housing included and then at what the catch-all term “affordable housing” means in terms of actual units built on the ground.

What’s “affordable”?

Affordable housing should:

  • meet the needs of households whose needs are not met by the market and who are eligible for affordable housing, and
  • be provided at a cost they can afford, taking into account local household incomes and market housing costs, and
  • be affordable to future households unless arrangements are in place for subsidies to be recycled into alternative affordable housing provision.

Three types of affordable housing

Social rented housing is primarily housing managed by local councils and housing associations. The cost of social rented housing is controlled by a national rent regime. Other affordable housing providers may manage social rented housing under the same rental arrangements. This is what most people think of as “council housing”.

Intermediate affordable housing costs more than social housing but less than equivalent market housing. Camden controls the cost of intermediate affordable housing taking into account market costs and the eligible income groups. The Mayor’s February 2011 review indicated that eligible households were those with incomes of less than £64,000 per year (gross). The draft replacement London Plan indicates that he intends to raise the eligible income to £74,000 per year for intermediate affordable homes with 2-bedrooms or more.

How does income covert into housing costs? At the moment, in London, intermediate affordable housing should cost no more than 3.5x the household income threshold to buy and no more than 40% of net household income including rent and service charges.

Most intermediate affordable housing in Camden has been provided by housing associations. Intermediate affordable housing can include a range of tenures such as: rented housing, shared-ownership housing (where occupiers buy a share and rent the remainder) and low cost homes for sale.

Affordable rented housing means rents up to 80% of market levels, although the individual housing associations that manage this sort of affordable housing set their levels. Clearly, 80% of market levels is still far too high for many people. The Valuation Office’s October 2013 data put the average monthly rent of a 3-bed house in Camden at £2,976, 80% of which would be £2,380 – well beyond the reach of many.

Affordable rent was introduced as the grant available for affordable housing development for 2011-15 was halved from its previous level. It allows social housing providers charge up to 80% of market levels, and use the increased rental income to support additional borrowing to compensate for reduced grant.

Housing associations operating in areas with high land and market rental values such as West Hampstead will often have to manage affordable housing developed as part of private developments rather than developing their own – as is happening at West Hampstead Square, for example.

The associations have to cover their costs, so in expensive areas, they may be forced to charge the maximum 80% level, even though that is still a high absolute amount.

What does it mean on the ground?

Camden has changed its affordable housing quota recently. It used to be 50% of floorspace in any development of more than 10 units had to be “affordable housing”. It’s now moved to a sliding scale so 50% of any development of more than 50 units must be affordable, 40% of developments of more than 40 units, and so on.

In terms of the split between the various types of affordable housing, this has changed to 60% social rented and 40% intermediate housing, down from 70/30. This is, says Camden, because it believes that just over half of Camden residents in need of affordable housing could afford intermediate housing.

Further reading

No-one would pretend this was a simple topic to understand, and with national, city and borough policies to take into account, it’s impossible to say “affordable housing = x thousand pounds”.

If you want to delve into more detail, then I suggest
Camden Housing Strategy 2011-16 , which is the most accessible document and sets out more of the context.
Camden’s Planning Guidance goes into more detail
The 2011 London Plan on housing explains the Mayor’s position
Camden Core Strategy CS6 (Housing) is the official policy document

Camden plans 14-storey tower block for Liddell Road

Liddell Road plan_July 2014

The redevelopment of Liddell Road is a cornerstone of Camden’s plans for West Hampstead. The site is presently occupied by a dwindling number of businesses. Dwindling because Camden, which owns the land, has already begun to terminate their leases and they are trying to find alternative premises.

Liddell Road is slated to be the site for a new local authority primary school opening in September 2016. Technically, this is an expansion of Kingsgate School – although it’s very much a satellite expansion as the two sites are almost a mile apart.

To pay for this school, cash-strapped Camden is planning to build residential flats for private sale on the site alongside an office block. The original plan has been revised and the bulk of the 105 flats will be in a 14-storey high building as well as lower-rise units. That’s higher than the tallest Ballymore block at West Hampstead Square. There is also criticism that Camden has been awarded £6m in central government funding for school building and plans to make a £3m profit from the development, but all that money is to be spent elsewhere rather than some (or all) of it being used to enable some affordable housing in the Liddell Road scheme.

Camden’s quota for affordable housing in any private development is 50% of floorspace. This is rarely met in reality, but many will find it hard to swallow that a development led by the council itself has absolutely no affordable housing whatsoever. It should put more pressure on the development of 156 West End Lane to deliver at or even over quota if West Hampstead is to remain an even slightly mixed community and not become a neighbourhood dominated by two-bed flats of affluent young professionals.

The original proposals was for commercial space for around 130 jobs, which has been raised to 160. This is now being mooted as flexible office space for fast growing small busineses.

School places
The West Hampstead International School – a campaign for an enormous primary/secondary free school – would like the Liddell Road site for its school, and a new free school called Kilburn Grange free school already has Department for Education approval.

It plans to move into the former College of North West London on Priory Park Road in Kilburn once the Marylebone Boys free school, which opens there this September, moves to its permanent home in Paddington a year later. It will offer 420 places, which is precisely the number of primary places locally that are needed. Interestingly, both its consultation meetings are being held in Kingsgate Community Centre, the Camden side of Kilburn, and firmly within the catchment of any expanded Kingsgate School.

Would this mean that the Kingsgate expansion school is still needed? Would it mean that the primary school component of the West Hampstead International School was still needed? To move from too few primary places to too many – and all at the cost of the tallest tower block in West Hampstead – would seem perverse.

Find out more
There are meetings about this (of course). Next week there are public drop-in events
Tuesday July 15th
9am-12pm Sidings Community Centre, 150 Brassey Road
1pm-4pm West Hampstead Community Centre, 17 Dornfell Street
6.30pm-8.30pm Sidings Community Centre
Wednesday 16 July
5pm-8pm West Hampstead library.

The big meeting though is on July 22nd from 7-9pm when there’s a “Devlopment Management Forum” at Sidings Community Centre. If you’re interested in this – for, against, or want to know more – this is the place to come. For more info on the proposal, Camden has a dedicated page.

Overground works to cause Sunday noise disruption

As part of the work to rebuild West Hampstead Overground station, the platforms need to be extended and widened and, unfortunately, this means it’s going to get noisy – starting this Sunday.

For locals who live very near the station it’s likely to be uncomfortable at times. Work is scheduled to start at 12.30am on Sunday (yes, as in just after midnight on Saturday) and run right through to 8pm. “The exact finish times will vary and on occasion will continue into the following Monday, however the majority of work will be completed by 20:00 on Sunday evenings.”

There will be some pile driving work during this time and, as anyone who’s lived through pile driving will tell you, that can be hard to live with. TfL tell me that the loudest pile driving will actually be in the initial phases as they need to drive the piles on which the rig for the rest of the pile driving will sit. Still with me? The good news, such as it is, is therefore that when you think that it can’t get any louder, you’ll actually be right.

TfL’s Director for London Overground, Mike Stubbs, told West Hampstead Life:

“We always seek to undertake work in a way that causes the minimum disruption and inconvenience possible to residents near to the railway, however, despite our best efforts some work will unavoidably need to be carried out overnight. We will be monitoring the works at West Hampstead carefully to minimise disturbance, and any local residents who feel that there is disturbance, or would like more information, can contact us 24 hours a day on our helpline on 0343 222 7878.”

TfL is naturally wary of setting out a very strict timetable of works as the situation can change very quickly on a project of this nature. Note that although it doesn’t expect to be carrying out noisy works in the middle of the night, it is not categorically ruling it out either.

What this boils down to is that noisy work will be carried out on Sundays during the day and there will be some occasional disruption during the nights as well. Additional work will take place during the rest of the week from 7am-7pm though even then, “There may be some occasions when we need to work at night , however this will be restricted to quiet activities that should not affect neighbouring properties. If any night work is likely to cause disturbance, we will notify you in advance. Any additional lighting required for overnight works will be directed away from nearby residential property and dust will be dampened down on site.”

For those of you interested in the specifics of the construction, Tfl is installing a retaining wall in the slopes at the back of the platforms, and doing some excavation work using heavy machinery to build foundations for the new extensions. Blockwork will be built up to create the new sections of platform and new surfacing will be laid. Additional CCTV cameras, speakers and lighting will be installed on the new platforms.

Obviously, the Overground line will be closed through West Hampstead on Sundays when the work is carrying out, so don’t expect to be catching the train to Richmond on a Sunday anytime soon although you can catch the new special Sunday service from Stratford to Willesden Junction via South Hampstead or Kilburn High Road station and change there. The new longer trains, which are necessitating this work, will be introduced by the end of 2015.

Earplugs are available from most chemists.

Gondar Gardens – the third appeal

The never-ending Gondar Gardens planning saga is taking its next turn.

Linden Wates, the developer, has submitted an appeal against Camden’s refusal of its revised frontage scheme for the reservoir site. This scheme is for 28 flats/houses. It was recommended for acceptance by Camden’s planning officers but refused by councillors at the planning committee on grounds of poor design. This is after the previous, similar, proposal was rejected on appeal by the Planning Inspector. Linden Wates has another proposal that it does have permission for, but which it seems reluctant to pursue at the moment.

This latest appeal will be decided by a Planning Inspector – this time on the basis of written evidence rather than at hearing. The developer, Camden, The Gondar & Agamemnon Residents Associatin (GARA) and Sarre Road residents will each submit written evidence and comments.

GARA will argue that proper application of Camden’s policies would result in the site remaining undisturbed, with open views into and across the site from the street and from neighbouring properties. However, it recognises “with deep regret”, that the loss of open space, disruption to the site, and the height and bulk of the frontage scheme have been accepted by previous planning inspectors.

GARA argues that the proposed conditions of the plan are not yet sufficient to protect and enhance our environment in the event of the planning application being accepted; and will insist on changes that will minimise construction impact, and ensure the remaining land is properly protected with residents involved in its management.

Individuals may also comment to the Inspector, quoting case ref APP/X5210/A/14/2218052 online or by e-mail to ku.vo1519358507g.isg1519358507.snip1519358507@slae1519358507ppa1519358507 or on paper (3 copies required) to The Planning Inspectorate, Room 3/19 Eagle, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Temple Quay, Bristol BS1 6PN. The deadline for comments to the inspector is 17th June 2014.

Brondesbury eruv requires West Hampstead poles

The Brondesbury Park Synagogue has put in a planning application to erect pairs of high poles connected by nylon fishing wire in West Hamsptead and Kilburn as part of a proposal to demarcate a Brondesbury “eruv”.

An eruv is the name commonly given to an demarcated area within which Orthodox Jews are permitted to do some things on the Shabbat that they otherwise would not be. Most pertinently, and generally at the heart of calls from the community to set up an eruv, it allows people with limited mobility – either due to infirmity/disability or due to having young children – to leave the house. Wheelchairs and buggies are otherwise not allowed to be used, nor can medicine such as insulin be transported and used outside the home.

The poles are largely unobtrusive, though they do inevitably stand out more in some places than others. They are typically 5.5 metres high where they have to span a road, so lorries can still pass under; those that act as pedestrian gateways are typically lower at 3 metres. This proposal has to span the Kilburn High Road near Kilburn High Road station, Mill Lane, Minster Road, West End Lane at the Iverson Road junction as well as various other points in the area. The planning application can be viewed on Camden’s website.

The planning application lets you play a “Spot the difference” game with before and after photos of each site, which shows that

Minster_Road

Minster Road (arrows added)

West End Lane poles

Poles spanning West End Lane (green by the wall, red by the building)

The topic came up a couple of years ago when there was a proposal for a Camden eruv, which would also have included West Hampstead. This Brondesbury eruv was itself mooted as far back as 2010. To non Jews, it can seem an astonishingly arcane concept, and eruvs don’t have universal support even among Jews. One of the things that some people find strange about an eruv is that it has to be physically demarcated. This can be (and largely is) done using existing walls or boundaries but where that is not possible, then tall poles are usually erected with wire strung between them. These are required for fairly complicated reasons relating to the separation of different realms and each set of poles and wires physically represents a doorway.

Map of the whole eruv (click for larger version)

Map of the whole eruv (click for larger version)

Map_WH

The detail in West Hampstead & Kilburn

It is the construction of these poles and wires that tends to bring the issue to the attention of the wider community as, in the UK at least, this requires the support of the local council. Jewish communities always pay for any work required but, unsurprisingly, non-Jewish residents can find it rather odd to have wire that has absolutely no significance for them strung up in their streets. If you’re not a religious person, then it’s really just street furniture. Eruv supporters will tend to argue that the poles and wires are very unobtrusive.

You can read a lot more about eruvs on Wikipedia, more than you probably want to know – such as that even with an eruv, you can’t open an umbrella on the Shabbat or that there appears to be a long-running debate as to whether the entire island of Manhattan is an eruv. It is precisely those sort of peculiar laws that distance orthodox followers of any religion from the mainstream – whether religous or secular.

Not all Jews automatically support the creation of an eruv. For liberal Jews it’s meaningless as they do not abide by Orthodox laws. Some also argue that it might be time to question the underlying principle. A letter sent to the Camden New Journal by a non-Orthodox Jewish resident of Hampstead suggests campaigning “for these Sabbath laws to be more flexible and take people’s individual needs into account. I would also point out that when these laws were instituted neither insulin nor wheelchairs existed.” Nor are the details of how they are created unanimously agreed on. According to the BBC, “The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) – which includes synagogues in north-west London – has claimed that there are “serious halachic (Jewish law) problems” with the North West London eruv that make it invalid.”

The planning documents are all large files, but we’ve taken the pages that refer to the West Hampstead & Kilburn locations and merged them into one document, which you can view here (or look at below if your browser supports it).

Brondesbury Eruv – the West Hampstead and Kilburn locations by WHampstead

Basement excavations top CRASH agenda

If you can’t afford to buy a bigger flat or house, what’s the next best option? To extend. If you live in a ground floor flat, then you can either go out into the garden, or down into the ground. Or both. Basement excavations are proving an incredibly popular way of gaining floorspace, but on some streets there are so many (and they are so large), that neighbours are growing increasingly concerned. On Canfield Gardens, there will be six basements in a row of nine houses if the latest one gets planning permission.

South Hampstead looks lovely from up high - but the issues lurk down below

South Hampstead looks lovely from up high – but the issues lurk down below

This will be the main topic of discussion at Tuesday night’s AGM of CRASH. CRASH is the slightly strange acronym chosen for the local residents association in South Hampstead – the conservation area between Belsize Road, Finchley Road, Broadhurst Gardens and West End Lane.

