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.

Kingsgate school expands… a mile away

While debate rages on whether we need a new secondary school in the area, younger children are almost certainly getting a “new school”. Why the quote marks? Well, it’s not technically a new school, because that would add to the bureaucratic hoops – it’s going to be an extension to Kingsgate School, only it probably won’t be anywhere near Kingsgate’s existing premises.

The plan has been floating around for some time – Camden agreed to the idea in July 2012 – but this week we moved into the consultation phase. This might seem like a no-brainer. Population projections predict demand; Kingsgate – deemed to be outstanding by OFSTED – is already bursting at the seams, so lets build a new school.

Kingsgate has two classes for each year group (60 children). The expansion will allow it to double that to 120 children. They’ll be split across the sites by age. The new site will teach 360 kids aged 4-7, and provide nursery places for 52 children aged 3-4. The existing Kingsgate site will teach the 8-11 year olds

Camden has identified Liddell Road as its preferred site for a new school. Where’s that, you ask. It’s the light industrial estate just off Maygrove Road that you may have walked past but have almost certainly never walked into unless you work in one of the businesses there.


How’s it funded?
Here’s the bit that’s going to cause more challenges. To fund the school, the council also needs to build 100 homes on the site. Yep. 100 more homes coming to West Hampstead. The local businesses that are already there? They’ll have to move out. There’ll be some “employment space” as part of the development, but as we’ve seen with Handrail House on Maygrove Road, it’s not always easy to lure in office-based businesses to the area.


Confusingly, in what seems like a Kafkaesque move, there will be two consultations and two separate proposals. The first, running now, is for the school. The second will come next year and will be for the rest of the development. But the two are inextricably linked, so it’s hard to imagine that if the school is given the go-ahead that the rest of the development wouldn’t be a done deal.

There are lots of questions that need to be addressed: Will the developments around the new school will be right for the area? What’s the catchment area of the new dual-site school to be? Will the housing be affordable to ordinary people, or will it be sold off to investors as looks to be happening at West Hampstead Square? Will the employment space be designated as office only, or will workshops and studios be allowed in (for which there does appear to be some demand)? How will parents with children at both sites manage? Will it increase traffic?

An integrated plan would surely make more sense and then residents could discuss how the whole thing might work. I don’t get the sense that too many people object to the idea of a new primary school, nor especially to the location, but there are a lot of other considerations if this is to be a successful development.

Assuming the Neighbourhood Development Plan is ratified in the referendum next year, this will be the first major development over which it will have some influence. It will be an interesting test case as this development touches on housing, the local economy, public services, green spaces and transport. If Camden rides roughshod over NDP policies, it will serve notice to any developer that “Localism” is merely a sop to the community rather than something with statutory teeth.

What’s the timeframe?
The school consultation runs from now to October 15th. The results will be presented as part of a business case report to Camden cabinet in December. The separate consultation on the design for the redevelopment of Liddell Road will take place in 2014 as part of the planning application process assuming the school is approved.

In early 2015, the school will consult on any changes to its admissions policy in January and February, with the policy being determined in April 15. Businesses will have left the site (vacant possession) and the works will start, running through to the summer of 2016. The new school would open at the start of the 2016/17 school year.

To respond to the consultation, and find out a bit more information, head to Camden’s dedicated webpage or download the leaflet.

NW6 School campaign: Camden vs. parents

The debate over whether West Hampstead does or doesn’t need an additional school – likely a free school – has been raging on for some months. I have found the claims and counter-claims hard to track and harder to verify as both sides draw on various sets of data to prove their point.

The story took an unnecessarily personal turn on the front page of the Ham & High a couple of weeks ago when an unnamed Labour source described the parents campaigning for a free school as “snobs”. The argument was that Hampstead School, which is to the north-west of our area, is a perfectly good school and parents who wanted a state education for their children should send them there.

Rather than wade into the debate myself, I thought I’d let the two most important people have their say on these pages. First, Dr Clare Craig. Dr Craig has been the most public face of the NW6 School campaign team. After she sets out her stall, Cllr. Angela Mason, Camden’s cabinet member for children, explains why the council believes there is no need for an additional school. (If you’re familiar with the story, you can jump straight to the debate in the comments section).

The campaigners

Dr Clare Craig

After being called “middle class, church-going snobs” in the Ham & High last week by a ‘well placed Labour party source’, I would like to explain the real reasons we are going to open a new school and why it needs to be at the heart of West Hampstead. The unnamed source implied that we put the needs of our own children above that of our community. This could not be further from the truth. Ours is a large group of concerned parents, from all walks of life, and from varied religious backgrounds and ethnic groups, who recognise a problem that Labour does not seem to want to acknowledge: there simply aren’t enough secondary school places to go around.

Only a handful of constituencies have fewer secondary school places than Hampstead and Kilburn across the UK. Against this background we can add two straws which will break the camel’s back: the first is a dramatic population boom that will launch us into the top 20% of constituencies for number of 11 year olds by 2016, and we’ll still be climbing that league table thereafter; the second is the arrival of new children due to the unprecedented level of housing developments planned in and around our area.

Current situation
The Hampstead and Kilburn constituency has only three state secondary schools: Hampstead School, UCL Academy and Queens Park Community School. They are all oversubscribed and the latter two have tiny geographical catchment areas. Brent and Camden Councils are responsible for ensuring enough schools across their boroughs but both have neglected our area. The distribution of Camden schools shows the black hole that has been allowed to develop.

Camden schools. click for larger version
Schools in the Hampstead & Kilburn constituency

The result of this shortage is that in 2010 49% of state school children from West Hampstead, Fortune Green and Kilburn wards found places out of Camden. There are no good schools just over the borough borders and children end up travelling a long way to attend Barnet grammar schools or church schools elsewhere.

The opening of the UCL Academy reduced the proportion travelling to 36% for the year in which it opened. However, the already tiny catchment area shrank further this year and is likely to continue doing so: It thus offers no practical solution for children from our three wards.

Our population explosion
The next few years will see a frighteningly sharp increase in the number of children searching for a secondary school place. Across Hampstead and Kilburn there are 1106 11 year olds this year. This will rise to 1300 in 2016 and 1380 by 2019, without taking into account additional children arriving from the many new housing developments. By 2016 we estimate there will be 184 extra children looking for a school place from population growth alone.

In terms of provision, there will still be only three schools in the whole constituency – the average London constituency has six. These three have places for 590 children (rising to 600 from 2016 with a slight expansion of Queens Park Community School). Brent Council, which is responsible for 35% of Hampstead & Kilburn’s intake, now sees this as a problem; Camden, by contrast, is responsible for 65% of constituency’s children (and 80% of the forecast increase), and yet senior councillors deny that there is a problem.

No. of 11-year-olds* No. of state school places** No. currently finding alternative schooling Deficit
2013 1,106 590 516 0
2016 1,300 600 516 184
2019 1,380 600 516 264
*These figures are calculated by modeling population changes between the 2001 and 2011 censuses and assuming a constant drop out rate for each age cohort, over the next 10 years.
**Hampstead school has 210 places, UCL Academy 180 and Queens Park Community School has 200 increasing to 210 in 2016.

Camden is predicting that the number of secondary school places in our area is about to peak and will then flatten off. Camden secures its planning data from the Greater London Assembly. Camden officials agree that the population is rising rapidly; but they believe that the GLA’s formula works well for predicting the proportion of children who will take up a state school place. Camden seems to think that the extra children are a ‘problem’ that must be addressed by the private sector and not by Camden. So what are parents who can’t afford to send their children to private school supposed to do?

We believe the Council’s analysis of provision outside state schools is flawed and shockingly complacent for a number of reasons:

First, it is unrealistic to expect the private sector to add places for a growing number of Camden families – instead, we are likely to see prices increase, with little if any additional capacity. Contrary to perception, the proportion of children attending private schools within our campaign’s target area is in fact lower than the Camden average (26% vs. 31%). Also West Hampstead has not become more wealthy between the two censuses unlike other inner London areas

Camden should not be relying on the private sector as an opt-out from its responsibilities, and in the current economic climate it is reprehensible to take the view that ever more parents should pay twice for their children to receive an education. It seems doubly bizarre for this reliance on the fee-paying sector to come from Labour councillors, many of whom have long opposed the very principle of private education on ideological grounds.

Secondly, the projections assume that a constant proportion of places will be provided in neighbouring boroughs, when in reality the well-publicised shortages across London mean that out-of-borough provision is likely to shrink and has already started shrinking for our three wards from 39% of all children, in 2010 to 32% in 2011 and 24% in 2012.

Thirdly, the benefit from the opening of the popular UCL Academy is highly localised, and offers little to address the problem in the most under-supplied parts of the borough.

Finally, the GLA formula has been shown to fail when a new school is built and is supported by the whole community. It is fair to assume that the GLA formula will also be less effective at times of dramatic, rather than gradual population growth.