CRASH used to be moderately active up until a couple of years ago. Residents associations (bodies that the council formally recognises as representing a group of streets) often wax and wane depending on the enthusiasm and energy of their leadership. CRASH had very much waned.

Peter Symonds, chair of CRASH today, became involved when his then neigbhour – French rugby legend Thomas Castaignède – sought to excavate a basement. As a result, Symonds has since become something of an expert on basement excavations and their implications.

Aside from the impact they might have on water tables, building foundations, and the underlying geology of the area, basement excavations can also cause misery for neighbours both adjacent to and above the flat in question. Symonds points out that while the owner of the flat usually has to move out during the works, this is a cost they factor into the decision. Flats above don’t have any choice in the matter, and yet a basement excavation can go on for months, or even years.

The issue is a problem across this part of Camden. Crediton Hill Residents Association chair Larry Trachtenberg, recently suggested a moratorium on all such plans until more research into their impact had been conducted.

Frances Wheat, Camden’s head of Devleopment Control, will be speaking at CRASH’s AGM along with the relevant planing area team manager Bethany Arbery. The talk is entitled “Planning: What it’s all about and how you can get involved”, but expect the Q&A part to focus pretty heavily on that thorny basement issue.

Symonds has breathed new life into CRASH, but is very keen to get new members – not just for their £5 annual subscription, but so the group can be more representative. CRASH covers an unusually large area for a residents group, which means there are many issues besides basements that arise.

If you live in those streets and are even remotely interested in issues that affect the area, then why not sign up – it’s only a fiver! – and why not come along on Tuesday night to the Crossfield Centre on Fairhazel Gardens (roughly opposite The Arches wine bar) from 7pm. If you’re a property owner, then CRASH can help you navigate Camden planning and the conservation area restrictions, and if you’re a tenant, then you might find some good contacts for other problems such as parking, litter, overhanging foliage etc. etc.

You can read more about CRASH on its much improved website.

Housing: What the parties say

Housing – we need more of it, and it needs to be affordable for more than the highest earners. Not too many people disagree on that. How and where we deliver that is a different story and one that can be written at both the national, city and local level. At the local level, councils are also of course responsible for allocating and maintaining council housing and housing services.

Labour‘s very first manifesto pledge is to build 6,000 new homes – including council homes. It won’t introduce fixed-term tenancies and 80% market rates as long as it has that power. During the current administration, Labour has been selling off assets to fund schools and housing. The most obvious examples locally are 156 West End Lane (the Travis Perkins building) and the Liddell Road industrial estate. The party pledges to ensure that “developments led by the council deliver 50% genuinely affordable housing” (50% by floorspace is the existing target for any development in the borough). It also pledges to continue its reforms of council leaseholder and tenant services.

TravisPerkins

The Conservatives pledge to make the council’s housing and repairs services more efficient. Specifically they will change how maintenance and repairs are managed including using competitive tenders and reducing red tape. They will sell the freeholds of street properties that have more than 50% leaseholders and encourage right-to-buy. The manifesto makes no mention of additional or affordable housing.

The Liberal Democrats say they will take a proactive approach to creating new social housing, taking advantage of central government schemes and using planning powers to improve the borough’s housing mix and provide homes for young people at a price they can afford. They also want to give council tenants and residents associations a more active role in the delivery of repair and maintenance services.

The Green Party says it would “pioneer innovative models of housing, such a co-housing where individual units share facilities and social space” to keep housing affordable. Such housing would be a priority for new developments on council land. It would also create a register of good landlords to incentivse high standards.

UKIP, which doesn’t have a Camden manifesto but a generic local election one, says it will oppose the bedroom tax but provide incentives to re-use empty homes and that new housing should be directed to brownfield sites. It argues that ending “open-door immigration” would reduce the pressure on housing.

The TUSC, standing in West Hampstead, says it would prioritise the building of social housing including sheltered and accessible housing. It would also push for proper maintenance of current council housing stock by selecting a company that is sensitive to occupant needs/desires and able to provide quality for money. It would also work with developers to build sympathetic private properties of various sizes and that include affordable housing. It wants a register of local landlords and proposes rent caps for private tenants .

WHL perpsective: your reaction to these is likely to depend on your own housing situation and on the sort of communities you want to live in. If you believe that mixed communities are stronger and more interesting places to live than homogenous places then consider that (re)developments in all our wards should seek to improve the socio-economic mix. If you’re a council tenant then the issue may boil down to whether you think the current Labour administration has improved services to tenants or not.

MillLaneHouses1

Let us know your thoughts on the policies below and on what housing topics you think the parties should be concerned with.

Traffic at heart of Fortune Green shisha bar and college’s future

When is traffic relevant and when is it not in determining planning applications? This is the question in Fortune Green where a shisha bar and a higher education college are both seeking planning permission, which may hinge on the council’s understanding of congestion levels.

Earlier this month, Camden contacted the The New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling (NSPC) to tell them its proposed move into the empty unit next to Tesco in the Sager building, is unlikely to receive permission because it will generate too much traffic. It is deemed “unacceptable in principle”.

Meanwhile, Monte Cristo – the shisha bar that is retrospectively applying for change-of-use permission for the premises at 56-58 Fortune Green Road – doesn’t mention traffic at all in its application.

Photo taken April 23rd by Eugene Regis

Photo taken April 23rd by Eugene Regis

No-one locally has objected to the NSPC’s application. The school went to considerable lengths to explain to local residents that its impact on traffic would be negligible and it has support from the local residents associations. The NSPC’s transport statement is here and the travel plan is included on page 14 of this document.

It’s worth remembering that the same residents kicked up a stink at the proposal to open a private primary school in the same building because of the traffic impact. Camden rejected that proposal on precisely those grounds. Residents are, however clearly convinced by the NSPC’s arguments despite being inherently nervous about the impact of any new use on that site (a site that has been empty since the building was completed a few years ago).

No such luck for Monte Cristo. Locals have objected in force to its application. Some objections relate specifically to the shisha smoking, but the majority refer to the parking and traffic situation that has arisen since it started trading.

Unlike the NSPC, Monte Cristo’s application has no travel assessment; its document states that these are “not essential” for the scale of the business. Instead, it says that “a high proportion of customers, thought to be about 75%, live within one mile of the premises”, and that the staff “arrive mainly by public transport”.

This may be the case, but it hasn’t stopped many complaints from local residents, mostly with concerns about the extra traffic and parked vehicles the café attracts. Comments close tomorrow, May 2nd with a decision expected June 6th.

Here are four extracts from objections already submitted to Camden:

“Since the opening, traffic problems in the area have boomed, largely because guests of Monte Cristo park with impunity on the pavements, driveways and other areas on a narrow bend in a major artery.”

“There is an increase in disruption, noise and pollution from customers, who predominantly drive to the shisha bar. The cars are parking on both sides of the road on double yellow lines on a regular basis causing congestion.”

“Currently, users of the cafe are parking dangerously on both sides of the road, causing poor visibility to road users and damaging the pavements in the process.”

“The people have now taken to parking outside on both sides of the road. That means traffic jams as the buses try to get down the road and the cars have to wait to let them through.”

There are many other objections, including general noise and the open charcoal burner on Burrard Road. The full application details, and objections are here.

Professor Emmy van Deurzen, director of the NSPC, said that it would be “a terrible blow” to her organisation if permission were to be refused, as they have already invested considerable time and money into preparing for the move.

Alex McDougall, planning officer for Camden, said that the NSPC would need to present a more robust travel plan. The council had been due to decide this week, but has granted them a two week extension to gather and demonstrate local support. Professor van Deurzen is now preparing further documentation, and is appealing to local people to show their support by writing to Alex McDougall at Camden’s planning department (ku.vo1519358507g.ned1519358507mac@l1519358507laguo1519358507DcM.x1519358507elA1519358507), quoting the following reference details: 2014/1403/P – Unit 5, 63 Fortune Green Road, NW6 1DR.

If the NSPC’s proposal, which has resident support and improves the diversity of employment in the area, is rejected on traffic grounds, it will be interesting to see whether Camden gives the go ahead to Monte Cristo in the face of considerable opposition – or asks it too for a more detailed explanation of how it plans to address the parking and traffic issues it seems to be causing.

“No change please”, say The Railway’s regulars

Yesterday afternoon, drinkers at The Railway gathered to show their support for the campaign to turn it into a community pub and upstairs venue rather than see the upper floors converted into office space and self-contained flats.

Railway_protest

Many of the regulars seemed unsure of what exactly the planned changes to the building entailed and what they would mean for the pub. However, one thing was clear as the group assembled for a photograph outside: they all love their local and don’t want to see it closed or changed.

John Brennan, who grew up in Kilburn and is a long-term West Hampstead resident, said “If the pub closes, where is the community going to go? It’s the only pub in West Hampstead with a real community spirit.”

Cathy Laing, 42, also grew up in the area and says she remembers when The Railway had sawdust on the floor. She said “I feel safe, as a woman, coming in here on my own – sometimes I just come in for a cup of tea. It gets so busy at the weekend and when there’s a big match on – why make it smaller? It would be a health hazard.”

Although Camden has already passed the planning application for this, the application to vary the licence is still out for consultation until April 23rd and can be viewed here. This would the last chance to object, although it’s hard to see what grounds there would be to object to the licensing as the hours are the same.

Could The Railway become a community pub?

Last week, Camden approved plans to convert the upper floors of The Railway pub into six flats, and to reduce the size of the pub’s floorspace by converting the raised seating area into a cycle storage facility for residents. One Railway employee has other ideas.

The Railway

The original planning application from the owners – the Spirit Pub Company – snuck in over the Christmas period and no-one objected. The pub will need to close for 18 weeks during the first phase of construction work. The facade of the building will be largely unchanged, with the developers promising to reverse some of the clumsier changes of recent years, such as the blocked up windows. All the documents can be viewed here.

The Railway, as many of you will know, has a proud musical heritage, although no mention is made of this in the planning documents. Right above the pub is an open space that was Klooks Kleek – a legendary club of the 1960s that has hosted some of the biggest names in pop & rock, including Hendrix and Clapton. After Klooks Kleek closed, the downstairs became the Moonlight Club, another successful club where bands such as Joy Division, the Stone Roses and U2, in their first ever gig outside Ireland, all played.

This first floor space will be converted into office space, with the living space above being turned into self-contained flats. It is unclear whether the pub will remain in its current guise or be turned into a gastro pub.

But what if…

Francesca Dumas, who works behind the bar at The Railway, is, for want a of a finer word, distraught. Although the venue space hasn’t been used since the mid 1990s it hasn’t been used for anything else and Francesca would like to return it to its former glory. She has a bold plan to try and raise the funds to buy the whole building. Whether the Spirit Pub Company would be willing to sell is a whole other question. There’s substantial profit to be made from the residential units as well as from the pub itself and the building of course is in a prime location in West Hampstead.

Francesca’s idea is to turn the building into a community pub – retaining the ground floor much as it is with the same style of pub, bringing the venue back into use upstairs and using the upper floors as a mix of accommodation and perhaps even a museum to commemorate the musical heritage. She admits these plans are at an early stage.

There’s a protest on Monday at 5pm, although it’s not quite clear what is being protested. Already on Twitter there’s been some talk that the pub is going to close permanently, which is not the case.

Authors recognised as Ballymore apartment blocks named

It’s been a long time coming, but Ballymore has finally announced the names of its tower blocks, following the competition West Hampstead Life ran back in August.

Only the first five blocks have been named so far and Ballymore hasn’t decided which name will go with which block. I’m told that the two rear blocks (which contain the affordable housing component of the development) will be named in line with the others though they’re still deciding on those names.

Ballymore has chosen authors with local connections as the theme, and the winner of the competition is Ed Fordham, who suggested three of the five names and was, coincidentally, also one of the original agitators for the names to be chosen in this way. All submissions were sent to Ballymore anonymously however.

The first five blocks will be called Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Lessing and Milne.

All five authors lived at one time or another (and for varying lengths of time!) in West Hampstead.

Here come the boys... (Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Milne)

Here come the boys… (Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Milne)

And here’s the Nobel prize-winning Doris Lessing in 1975. Lessing died in November last year having lived in West Hampstead for some 25 years.

More than 50 people submitted offical suggestions for the seven blocks with varying degrees of seriousness. More people left comments on the original article (including one who got most of the names that won). I won’t list all the entries, but here are a selection of the thoughtful, amusing and cheeky.

Classical references were popular: Seven wonders of the world, seven against Thebes (niche), and the seven hills of Rome.

Ephesus Adrastus Aventine
Giza Amphiaraus Capitoline
Alexandria Capaneus Esquiline
Babylon Hippomedon Quirinal
Halicarnassus Parthenopeus Palatine
Rhodes Polynices Caelian
Olympus Tydeus Viminal

The developers had said that “Connections” was their keyword in marketing, and some played on the transport links both at home and abroad

Marylebone Marais Paris
St Pancras Vendome Toulouse
Fenchurch Concorde Lyon
Kings Cross Vosges Marseille
Euston Bastille Strasbourg
Paddington Madeleine Avignon
Waterloo Châtelet Grenoble

Famous people loomed large, many living, some dead. Lots of submissions covered broadly similar ground with Dusty Springfield, Gerry Anderson, Emma Thompson, and Dirk Bogarde all featuring prominently. Camila Batmanghelidjh always seemed like a stretch though.

No-one would be surprised that Ballymore didn’t choose trees varieties, the suggestion of a few people (well before the tree dispute earlier this year). However two more unusual “vegetation” suggestions came in the form of English grape varieties and… inevitably… cucumber varieties.

Bacchus Vectina
Huxelrebe Olympian
Ortega Fountain
Seyval Blanc Marketmore
Rondo Corinto
Reichensteiner Kekiri
Madeleine Angevine Wautoma

Some of the odder suggestions came from people who got hung up on there being 7 towers. The seven dwarves (“Hi, I live in Grumpy House”), the seven days of the week, and the seven colours of the rainbow were all suggested twice. We had the last seven monarchs (which gets confusing with two Georges and two Edwards), seven planets and seven (rather than 8) points of the compass.

My favourite “whacky” suggestion though was to name the tower blocks after the Secret Seven: Peter, Janet, Jack, Barbara, George, Pam and Colin. Genius.

There were surprisingly few, shall we say, “satirical” entries, though someone did suggest “Totally, Out, Of, Keeping, With, West, Hampstead”. I don’t think that made the shortlist.

Alongside the winner, a genuine special mention to Jamie Murray, who put some serious thought into it and chose names linked to William Beckford. Beckford, whose name will appear on one of the buildings, owned West End House, which stood on the site of the development. Here’s Jamie’s submission in full:

As the towers in the West Hampstead Square development are to be built on the site of the old West End House, surely their names should be selected to commemorate eccentric author William Beckford, “The Sultan of Lansdown Tower”, who grew up there? So “Lansdown” is one obvious suggestion, but what about “Fonthill”, after the abbey Beckford built himself in Wiltshire?