Camden have told us that there is a strong possibility that some of our children would be able to get a place at some of the state schools in the east of the borough. They don’t seem to realise that parents want to know their child can get into a school, not just have an increasing possibility of doing so. What we really want is a local school where a cohort of children from the local primaries move on to secondary together. What we have now is a scattering of our primary children all over London and a breaking up of the strong community bonds that have formed.

The Travis Perkins building
Since our campaign for a school started, Camden has been falling over itself to sell off the most obvious site for placing a secondary school.

The Travis Perkins building has commercial leases running until December 2016 yet Camden will be taking bids for the freehold up until 19th September 2013.

This site would be ideal because it:

  • is at the heart of the gap in schools
  • is council owned
  • is big enough
  • has plenty of social housing nearby
  • has neighbouring public open space including a sports court
  • is by the railway sidings reducing the objections in the planning process
  • already has a large building that could be adapted.

We believe this shows that Camden’s real intentions are to obstruct any thoughts of new schooling on purely ideological grounds.

We are trying to create a school for the whole community in a part of London that has always been neglected for schooling. We are working hard to identify the best educational partners to will help us to achieve this vision. In the meantime, you can help by telling parents of school-aged children that we need their support. We need parents to give us their emails so we can contact them, once we have a concrete plan, to ask if they would send their child to the new school. You can do that here.
NW6 School Campaign team

* * *

Camden council

Cllr. Angela Mason

There has been a lot of discussion in the area and in the pages of the Ham and High about whether a new secondary school is needed in the north west of the borough. I know what an important issue this is and I have been increasingly concerned that the true position is being lost amongst the welter of publicity. It is particularly important that parents have the right information in arriving at the choices open to them as part of the 2014 secondary school admissions process, the closing date for which is 31 October.

As I understand the position, a group of parents from NW6 is concerned about securing places in a local secondary school. They are concerned that they will be forced either to go out of borough or to leave the area. They do not believe that Camden’s school place planning takes into account housing development in Camden or neighbouring boroughs. They also believe that historically a high proportion of children from NW6 have attended private schools and that this may decrease in the future with insufficient provision within Camden’s maintained schools to accommodate them.

School place planning projections
It is important to start with what the Council is required to do in law. We must ensure that there are sufficient school places in the area. For secondary education, the area is defined as the borough of Camden. We fulfil this duty by comparing the availability of places in our schools with the need for places expressed by parental preference. Parents, for a whole host of reasons, choose to send their children to different schools, some in Camden, some in other boroughs and some to private schools.

We use data provided by the Greater London Assembly (GLA) team that collates information across London to arrive at projections of the need for school places in each London borough. The basis of these projections is the past patterns of admission to schools, based on the preferences for schools that parents have shown. We take this information and check it with our own local data. The sources of information include all known housing developments within Camden, so the additional growth that the campaigners talk about is taken into account in our projections.

Our neighbouring boroughs go through the same process and are also making plans for dealing with population growth in their own areas.

What the analysis shows is that will be sufficient school places in the borough until 2022/23, including the NW6 area. Our detailed analysis is set out in our annual school place planning report.

It is important to stress what the place planning projections and the Council’s duty don’t do. We can’t provide for unlimited choice. Indeed we are not allowed in law to propose schools where there is no need for a school. If we did, there would be schools with large numbers of vacancies and this would not be a good use of public money, particularly in the current climate.

Review of admissions’ information
We have also looked at information about admissions in response to the concern from parents about getting a place in a Camden school.

To set the scene, wherever you live, you may apply for a place at a state school in any London borough or other area. Parents can name up to six schools that should be listed in preference order on the application form.

It should be noted that the definition of the NW6 area used by the campaign changes, dependent on data/information available. The campaign has used two definitions: first, those Camden residents with an NW6 postcode (parts of Fortune Green, Kilburn, Swiss Cottage and West Hampstead wards) and second an NW6 ‘proxy’ based on Fortune Green, Kilburn, and West Hampstead wards in their entirety i.e. not Swiss Cottage.

It is not disputed that only a proportion of NW6 Camden residents are offered a Camden secondary school. Using three wards above as a proxy, 63%, 54% and 45% for 2012/13, 2011/12 and 2010/11 respectively of applicants from these wards are offered a place in a Camden school. These figures reflect the fact that many NW6 residents put out of borough schools as a higher preference than a Camden school. If they obtain their higher preference place in the out of borough school they are not then considered for their lower preference Camden school.

A number of parents opt for nearby schools in Westminster, particularly Quintin Kynaston which is on the border and St. Augustines CofE Secondary and St Georges RC school.

Analysis of Year 7 applications from NW6 residents shows that a high percentage have been offered one of their top three preference schools whether inside or outside the borough. For 2012/13, 56% of NW6 applicants received their 1st preference school and 84% received one of their top three preferences by September 2012 with comparative figures for all Camden resident applicants (59% and 81% respectively).

It is not true to say, as the campaign suggests, that NW6 residents don’t obtain Camden places because of a shortage. In the latest admissions round for September 2013, 103 of the 190 Camden residents from NW6 (using NW6 postcode) have been offered places at a number of Camden schools, based on parental preference. However, of the total of 190, all 68 applicants from Fortune Green and West Hampstead wards could have been accommodated at Hampstead School as they are closer to the school than many of those non-Camden residents being offered a place. Furthermore, the majority (if not all) of the 122 NW6 applicants from Kilburn and Swiss Cottage could have been accommodated at one of the five non-denominational schools in the north of the borough, including the UCL academy.

If parents had made a local Camden school a higher preference, the likelihood is that they would have been successful in obtaining a place in a Camden school. My job as Cabinet Member is to work with schools to get the message out there of the really good education in Camden’s existing schools so that more NW6 parents choose to send their children to Camden schools, where we have enough places to provide an excellent education for them.
Angela Mason

Little Waitrose; big lorries?

Ever since the licence application was spotted in the window of Pizza Express late last month, West Hampstead (at least on Twitter) has been abuzz with the news that Waitrose is planning to move to the neighbourhood. But what impact will another supermarket have in terms of noise and traffic, and will the fabric of the existing building be changed?

Locals’ reactions to the arrival of Waitrose have been mixed. Some have decried the appearance of yet another chain (although it’s not clear which independents are left to be wiped out), others are happy to see what is perceived as a better quality supermarket arrive, and there is a group concerned less with the corporatisation of West End Lane and more with the impact on traffic from deliveries.

This week, Waitrose submitted a slew of planning applications, which address noise, delivery and building alteration issues.

@WHampstead If it is to go ahead, it would indeed be a Little Waitrose. Thanks.
— Waitrose (@waitrose) September 12, 2013

There’s the first – it will be a Little Waitrose – the chain’s relatively new small-format version. This seems likely to be the mysterious fourth 2013 opening referred to in this Waitrose press release.

Secondly, there will be no on-site parking, which had been another concern for some. The full planning application has the relevant section.

The application proposals are for some minor alterations, a roof mounted plant room to house internal plant equipment, and new signage. The shopfront would have a powder coated aluminium fascia panel and new automatic sliding doors.

The existing shopfront will be retained, including the columns which provide an attractive frontage to West End Lane. Minor alterations are proposed in order to reflect the rebranding of the premises as Little Waitrose. Overall, the works are considered to preserve and enhance the appearance and
character of the Conservation Area.

The design approach for the remainder of the site has been to limit the number of external alterations to the building. Waitrose have worked hard to design a plant system which can be accommodated internally within the building and therefore avoid the need to provide air condenser units or other plant equipment externally. The proposed small roof mounted extension to the rear pitched roof and the louvre arrangement to the side of the building will only be visible from the side (West Cottages) elevation and will respect the character and proportions of the building.

Vehicle deliveries
Given the chaos (and ill-feeling) caused by Tesco delivery lorries, which block traffic on West End Lane, it’s not surprising that Waitrose’s delivery schedule will come under very close scrutiny.

Its submissions on the topic are reassuringly detailed, but I shall endeavour to summarise for you here:

Waitrose is suggesting that deliveries could take place using the pay & display bays either side of the fire station forecourt outside of the 8am-6.30pm pay & display hours. Naturally, it would need to ensure access to those bays outside of those hours, so is proposing loading bay restrictions for 6am-8am ad 6.30pm-8.30pm Monday to Sunday. If we look at Waitrose’s own analysis of how those bays are used now at those times, we see that occupancy rates in the mornings are: 66% at the weekends, and 84% Monday-Friday. In the evening period, the bays are occupied 100% of the time. Making them loading bays – even during this short period – will therefore have an impact on local parking.

Normally, the shop would be serviced by one 14.5m long articulated lorry arriving at 6am, It would need up to an hour to unload stock and reload empty cages.At particularly busy times of the year, such as Christmas, a second articulated lorry delivery may be required between 6.30pm and 7.30pm.