Vathek, the antihero of the gothic novel for which Beckford is best remembered, is probably a bit too gothic, but what about “Carathis”, surely the most memorable character in the book? She’s based on Beckford’s own mother, Maria, who ended her life at West End House. And how about “Istakar”, after the destination of Vathek’s quest? It’s an old name for Persepolis, and has a lovely ring to it.

We ought not to forget “Azemia”, the heroine of one of Beckford’s more satirical works. Finally, while northwest London is already graced with a Mozart estate, we really must remember Beckford’s music tutor somehow: so what about “Amadeus” or “Wolfgang”?

So my suggestions are: Lansdown, Fonthill, Carathis, Istakar, Azemia, Amadeus, Wolfgang.

But the winner is Ed Fordham whose full list was: “AA Milne, George Orwell, Gerry Anderson, Thomas Hardy, Dusty Springfield, Joe Orton, WH Ainsworth”. Well done Ed, a meal for two at The Wet Fish Café awaits.

Psychotherapy school heading to Fortune Green?

The New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling (NSPC), a small psychotherapy college, is planning to move into one of the vacant units at 53 Fortune Green Road – also known as The Sager Building and Alfred Court.

It has nearly come to a 15-year rental agreement for the vacant unit adjacent to Tesco at Alfred Court, and is now at the stage of applying for a change of use to D1 – the planning category assigned to colleges. At the moment the unit is classified for retail use.

The Alfred Court unit (currently unoccupied)

The unit (currently unoccupied)

Another educational establishment, the Abercorn private school, applied to move to these premises but its proposal was rejected last year by Camden Council amid many local residents’ objections. Most objections were related to transport issues: the school would have occupied a larger part of the premises than the 3,000 square feet the NSPC is seeking to use.

Jimmy Baker, Chair of the Joan Court Residents Association (Joan Court is the half of the building directly above Tesco and the proposed new school) said that his group is supportive of the NSPC’s application, with no major concerns: “As far as the application is going I don’t know of any major objection and personally I think it would be great for the area.”

The NSPC held a public meeting at the end of last month to meet local residents, answer questions, and address any concerns. Professor Emmy van Deurzen, founder and director of the school, believes it was a success. “It went very well – we feel very supported by the residents of Alfred Court and Joan Court”. Some residents from the nearby Greek Streets, she said, expressed concerns about parking, but she hopes that she was able to allay their fears as the vast majority of staff and students will use public transport or cycle.

She also pre-empted other potential concerns that local residents may have, such as the issue of noise. As the college teaches only postgraduate students, and many courses are taught online, she does not anticipate any problems.

James Earl, Chair of the Neighbourhood Development Forum, said “The NDF has been working with the NSPC on its proposal to move into Alfred Court. The NDF supports the location of this sort of business in the area and welcomes the willingness of the NSPC to engage with the NDF and other local groups on its plans.”

Professor van Deurzen describes West Hampstead as “the perfect location for our business”. She and her husband (and the college’s co-founder), Professor Digby Tantam, live in Cleve Road, and feel very embedded in the community.

She is hoping that local residents will welcome the school and that the NSPC can give something back to the community in the form of a low-cost counselling service. She points out that it is bringing higher education and new jobs to the neighbourhood, and that staff and students will use and support other local businesses. The school also plans to offer the neighbourhood a public lecture programme.

The NSPC was founded in 1996 by the two psychotherapy university professors. Since 2010, it has been based in Belsize Road, but has been given notice to leave its current premises as the building is being converted into flats.

For the time being, the NSPC’s offices are still in the Belsize Road building, but students are currently being taught on a temporary basis at Swiss Cottage Library.

As well as the NSPC, which delivers masters and doctoral degrees in psychology, psychotherapy and coaching jointly with Middlesex University, the two directors also run a psychotherapy and counselling practice called Dilemma Consultancy.

The NSPC is awaiting the outcome of Camden’s decision to allow the change of use and van Deurzen is “optimistic” that this will be granted. Camden’s final decision is expected on April 29th and assuming it’s given the green light, building work will begin to turn the empty building into what she describes as a “boutique institution for higher education”. If everything goes to plan, the college should open for the start of the September term.

Ballymore construction starts March 10th

Having cleared the site (and, yes, the trees), construction of West Hampstead Square is now imminent. At the first working group meeting between developers Ballymore, building contractors O’Hare McGovern and community representatives, Ballymore announced that work would start on March 10th and is due to finish next summer.

Work will take place 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays.

Perhaps of more concern for locals will be the 45 lorry movements per day along Finchley Road and West End Lane, delivering materials and removing waste.

Local councillor Gillian Risso-Gill will be speaking to the council about a traffic management plan for the development. The contractor’s own report says it will have a “left turn in, left turn out” policy, so lorries won’t have to cross lanes. Sounds good in practice, though if it leads to more traffic heading up West End Lane beyond Iverson Road then it may be preferable to endure the right turns out of the site.

Having promised to look into ways to mitigate the loss of the trees by “greening” the north wall (the one that will face the Overground tracks), Ballymore came back with no suggestions, saying that there was no scope for additional planting on the north side due to Network Rail fencing. Don’t expect the campaigners to roll over easily on this one.

What do locals think of West Hampstead?

Nearly 100 comments have been added to an online interactive map of West Hampstead, giving an interesting insight into the issues that matter most to local residents. You can explore the map and comments below.

 

The map outlines the “growth area” (in blue; the NDF boundary is in red), which is where the most intensive development is expected over the next 10 years, but comments are welcome anywhere in West Hampstead and Fortune Green. The “pedestrian bottleneck” at the “poorly-designed” interchange between the stations on West End Lane comes in for much criticism, as does the rubbish strewn on the footpath alongside the railway line to the O2 Centre car park. In fact rubbish – along with traffic – is one of the most widely cited complaints

However, it’s not all criticism. There is also a smattering of green-coloured pins on the map showing places about which people feel positively. The Thameslink station and Beckford School both have both been praised for their design (one modern, one Victorian) and pins around Maygrove Road refer to a “green, quiet open space”. The area outside West Hampstead Library also gets a mention as a “Little oasis on the high street”.

The mapping project was launched earlier this month by the Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) in conjunction with Commonplace.  Its aim is to capture a wide range of local people’s views on the area, which can feed into the final draft of the Neighbourhood Development Plan.

As someone not that familiar with the details of the Neighbourhood Plan, I found this tool was a good starting point and an easy way to engage with the process. It was interesting to see what other locals had commented on, and I felt inspired to pin a couple of my own suggestions onto the map.

It’s very straightforward – using a smartphone, tablet or desktop, simply go to westhampstead.commonplace.is, answer a couple of super simple questions to sign up and then navigate the map to pinpoint specific locations in West Hampstead and comment on how you feel about them. There’s also space to suggest improvements to the area.

There are still a few days left to add your own comments and get your voice heard. The deadline for the conusltation on the final draft of the NDF’s Plan is this Friday February 28th, so over to you!

One tree given extra protection… for now

The campaign to save the Ballymore trees may have failed in its immediate aim. However, Camden has agreed – after much badgering – to slap a Tree Preservation Order (a TPO) on the largest sycamore that falls on Network Rail’s land.

Much good it will do. The TPO means the tree can’t be felled without the written consent of the planning authority, but as part of the plans to redevelop the Overground station it’s highly likely such consent will be granted. Still, Network Rail and Camden can expect to fight a battle to remove this sylvan symbol of the resistance!

The sycamore with a Tree Preservation Order

The sycamore with a Tree Preservation Order

Tree campaigner Stephen Jones, said “We are considering getting the petition going again when the TPO’d tree seems threatened. We are also pleased to see that Camden Council has a bit of a heart!”

Timber! Ballymore trees finally felled

This morning the trees on the Ballymore site, which have been the subject of so much protest, are being felled.

Cut logs are being piled up and a woodchipper is making short work of the spindly branches.

The petition that hoped to stop the removal of the trees reached 897 signatures.

The green woodchipper

The green woodchipper

The trees are being cleared

The trees are being cleared

The woodchipper minces up the branches

The woodchipper minces up the branches

Logs piled up in the foreground

Logs piled up in the foreground

Free school group targets Liddell Road

The free school campaign is making waves again. Make that free schools. Plural. Having struggled to get much traction in the latter half of 2013, the NW6 Free School group has re-emerged with a new name, a shiny website and a mildly controversial claim that Liddell Road would be the ideal site for its schools – a primary and secondary.

A school on Liddell Road? Doesn’t that sound vaguely familiar?

At the moment, Camden is planning to build its own state primary school on the Liddell Road industrial estate. It’s an extension to Kingsgate School and would house kids from 3-7 (the existing Kingsgate site would house the 7-11 year-olds).

To pay for this, the council plans to sell off the rest of the land at Liddell Road for 120 flats and some commercial space. Despite broad acceptance of the need for more primary places, there have been many objections to this overall proposal and to the way in which the decision has been made.

Dr Clare Craig, the public face of the free schools campaign, argues that the site should be used to house its schools instead of Camden’s. Originally, the free school campaign wanted a secondary school only. The plan to include a primary school as well began before Christmas. Dr Craig: “We realised that the Department for Education want to see that free school groups are addressing the needs of their whole community and we would be failing to do that if we didn’t have a primary offer too.”

The campaign, now operating under its new name of “The West Hampstead International School”, has also brought its schedule nearer with an ambition to open in 2015 rather than 2016 as originally proposed. This would mean opening a year ahead of Camden’s own proposal.

The school(s) would have a two-form primary school entry and a six-form secondary entry. To get government backing, the Department for Eduction apparently likes to see evidence that there’s twice as much interest in a new school as places. This means the campaigners need 120 signatures from parents of children starting reception in each of the first two years, and more than 300 for those starting Year 7 in those years. In other words, around 850 parents have to sign up. As of the start of this week, the campaign had more than 200, although apparently not all of the right age.

If the campaign fail to get enough signatories by the start of May, the 2015 opening date will be impossible to meet and they will revert to 2016, given them more time to collect support. Even now, opening two schools within 18 months with no site allocated and no buildings up seems like an extremely tall order.

It’s hard to imagine Camden, which owns the Liddell Road site, deciding to reverse its decision and allow a free school to open there, even if the campaign could muster the support it needs.

Dr Craig has said that the group is looking at two other sites, which are privately owned. Apparently, she is not allowed to reveal where the sites are until after negotiations. There are not many options in the area though – there’s always idle chatter about using 156 West End Lane (Travis Perkins) for schooling, but there are practical difficulties and it seems unlikely it would be redeveloped in time anyway. The other options might be down Blackburn Road.

Free school agnostics might see the primary school option as a way of removing the problem of a split-site Kingsgate school. But are there enough of them with children of exactly right age? To give some context, the 2011 census counted 3,279 children aged 0-15 in West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. No wonder then that, while the free school is choosing to have “most of our admissions” based on a fairly tight catchment area, there will also be places “allocated by lottery” for anyone living within two miles.

The group is holding a series of public meetings to explain more about its proposals. The next one is Monday Feb 10th in the synagogue community hall. The other two in West Hampstead are on March 1st and March 11th.

Tree vigil outside West Hampstead Square

Ballymore Tree Vigil

A small group of about a dozen people stood in the weak winter sunshine this morning protesting about the removal of the trees on Ballymore’s West Hampstead Square site. It had been described as a “vigil”, but that would really mean hanging around until the trees were actually removed.

A few cars were honking their horns – presumably in support, while what looked like a stag party changing trains gave them a few whoops.

Some of the protestors were wearing white masks, though quite why a protest about trees requires that level of anonymity isn’t obvious.

Signs read “Towers 7 Trees 0” and “Camden Council Thanks for Nothing”. At least someone had tried for a good pun, with “We’re Syca Ba££ymore”

If you’re not familar with the tree saga, the latest installment is here.

Use your phone to comment on local issues

As part of the public consultation on the proposed final draft of our Neighbourhood Plan, we’re offering everyone in the area a way to express their opinions and needs of the neighbourhood, using Commonplace West Hampstead – an online mapping project.

Every comment is shown on a shared map of the area, and the data collected is part of the consultation process for the plan.

Commonplace_map

The beauty of Commonplace is that you can add comments whenever you think of them. From the comfort of your own home, or from your mobile phone when walking pass something you feel strongly about. It takes just a few seconds to add a comment.

commonplacephone

We would like to reach as many people as possible using Commonplace – so as well as commenting yourself, please do pass this link on to neighbours, friends and colleagues. We want to reach as diverse a group as possible, especially younger members of the community who may not have been involved in other meetings.

Please do take advantage of this offer, as it is an important part of our consultation and helps provide an even better evidence base of public opinion in the area. Commonplace have just re-launched the platform – so its even easier to use, and works on all computers and smartphones.

So please register now to take part! We look forward to your comments.

James Earl,
Chair
West Hampstead & Fortune Green Neighbourhood Development Forum
@WHampsteadNDF

David vs. Goliath as tree campaign takes root

As all bright schoolchildren know, King Canute didn’t believe his regal powers could stop the tide. In fact, he got his feet wet precisely to prove this point to his obsequious courtiers.

Still, to this day “Canute-like” is used to describe people who battle on against an inevitability. This must be what the local campaigners behind the Save the Trees petition feel like. Since January 16th they have been tweeting seemingly non-stop to anyone and everyone in the area, pleading that they sign the petition. They are trying to convince Ballymore and Network Rail to spare the lives of the trees that are destined for the chop on the West Hampstead Square site.

The petition has had some success, attracting almost 600 signatures to date. However, any stay of execution for the trees seems extremely unlikely.

Readers who’ve been following the story for some time will recall that developer Ballymore has decided to chop down 27 of the 32 trees originally identified as being on its building site. This is in line with the planning permission it was granted, despite its own tree survey suggesting that some of the trees could be retained.

WestHampsteadSquareTreeMap2011

Ballymore did realise that it could make five trees Network Rail’s problem as they were just off its land. Network Rail, which plans to redevelop the Overground station next door, is expected to remove those final five trees.

Helpful "infographic" via the campaigners

Helpful “infographic” via the campaigners

Lots of people have been unhappy about all this – Emma Thompson and Jim Carter even weighed into the debate. At a recent meeting between campaigners and Ballymore, the developer repeated that it intended to remove all the trees on its own land as it had planning permission to do just that. It agreed to look at how it might make the north-facing wall of the development “greener”, though no firm proposals have yet to emerge.

Despite another wave of publicity, Jonathon Weston, senior development manager at Ballymore, said this week, “Of the 32 trees identified in the Arboriculture Report we anticipate removing 27 within our site boundary. As part of our development plans we intend to replace these trees with 70 new trees as part of a comprehensive, high quality public realm offer.

We are currently in the process of reviewing the landscaped gardens between each new apartment building with a view to “greening up” the northern boundary at these locations as discussed at the meeting with the residents.”

The company, which has now named O’Hare & McGovern as its principal contractor, intends to be on site in February and, according to Weston, “we anticipate the trees to be felled within the next few weeks.”

In the face of all this, the campaigners hasve soldiered on. One of them, local resident Stephen Jones, recognises that the petition may be futile: “I think the only thing that could save the trees  would have to be some kind of miracle, like Ballymore going bust or the right person hearing about it.” However, he also makes the point that there is a bigger issue here. “At the least more people will be aware of the actions of greedy developers”. He casts it as a “David and Goliath” contest, although it seems highly unlikely that this slingshot will be enough to fell the giant this time around.

At this week’s West Hampstead NDF meeting, the issue of trees came up again. Local residents group WHGARA has written that, according to a different assessment of the trees called CAVAT, they are worth more than £400,000, for which the community is not being compensated.

The passion aroused by the tree saga is palpable. At the NDF meeting this week there was also a suggestion that the neighbourhood plan should state clearly that there should be a presumption against the removal of any trees in future developments.

If Ballymore has done anything, it has perhaps galvanised locals into recognising the benefits of greenery in our neighbourhood and perhaps will end up strengthening the protection afforded to trees.

Which would be good for property prices no doubt…

The power of “shall”: Big crowd for NDF meeting

West Hampstead library was full last night as a pleasing number of less familiar faces joined the usual suspects to discuss the final draft of the Neighbourhood Development Plan (download the plan here).

NDFmeetingaudience

The plan, two years in the making, is out for consultation until the end of February, and locals’ input is literally shaping paragraphs and sentences even at this late stage.

Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) chair James Eark kicked off proceedings with a rapid fire overview of where we are in the process, and touched briefly on the 17 policy areas.

He handed over to Cllr Flick Rea who got off to a flying start claiming to have been a local councillor in West Hampstead for more than half a century (25 years more than her actual – impressive enough – tenure). Flick took us on a journey through local planning history, but the message behind the nostalgia was that West Hampstead was and would continue to be a fantastic place.

Kate Goodman, one of Camden’s planning officers, spoke briefly about the council’s role in this process, which boiled down to “we support it”.

Finally, Vincent Goodstadt, vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association, and independent advisor on strategic planning, management of urban change and community engagement (phew!) talked about the particular challenges of planning in an area such as ours that includes both conservation areas and a major transport interchange earmarked for growth.

The floor was then opened up for questions. It was good to see that the level of debate was more civilised than at some other recent local meetings, and most of the questions were sensible. If one theme ran through the evening, it was a fear/suspicion that, for all its good intentions, the plan would simply be ridden over roughshod by developers.

There were two repsonses to this. First, that the plan was intended to be robust (there was some debate about the power of the word “shall”, which it turns out is a Good Word), and secondly that it would be a statutory document and therefore developers would have to take it into account. The point was also made, however, that the concept of Neighbourhood Plans is brand new and has yet to be tested in the field.

The conclusion that many people have already reached is that a plan is definitely better than no plan and the more strongly worded the plan the sharper teeth it will have. It can’t achieve everything, many issues are beyond its scope, but it can try and shape the way our area evolves.

The deadline for comments on this final draft plan is February 28th. Comments can be submitted online or in the library. The sentiment mapping tool, developed by Commonplace, has also been completely revamped and you can access it here and leave comments on specific places that will also be taken into account when the final plan is submitted to Camden.

Your comments here feed directly into the consultation process

Your comments here feed directly into the consultation process

WHL live-tweeted the whole meeting (you lucky lucky people), and if you weren’t following along in real time, here’s how the evening unfolded:

Last chance to speak up on local plan

The West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Plan is almost ready (it’s only the second such plan in London to reach this stage). The final draft is out for consultation now (i.e., the team wants your comments), then there’ll be a final revision before it goes first to Camden council for approval and then to a referendum later in the year.

If you want to read the whole draft, you can – it’s available here [pdf]. What I thought would be useful however, would be to look just at its six objectives and add a little bit of context.

The draft is ambitious in scope – perhaps too ambitious. Alongside the objectives are 17 policies and various recommendations. At times, the latter can read more like a wishlist than a planning document. These are the sections that might struggle to deliver as they lack any statutory teeth. The plan is most robust on how developments should be considered, both within and beyond the “growth area” around the stations. The plan sets out policies for development of the area between 2014 and 2031.

There’s also a public meeting next Monday, January 27th where the draft will be discussed and this would be a good opportunity to have your say and give feedback. It’s more or less your last chance before simply voting yes or no in the referendum. The deadline for feedback is February 28th.

WHNDF_Jan27

The vision

“Development in Fortune Green and West Hampstead will allow for a mixed, vibrant and successful local community. The Area has a distinct and widely appreciated village character with a variety of amenities and excellent transport links. This Plan seeks to retain and protect these positive features, while allowing for new housing, new jobs and sustainable growth in the years ahead.”

Yes, that “village feel” crops up again. Some mock it, some believe in it. It depends a bit where you live and how much you engage with the area. No-one’s pretending that West Hampstead is Ambridge, but there is a sense that the winding West End Lane and the friendly atmosphere does lend something of a village feel to the area, especially with West End Green at the end.

 

NDF_Map_Boundaries

The area covered by the plan encompasses Fortune Green and West Hampstead wards

The plan cannot, legally, be anti-development, so its role is to help shape development. The idea is that these plans -and there are many springing up around the country – form part of planning policy for the council. They should mean that locals can exercise more power. This has yet to be tested as none are fully operational yet.

Objectives

1. Housing – “Development in Fortune Green & West Hampstead will provide a range of housing and housing types, including social and affordable housing, as well as housing suitable for families, old people and young people. The West Hampstead Growth Area will be the focus for new development and will provide new housing and accompanying additional infrastructure. Development outside the Growth Area will be on a smaller scale.”

Editor’s comment: fairly straightforward, though note that this seeks to concentrate the vast majority of development to the south of the area rather than making any suggestion of spreading the burden. This is partly because there’s more land available there, and the plan must dovetail with the London Plan, which has already identified that as the growth area.

2. Design & Character – “Development will be of high-quality design and will need to fit in with the existing styles of the Area, large parts of which are covered by Conservation Areas. The height of new buildings shall fit in with the rooflines of existing buildings in their immediate vicinity. In all development there shall be a presumption in favour of preserving the distinct character and appearance of the Area, as well as the views across it.”

Editor’s comment: The issue of building height has always been contentious, with some residents wanting an absolute height limit imposed, others being more relaxed about it, and planners warning that such limits would be virtually impossible to enforce in practice. Therefore more reference is made to relative rooflines. Although the plan is not explicitly against modern architecture, the wording of the objective would suggest it is unlikely to be encouraged in many areas. It would be a shame if this precluded some more interesting designs being brought forward.

3. Transport – “Development will enhance the provision of public transport in the Area. West Hampstead’s three rail stations, and the areas around them, shall be the focus of improvements. Making better provision for pedestrian and cyclist movement through the Area – particularly around the West Hampstead Interchange – is a key priority.”

Editor’s comment: It’s interesting that the plan suggests active improvements to transport, which is typically considered a strength of the area. Today’s strength does risk becoming tomorrow’s weakness in the sense that the rapid population growth precisely around the stations could lead to quite severe pedestrian (and thus traffic) congestion. It’s good to see robust policies in this area.

4. Public & Community Facilities – “Development will contribute to public and community facilities in the Area and bring improvements to meet the needs of the growing population. Local services and community facilities – including schools, nurseries, health centres, libraries, community centres and youth facilities – are all highly important in delivering a sustainable community.”

Editor’s comment: Some of these areas (schools) are contentious, others (health centres), slightly less so. The plan recognises the changing nature of the way the NHS is both delivered and used, which means that traditional equations of people per GP may no longer be relevant. Schooling for both primary and secondary ages has been a hot topic and there is a plan policy for a new secondary school in the area by 2031 to accommodate demand. Overall though, this objective and related policies are “keep what we’ve got and give us more”.

5. Economy – “Development will promote and support a successful local economy, with thriving town and neighbourhood centres. Development shall protect and support existing jobs and employment sites – as well as providing new jobs and attracting new businesses to the Area. Such development shall also provide flexible space, particularly for small and micro-businesses.”

Editor’s comment: This is a particularly interesting topic given the differences between the various commercial zones covered by the plan and the heavy focus on housing over employment in the London Plan. To quote at length from paragraph F2 of the draft:

The Camden Core Strategy (Policy CS8) seeks to promote a successful and inclusive economy in the borough. It aims to “safeguard existing employment sites” and provide “a mix of employment facilities and types”. It also highlights the fact that Camden has a large proportion of small businesses, 75% of which employ less than five people. However, it notes (8.20) “there is a lack of high quality premises suitable for small business, particularly those less than 100 sq m”. It adds: “we will seek the provision of innovative new employment floor space in developments that will provide a range of facilities including: flexible occupancy terms, flexible layouts, studios, workshops, networking, socialising and meeting space that will meet the needs of a range of business types and sizes”. The West Hampstead Place Plan says “a mix of employment space is important to the local economy and employment opportunities” and there is “a desire for small businesses to be able to stay in the area” and a need to “develop space…affordable to their needs”. This Plan expresses concern that commercial sites in Area are being replaced with residential developments, causing damage to the local economy, reducing employment opportunities and restricting economic growth. The provision of new jobs in the Area is important to local community, the local service sector and existing businesses; it is important that the Area does not become a “commuter town” for those working in central London and the City.

The NDP’s policies match these, as they should, and it’s hoped that this gives the communit more ammunition when dealing with developers and the council itself when it comes to preserving a mixed economy. There seems to be a misguided belief that the area’s high number of freelancers/homeworkers can single-handedly keep the daytime economy alive. Almost every West Hampstead trader will tell you that simply isn’t the case. The area needs daytime workers not just daytime residents.

6. Natural Environment – “Development will protect and enhance existing green/open space and the local environment. Development shall also provide new green/open public space. Development shall promote bio-diversity and nature conservation, and allow for the planting of new trees.”

Editor’s comment: It’s hard to find anyone who argues that the minimal green space in West Hampstead shouldn’t at least be preserved, and preferably extended. The NDP is encouraging green spaces and corridors that can work within an urban context; again it’s up to planners and developers to deliver.

NDF_Map_GreenSpaces

The green spaces of West Hampstead

We’ll look in more detail at the various sections of the plan once it is finalised. In the meantime, if there’s anything about it you like, don’t like, vehemently object to… then now is the time to speak.

Temporary school needs more time

South Hampstead High School has been operating out of temporary classrooms within the cricket club grounds for the past year. The school, which owns the cricket club land, has been renovating its Maresfield Gardens site, and had hoped to move back in for the start of the 2014/15 academic year in September.

LymingtonRoadSchool_Jan2014

However, according to a new planning application, the Maresfield site won’t be ready in time. The school therefore is applying for an extension:

During the construction phase at Maresfield Gardens some delays have been incurred, which could not have been foreseen when temporary planning permission was applied for. These include unchartered obstructions in the ground, which delayed the construction of the basement and delays in obtaining necessary approvals from service providers.

Whilst the GDST’s contractors, Wates, have been doing all they can to minimise any impact on the timetable, due to these unforeseen delays it is now not possible for the school to return to the Maresfield Gardens site for the start of the 2014/15 year in September 2014 as hoped. However, it is anticipated that the new school will be ready to locate back to Maresfield for the start of the spring term, 2015 and will have fully vacated the site by 1 March 2015, six months after the extant temporary
planning permission expires.

It’s inconceivable that this won’t be granted. Despite the initial concerns of some Lymington Road residents, the temporary school hasn’t had much of a negative impact on traffic. Yes, there have been odd reports of some creative parking, but it hasn’t been carmageddon as some had feared. It does mean that those residents who look out onto the cricket club grounds will have to wait a bit longer for their view to be reinstated.

The planning application can be viewed here.

West Hampstead grows: Development review of the year

“Why did no-one try and fight it?”

I guarantee that when the tower blocks that will form West Hampstead Square start to go up in 2014, at least one person will express horror and shock that such a thing was allowed to go ahead uncontested.

Of course people did contest it – or at least the scale of it. Some still are. None of that matters now – the development got its planning permission more than a year ago. If you’re new to the area The best summary article of the plan is here, though scrolling through these pages will give you the full story.

The existing buildings, businesses that almost all managed to relocate locally, were knocked down the first weekend in May.

The remnants of Cafe Bon

Ballymore, the developers, launched the marketing offensive in the early summer with a website and then a promotional newspaper that seemed to suggest West Hampstead is populated by glamorous couples who swan around the stations in 1930s garb.

When sales eventually started to the general public in September (after a few existing Ballymore customers were given first dibs), there was considerable interest though most locals were a little gobsmacked by the prices (studios start at £405,000), 2-beds are in the £750,000+ range, service charge is ~£2,800 for 2-beds (and even ground rent is £750!).

The widespread belief, therefore, is that the unit are going to investors. After all, buyers have to drop a 20% deposit within a matter of months even though the flats won’t be ready until well into 2015.

As the flats went on the market, a bruhaha developed over the fate of trees on and adjacent to the site. Emma Thompson even got involved.

It’s all been of little import, though Ballymore has agreed to look at some more “greening” of parts of the site that won’t be seen by its own residents. The trees that people are now concerned about are on Network Rail land and are almost certain to be cleared when the Overground station is redeveloped in 2014.

West Hampstead Square might be the most high profile development in the area, but it’s far from the only one.

Work has finally started on the 163 Iverson Road site. This former garden centre will be turned into flats with some imaginative architecture to make the most of an odd-shaped site. Former Conservative candidate Chris Philp is now one of the investors in the development after a property fund he set up took over the site.

163 Iverson Road looking east

Next door, McGregor Homes has an application in to turn the Iverson Tyres site into a block of flats that reflect the architecture of the 163 development. It’s hard to see any major objections to these plans – already revised once after discussion with council planners. One objection might be that Iverson Tyres itself (which ows the land) isn’t able to move its offices into the one commercial unit in the development because Camden is insisting on classifying it for light industrial use.

The redevelopment of Handrail House and the building next door (63 & 65 Maygrove Road) hasn’t really got going even though developer Regal Homes has sold some of the units off plan during an Asian roadshow. The empty Handrail House was the site of a rave by squatters back in May.