All sounds reasonable so far I guess. There is a caveat here though. This Waitrose lorry wouldn’t actually be the only delivery the shop would receive. “Ancillary servicing” would include:

  • Lenhams (crisp boxes) 12m rigid lorry – three to four times per week
  • Bunzl (cardboard) 12m rigid lorry – once a week
  • Newspapers – small van daily
  • Bread supplier – small van daily
  • Waste (food and general) – four to five times per week

Waitrose argues that it dictates when these deliveries occur, and notes that all servicing activities carried out at its Highbury Corner branch are completed by 7am every day. Whether that is viable for West Hampstead will be up for debate.

In an interesting aside, the company points out that “whilst the Council has advised that they would be minded to support the use of the parking bays as a loading bay between 7am and 8pm in principle, it is clear that Waitrose only require the loading bay to be operational for four hours per day (two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening)”

If Camden did give up these two bays it would expect Waitrose to compensate it for loss of income for two years; however, given the extent to which local businesses are clamouring for more visitor parking in West Hampstead, retaining the bays seems like it would bring far more benefit to the local economy at large. It’s surprising that Camden isn’t therefore towing a harder line on this, but reassuring that Waitrose seems minded to save the bays anyway, although it still wants those four hours a day for loading. (of course with no on-site parking, these bays would also be its nearest parking spots)

Impact on traffic
That particular stretch of road is a little tight, especially with the traffic island in the way. Waitrose therefore looked at whether buses can pass each other on West End Lane while there’s a delivery lorry parked in one of the bays. The answer appears to be yes, although it does look a little tight. Still, tight is better than stuck.

The analysis shows that the bus isable to satisfactorily manoeuvre through the Zebra crossing and past a parked Waitrose lorry without affecting the crossing or encroaching the opposing traffic lane. The diagram below is a bit hard to see, but shows a pink lorry parked outside Pizza Express and a blue northbound bus moving past it while a southbound bus travels in the other lane. It’s a tight squeeze as you can see.

There are pages more on the delivery system for those who want to get into the detail (see Appendix A).

One of the reasons Tesco delivers during the day is because local residents objected to the idea of nighttime deliveries. Noise assessments are therefore interesting. The detail here is hard to understand for the layman (me), but the main message seems to be that although the noise from deliveries would exceed accepted levels, the ambient noise at that location already exceeds accepted levels and the additional impact of Waitrose deliveries would in fact be negligible (they argue less than is actually perceptible). In other words, West End Lane is noisy at 6.30am already, and residents won’t notice the difference.

Whether this takes into account the difference between ambient noise and the sudden jolting noise of a metal cage being wheeled off a lorry isn’t clear to me.

Opening hours
Waitrose is asking for permission to open at 7am each morning (an hour
earlier than those premises are currently permitted to open). Clearly it wants to capture the rush hour pedestrians flowing down from Mill Lane and Fortune Green towards the West Hampstead stations.

Proposed floor plan (click for larger version)

One small caveat to all this – I heard from a reliable source that the leaseholder of the building also lives in one of the flats above Pizza Express. The leaseholder has to give consent for a change of use, as I understand it, so this may not all be quite as clear cut as we imagine.

Who’s saving which trees now?

The saga of the Ballymore trees has been clogging up my inbox over the past week or so. It feels like there’s some confusion as to which trees it is exactly we’re all hell bent on saving. What’s becoming clear though, is that Network Rail is likely to be the destroyer or saviour of the trees that really matter.

In my article the other day, I focused on the trees at the westerly end of the West Hampstead Square site, which were the ones assessed as being in the healthiest condition – the ones that didn’t have to be felled.

Campaigners have (more optimistically?) also been arguing that the trees nearest the Overground station on the other side of the site should be kept. They got a reply from Ballymore’s construction manager Peter McCall, which was fairly clear on both:

“Our development will require the removal of the trees along the track side as it is extremely unlikely that the trees if left in place would be viable with the proximity of the new development.

The trees which you were most concerned about will not be affected by our development but it is our understanding that these are to be removed in conjunction with the improvement works associated with the station itself. These works will be under the control of Network Rail / LUL”

Those last two sentences are really the important ones. If we accept that the trees on the Ballymore site are doomed (I for one have no plans to chain myself to them), then perhaps it’s worth turning to the trees off the site.

What’s also interesting is that Ballymore appears to be using some of the “offsite” trees in its West Hampstead Square marketing pitch. See those trees at the top of the picture below? They would seem to be trees that are now in danger of disappearing. “A natural place to live“, says the caption, not “Panoramic view of freight trains“.

This takes us back to an entirely different conversation during one of the early public consultation meetings about this proposal. Here’s what I wrote in November 2011 following that meeting, along with an artist’s impression designed to show how the large tower blocks would be all but invisible:

“[the developers] argued that the trees that flank the site (none of which are actually on the site and thus their long-term future cannot be guaranteed) give adequate screening for the larger buildings, although the photographs that tried to prove this were taken before the leaves began to come off the trees – they said they would be taking pictures again in winter”


I’m not sure whether those winter picture ever came, and you’ll notice that even then I pointed out that as Ballymore didn’t own the trees in question, it was not really their place to guarantee their future. Bear in mind, however, that Ballymore is in partnership with Network Rail so it’s not without influence, and there is that marketing pitch to its wealthy buyers (it issued the first press release today ahead of sales formally starting this weekend – studio flats start at £405,000).

Does Ballymore really want flats that look out over train lines, or would some nice mature greenery be more in keeping with that neighbourhood vibe it’s plugging hard?

It would be fantastic if Network Rail (or whoever owns the land, which can be harder to determine than it should be) could already begin building in tree preservation, or at the very least replanting, into their plans for the redevelopment of the Overground. Here’s an area where our (up-for-election-next-year) councillors should weigh in and discuss the matter with Camden planning officers early.

As a reminder for them, there’s been a strong “green spaces” lobby at most local planning-related meetings over the past couple of years. The placeshaping document published by Camden last year says: “Existing green ‘chains’ and habitat corridors along the railway tracks and existing sites of nature conservation… are highly valued by residents and need to be protected and enhanced.”

So, who’s going to stand up for the trees? Local councillors? Camden planning officers? Ballymore? Or is it going to be down to locals to make a fuss.

Related articles:
West Hampstead Square: All trees to be axed
West Hampstead Place Plan progress report
187-199 West End Lane: The Ballymore proposals

Waitrose coming to West Hampstead

It’s been the most persistent rumour in West Hampstead since I’ve been running this website… Pizza Express is closing and Marks & Spencer is moving in. It had such traction that I wrote to Pizza Express a few years ago to see if it was closing down. I was reassured that this was one of its more profitable branches and no closure was imminent.

How times have changed.

There is a small sign up next to the door that announces in a rather oblique way that Waitrose, not Marks & Spencer, is applying for an alcohol licence. The licence application can’t yet be viewed online.

According to a local resident, James Leslie, the staff at Pizza Express have confirmed that Waitrose will be taking over the premises in the next three to six months. Surveyors have also apparently put a mirophone on the roof to measure the current sound levels. Could this be in advance of planning nighttime deliveries?

The application signs were also on nearby lamp posts and railings yesterday, but were removed last night.

This would give us four metro-format supermarkets, with another one set to open in West Hampstead Square. Ballymore had namedropped Waitrose, as well as Marks & Spencer, and the less well-known “grocer to the royals” Partridges. M&S would now seem to be the prime candidate for that location.

Waitrose is expanding fairly rapidly. According to its website, “This year we have set our sights on opening up to ten new supermarkets and ten new ‘little Waitrose’ convenience shops.”

Reaction on Twitter was fairly predictable:

@WHampstead Great news. My quality of life has just gone up a notch.
— Marc Fink (@martifink) August 24, 2013

@WHampstead there go my savings.
— Joshua Green (@JoshuaCGreen) August 24, 2013

@WHampstead Best. News. All. Week.
— Philip Hewlett (@PhilipHewlett) August 24, 2013

@WHampstead Yay, fingers and toes crossed!

Is Abercorn School hedging its bets?

It’s been several months since Abercorn School announced it was interested in moving into the vacant ground-floor unit at Alfred Court – a formal application has been submitted, but is this just a backup plan?

The private school based in St John’s Wood was looking for somewhere to expand and seemed to think that this site, in the modern bulding that overlooks Fortune Green, would be a viable option. Initial resident feedback wasn’t overwhelmingly positive.

No formal plans were submitted and people began to wonder whether the idea had been quietly shelved. Then, in late July an application was submitted. You can view the whole document here.

Architects’ impression from across the road

Residents have objected in no uncertain terms. Traffic is the big problem and the lengthy transport assessment document that forms part of the application has done nothing to ease locals’ concerns. I’ve added some of the main statistics and a few quotes from residents at the end of this piece.