The saga of Gondar Gardens is a tortuous one, but it may be entering its final stage. This time last year, the first of developer Linden Wates’ (now three) proposals had just been successfully appealed by the developer and the second was being lined up for appeal. There was some surprise that the national planning inspector rejected that second proposal.

Linden Wates has since put forward its third proposal – a tweak of the second adjusted to take the inspectors’ comments into account. GARA – the relevant residents association – will decide at its AGM in January exactly how to respond, but its initial reaction is to push to ensure that the developer puts forward as sympathetic a proposal as possible rather than to contest this third plan outright. This is, therefore, likely to be the beginning of the end of the story.

The other big development news is for a site at the very heart of West Hampstead, but progress is likely to be slow. 156 West End Lane, the red-brick building known as the “Travis Perkins building”, has been sold for redevelopment.

156West End Lane has enormous potential

However, Travis Perkins has a lease that means it can stay in the building for another three years. In the meantime the offices above – once used by the council – sit empty. It’s hoped that, given the substantial cost to Camden of simply keeping the building, some alternative uses can be found for at least some of the office space.

Hoping to play a part in all the big developments that lie ahead, the Neighbourhood Development Forum worked through various drafts of its plan and tried different ways to reach out to the broader community. Hopefully, by now most residents have at least heard of it, and many have contributed their thoughts. The final draft should be published in late January 2014 and go to consultation.

Other planning news

  • An application was submitted to turn the ground floor of Alfred Court into an extension of a private school. It was always going nowhere fast – much like the traffic it would have created.
  • The Blackburn Road student block was finished and opened on time – few people seem to object too much, despite its bulk.
  • The “Mario’s block” on Broadhurst Gardens is up for redevelopment – will it be modern or traditional?
  • The major Abbey Area redevelopment (around the Belsize Road/Abbey Road junction) has stuttered on with amendments to plans but little seems to have happened.

As always, you can keep up to date with major planning proposals and developments with the map below (do let me know if anything needs updating)


View Developments in West Hampstead in a larger map

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

Gondar Gardens: The beginning of the end?

Could we be entering the endgame in the Gondar Gardens saga? The developer, Linden Wates, has submitted its third planning application for the site. This attempts to address the very specific points that the national planning inspector raised in turning down Linden Wates appeal over its second plan, which was rejected by Camden. These focus on architectural detail more than any wider environmental impact.

An e-mail from GARA – the residents association that has campaigned tirelessly against all these plans – suggests that the long fight may almost be over.

Here’s GARA’s position in its own words:

“We have successfully protected the Open Space for many years, and we have ensured that each subsequent development proposal is less damaging and less intrusive than its predecessors.

No-one wants any development on the site but when considering this application, Camden will note that the impact on Open Space, the height and bulk of the ‘frontage’ scheme, and transport and parking issues were all accepted by planning inspectors.

Camden’s planning officer says he will consider these matters as resolved, meaning that he will consider only the detailed design. If the revised design acceptable, then Camden officers and councillors will find it difficult to refuse the application. It is with much regret that we have reached this conclusion.

Our task now is to ensure that the proposed design is something we can live with; and to secure the future of the remainder of the site as a nature space, with local involvement. We can also press for conditions on working hours, construction methods, vehicle routes and local amenity contributions.

Improvements to the design since the first ‘frontage’ application include:

  • Mostly pitched roof with dormer windows rather than a solid flat frontage – this is much more in keeping with the area and considerably softens the bulk of the building
  • Improved window detailing and some (not much) subtle brickwork – adding a little character
  • A clear ‘gap’, allowing views across the site from the street (previously obscured by the ‘car lift’ entrance) – this is still only a narrow view, but at least it benefits pedestrians
  • Soft landscaping at the front (a few bushes!); and a secure site boundary”

GARA tells me that the decision not to contest the whole application is purely pragmatic. “If we thought there was a realistic prospect of no development, then we would pursue that heartily,” said David Yass, chair of GARA. “Our challenge is to secure the best we can for our neighbours and wildlife.”

Although the deadline for comments on the new scheme is January 2nd, GARA has agreed with Camden that it can submit its response after its AGM on January 8th (a reassuringly sensible stance by Camden).

To view the planning application, click here and then on “View Related Documents”. The Design & Access Statement is usually the best thing to look at (this is true for all planning applications).

Related reading
The “teletubbies” Scheme
Scheme refused by Camden.
Frontage scheme #1.
Scheme refused by Camden planning committee.
“Teletubbies” sceme approved on appeal.
Frontage scheme #1 rejected on appeal.
Frontage scheme #2 submitted exhibited.

Gondar Gardens: 140 years of history

Here’s a very useful history of the Gondar Gardens reservoir site, provided by GARA – the local residents association.

1874 Reservoir constructed.
1889 Tennis courts on the reservoir roof (no-one knew about slow worms then!).

100 years pass…

1989 Roof substantially repaired.
2002 Reservoir de-commissioned. GARA formed.
2004 Thames Water plans for a six-storey block with 120 flats – thwarted at public inquiry; site protected as Open Space and Site of Nature Conservation Interest.

2010 Linden Wates bought site, put up hoardings and removed trees.
2011/12 ‘Centre’ scheme rejected by planners but approved on appeal – 16 houses in pit of reservoir – this is still an option for Linden Wates to build, but would cost £6.8m in lieu of affordable housing.

2012/13 First ‘frontage’ scheme – refused by planning committee and refused on appeal as design would “harm local area” but impact on open space and height and bulk of scheme accepted.

2013 Revised ‘frontage’ scheme submitted.

  • Preserves 93% of open space as a site for nature, to be given to London Wildlife Trust
  • Opportunity for local residents to be part of management plans
  • Design improved to address inspectors’ concerns and through consultation with GARA

If the 2013 scheme is approved, Linden Wates has indicated that it will proceed and complete it within ~2 years. If it is refused, LW is likely to appeal and may use the intervening time to propose a combination of the ‘centre’ and ‘frontage’ schemes (although it cannot simply build part of each).

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.

Camden responds to Liddell Road criticism

If you read the Twitter conversation from last week about the Liddell Road development, you’ll have seen that Cllr Theo Blackwell, Camden’s cabinet member for finance, offered to go into more detail about the council’s decision to give the go ahead to the expansion of Kingsgate School before the larger redevlopment plan has gone to consultation, and at the expense of the jobs on the industrial estate that’s there now.

Here are his thoughts on the matter:

On Wednesday, Camden’s Cabinet took a decision as part of the borough-wide Community Investment Programme to fund a new primary school and business units on the site of Liddell Road, NW6; currently industrial premises owned by the council and leased to a variety of businesses.

The benefits to NW6 are considerable – with 420 new primary school places and new space for businesses. Elsewhere in Camden, from Holborn through Somers Town, Kentish Town, Gospel Oak, Highgate and Kilburn – and now West Hampstead – Camden is redeveloping public land to build more than 1,100 council homes, three primary schools and two new public libraries as well as new, modern business space. This is one of the most substantial self-funded capital investment programmes in the country, providing jobs and better public services for local people.

A new school and new businesses in Liddell Road are a key part of this, showing that despite very limited resources we are trying to make a difference by improving schools in NW6 as much as everywhere else in Camden.

However, it comes at a price – the new primary school and employment space will displace existing firms on the site because the only way we can pay for the new school, as with the new Netley School and Edith Neville primaries in NW1, is by raising money by a wider development of land the council owns.

Quite reasonably, West Hampstead Life and others have asked whether we could have funded this by some other means so the community could get as many benefits as possible:

What about using central government money? Due to cuts to investment introduced in June 2010, today only 1% of all Camden’s capital need for schools, housing and other infrastructure is supplied by central government. Schools investment was particularly impacted with £170m+ in bids ended, effectively leaving schools with no money for needed works (e.g. energy efficiency, heating, new roofs, classrooms etc) for the rest of the decade at least.

The project hasn’t been without some local political stirring: statements made by some councillors that expanding the existing Kingsgate school (therefore not going for a Free School) on this site somehow ‘lost’ the council money from government which could otherwise (a) have been spent on social housing or protected existing employment space or (b) accelerated the building of the school in the first place are totally untrue and have been corrected several times.

Whitehall rules say once the ‘need’ for places is objectively verified it is the council, not the government, which must now pay for new schools – whether they are expansions or Free Schools. Independent legal advice backs this up. This is an illustration of the parlous state of school financing across London and the country – and the absurdity of Free School funding in Whitehall, which is often made available to articulate and well-organised parent groups elsewhere when ‘need’ has not been similarly demonstrated.

Can we fund this by planning gain money (‘s.106’) the council holds? No. Money tied up with planning consents have conditions attached and sadly can’t be used for general purposes. If they could, there would be competing demands across the borough for these funds, which don’t cover the project in any case.

Has the council steamed ahead regardless? No. We’ve been talking about this since 2010 at least, we’ve discussed options with many local people and the businesses impacted. We’ve conducted two business surveys and offered firms help in finding other premises and conducted a big public consultation. Mindful of the loss of existing employment space, we were keen to ensure that new business premises are retained in the development – although it is true they are likely to be of a different nature than the ones there now.

The Council initially estimated the number of jobs currently on site was between 80 to 100 jobs and then carried out an employment study in the area. The research included gathering information on the numbers of jobs at each business, which confirmed this. We do not have evidence to support the suggestions made that the site supports 250 jobs. Nevertheless we have written to businesses impacted to see if we can help them relocate.

Mindful of the impact on jobs we made sure the redevelopment proposal included new employment space, with the potential to create up to 100 jobs if used for managed workspace, in addition to the 40 new jobs at the new school buildings.

Could we have expanded the school somewhere else and not on Liddell Road? Suggestions by some objectors that we turn Kingsgate Community Centre or Kingsgate Studios into school sites are neither practical nor fair to the community or those who use or work in them. The workshops were sold by the Council on a long lease in 2005 and we will not close Kingsgate Community Centre. These properties would not provide sufficient or suitable space for conversion or redevelopment for an additional 60 pupil places per year, which is what the community needs.

Other sites in Council ownership in the area have been considered as possible sites for a new primary school. The site at 156 West End Lane is significantly smaller than Liddell Road (approximately 6,000 sq.m. compared to 10,500 sq.m.) and presents far greater challenges and risks. It was not considered to be an appropriate site for educational use and Liddell Road was adopted as the preferred site.

Camden’s Community Investment Programme is hampered in NW6 because the council is not a large landowner in the area, compared to other parts of the borough, so we have to work with the sites we have. With the West End Lane offices potentially providing a big uplift in social housing, these two schemes together will make a difference by providing a new primary school, new businesses and new social housing for local people.

Having talked about this and considered all the options for a long time, we have decided to move ahead to ensure that the new school is open as soon as possible (2016). Residents will get a further say during the actual planning process and as councillors we have asked council regeneration officers to work with displaced businesses to see what we can do. Given all the work undertaken and the financial constraints we are under from central government and planning, delaying the project further would add costs to the taxpayer but no new solutions; but – as anywhere else in the borough – we are of course open to any practical ideas people have to ensure the scheme is better than the one we propose.

Cllr Theo Blackwell

Related reading: Liddell Road – show your workings (Decmber 13th)

Liddell Road – how the night unfolded

There was a lively Twitter conversation during and after last night’s Camden cabinet meeting, at which the fate of Liddell Road was decided. If you weren’t following along, here’s the bulk of it – rearranged to make a bit more sense than the pure chronological output. It’s also a good record of the promises made by Camden to look into some of the issues in more detail.

Dramatis Personæ:
LiddellRoad – the campaign set up by traders
Richard Osley – deputy editor of the Camden New Journal
Phil Jones – Councillor (Labour) and cabinet member for sustainability
Theo Blackwell – Councillor (Labour) and cabinet member for finance
Keith Moffitt – Councillor (Lib Dem) for West Hampstead
Mike Katz – Councillor (Labour) for Kilburn
WHampstead – me!

Cllr Phil Jones

Camden steams ahead with Liddell Road plan even as job loss numbers queried

This evening, Camden Council’s cabinet met to discuss a wide range of topics. HS2 was by far the most high profile. But tucked away in the agenda – in fact so well hidden that you’d have to have inside knowledge to find it – were details about the “Liddell Road scheme”.

I’ll explain what this is in more detail in a moment, but there’s one thing to understand. In one extremely important regard, a number that Camden is using to help push its own proposal through is clearly wrong. According to some people, very wrong indeed. And this matters – not just for the people directly concerned, but for the mix of our local economy.

Let me take you back.

West Hampstead needs a new primary school. This is a different issue to the free school debate that’s going on at the moment, that’s for a secondary school. This is a primary age issue, and Camden is pushing hard for an extension to the successful Kingsgate School. When they say “extension”, we’re not talking about building a new science wing, we’re talking about an entire school-size building about a mile away from the existing one. The whys and wherefores of this don’t really matter at this moment, although some would argue that they are ideological rather than practical.

The preferred location for this extension is Liddell Road. Most people say “Where?”, but in fact Liddell Road is five minutes’ walk from West Hampstead’s stations, and is home to more than 25 businesses employing – traders there claim – 250 people. That’s a lot right?

Camden council, however, believes there are 80 jobs on the site. Even if the 250 is an exaggeration, the discrepancy is surely too big to write off as an administrative error.

Camden plans to pay for this new school by building flats next to the school and selling them on the open market. Someone told me yesterday that these would have no affordable housing units, but that seems implausible. Camden has also boasted that the site will offer employment space – office jobs for around 130 people.

done the maths?

By Camden’s reckoning, there’s a net gain of 50 jobs. By the traders’ reckoning there’s a net loss of 120 jobs. Quite a difference.

Nor are these like-for-like jobs. This is swapping light industrial jobs – skilled manual work – for office work. Yet, barely a stone’s throw from this site, agents struggled for two years to let modern office space, until they finally gave up and that site is being turned into flats. Camden also admits that it’s woefully short of light industrial space and is forcing the Iverson Tyres redevelopment to have a small light industrial unit. None of this really adds up, unless you accept that the council appears willing to go to any lengths to deliver the school.

Unsurprisingly, the local traders on Liddell Road aren’t happy. They are an eclectic bunch. I’d assumed it was most car repair outfits, and there are certainly some there. But there’s also a glassware company, an upholsterer, a Middle Easter art restorer, and other surprising businesses that I suspect most West Hampstead residents had no idea were on their doorstep.

No-one’s denying the need for the school places in this part of the borough. The traders are aware of this. They are being led by Branko Viric, who runs West Hampstead Motors. I met him, his brother, his Dad and various other employees when I went to see them this week [a side note and only anecdotal, but I saw at least 20 people working in Liddell Road and I only walked up to the end and back and only went into one unit]. West Hampstead Motors has been there 14 years, but most businesses have been on the site far longer.