But is all this (understandable) wailing and gnashing of teeth necessary. A letter from the High Mistress Andrea Greystoke sent to parents in early July, and kindly forwarded to West Hampstead Life, says

I promised to keep you updated on the expansion issue. We are still waiting on lawyers, planners, etc. but I can tell you that we do hope some time in the next 12 months to move our Wyndham Place pupils (Years 4-8) to magnificent premises on Portland Place. The larger space in that building will enable us to give a much enhanced offering to our older pupils. The exact timing is still uncertain—watch this space!! As you are aware this street is much closer to our existing premises than our previous option, and I hope when we do move, it will prove a seamless transition.

Are we meant to infer from this that Fortune Green, which is surely the “previous option”, is now no more than a backup plan or a temporary solution should there be problems with the Portland Place site? I am waiting to hear back from the school on this. It’s also possible that since that letter was sent out the Portland Place site has fallen through so they have had to press ahead with Fortune Green. Either way, something doesn’t quite add up.

Talking of not adding up… here are some of the details on the transport situation. If you are a local resident and want to object then there’s plenty to get your teeth into.

“Due to the transport strategy, local residents on and off the site will not experience any adverse effects as predicted traffic flows will still be well within capacity of the current site access.”

Local residents disagree. Here are just three comments sent to Camden:

As a long term resident I have seen traffic and specifically parking problems exacerbate since the Council approved the whole Sager development. Ingham road is used as a parking/drop off place for Tesco customers, gym attendees and the nursery school. Buses already cannot pass each other due to the unmonitored parking.

As a local Resident I am very concerned about the drop off and pick up points from School Buses and Cars. This road is already busy at Mornings and evenings. I have read the proposed transport section and just do not believe that people will not use their cars causing chaos on Fortune green road and the adjacent roads

We are already experiencing enormous congestion and parking problems from the users of the Gym on Fortune Green Road as also people who park to shop at the Tesco store on Fortune Green Road. Not only is parking difficult through out the day but jams are caused by the volume of parking on Fortune Green Road and deliveries by Tesco lorries. A school will add still further with the inevitable large numbers of drop off and collections by parents, minibuses and buses. There is simply no capacity for this in an already very congested environment.

You get the idea.

The transport assessment goes into inordinate detail about the “pick-up/drop-off strategy”, which involves parents driving into the basement car park and number plate recogntiion technology alerting school staff as to which child they have to go and meet (the youngest children are 8, not 5). Hard to imagine that, despite the Bat Cave approach, most parents won’t just drop their kids off as near as they can to the front door rather than go through all that palaver.

The school’s masterplan is that most of the kids would be bussed from its other site in Abercorn Place in St John’s Wood. The theory is that most children live around there, so they can get to the Abercorn Place site as usual and then be ferried up to Fortune Green. That’s assuming that parents would prefer this, which no doubt means an earlier start, than doing the school run themselves. However, this still means three buses in the morning and three in the afternoon. The transport strategy claims that

A school bus would only stop for the minimum time required to pick up or drop off pupils who are accompanied at all times by a teacher on the bus. There is no need for a school bus to wait here.

Such punctuality would be astounding.

One reader who used to live near Abercorn Place snapped a photo of one of the buses waiting at 3.30pm outside Abercorn school. “Abercorn Place is a very wide road, and relatively traffic free, yet still the bus causes problems. It is a regular occurrence seeing these buses in these stops, and there for a significant period of time, 25 mins+”

Not driving but waiting

There’s also a strange assumption that all kids coming by public bus would take the 328, but how many actually live near the 328 bus route? Some do, most don’t. This map (click to enlarge) shows at postcode level (not address level) where existing pupils live. You can decide for yourself whether it’s optimistic to suggest that all the kids living where the blue stars are will faithfully take the school bus every day.

The transport survey is phenomenally detailed, especially if you get into the appendices. However, one group of local residents have retaliated with a pretty detailed assessment of their own that focuses (rather cleverly) less on the issues of traffic congestion and more on the emotive topic of child safety.

If you want to express your view to Camden on this, all the details are here.

Name the West Hampstead Square towers

Whether or not you’re a fan of the West Hampstead Square development, it’s already well underway. Some of you have been into the marketing suite, which showcases the fixtures and fittings of the apartments (vintage, despite the modern architecture), and plenty more of you have been gazing through the window at the rather large model of the development.

For people who haven’t yet realised how big this scheme is, the model (which lights up at night rather pleasingly) gives some idea. West End Lane is on the right.

The tower blocks, which range from 5 storeys to 12, are currently named “A, B, C… etc.” Dull, right?

I had a word with Ballymore and it is willing to let whampers come up with names for each building. It’s competition time folks.

Get thinking
You need to come up with a name for each of the seven blocks in the development. Ballymore (not me) will choose the winner and there’s a caveat here – because these will be actual addresses of people’s properties, they have to be approved by the council too, so bear that in mind.

The winner will be the person who makes the most suggestions that are then used in the final building names. That person will win a three-course dinner for two with a tasting glass of wine paired with each course at The Wet Fish Café, and will be invited to the opening, along with knowing that they’ve helped to shape the built landscape of West Hampstead. Should a building name that has been submitted by other readers aside from the winner be chosen, they too will be invited to the opening.

There are no other parameters. I’m sure some of you will have some choice suggestions that clearly won’t get selected, and I’m braced for people who’ll say “we’re doing Ballymore’s job for them”, but why not look at the positives, help shape the place we live and bring these buildings into the community.

If you can’t come up with seven names, then why not suggest as many as you can – they may still get selected.

As I said, there are no other criteria – i will tell you that the marketing campaign is built around “Connections”, but that doesn’t have to influence you. I’ve already bagged Jimelda Towers by the way, in honour of our local thespian couple.

Send your suggestions to . Deadline is midnight September 2nd.

Good luck

Growth area plans: Clear guidelines or muddy waters?

West Hampstead is growing – that’s blindingly obvious to anyone who’s walked past the marketing suite promoting West Hampstead Square since the paper came down from the windows. How, therefore, do we keep some sort of oversight of all the plans and proposals so that the end result isn’t some hideous mish-mash of buildings that are under-supported by local services.

“Surely that’s what the Neighbourhood Development Plan is about?”, you ask, sensibly.

You’d think so, but Camden seems to want to something more formal on top of that, looking specifically at the “growth area”, which is around the stations. What role is left for the NDF then when it comes to policies in that growth area? It already has to dovetail with the borough plan, the London plan, and national planning policies.

It is not at all clear how Camden’s Growth Area planning guidelines would fit in with existing plans for the area. Is this going to play into the hands of developers who’ll find the inevitable loopholes between the various documents and push through proposals that may not serve West Hampstead well.

At the last Neighbourhood Development Forum meeting, Richard Mileham from Camden planning, presented a few slides on Camden’s latest thinking. Judging by the the slides and the questions that followed, it wasn’t as illuminating as many had hoped.

The London Plan has identified this area as suitable for 800 new homes and 100 new jobs. Already, it’s expected that West Hampstead will deliver more than this – certainly in terms of homes. “Future change needs to be coordinated and allow stakeholders to be involved.” Er, yes.

There was one slide titled “Draft urban design principles”, which gives some insight into the sort of planning decisions at stake. Click the map below for a larger picture, but it includes a “major new public park” where the Audi garage is now. It also suggests moving Homebase nearer to the O2, and generally improving pedestrian access around the area. Clearly it is just a draft idea, but it suggests that the plans could involve some quite major reshaping, including of course the anticipated development of the O2 car park itself.

Specifically on green spaces, council officers said they would very much like to have residents’ views regarding a preference for many small spaces or fewer large spaces.

At the whampforum I held a couple of months ago the majority view was that large-scale development of the area was broadly welcomed with the important proviso that it wasn’t just cookie cutter blocks of flats, and that these were well designed spaces at ground level.

There is a set of objectives for this new growth area plan, each of which ties in with both the place plan and objectives of the current draft of the NDP, which makes one wonder what exactly this new initiative is adding.

Growth and uses

  • Growth to exceed London Plan targets and to be in the region of 1,000 homes and 7,000 sq m of business floorspace (along with some other uses)
  • A mix of uses, including substantial new housing, town centre, employment and community uses, and open space

Street environment

  • Improved street environment and interchange around transport facilities, including improved crossing and wider pavements by ensuring that developments are set back adequately
  • Upgrade routes and community safety along Blackburn Road to the O2 Centre, Billy Fury Way, Black Path and Potteries footpaths
  • Investigate long term opportunities for improving the movement routes around the area including north to south across the railways
  • Improved bicycle movement and routes and deliver improvements to cycle safety, ease of movement and cycle parking

Public open space

  • On-site public open space and improve existing parks and open spaces and identify potential new sites
  • Address the missing green habitat link along the railway lands and enhance biodiversity


  • Sustainable and safe design of the highest quality that respects the character and heritage value of West Hampstead

The next steps apparently are to undertake initial feasibility and urban design work, then to engage the public on the options in the autumn. Once the option has been decided (and it’s really not at all clear what sort of options we’re talking about), then it could either feed into the NDP or be a separate, council-led Supplementary Planning Document, which seeks to clarify issues for a particular site or topic within a larger planning framework.

At the NDF meeting, there were a lot of questions asked, and answers given where possible.

  • What did “sustainability” mean in this context? It refers to modifying energy efficiency and use of renewable materials.
  • Is design quality written in as a standard? There are general objectives pertaining to this and the current work/consultation will look at them in more detail. New council criteria is ‘building for life’.
  • What about community facilities (GPs/schools/parking etc.): When plans are considered, infrastructure requirements are taken into account.
  • Would developments start before the NDP came into force? This is unlikely to be a problem as the timescale of both are similar.
  • What about the pressure on transport? TfL considers the area a strategic interchange. With regards to lifts at stations – accessibility is a TfL priority [also see this article].
  • What about environment and space – would the same foresight be applied as was around Swiss Cottage? Will it be safe along the railway tracks? The paths are being widened and turned into a public area.
  • Would there be a masterplan for the area, like the Olympic site has? This is difficult due to the various different owners. Can only develop objectives rather than a masterplan.
  • Will there be height restrictions to preserve traditional views in area? A plan of views needs to be prepared for consideration. High walls could be ‘greened’ and green roofs could be a possibility.
  • Do trees have to be replaced? If they are protected, or if planners oblige developers to care for trees.
  • Will infrastructure, e.g., new surgery/medical centre and even sewerage be adequate? The planning document will take about a year and will tie in with NDP.

What can we deduce from all this? The positive angle is that Camden is conscious of the pace and scale of change in West Hampstead and wants to be sure that firm guidelines and planning principles are in place. A less positive spin on it suggests that this is duplicating the work of the NDP, potentially undermining it. Actively incorporating ideas developed by Camden in this process into the NDP would lead to less confusion for residents and developers alike. Why muddy the waters?

Iverson Road plans match approved scheme

The Iverson Tyres site is the next bit of Iverson Road set for redevelopment. Iverson Tyres is headquartered on the premises, but is actually a chain of tyre fitters now and the Iverson site isn’t very cost efficient as a fitting centre. Enter the property developer.

McGregor Homes was originally the developer involved with the site next door – the former garden centre. However it has sold its interest in that site and a new developer, funded by former Tory PPC Chris Philp’s Pluto Finance, is about to start construction there – you may have seen small demolition crews starting to clear the site over the past few days.

Instead, McGregor is now the developer for the Iverson Tyres site, 159-161 Iverson Road. The plan is to build 29 flats, of which nine would qualify as affordable housing. This is, very unusually, above the affordable housing quota. Very rarely do developers meet the affordable housing quota, using “viability studies” that Camden has to have independently verified to prove that more affordable housing would make the development financially unviable. It’s a contentious area to put it mildly.

Has Stephen McGregor been overcome with altruism? It’s more to do with his financing, he says. For this development to work, he needs to get it completed quickly and therefore it’s worth it for him to be generous with the affordable housing in order to speed the plan’s progress through the council.

For a similar reason, he has hired the same architects that designed the garden centre redevelopment as Camden said it would prefer a continuous look and feel down the street.

159-161 is the site to the left of the image

The result is indeed the same look, so whether you like it will depend on whether you like the first plan – though this new proposal has no aeroplane wing roof! It’s hard to appreciate from the street level, but the 159-161 site really does encroach into the odd y-shape of 163.

The red-dashed line shows how this plot overlaps with 163 Iverson Road

McGregor argues that the redevelopment of the tyre site is therefore going to benefit the new 163 flats as their view will be now of a courtyard and other flats rather than tyres and portacabins. It will, however, reduce the amount of light they’ll receive.

The affordable housing will be on the street-side of the development, with the fourth floor flats with balconies highly desirable were they ever to come on the open market. As is common practice, the affordable units will be clumped together rather than spread throughout the development. Socially and culturally this is far from desirable (it’s seen at its worst in the Ballymore West Hampstead Square scheme, where the affordable housing is tucked away right at the very back of the site), but it tends to be housing assocations’ preference purely because it makes servcing easier, and therefore cheaper. The end result in this case is that the entrance to the affordable housing units is on Iverson Road, while the other flats will be accessed via a passageway leading into the courtyard.

Looking east up Iverson Road

The final component of the scheme is employment space, which throws up some interesting questions. Iverson Tyres wanted to take the space so the company’s office could still be based on Iverson Road. This however, would mean a change in the class of employment use. You’d think that given that the actual employment would barely be changing – same people doing the same job, only without the tyre fitters – that this would all be straightforward. The local place shaping document, which Camden published, talks about supporting office employment too. However, the borough-wide policy is to support “light industrial”, which is what the site is classified as now.

Rather than engage some common sense, Camden is insisting that the employment space in the new development is also light industrial and only if it cannot be let as such for two years will they allow it to revert to office space. The particular brand of light industrial includes some perfectly viable businesses – jewellery design, commercial photography, that sort of thing. Not sure that anyone would object to that per se, but it does seem ridiculous that Iverson Tyres can’t keep its office space. End of rant.

The new development goes up to six storeys at the railway side, though the profile from the street side will be much lower. The flats at the back don’t sit flush against the railway lines as there’s an emergency vehicle area should Network Rail or the emergency services need to get onto the railway lines in case of a serious incident.

Pavement widened at West Hampstead Square

If you went to the tube station today you’ll have noticed a significant change where the hoardings have been for the past few weeks.

The pavement has been widened, a couple of trees and a flower bed have appeared as if by magic, and there’s some large stencil lettering. All this to announce that the Ballymore West Hampstead Square development is getting nearer to its launch date (although that’s still being billed as September).

Maybe they could also get rid of the “Car parking for £10 a day” sign.

Behind the hoardings, it’s still a building site – two years to go!

£5,200 a week to keep West End Lane offices empty

Last week, I wrote about Camden’s plan to dispose of 156 West End Lane, commonly known as the Travis Perkins building.

Credit to Camden for getting back to me promptly with the exact cost of keeping the building open up to disposal.

“The projected weekly cost for 156 West End Lane is £5,233 and allows for the following running costs provision whilst vacant:

  • Business rates – sizeable part of the budget representing around 75% of the total cost; taking into account any reduction in liability for the building being vacant for 3 months
  • Utilities ~ low spend but supply retained to enable ease of access and compliance
  • Removals of furniture prior to disposal
  • H&S Compliance – provision for water management and fire safety until disposal
  • Security – control measures adopted to mitigate against adverse possession (squatting)

The property also includes a small contingency to allow for any unforeseen repair to the property including non-statutory planned preventative maintenance i.e. security alarm.”

Given that we’re looking at around three years before this building is sold, that’s somewhere in the region of £750,000 in total. Naturally, the building can’t be left to fall into disrepair and it’s not a huge sum of money in the grand scheme of things but, at a time when budgets are squeaky tight, couldn’t some other use be made of the space (for a charge) during that time, allowing Camden to recoup some of its cost?

One commenter on the previous article suggests that the guide price for the sale of the building is £25 million. Seems a bit low to me, but I’m not an expert. Another commenter wrote:

“I’d like to see the empty office space being used, it’s criminal to keep it empty, there are many possible temporary uses for it – accommodation, business, art etc. Eg. in Holland they house short-term tenants (on 5 day notice terms) at very affordable prices to fend off potential squatters, a win-win.”

Camden likes to see itself as an innovative council – here’s a great opportunity to demonstrate it AND save some money.

Could new Iverson proposal merge with existing plan?

Iverson Tyres sits next to the old Hampstead Garden Centre on the north side of Iverson Road, just a couple of hundred yards from the new Thameslink station. The garden centre is set to become a block of flats, though building has yet to start. Now, the man behind that redevelopment is looking to build another block on the Iverson Tyres site.

The new block will consist of 29 new homes, nine of which would be affordable housing. There would also be flexible business space. You can see in the “before” photo below the 163 Iverson Road development – as yet unbuilt – peeping into the background.

Before (with 163 Iverson Rd in the distance)
After  – with a matching facade

Before submitting the plans to Camden, the developers – McGregor Homes – is holding a public exhibition of its plans.

This proposal represents an opportunity to redevelop the underutilised and visually unattractive tyre centre site to complete the regeneration of this part of Iverson Road and achieve key objectives of Camden Core Strategy, the West Hampstead Place Plan and the emerging Neighbourhood Development Plan. The design would complement the consented scheme on adjacent land at 163 Iverson Road. The proposal would see the delivery of 29 new homes. In addition, it would provide new high quality, flexible small business space.