What Branko is saying is that not enough thought has gone into alternative options. He has set out quite a few in an open letter to all Camden councillors. Most of them probably wouldn’t fly – expanding Kingsgate on its own site seems unlikely. One idea though has that ring of common sense about it.

Kingsgate Workshops, which sit next to the school, is a collective of artist studios. It’s very popular, it has lots of exhibitions that most of you never go to, and it’s been around a while. It’s also a perfect location for extending Kingsgate School. Largely because it’s next door.

Where would the studios go? Well, there’s space on… yes, you’ve guessed it, Liddell Road. The buildings on one side of the estate are subsiding and could do with being replaced – they’re also not all in use at the moment. It’s been impossible to let them with the prospect of redevelopment looming large. Could the Kingsgate Studios relocate to Liddell Road? It almost sounds too sensible.

It would leave Camden with a financial problem – it has to pay for a new school, and there’s no money from central government. But have they even looked into it? Has anyone done the sums? If they have, why haven’t we been told about it? There’s all that Section 106 money knocking around at the moment after all – would some of that help offset the cost? The point is less that this is a brilliant solution, and more that this is at least an alternative that makes some sense and yet we have no idea whether it’s ever beeen thought of. Would Kingsgate Studio artists like the idea? I’m sure some would find it very disruptive. But nowhere near as disruptive as losing their jobs and their livelihoods.

Local councillor Keith Moffitt was at the meeting earlier this evening and “urged” the cabinet to defer the decision as the report misrepresented both the job numbers and the consultation results. Cabinet member Phil Jones tweeted not long after, “Camden cabinet just agreed to rebuild one school in Somers Town and extend another in West Hampstead – without a penny of support from govt”, and later “officers stated that evidence supports council figures”. However, a tiny glimmer of hope flickers on the horizon as he also said in response to my question about the discrepancy in job numbers that “I agree that this issue needs to be clarified and work to now take place on that.”

The development has caused controversy for other reasons too; specifically the distance between the two schools, which won’t help parents with siblings at both sites (the sites will be divided by age group); and the fact that the school decision and the decision on the residential and commercial redevelopment that is funding it are being treated separately, even thought the former is entirely contingent on the latter making it inconceivable that the latter won’t get approved whatever objections may appear.

Branko and his colleagues on the site may yet get a chance to bolster their position. They should be applauded for not simply rolling over, even if they have left the PR campaign a little late, and for thinking about solutions that maximize the benefit to everyone and include the school.

Camden’s cabinet may have made its decision this evening, but there’s a sense that this is far from done and dusted. Do read Branko’s letter – also available below

Related reading:
Liddell Road – how the night unfolded, Decmber 5th, 2013
Kingsgate School expands… a mile away, September 22nd, 2013

West Hampstead buildings on award shortlist

Emmanuel School is by far the most controversial local building to be shortlisted in the Camden Design Awards. This council sponsored celebration of high quality design seeks to reward schemes that:

  • are inclusive, sustainable and fit for purpose
  • demonstrate high quality in design, materials and construction
  • respond sensitively to their context and reinforce a sense of place
  • enrich the lives of those who live and work in and around them.

There are eight categories of which five have local entries including the Thameslink station. The inclusion of Emmanuel School’s new building will raise a few eyebrows though. The school has come in for criticism from locals for its choice of grey rather than red brick. Not only is it shortlisted in the Camden Community Designs category, but it’s also got into the People’s Choice award shortlist. I suspect it won’t win.

Category: Don’t Move – Improve
Best householder conversion, alteration or extension – large or small
Canfield Gardens
Scenario Architecture

An analysis of our client’s patterns of use exposed and astonishing fact: 90% of the owners time was spent in only 10% of the available space- the dark lower ground floor dining area. The new design is based on a bold architectural decision of opening and thus losing floor area on the ground floor. The previously unused living areas of the ground floor are now connected in a unified space, providing designated and interconnected zones for the different everyday activities and allowing all available space to be used.

The design scheme makes it possible to provide adequate ambient and direct natural light to all, previously dark, living spaces making them attractive for the allocated activities. A feature wall at the lower ground floor was designed to provide spatial continuity between kitchen dining and living areas. It consists of an entrance space, with shoe storage, a sitting/ gathering space and a fireplace with integrated sitting area. On the bedroom level a bespoke en-suite bathroom combines digital production techniques with traditional manually applied finish. The form was CNC cut and assembled on site. It was then finished with an application of traditional Moroccan plaster achieving a single surface element.

 
 

More detail: 1; 2; 3; 4

Category: Designing for Growth
Best non-residential scheme – new or improved
West Hampstead Thameslink Station
Landolt + Brown

West Hampstead Thameslink Station has seen major changes through both the Thameslink Programme and the Access for All Programme with longer platforms to accommodate 12 car trains, a new passenger footbridge giving step-free access to each platform, and reducing the major pinchpoint created by the old footbridge and entrance/ exit.

The station also benefitted from a brand new ticket office on the opposite side of the station to the old cramped facility incorporating a new gateline, automatic ticket machines and a small retail unit and giving passengers fully covered access to the platforms.

The railway embankment leading to the new station was built-up to widen the pavement from 1.5m to 12m. Incorporating the existing lime trees into this new public space and allowing the station to be seen from West End Lane, were also central to the new station design. The glazed brick wall, designed to reflect the changing colours of the lime trees above, brightens the approach to the station and draws people towards it. The space has become a wellused local meeting place and the venue for West Hampstead’s weekly farmer’s market, as well as giving some relief to the narrow and congested pedestrian environment along West End Lane.

 

Category: Breathing Spaces
Best new or upgraded street, park, garden, cemetery, play area etc.
Kilburn Grange Park playcentre and adventure playground
Erect Architecture

The site of the Kilburn Grange Park adventure playground is the remainder of a Victorian Arboretum within an existing park. Its theme is playing in and around trees.

The playcentre provides internal as well as covered external play space. It is also a short breaks centre for special educational needs children facilitating overnight stays. The building is a timber frame, timber clad building. Its undulating biodiversity roof is a natural extension of the landscape, which dominates the scheme. Large roof overhangs frame the landscape. The timber structure is exposed. The main internal play space is a “tree room” dominated by a tree column from which the primary structure branches off. Natural light filters between the beams to create an atmosphere of being under a tree canopy.

The playpark consists of new topographies, landscapes and site-specific climbing structures. Different scales, speeds, uses, types of inhabitation and play as well as materialities and moods are carefully arranged. Children can experience different seasons or even just hours of the day.

The dense adventure structure plays with the characters of the trees. It tells tree stories. The structure is complex with small-scale spaces of varied materials. A series of recycled doors quotes domesticity but also allows for routes through to perpetually change and spaces to expand and contract. Different degrees of secrecy oppose vantage points into the park.

These spaces of different qualities create a rich experience and invite the imagination.

 

Renovation of Fortune Green
Friends of Fortune Green with Penny Brenan and BBUK

We think the scheme should be entered for a design award because we have significantly improved Fortune Green, for a pretty low budget. We have updated what was a very tired open space and intergrated with the surrounding area in a modern, design concious but also more ecological way. We have also worked with the Parks Department and are, perhaps, coming up with a new model of how to improve other areas and parks in the borough. On top of all that we think the scheme is looking good and we would be pleased to be recognised by Camden with a design award, either for improving the park and also for the community involvement – or both!

 
 

Category: Camden Community Designs
Scheme which has had the most positive impact on the local community
Emmanuel School
Hawkins\Brown

The existing Emmanuel Church of England Primary School was operating out of cramped Victorian buildings and temporary classrooms. The decision to expand to 1FE meant acquiring a new site across the road and the construction of a new school building to house years 2–6.

The project being submitted for the Camden Design Awards is the initial new build phase. The project includes the new building and associated play learning facilities. The Public Open Space immediately behind the school was also given an overhaul as part of the project, with new play equipment and landscaping, led by bid landscape working with Hawkins\Brown.

The early years unit will remain in the existing buildings, which are currently being refurbished as phase 2 of the works, and is due to complete shortly.

The architecture of the new Emmanuel School building was shaped by the community that surrounds it. The multiple constraints and influences of a sensitive conservation area, a confined urban site, an ambitious client and an enthusiastic user group have resulted in the design of a state of the art learning environment for the young children in the area.

The school is stacked vertically with teaching spaces located above the partially buried school hall. The playground includes a vibrant amphitheatre, multi-use games area and three external play decks, all of which maximise the potential of a very compact, sloping site on a residential street. The school was designed from the inside – out with generous windows playfully arranged to frame views of the surrounding area, and create light and airy classrooms for the children.

The building services have been designed to create a sustainable, and energy efficient environment. The roofline is articulated by four natural ventilation chimneys, which provide fresh air to the classrooms but prevent traffic noise from disrupting lessons. A ground source heat pump provides the heating and cooling for the building, and solar panels on the metal roof help to reduce the carbon footprint.

 

More images: 1

Category: People’s Choice
Shortlisted from 10 entries across all other categories
Emmanuel School
Hawkins\Brown
See above

Category: Quality for Life
New or improved, private or social – includes housing-led schemes
No local entries

Category: Enhancing Context
New or refurbished building which best enhances a conservation area and/or listed building
No local entries

Category: The Heritage Award
Rewarding exemplar schemes of alteration, conversion, refurbishment, or simply the sensitive repair, of historic buildings and sites.
No local entries

“I like it!” Share your views on local places.

West Hampstead being the sort of switched on digital community it is, it seems only right that we’re among the very first to test a new mapping/sentiment tool.

A who with the what now?
The idea is that you can pinpoint places in West Hampstead on a map – either on your smartphone or tablet or from the comfort of your desktop computer – and say what you think about them and, specifically, how they might be improved. Before you all jump and down, outraged that this excludes those people who aren’t online, this is just one strand of engagement that’s trying to reach one (large) subset of people.

To what end? This is all part of the Neighbourhood Development Forum‘s engagement programme, so the views expressed here will help the Forum as it finalises the draft plan.

How does it work?
It’s pretty simple.

First, go to http://westhampstead.commonplace.is – the site works on whatever size screen you’re using, there’s no app to download.

You’ll need to register the first time you use it with some basic information, which helps the NDF see what type of people are using it, and whether opinions vary between different types of people. No data that can actively identify you personally is collected.

After registering, you get two options: comment on a place, or view all comments.

View all comments takes you to the overview map, where you’ll see some green, orange and red circles. Zoom into the map as you would normally for more detail. Click on any of the circles to see what people have been saying.

You’ll notice that the West Hampstead Growth Area is shaded blue. The thrust of the mapping project is to get ideas on the growth area, but you are of course very welcome to comment on anything in the wider area. One thing to stress though – this isn’t intended as a way to complain about litter, or general problems the council need to attend to. For that, use FixMyStreet, or CleanCamden. This is about broader development issues; what you’d like West Hampstead to be. As a rule of thumb, if it’s something that could theoretically be rectified in 24 hours, it’s probably not for this site.

Once you’ve had a look around, why not make your first comment. If you’re out with your smarthphone then you can either turn the GPS on and the map will automatically locate you, or you can manually drag the marker. If you’re at home, just move the marker to where you want to write about.

Click Next and you’ll be given a form to fill in with your comments. Add what you like – the only thing you have to tick is the like/don’t like/neutral option.

Click Submit and your button appears on the map in the appropriate colour. You can also tweet a link to your comment if you have a Twitter account.

You can comment as many times as you like.

That’s it – happy commenting! The NDF will be demoing the site at the farmers market on Saturday December 7th as well.

Get involved with new local nature reserve

Behind the new apartments at 1 Mill Lane lies land that has been given to the public as a conservation area. Camden wants to keep the site as a wildlife area with limited public access.

Although it was initially going to be called the Mill Lane nature reserve, the access will be from Minster Road, and thus it will now be called… wait for it… the Minster Road Nature Reserve.

Whatever they’re called, these sort of areas don’t manage themselves and Camden is keen that local residents who are interested in the site should establish a Friends Group to participate in the reserve’s management and maintenance.

If you’re interested in being part of this, there’s a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the use of the site and how it can benefit to the local community while fulfilling its role to provide a refuge for nature and wildlife.

The meeting is at the West Hampstead Community Centre (17 Dornfell Street) at 8pm. For further details, please e-­mail ten.k1519358507latkl1519358507at@no1519358507itavr1519358507esnoc1519358507.erut1519358507an1519358507.

Abbey Area regeneration stutters forward

Last week, Camden council voted on the latest set of plans for the Abbey Area regeneration (that’s the council development around the Abbey Road/Belsize Road junction. James King, who’ll be standing for the Lib Dems in that ward in next year’s local elections, went along and has reported back. There is also extensive documentation for this on Camden’s planning portal.

The ‘Abbey Area’ development was on the agenda of Camden Council’s planning committee. Not for the first time. Planning approval was first granted 18 months ago for the council’s own scheme to redevelop the buildings. Given that these ideas have been under discussion for six years, you might have thought the council would have worked up a well-thought out plan, commanding community support.

It didn’t turn out like that. Although the re-modelled scheme was voted through by a handful of councillors, others on the committee abstained, having exposed a number of weaknesses.

More of that later, but first of all, a brief overview of the development, which involves three phases:
Phase 1 – Demolition of the Belsize Road car park which also houses several businesses; construction of a 14-storey tower at the junction with private flats, a small supermarket space on the ground floor and an ‘energy centre’ in the basement. This will be attached to a six storey housing development with further private housing and new council properties. Shops and commercial office space will be provided on the ground floor.

This is what is now the car park
looking north-west along Abbey Road

Phase 2 – Construction of a health centre space at the base of Casterbridge tower and a new community centre at the base of Snowman tower . This new building will also include a covered courtyard connecting the two tower blocks.

Phase 3 – Demolition of the Emminster and Hinstock council housing blocks, the Abbey Community Centre, Belsize Priory Health Centre, shops and the Lillie Langtry pub. A new 6-7 storey housing block will be built around Belsize Road and Abbey Road, with shops opening out onto a ‘central urban realm space’. 15 ‘mews style’ houses will run alongside the back of Priory Terrace.

The application discussed at the meeting included detailed proposals for Phase 1 only, and sought fresh ‘outline’ permission for Phases 2 and 3. There are many question marks associated with the development, including the increased height of the tower building, the disappointingly low number of shared ownership flats, and uncertainty for tenants and businesses in the buildings earmarked for demolition. But the planning committee focused particularly on the loss of trees and open space.

Although the papers didn’t make this very clear, the development identified 44 trees for the chop. This looked like lazy design, and Lib Dem Cllr Flick Rea led the charge in forcing the council to concede that they will do further analysis and consultation before deciding whether to remove most of the trees.

Meanwhile, councillors of all parties were critical of the design of the new Phase 1 housing block, which eats up the green space in front of the car park. They were rightly unimpressed by the council’s attempt to argue that the redesigned junction (rebranded rather ludicrously as a ‘central character area’) would act as a new open space for young kids. It then emerged that the council is exploring a half-baked plan to remove the traffic lights from one of the busiest junctions in NW6!

The committee did eventually approve the scheme, but the meeting confirmed my view that this development scheme has lost its way. Although it started life as a regeneration initiative, there has been no real attempt to get buy-in from the shops and other traders on Belsize Road and Abbey Road who are affected. No local residents voiced support tonight, and the Kilburn ward councillors were absent from the meeting. Although £2.3m has been spent on various consultants, who organised blue skies workshops and produced glossy brochures, when it came to the planning consultation, nobody from the council bothered to organise a local meeting clearly setting out the plans on the table.

This is not the end of the road. The council has still to work up its detailed scheme for Phase 2 of the development, which is particularly contentious. And the construction phase of the project is likely to take five years or so. So lets hope that the local community is better involved in shaping the project from here on in.

The entire site today

Related articles
Take a look at Abbey Area plans (January 2013)
Abbey Area application passed by Camden (April 2012)
Abbey Area Development will go to City Hall (February 2012)

New 159 Iverson Road plans: 10 fewer flats

The planned development of the Iverson Tyres site is back on the agenda. Camden’s planners advised developer Stephen McGregor that the previous proposals, which I discussed back in July, would be unlikely to get permission. His architects went back to the drawing board taking into account the comments from Camden and from locals who came to the first exhibition of the plans.

Extending the timeframe of this development must be a bit hard to swallow for McGregor. I understand that the financing for this scheme is contingent on a reasonably quick turnaround. Still, Camden indicated the original plans were too dense (it’ll be interesting to see what they make of the Broadhurst Gardens scheme then), so the development has shrunk from 29 units to 19, of which 4 are affordable – still above quota. Camden’s position does mean that five affordable units now won’t be built – it does seem odd that in an area of intensification, this development was deemed too much, when the developer had unusually gone over quota on the affordable housing.

Fewer flats doesn’t mean they’ve all grown in size. Instead, the middle of the block has been cut away from the first floor up, allowing more sunlight into the landscaped garden area the development will share with 163 Iverson Road – the former garden centre site. In addition, the building has lost a storey at the back. The pictures below include the 163 Iverson Road development, which has of course not yet been built though the site has at least now been cleared.

The revised plan with 10 fewer flats
The original proposal

There are some other changes, a wider entrance, the ground floor set back further from the pavement, and a change of some materials, including the introduction of anodysed copper (which keeps its lustre rather than turning green). The affordable units have also been moved from the Iverson Road side of the property to the side and back.

In the initial proposal, there was a question mark over the use of the commercial space. Camden was insisting it remained light industrial as there is a shortage of space for that in the borough. However, this meant that Iverson Tyres couldn’t keep its offices on the site, which it wanted to do and which the developer was also in favour of. The revised plan has retained the light industrial use, despite a lack of clear evidence from Camden as to the level of demand for that. In light of the redevelopment of Liddell Road, there may be some scope for one of the businesses there to move in, but the majority of them would need much more room.

Here you can get more of a sense of what impact the new block will have on the street (once the 163 Iverson development has been built).


Trees: Will they stay or will they go?

The saga of the trees on and around the West Hampstead Square site drags on. The campaigners continue to pester Camden to slap preservation orders on those trees growing by the Overground line that are off the Ballymore site, but on Network Rail land. Camden is resisting, partly because, as I understand it, it wouldn’t have any impact anyway as Network Rail has the power to override that.

As far as I’m aware, Ballymore has yet to respond to Emma Thompson’s open letter to them on this matter.

In the meantime, if you’ve been wondering which trees might stay and which might go in the short term… well, you’re in luck. I was sent a handy visual. I think this is what all infographics should look like.

Emma Thompson joins Ballymore tree row

It’s been quiet of late on the Ballymore building site at West Hampstead Square. This has meant a stay of execution for the trees that have caused so much heated debate over the past couple of months.

Emma Thompson at the 2011 charity cricket match
Photo via @bubela

Now, one of West Hampstead’s most famous residents has waded into the debate with a letter, published in the Ham & High this week, which she’s given me permission to print in full here.

An open letter from Emma Thompson to Sean Mulryan, Chairman & Group Managing Director of Ballymore Developments and Peter McCall, Construction Director

RE: THE REMOVAL OF 32 MATURE TREES ON THE RAILWAY EMBANKMENT FOR “WEST HAMPSTEAD SQUARE” DEVELOPMENT

I am a long-term resident of West Hampstead (54 years) and have watched as over the years, development has all but removed any green spaces and most of the life-giving trees from the area. I understood from the Council that your development was set to include the trees that give pleasure and vitally – oxygen – to the area but I now understand that you are planning to chop them all down.

Please do not indulge in this act of vandalism and eco-savagery. It’s totally unnecessary and you will endear yourselves greatly to this community if you listen to their desires in this matter.

No-one wants to lose the few trees we have. Their survival is of the utmost importance. Your development will be infinitely more attractive with the trees in place. Your recommendations stated that you would protect and enhance the ‘green infrastructure’ – which it now seems you had no intention of doing. I understand all too well the way these things happen. Give lip-service to the ‘green’ bits and then when everyone has forgotten about the agreement, lop it all down.

Do not be tempted to do this. It won’t help you and it will anger the community.

I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely yours
Emma Thompson (actor/writer and conservationist)
Local resident

I think we all look forward to Ballymore’s reply, which I’d be very happy to publish here.

What has WHAT ever done for us?

The library has been hosting an exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of local campaign group WHAT. So, what is WHAT and what has it ever done for us?

Plenty, it turns out.

WHAT stands for West Hampstead Amenity and Transport, though it hasn’t always! It’s a local pressure group that addresses “local transport, open space, local shopping, planning issues and all aspects of the local environment.” Fairly comprehensive then.

Specifically, WHAT lobbies transport interests, the council and developers, holds public meetings and (of course) issues a newsletter.

WHAT began as a response to Camden’s May 1973 Road Network and Environmental Policy Management document. They were sexier times, the 1970s.

This plan was set to change the face of West Hampstead. It This proposed a borough-wide network of main distributor roads, which would take the main bulk of traffic. Between them would be environmental areas that would be traffic free. The main distributor roads in this area were to be Finchley Road, West End Lane, Fortune Green Road and Mill Lane.

Camden’s proposals sparked a torrent of protests and many local groups formed under the banner of ‘No to the Network’. WHAT was one of these groups. In mid-July of 1973, college lecturer Don Hill organised a petition on West End Green against the new network policy. He took this to Camden council, who promised to oppose any increase in traffic flow along West End Lane. Don and his wife Claire decided to form a group called West
Hampstead Action on Traffic (WHAT).

In September, WHAT staged a bigger protest at West End Green. Local families and residents brought the late afternoon traffic to a halt in protest against the GLC (Greater London Council) and Camden policy. The protests worked and the plan was dropped.

A page from a membership book shows Ken Livingstone as an early member of WHAT.

It would be another four years before WHAT’s name was changed to West Hampstead Amenity and Transport to reflect its widening interests.

What has WHAT done?
The group has been involved in a very wide range of issues over the years.

The West Hampstead interchange: WHAT has been involved with the idea of an interchange at West Hampstead since the 1970s. Here is a discussion document it published (price 20p) in 1979 urging better use of the railway lands.

WHAT wanted a craft and light industrial development with plenty of pedestrian access. Many years later, these issues are still live as development takes place at West Hampstead Square.

At the same time the Ring Rail group had ideas for this area and also for the development of what was then called the North London Line (now the Overground) into a rail ring round London. This finally came to fruition last year when the Overground network tied up the final missing link.

Most recently WHAT has been working closely with London Overground about its plans to develop the station and to put in a lift.
Sainsbury’s trolleys: In 2001, West Hampstead was littered with trolleys from the O2 Sainsburys. WHAT gathered up all the trolleys it could find, wheeled them to the O2 site and demanded to see the manager of the store. Sainsburys subsequently employed a man with a van to go round the area collecting the trolleys. It also introduced the electronic barrier which prevents trolleys being wheeled into West Hampstead.

Buses: WHAT has lobbied about the bus service for many years. This includes lobbying against bus noise and vibration at West End Green, with the result that there are now bye-laws that prohibit buses from keeping their engines running. In 2005, WHAT’s long running battle to get bus stops near the stations was successful although since then, developers have suggested taking them away again!

Thameslink: In 2004, Thameslink wanted to stop trains stopping at West Hampstead and Kentish Town for at least six months because of work going on further down the line. WHAT gathered many hundreds of signatures for a petition against this; Camden got involved and Thameslink changed its minds!

Local planning: WHAT comments regularly on local planning applications and is closely involved in the current Neighbourhood Development Forum.

Looking to the future
Aside from commemorating all the work WHAT has done, the exhibition, which runs until November 16th, is also a reminder that WHAT is only as strong as its membership. It’s always on the lookout for new people to join. Members can come along to any monthly committee meetings and it only costs a fiver for two years’ membership. Here’s the form.

Mario’s brothers offer modern or classic

Last week’s exhibition on the proposals for 153-163 Broadhurst Gardens, a.k.a. “The Mario’s block”, attracted an exceptionally high turnout. Locals are being offered a say in the type of development they prefer – though concerns about housing density and size of commercial units may be of more concern than the “modern or traditional” design question that was the focal point of the exhibition.

Why is redevelopment needed at all? The building is falling down. It was built at the end of the 19th century and has been in the same family for two generations. Despite a major internal refurbishment in the mid 1980s, shallow foundations and vibration from tube trains have caused the settling that has created the significant distortion of the building so visible today. A structural report carried out last summer concluded that fixing the structure would be prohibitively expensive.

The owners – brothers, Duncan and Nick Gilbert, both of whom have lived there themselves – run a property company that manages some 50 flats across north-west London and accept that a rebuild is the only option.

It’s easy to see how wonky the building has become

The structural problems have also meant that it’s proved impossible to let the commercial space on the ground floor. The endgame has been inevitable for some time – the bulding will have to be knocked down and rebuilt. But rebuilt as what?

Squeezing in the people
Today, there are 19 flats in the block and as well as the sad-looking empty Mario’s restaurant, and a few other unused or underused commercial spaces. The plan, whichever frontage is chosen, is to turn those 19 flats into 39 flats. This, one feels, may be a sticking point for Camden – these are going to be small flats. On the basis of the current plans, the smallest 1-bedroom flat is 45 sq m, the largest go up to 55.6 sq m. The 2-beds range from 70-72 sq m. To give you a comparison, if you’ve looked at Ballymore’s West Hampstead Square, the one-beds are very similar, but Ballymore’s two-beds are slightly larger. The Broadhurst development also offers one three-bed flat.

Click for larger floor plans

Some share of this would be affordable housing, though how many flats would qualify for this remains to be decided.

Increased density isn’t deemed to be an intrinsically bad thing by Camden. The borough’s core strategy says,

The Council wants to encourage developments with high densities in the most accessible parts of the borough (… and the town centres of… West Hampstead)… Such schemes should be of excellent design quality and sensitively consider the amenity of occupiers and neighbours and the character and built form of their surroundings, particularly in conservation areas. Good design can increase density while protecting and enhancing the character of an area.

All the flats would be rented out and managed by the developers’ property company, so none would be on the open sales market.

The plans at the moment show two commercial units – the corner unit where Mario’s is looks like it would be extended slightly, with the other units would be merged into one.

It will be interesting to see whether Camden takes this opportunity to reflect both its own Core Strategy document. This points out that “there is a lack of high quality premises suitable for small business, particularly those less than 100 sq m”, as well as the NDF’s latest draft policy recommendation, which encourages “The provision of a range of different sized units, particularly smaller spaces for micro-businesses and studio space.”

In this context, it’s possible to imagine Camden accepting one larger premises – the expanded Mario’s site – but then suggesting that the other commercial site is broken into two (at the moment the smaller site has 164 sq m of space spread over the lower ground and ground floors).

Grand design
Enough about the inside, what about the outside? The building falls within the South Hampstead conservation area, though this doesn’t actively prohibit any particular design. The architects’ options are for a “traditional” look and feel, which would not be so different from what is there today, or for a more contemporary look. The latter also offers balcony space to the top floor and corner flats. In both versions, the red brick of today would be replaced with London Stock, which is a yellowish brick also common in the area. The opposite side of Broadhurst Gardens is built of London Stock, as is The Railway pub so it’s hardly out-of-keeping with the area, although it would clash with the ENO building next door and the red brick of West Hampstead mews.

There’s no particular height issue – the proposals add one extra storey [Ed: fair point made in comments, that it’s two extra floors, though total height change is equivalent to one extra floor], set back slightly, which would be in keeping with the building across the road. This would slightly affect the view from some of the flats in West Hampstead Mews, but it’s hard to see that being a major hurdle. This certainly isn’t going to be yet another high-rise.

Camden planners are favouring the more contemporary design (the architects seemed pleasantly surprised, telling me that most councils default to traditional design). My initial reaction was to favour the traditional because the street has no modern elements in it at all. There are a couple of low-level modern conversions in the mews, but otherwise it’s a traditional brick street. Without context, I prefer the more open-feel of the contemporary design, but I wonder whether it would be jarring, especially as the building abuts the former Decca Studios/ENO building so closely.

No plans have been submitted to Camden yet and, assuming all went smoothly, work wouldn’t start until 2015. This should give existing tenants time to see out their leases and find somewhere else to live. At least one tenant, who has lived in the building for nine years, only found out on the day of the exhibition that demolition was planned. Duncan Gilbert told me that they’d put up posters on the windows of the commercial units and put leaflets throught the communal letterboxes of the flats; one fears those might have gone the way of most leaflets through letterboxes.

View a PDF of the full set of exhibition boards.

Camden says no to school on Fortune Green

The lack of a convincing transport plan meant that Camden threw out the proposals to turn the empty ground floor units of Alfred Court into a branch of Abercorn private school (that’s the modern block of flats that looks over the park).

Abercorn School in Alfred Court

Camden cited five reasons for refusal, of which four are related to the transport issues that had local residents understandably up in arms, and which you can read much more about here.

1) The proposed private school, by reason of its catchment, reliance on private transport, unsatisfactory arrangements for on-site servicing and parking for the proposed use, would result in an unsustainable development, detrimental to the operation of the site and contributing to congestion in the local area and highway safety impacts on and near to the site.