Hard to tell from the photos here, but it looks like the 159-161 development might be taking advantage of the topography to add an extra storey onto the building. One also wonders whether, if this development was to get the go ahead, a new plan might come along for the whole block from 159-163, which would surely be more cost-effective for the developer?

The exhibition is at Sidings Community Centre on Wednesday July 17th from noon-8pm.

156 West End Lane: empty for three years?

We’ve known for some time that 156 West End Lane – aka “The Travis Perkins building” would be up for sale. Camden council, which owns the site, have decided to sell it to raise money. The council offices that it used to house have been relocated and aside from the ground floor showroom and supplies shop, the building is empty.

Deloitte’s real estate division is acting for Camden and has published a short brochure asking for tenders for the site. It’s being pitched as a residential development opportunity.

The site is larger than one might imagine
(taken from Deloitte’s brochure)

The brochure makes clear, however, that Travis Perkins has an existing lease for the premises.

“Travis Perkins operate a builders merchants from part ground floor of the site, which includes a timber yard at the rear. Travis Perkins have been granted a new lease dated 20 May 2013, with landlord break provisions enabling vacant possession at the earliest date of 1 December 2016.”

One might reasonably assume that a developer could buy Travis Perkins out of its lease, except that a) Travis Perkins is known to be very keen to stay on, and b) the planning process being what it is, it’s highly unlikely that any work would start on the site much before late 2015 anyway and if property prices continue to rise a developer might decide to sit it out. There was a rumour that Travis Perkins might want to buy the site itself to ensure its survival, so it will be interesting to see whether it submits a tender.

The point, however, is that while the floors of office space above Travis Perkins sit empty, Camden council is paying for an empty building. More than £5,200 in fact.

It’s hard to imagine that some of that cost couldn’t be recouped while the building stands empty. It’s office space, so perhaps a floor could be given over to flexible working space – a mini West Hampstead Hub for home workers to collaborate, or even just get out of the house, perhaps? I’m sure the collective brains of the area could come up with some other creative solutions.

It seems inevitable that eventually the building will be knocked down and rebuilt as flats. Deloitte’s brochure points out

The site offers greatest potential for higher scaled development to the western frontage (i.e. 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).

Although it’s not the most loved building on West End Lane, one resident told me at the weekend that it seemed madness to knock it down and rebuild, when surely it could just be converted into flats. It will be interesting to see the general public reaction to this – the first major redevelopment as opposed to brownfield/greenfield proposal in the area for some time.

In last year’s survey of local architecture, the red brick building came bottom of the ranking. Two people loved it, 8 were indifferent, and 74 hated it. One of the things people didn’t like was the height, but it’s hard to envisage that whatever replaces it will be smaller. I hope that if it is redeveloped and Travis Perkins has to leave that any ground-floor frontage will be kept as smaller units to encourage a more diverse range of shops.

Tenders are due in by the 19th of September – in case you’re interested.

‘ello ‘ello What’s going on here?

The saga of the local police stations has dragged on a while but we do at last have some clarity now that the Local Policing Model has been finalised. It came into effect last week.

There’s been much publicity over the closure of Hampstead police station but less clarity over what was happening this side of the Finchley Road.

The answer is that West Hampstead police station (that’s the one on Fortune Green Road) will remain open as a deployment centre and the police horses will be staying.

The much-talked about “contact points” for our area will be at the police station (this is a change from what was expected) and at the Safer Neighbourhoods Base on West End Lane opposite the junction with Broadhurst Gardens. They will be open Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 7-8pm and Saturday afternoons from 2-3pm. These hours will be the same for all contact centres across London apparently! These contact points are “for non-urgent face-to-face contact, where the public can meet their local police at regular known times.” We should feel pretty special to have two contact points so close together. Across Camden, there are only three others – one of which is at the Swiss Cottage SNT base near the tube station.

Camden will have two (yes, just two) full-time front counters: Kentish Town police station will be open 24 hours a day, while Holborn will be open 8am-8pm weekdays and 10am-6pm on Saturday. Crimefighting takes a rest on Sunday. Over the border in Brent, Kilburn police station (that’s the one in Queen’s Park) will have a full-time front counter and Walm Lane in Willesden Green will be a contact point.

Back to Camden – the borough has been divided into three “neighbourhoods”: North, Central and South. Big neighbourhoods.Each Neighbourhood will also have an “appointment car”, with 30 slots available every day of the week. It’s not clear how these will work.

The three “neighbourhoods” of Camden

In terms of police numbers, each neighbourhood is headed by an inspector. In our case (we’re “North”) that’s Nikki Babb. West Hampstead & Fortune Green wards will share a sergeant, as they have for some time. Right now, that’s Ian Hutton. Then each ward has a dedicated PC and PCSO. There are an additional five teams of seven officers, each lead by one sergeant, who will be deployed across the seven wards that comprise the North “neighbourhood”.

Think you know your neighbourhood?

Tomorrow (yes, short notice, sorry), the Neighbourhood Development Forum is hosting two walks in the area. The idea is to get people’s reaction to the variation in our built environment. They are free to join – just come along.

The first one covers Fortune Green ward and kicks off at 10am outside the Tesco on Fortune Green Road. It is due to finish at 11.45 at Emmanuel School… which gives you a 15 minute break to grab a coffee before the West Hampstead ward walk, which starts at midday at West End Green. That finishes at 1.45pm at the farmers market (giving you 15 minutes to buy your organic beetroot and wild widgeon pie for dinner).

The route is below, so if you miss us you can always catch up. Do come along and find out a bit more about the area, and give some input to the draft plan.

Click for larger version

Whampforum: The people speak

On May 21st, more than 30 locals gathered to discuss a range of issues along with James Earl, chair of the Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF), Cllr Flick Rea, and me. Parking, development, shops; all came under scrutiny. The topics are ones we are used to hearing about but the audience wasn’t the usual suspects. This was #whampforum and pretty much everyone was under 45, with a healthy smattering still in their 20s.

Some comments on the website before the event captured a view I hear too frequently among some of West Hampstead’s older and longer-standing citizens: young people aren’t invested in the area emotionally or financially because they don’t own property, so why would they care.

Apart from the staggering prejudice against long-term renters, either from the council or in the private sector, it also misses an important point: there are twice as many people in West Hampstead under 40 as over 40, and 5,000 more in the 20-40 age-group. Are they consigned to live according to the attitudes of their elders (and, the implication always seems to be, betters). Or perhaps the very fact that many of these people can’t afford to buy property here is something we might want to think about. Do we want West Hampstead to be perpetually occupied by the old and rich and the young and transient? Maybe we do, but we will then be beset by the same issues we have today and the age-divide will remain.

Perhaps the single most interesting question we asked at the forum was how many people saw themselves still living in the area in five years’ time. A majority of hands went up. Maybe this population isn’t so transient after all. Of course, many in the room were themselves younger home owners – I wouldn’t deny that this has an impact on engagement, but it’s naive to think it’s the sole driver.

The meeting was lively, and I think (hope) most people had the chance to speak if they wanted to. There were business owners, a property developer, the inevitable politicos and plenty of ordinary residents who were interested to hear more about local developments and to find out how they could have some input without having to sit through the interminable (and at times depressing) local meetings that seem to be the norm in any community.

We touched on three big topics: amenities and transport, business mix, and housing, development and architecture. I’ve tried to summarise the key points below as well as discussing how to feed your thoughts and ideas to the decision makers. At the bottom of the page is a factsheet.

Amenities and Transport
Camden’s policy of car-free developments struck many as odd, unrealistic, and potentially adding to  traffic problems as car-owners tried to find somewhere to park. About a third of the audience owned cars already, more than I would have expected. Car clubs were popular, though people said there weren’t enough car club cars in the area and not enough different types of vehicles.

People commented on the street clutter, the rubbish that accumulated on the streets, especially from local businesses, the seemingly bizarre phasing of the traffic lights, delivery lorries and even the location of the bus stop by the post office.

Schools also came onto the agenda, with the idea of a free primary school being mooted (there are also murmurings about launching a free secondary school in the neighbourhood).

The major lobbying group for all these topics is WHAT (West Hampstead Amenities & Transport). It has a good track record of working with the various bodies responsible for many of these topics, especially transport. You can find out more about them at whatnw6.org.uk. Don’t be put off by the relatively basic website, this group is very active and lobbies effectively. You may not agree with its policies on everything, but it is a great starting point for finding out more about transport issues.

Business mix
The issue of whether charity shops are a good or bad thing for the high street and the local economy came up. The perennially thorny topic of Tesco came up though for this audience, even though there was general support for independent shops and restaurants, the convenience of metro format supermarkets generally overcame the idea of corporate behemoths invading the high street. We discussed the challenge of finding out who landlords are in some units, and how this makes it hard to develop the “pop-up shop” culture when units sit empty.