2) The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement requiring a management plan for the school, would be likely to result in unacceptable impact on the site and local area

3) The proposed development, in the absence of a Workplace and Student Travel Plan, would be likely to give rise to significantly increased car-borne trips and would result in a unsustainable form of development

4) The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement to secure a delivery and servicing management plan, would be likely to contribute unacceptably to traffic disruption, and would be detrimental to the amenities of the area generally

5) The proposal, in the absence of a legal agreement securing contributions towards Camden’s Pedestrian, Environmental and Safety improvement initiative would fail to undertake external works outside the application site, and would fail to secure adequate provision for the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles

Abercorn School could appeal of course, but even back in August it seemed as if this location was a hedge rather than the preferred strategy.

Local residents will be pleased. Bafflingly, the local Conservatives are trying to take some credit for the council throwing the idea out despite a extremely high number of comments from individual residents and collectively from the residents of the block itself.

Your views on West Hampstead’s future

Those of you living in West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards will have had a leaflet through your doors this past week.

This is the latest chance (and one of the last) to give input to the Neighbourhood Development Forum, which is now on the sixth draft of the Neighbourhood Development Plan. Only one more draft is expected before it’s sent to Camden for the next round of scrutiny. Eventually, sometime next year, there will be a referendum on whether to adopt the plan or not.

Regular readers won’t need the background to this concept, but for everyone else the leaflet sets out what the Neighbourhood Development Forum is trying to do, and highlights the particular challenge of the growth area around the stations. If you didn’t get one (or live outside the wards, but are interested), you can see it here.

The leaflet includes a very short survey, and the NDF team would be astonishingly grateful if you could take two minutes to fill it in. If it’s easier, then you can fill it in online instead: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/35CBQPC.

Please don’t forget to fill in the “about you” section – this helps ensure that the views collected are as representative as possible, both geographically and demographically within the area.

Look out very soon for the launch of the mobile tool that will let you record your thoughts about the area on your smartphones as you walk around.

Gondar Gardens: Spot the difference

[updated Oct 26th 7pm]

Many professions are so steeped in their own language that they find it almost impossible to communicate in plain English, even when asked. Thus it was that I found myself talking to architects about the revised plans for Gondar Gardens and having to endure lots of explanation about “verticality” and “rhythm”, and not much about what the key differences are between this and the previously rejected project.

It’s a bit of a game of Spot the Difference.

The most obvious difference between the original plan (top) and the new plan (bottom) is the all-glass bay windows, which are apparently “winter gardens”. Who knew.

The new plan also removes the housing of the entry to the underground car park between the two buildings, and the cladding for the projections is lighter. As to that verticality and rhythm, that refers to much more regular spacing of windows and more emphasis on the vertical structure compared with the broken-up facade of the original.

The developers clearly hope that these detailed changes will win over the planning inspector. Actually, they probably hope that Camden council believes they will win over planning inspector and passes the plans first time around, preventing the appeal and Camden’s liability for the appellants legal costs.

Here’s why the planning inspector rejected the previous proposal (crucially, not on any grounds of environmental impact).

However, my main concern with the appeal scheme is the detailed design. The proposed design seeks to repeat the proportions of houses and bay windows seen in the area, through a series of brick projections. However, the varying size of the projections, the large expanses of brickwork (seen particularly on the two large projections), the combination of geometric shapes and the four storey sections with a flat roof, only serve to distinguish all elements of its design from those in the surrounding area. There is no visible connection to the intricate shapes, decorative detailing (including red brick and white mouldings) or the strong vertical emphasis seen in the surrounding houses which combine to determine the character of West Hampstead.

There are examples of new development of contrasting design in the area. However, they are generally smaller developments, which exert little influence over the area. By contrast, the appeal scheme would stretch some 70 metres along Gondar Gardens, filling most of this section of the road along one side. It would impose a long development of a very different character, thereby significantly harming the distinct and attractive character of this part of West Hampstead and its contribution to the wider area.

Even if the new proposal addresses these concerns, and it certainly looks to a layman like me that it’s a step in that direction, it’s hard to believe it’s going to win over those who have contested the development of Gondar Gardens so vigorously over the past few years. You can look at all the detailed architectural responses here.

Local residents group GARA, which has worked so hard to fight the various development proposals, commented that the latest proposals “address some aspects [of the inspector’s comments] but appear to have done little about the lack of detailing around windows etc, and have not properly addressed the issue of being out of place in its environment.”

The original “Teletubbies plan“, rejected by Camden but overturned on appeal, could still happen. However, the developers tell me that “there are a number of complex legal arrangements delaying its development, in particular relating to the off-site provision of affordable housing.” According to GARA, this means either finding a second site where the afforable housing could be built, or making a one-off £6m contribution to Camden.

Back to the tweaked design, here’s what local councillor Flick Rea thought of it:

Just seen new design for Gondar Gardens development – precious little difference except for some sticking out chunks in light brick- ugh!
— Flick Rea (@FlickRea) October 15, 2013

Tree debate moves to Network Rail

If anyone still sent actual letters, then the local back-and-forth about the chopping down of the trees on and near the Ballymore site would have accounted for a small copse all by itself.

Mercifully, it’s only been everyone’s inboxes taking the strain as councillors, concerned locals, residents associations, the Neighbourhood Development Forum, council officers and the developers have been trying to establish clarity on the subject. The one group conspicuous by its absence from these discussions is Network Rail and yet it is in their hands that the fate of many of the remaining trees rests, along with the views of many future West Hampstead Square residents.

One of the issues seems to be that it’s not easy to determine from the ground (without access to the building site), precisely which trees are on the Ballymore land, and which are on the railway embankment by the Overground lines and owned by Network Rail.

These must be Network Rail trees, right?
(photo via Candice Temple)

This story first came to light about six weeks ago, when it appeared that Ballymore was going to cut down all the trees on its West Hampstead Square site. This was in line with its planning permission, but there had been some hope that a small handful of trees might be spared.

One communication from Camden, which followed a meeting between a Trees and Landscape Officer and Ballymore, says “The large sycamore at the top of the site and trees at the other end of the site can and will be retained.”

If this is the case, then this is already better news than we had back in August (if you’re in the pro-tree lobby). Ballymore has planning permission to cut down all the trees – although the report it’s using does suggest that some could be spared.

If Ballymore does the right thing and saves the trees it doesn’t need to remove (and plenty of eagle-eyed locals will be watching very carefully), then the issue then becomes the trees that fall outside the Ballymore footprint. These are Network Rail trees and are highly likely to be removed when the new station or access point from West Hampstead Square is built.

Neighbourhood Development Forum member Mark Stonebanks manage to dig up the document that summarised the key themes that emerged as the views of participants in the main public consultation for West Hampstead Square. It dates from July 2011, and says: “The development should retain the existing trees along the boundaries of the site where possible to help soften the proposals”. It even includes a direct quote: “People won’t mind the height so much if there’s a lot of green grass and organic things growing up the building.”

There was a brief flurry of interest on Friday when it appeared this might open up a loophole to save more trees, but the document states clearly that this is simply a summary of participants’ views, not something the developers should adhere to.

Another school of thought suggests Camden hasn’t enforced its own planning guidance to Ballymore, citing one sentence: “Ensure appropriate relationship to adjoining open space and ecological corridors and provide new open space”. Again, it strikes me this is all open to interpretation. What’s an “appropriate relationship”? Nor is it saying Ballymore must provide its own ecological corridors.

If it is indeed correct that Ballymore is able to retain a handful of trees on site, that is good news. If it can now be persuaded to engage with its development partner Network Rail to protect as many of the trees that are in the line of fire when the new station is built, even better.

Remember these are trees that screen the railway lines from the expensive flats and if you think it’s just quiet London Overground trains on those lines, think again. Tomorrow alone, 24 freight trains are scheduled to use that line between 6am and 8pm. If I’d paid north of £700,000 for a 2-bed flat with a balcony on that side of the building, I think I might expect a few trees between me and the freight trains as I sat outside with glass of Chablis and farmers’ market goats cheese.

New twist in Gondar Gardens saga

If you’re playing catch-up on the interminable story of Gondar Gardens, which progesses as fast as the slow worms that have previously come to its rescue, then please read this succinct summary of where we stood back in June.

In a nutshell, a developer had submitted two separate plans to build houses on this disused reservoir site. Camden had rejected both plans, the national planning inspector overturned that decision on the first plan, but upheld it on the second.

Now, the developer is talking about a third plan. Sigh. It’s tempting to wonder whether its aim is solely to bankrupt the local residents association, GARA, which rallies its troops and fights any attempt to turn this green space into property. More likely is that the approved plan is now too expensive to develop. Here’s the e-mailed invite to view the new plans:

Linden Homes and Wates Developments would like to invite you to view new images, plans and designs for the former reservoir on Gondar Gardens.

As you will know, Linden Homes and Wates Developments have been working in partnership for the past several years to redevelop the site with a new residential development. Earlier this year a scheme for a frontage development along Gondar Gardens was refused planning permission due to its architectural design.

We have been working up a revised set of plans, carefully taking into account the feedback received from the earlier scheme. The new proposals will deliver up to 28 new homes, 10 of which will be affordable, helping to meet the local housing need. We believe these revised proposals create a better design solution for the site which will contribute positively to the neighbourhood.

If you’re interested in seeing whether Linden Wates can come up with something that Camden might be willing to approve, head along to St Luke’s Church on Kidderpore Avenue on the 15th October, between 2pm-8pm.

The proposals rejected by the national planning inspector

Will Mario’s new life be sufficiently super?

I get asked regularly about Mario’s. Mario’s is the long-closed Greek restaurant on the corner of Broadhurst Gardens and West Hampstead Mews. It may soon be remembered only from photos.

The outer wall is straight. The building less so!

It’s now an overgrown empty building on the corner of a block that is slowly crumbling. The freeholders use it as a workshop occasionally. I even saw a pool table in there once.

Mario’s has been closed, I guess, for about five years. It used to be a friendly neighbourhood restaurant and if you got take-away, they’d always throw in some chips or a free salad. One of the last times I went, David Soul (Hutch from the original Starsky & Hutch) was at the table next to us.

Despite being a large restaurant in a good location, the premises has been empty ever since Mario went back to Cyprus (where I hear he runs a very successful restaurant). It’s too big for most independents to take on – especially given the structural repair work needed; while the chain restaurants with deep pockets would always prefer somewhere on West End Lane, oblivious to the lively atmosphere on Broadhurst in the evenings, and the proximity to the tube station.

When the freeholder died some years ago, I understand that his sons inherited not just the Mario’s site, but the entire block, right up to (but not including) the ENO building that used to house Decca Studios (of Beatles rejection fame). Unfortunately, despite owning a rather valuable piece of real estate, the sons had no cash with which to repair it.

The whole block would be redeveloped

Full-scale redevelopment was therefore always on the cards, and appears to have taken a significant step closer to fruition. This week I received an e-mail:

We are preparing plans to re-develop the site to improve the quality of the ground floor commercial accommodation and the residential units above. The existing building is in a very poor state, both internally and externally. We believe a new build scheme will improve the area. We are having a public exhibition on the site between 4pm -8pm on 16th October 2013 to display a number of plans.

I have no inside knowledge on what the plans are in any detail, but I’m looking forward to finding out. I hope that the height of any new building would be in keeping with the buildings in the immediate vicinity.

This land falls just outside the West Hampstead growth area, so there is less presumption in favour of development. Nevertheless, much as it will be a shame to see the old red brick building vanish, with its faded advert on the side, and tenants who’ll need to find somewhere else to live, it will be good to see new life come to what was once a stalwart of the West Hampstead dining scene. I wouldn’t say no to another really good Greek restaurant.

The writing is indeed on the wall for this building

Will flashing sign be allowed to remain?

The small unit between Benham & Reeves and the Nisa corner shop has been everything from a kebab shop to a… er… kebab shop over recent years. Apart from a brief stint as a cake shop. Over the past few days it’s been repainted gold, and the word on the street was “Lebanese café”, which I’m afraid I took to mean “kebab shop”, possibly very unfairly.

This evening its name was revealed: Adam’s Grill.

Who Adam is and what he’ll be grilling remain to be seen. What is seen all too clearly is the flashing multicolour sign that’s gone up projecting from the side of the shopfront.

A cursory glance at Camden’s planning database suggests that Adam (or the people behind him – I suspect he’s just a figurehead) may not have applied for the necessary planning permission for this sign. I wouldn’t normally be that bothered about such council pedantry, except this sign is awful. It’s the illumination that puts it in contravention of the rules and that I suspect won’t be tolerated for long. If you want to read all the information about when you do and don’t need planning permission for signs, be my guest (page 19 is the relevant one).

NDF: Three ways to have your say

It’s never too late to get involved. The Neighbourhood Development Plan is merrily bowling its way along, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t scope for you to help shape it.

First up, tomorrow there are two workshops you can join. One in the morning, one in the afternoon. They’re identical, so just pick whichever is more convenient. The morning session starts runs 11am-1.30pm, the afternoon 2pm-4.30pm. Here’s the more detailed agenda.

This would be a great way both of getting up to speed with what the team have been working on for the past few months, understanding the scope of the plan, and of course giving your input and feedback to the latest draft.

The plan must take into account as broad a range of views as possible, so if you feel that any one group might be dominating the document that will help shape the future of West Hampstead, now’s the time to stand up and get involved (I think sitting down is also allowed).

Second, everyone in the West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards will soon be receiving a leaflet through their door with an update on the NDF. Obviously avid readers of this website won’t need the background info (!), but you will also be asked to fill in a very brief questionnaire (there are five questions, everyone can do that right?) about things you do / don’t like about the area. You’ll even be able to do it online.

Finally, later this year, West Hampstead will be a pilot area for a new mapping tool that will let you record your thoughts about the area on your smartphones as you toddle around using a very simple mobile-friendly website. I can’t say too much more at this stage, because this is still being developed, but we’ll be only the second place in the country to get to try this. Not only should it bring another set of views into the NDF process, but it should also highlight some more specific issues, especially around the interchange area, including the development potential of the O2 car park. Watch this space!

Waitrose’s “long-standing ambition”

Waitrose has finally issued a press release about its probable West Hampstead opening on the Pizza Express site. Assuming it clears the planning hurdles, the John Lewis Partnership, which owns Waitrose, expects to create up to 50 new jobs, with all employees becoming partners.

Waitrose Director of Development, Nigel Keen, said:

When the the unit became available, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to realise a long-standing ambition to open a shop in West Hampstead and add the Waitrose brand to an already impressive collection of independent shops and established high street chains. We would welcome the chance to open here and play our part in ensuring it remains a vibrant village which continues to attract visitors.

Just that pesky planning permission to get now – and already a few locals are starting to grumble about the noise of deliveries. Hard to see it being enough to stop the deal being done. Waitrose says in its release that it plans to open early next year.