There was a feeling that “destination” shops would do well, and the challenge faced by Mill Lane in attracting people to walk along was discussed. Yet again, people proposed better signage for Mill Lane shops and the idea of having a street festival there was mooted. These are ideas that Mill Lane traders have had themselves, but the group seems to find it hard to come together and act as one group. The council, however, is always going to be more responsive if it’s dealing with a collective body than with one or two individual traders. The onus here is on the traders.

Most people understood that the council had no control over what types of shops or restaurants moved into spaces already designated for that use. We explained that it was only when a business applied for a change of use or a chance of licence that it was possible to object. This is a planning topic with lots of grey areas, however. Cafés that don’t cook anything on the premises (microwaves and panini grills don’t count) can take retail premises, for example, without a change of use. There is also a push by central government to make it easy to convert shops and offices into residential units, although Camden is one of the boroughs exempt from this.

(from the BBC) “At the same time, a two-year freeze is also being introduced on the need for planning applications for temporary change of use for a range of High Street premises, including hairdressers, banks, bars, cafes, post offices, takeaways, libraries and cinemas. This would allow units not exceeding 150 sq m to spring up at short notice and trade for a limited period as long as long as they meet the criteria of being either shops, restaurants, business offices and financial or professional services. Multiple changes will be permitted within the two-year period but retailers will need to notify councils what they intend to use the building for, and for how long, in advance of setting up.”

There wasn’t much discussion of the business-to-business economy, although with plans to develop the Liddell Road industrial site, this may become more of an issue. The questions here are about local employment, a change in the local weekday economy, and general business mix of the area.

This remains an area where the biggest impact locals can have is by voting with their wallets. If there are shops and businesses you like, then use them. If you want to object to a licence or change of use application, then it’s good to be familiar with Camden’s “town centre” plans and guidelines (see the factsheet for details of Camden’s Core Strategy).

Housing, development and architecture
The cost of property was clearly an issue for many who wanted to stay here. We explained about the affordable housing quota that developers are obliged to meet in any new development, and how more often than not they are able to prove that meeting the quota would render the whole development unprofitable. There are complicated rules about how much money they then have to pay so that affordable housing can be built in lower-cost locations by Camden.

People expressed an interest in shared housing schemes. I don’t know a lot about these – though there are some in the area (Fairhazel Gardens has one). This is more popular in North America, but there’s no reason why it can’t work here.

There seemed to be a sense that with property prices rising so quickly at the moment, the area was at risk of becoming even more homogeneous in terms of the social mix, with pockets of social housing becoming less and less integrated. The housing conversation also took us back to the issues of schools and other services, such as GP surgeries. With so much housing planned in the area by City Hall (West Hampstead is designated an “area for intensification”), people were concerned to know whether service provision would keep pace.

Health centres are typically less of a problem locally, and very few people in the room had had any issues finding medical treatment when they needed it. Schools are a different proposition, requiring much more investment either from the public sector or private providers. Of course, the demand for schools depends on the existing and proposed housing stock – a dearth of affordable family houses would mean relatively low demand for additional school places.

There’s not a lot you can do about house prices of course, but housing is a topic where your political vote has an impact at both the borough, city and national level. If this is an issue of concern then make sure you read the housing policies of various parties next time you’re heading to the ballot box. Camden council elections are next year, and the political leaning of the council does have an impact on housing policy. The NDF is also concerned with housing, so providing input into its policies as they are finalised would be a good way of shaping the direction of the area – more on this in the next section.

There’s clearly a large overlap between housing and development but also a clear difference of opinion between age groups over the scale and type of development in the area. When prompted by Flick, there was an agreement that the views from the area looking up to Hampstead were part of West Hampstead’s character but there was also broad consensus that it wasn’t the height and scale of new developments that mattered, it was design and planning. We discussed the O2 car park, which we all assume will be built over at some point, and the view was that a large-scale, fairly high-rise development here would be ok, as long as the area was well planned, attractively landscaped, and it wasn’t a “high density at any cost” proposal. People didn’t want to feel hemmed in, but accepted that it was possible to have high(er) rise living in an area like West Hampstead.

Modern buildings in the area, such a the Thameslink station, the Mill Apartments and even the more controversial Emmanuel school were generally seen as good buildings.

We also explained about the ever-mysterious “Section 106” money that gets discussed a lot. In a nutshell, it’s money that developers pay to allow the council to offset the cost of the influx of new residents, as well as to contribute to amenity in the area. The detail gets very confusing and there’s a very strong push at the moment for much more transparency over how it is allocated, where exactly it is spent, and who makes the decisions. To add to the confusion, many of the things funded by Section 106 will, from next year, be funded instead by the Community Infrastructure Levy. The affordable housing offset payments, however, will still be paid for by Section 106 agreements so you’ll still be hearing about it.

Engaging with the West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Plan is by far the best way to influence these matters. I have talked about it many times on this site already, but as the Plan starts to move into the final stages (and we’re talking months here, not weeks), there will be more information about specific policies. You can contact James directly () with any specific thoughts; a PDF of the latest draft of the plan is available here (this is very much a draft) so do have a read. Look out for NDF stalls around West Hampstead over the coming weekends. Stop by and give your feedback in person. 

Remember that underpinning the very idea of these local development forums is the rule that they cannot be “anti-development”. They are about shaping what happens, not standing in its way, so they are by definition not a NIMBY-organisation.

* * *

One of the reasons I convened this meeting is that the main contributors to the NDP thus far have been the usual suspects. They are well-meaning and in many cases the same issues arise, however priorities do vary between different segments of the population and it’s important that the silent majority have their say. Rest assured that by coming to the meeting, you have already helped shape some of the thinking around these topics. Nevertheless, it will do no harm to reinforce that feedback in person at the stalls, or via e-mail and those of you that couldn’t make it should also feel free to get involved. As well as street stalls, there will also be “street walks”, one of which I might even lead myself!

For me, it was important that this meeting wasn’t just a talking shop but that it had some impact. Hopefully you will see some of the views expressed here filtering into the Plan, but also into council thinking. They also help me when I am asked in formal and informal interactions with council officers and councillors what “younger people” think.

We may well hold another, more focused meeting later in the year on one or two specific topics and will probably have one to discuss the final NDP policies before they are set in stone. They will of course be heavily trailered on the site and on Twitter. In the meantime, thank you to everyone who came and to the Alice House for hosting.


You can also download the factsheet here.

Gondar Gardens: Second appeal rejected

This morning I heard that the verdict of the Planning Inspector was finally in on Linden Wates’ second appeal. To recap very quickly:

  • Scheme #1: 16 large houses in the middle of the to-be-excavated reservoir space, mostly below ground level; major loss of open space and major impact on wildlife; low impact on street frontage; and a large contribution to Camden in lieu of affordable housing. Refused by Camden.
  • Scheme #2: 28 units filling-in the street frontage between existing mansion blocks; lower impact on wildlife but significant impact on openness from the street and houses opposite; affordable housing included within the scheme. Refused at Camden planning committee.
  • Scheme #1 approved on appeal by the national planning inspector
  • Scheme #2 rejected on appeal by the national planning inspector – see below!

What does this mean? The developer can:

  1. Build the first scheme;
  2. Improve the design of the second scheme within the same envelope and re-submit;
  3. Prepare another scheme combining elements of #1 and #2, and addressing points on design;
  4. Sell the site.

All these options would also have been available to the developer if they had won this appeal, but the inspector has now removed the option to build what has been deemed the poorly designed scheme #2.

Read on for all the details, via GARA (the local residents association that has so actively campaigned against development on the reservoir site):

“Fantastic news, at least temporarily … the ‘frontage’ appeal is dismissed for reasons of poor detailed design. But the impact on Open Space, SNCI, views, parking etc are all considered acceptable.

As you know, having won one appeal, the developer appealed against refusal of its second planning application for this site. The first scheme allows destruction of a large part of the protected Open Space and Site of Nature Conservation Interest. The second scheme – refused on appeal – would block the Open Space aspect from the street, including views across the site towards Hampstead.

Here is what the inspector says in dismissing the second appeal:

Conclusion [from Inspector’s report, 3-Jun-13]
The development has been designed to minimise the impact on the POS [private open space] and SNCI [site of nature conservation interest] and I have concluded that the benefits of the scheme outweigh any small harm in this regard. While many other aspects of the scheme are acceptable including the siting and size of the proposed buildings, the scheme fails on the detailed design as outlined above [in the report]. For this reason, it would be contrary to National and Local Plan policy and the appeal is dismissed.

You can read the inspector’s report. It’s fairly brief and to the point.

As one resident said, “It makes last year’s report on the centre scheme seem even more odd and I think we were incredibly unlucky that we did not win that appeal. I welcome the fact that she says the site is of high ecological value and re-emphasised the public asset and green lung.”

Well done to everyone involved (we represented ourselves at this public inquiry, against the developer’s expensive legal team and raft of experts) and thank you to everyone for your great support. Thanks also to Camden for defending the council’s position and to the inspector for her decision.”

West Hampstead Square

Today marks the end of an era.

The building site where 187-199 West End Lane stood must, I think, be now known as West Hampstead Square. The marketing suite is being dropped into place, and the development’s website whsquare.com is live so you can register your interest in the flats. No word on pricing yet, but when you register your interest, the site asks which price bracket you are interested in in increments of £250k with a £1m+ option.

The images on the website thus far focus much more on the square element of the development and less on the enormo-tower blocks behind.

And here’s what it looked like at around 10.45 this morning

Initial reaction on Twitter was mixed

West Hampstead at the back of the WiFi queue

Back in July 2012 Camden dangled a digital carrot under the noses of those in the more populated areas of the borough: free public WiFi. However, it was unclear exactly which areas would benefit and when the initiative would go ahead.

The service has now been approved and will start rolling out from June 1st, though in West Hampstead we won’t be online until phase 3, which could be 18 months away. The contract will last for 10 years.

Users of registered devices will be able to use 30 free minutes of WiFi everyday – after 30 minutes you’ll have to pay. So it’s more for the quick check of e-mails or browsing than to sit in a coffee shop and work your way through Series 3 of Game of Thrones on Sky Go Extra.

Reaction on Twitter was mixed:

Friends, Whampers, Countrymen – let’s have some beers

A lot seems to be changing in West Hampstead right now. The demolition of the parade of shops between the tube and the Overground and a sudden rash of shop closures and new openings has highlighted that no urban area stands still.

Do you think things are changing for the better or is this the inevitable decline of the neighbourhood?

What do you love about West Hampstead? The access to transport, the “village feel” (whatever that means), the independent cafés, the red brick architecture?

What don’t you like? The lack of affordable property? The scruffy area around the stations? The lack of modern architecture? The pretence that it’s a village, when it’s really just a London suburb?

What if I told you that not only could you have some say about how these issues play out in the area over the next few years, but you could do so without having to sit in a draughty community centre hall while people twice your age witter on about the good ol’ days and dig up the same pet peeves they’ve been banging on about for years.*

Welcome to #whampforum.

The Roman forum in Verulamium (a few stops up the Thameslink line)

It’s not a digital platform for moans and groans it’s a real physical event. But I promise you that it won’t be long-winded, it won’t be boring and (within reason) your views will be reflected in some of the plans for West Hampstead’s future. And no, you don’t have to wear togas.

It’s next Tuesday evening – the 21st at The Alice House on West End Lane. I’ve booked out The Den downstairs from 7.45pm and the bar down there will be open for 15-20 minutes so you can get a drink easily. The forum itself kicks off at 8pm and I’m going to spend five (ok, maybe seven) minutes setting out how it’s going to work, explaining a little bit about where we are with West Hampstead development, and what it is and is not possible (or at least realistic) to change or influence and how that happens. All that in seven minutes. There might be a map on a screen.

Then I’m going to hand the floor over to you. Ask questions, make statements, give your views on what you love and hate about West Hamsptead. It doesn’t need to be a coherent policy idea, it might just be something you feel passionately about. Be warned, I’m not going to be all nice and Dimbleby about it; if you start waffling on then expect to be cut short. I’m not standing for election to anything so I don’t need to be nice to you 🙂

We’ll try and frame it around a few big topics:

  • buildings and architecture
  • housing
  • local businesses (including shops)
  • amenities and infrastructure (including transport).

This open floor session is going to last 45 minutes. If there’s a consensus to stay a bit longer then we can – but the whole thing won’t go on longer than an hour in total so we’ll definitely be done by 9pm. People who want to stay longer in the pub for a far more informal chat over drinks are, of course, very welcome.

To help me answer your questions and to discuss the topics I’m bringing along James Earl from the West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum, Flick Rea, councillor for Fortune Green ward who knows more about the area than anyone, and Lauren “LollyGee” Geisler, who understands planning regulation better than I do, and has better hair.

There’s no upper (or lower) age limit on attending, though I’m going to be blunt: this is targeted more at the under-40s than the over-40s. If any of the usual suspects apart from Flick and James turn up (you know who you are), then don’t expect to get much airtime unless you’ve got a helpful perspective on someone else’s comment – your views are generally well known and have already been incorporated into the thinking about the area. This is more about listening to the silent majority of young(er) people who may be less materially invested in the area because they may not own property, but whose voices very much need to be heard (not least over the fact that many can’t afford to own property here).

If you are in the over-40s camp but are put off “community meetings” for the same reason lots of other people are, then you too are very welcome to join in. I don’t want to be ageist, but I am definitely trying to reach a particular (large) segment of the local population. Other organisations are better placed to reach other groups.

That’s it. Whampforum. Tuesday May 21st, from 7.45pm at The Alice House (downstairs). If cold village halls aren’t for you but you do actually care a bit about West Hampstead then come along. At the very least, it would be great to meet you and you’ve only got 45 minutes to lose.

*Before I get accused of all sorts of prejudices, there are of course people of all ages who make extremely sensible and pertinent points at these meetings,but sometimes – and I think most attendees would agree – such sessions descend into talking shops with a lot of hot air and very little forward movement.

Rash of closures on West End Lane

[original post May 10th 3.30pm]
[updated May 12th 10.30pm]
[updated May 15th 3.30pm]

If the retail landscape hadn’t changed enough with the knocking down of the strip of shops opposite the post office, this week’s seen four units close on West End Lane. Before we all get too depressed, it’s worth noting that four places have also opened this week in West Hampstead.

Blue Daisy’s retrenchment to the safety of yummy mummyville in Hampstead has been mooted for some time. When it came time to renegotiate the lease on its West End Lane branch, it decided enough was enough. Has the arrival of JoJoMamanBebe up the road had anything to do with it? Seems like this town ain’t big enough for the two of them.

Talking of competition, the sushi explosion that’s occurred in West Hampstead over the past year or two was bound to do some damage somewhere. The venerable Sushi Gen didn’t last long once the sushi wars began, but Me Love Sushi is the latest to fall victim to sushi overload. It tweeted that it had sold up to the owners of Cafe Rouge although from correspondence with the Tragus Group, which is Cafe Rouge’s parent company and also owns previous incumbent Strada, we know that in fact it owned the site anyway and Me Love Sushi was a leaseholder. Tragus is now looking for a new leaseholder so it’s unlikely to be one of Tragus’s own brands. In the meantime, Me Love Sushi fans can still get their fix (or their delivery) from the Swiss Cottage branch.

Another saturated market around here is pizza, so it wasn’t a great surprise to hear that Picasso’s has shut up shop – with the bailiffs called in to the premises. Although reviews of the food had largely been good, it always seemed to be quiet and may have strugged to establish itself over perennial favourites Lupa, Sarracino and even Domino’s.

Finally, and more out-of-the-blue, was the closure of ShakeTastic. The tiny milkshake bar never seem rammed (and was never open early enough for a hangover-curing morning juice), and although the staff were always lovely I was never convinced it fitted in here. The poster that’s gone up in the window suggests it might return, but in the meantime the West Hampstead branch is relocating to Pinner(!).

In more positive retail news, Minkies finally opened its tiny outlet by the Overground station to much acclaim. The well-liked Kensal Rise business had had us waiting for a year – the staff blamed TfL and Camden bureaucracy for much of the delay. Its position sets it on a collision course with Starbucks and Costa but with nowhere much for people to queue, I suspect it will maintain a very steady passing trade without setting the world on fire. It’s also well placed not just for commuters at the interchange but the two large estate agents opposite.

This very afternoon the sweet shop next to West End Lane cars re-opened too. Probably had to wait until ShakeTastic closed so as not to exceed the sugar quota for that stretch of road.

Away from West End Lane, there’s a new tea-shop on Mill lane called Curled Leaf that I’ve yet to get to and Spice Tree (which used to be Babur Empire) also opened on Mill Lane. Meanwhile, Tiger Stores – the Danish Muji if you can countenance such a thing – has opened in the O2.

What does all this mean for the retail landscape? It seems that established businesses are generally faring ok – most of the recent closures have been of more recent arrivals (the business above, Pita, Chez Chantal), though of course there are exceptions (LoveFood, Walnut). It’s hard to get a foothold in the area I guess. Lena’s is one of the few newish businesses that’s really thrived – largely because it’s a unique offering for West Hampstead. A lesson there.

If you’re interested in learning more about the evolution of West Hampstead, then put the 21st May in your diaries. I’m holding an open forum aimed at the younger population for people to share their views on what they love and hate about the area and what they can do about it. There’ll be more details on this v.soon.

[photos via @misshkwilson]

WHAT’s happening at Thameslink?

People have been asking what’s happening on platform 1 on the Thameslink station – the answer is a waiting room. But there are more things going on at the award-winning station that may not be as visible.

Local campaign group WHAT regularly meets with First Capital Connect and has all the latest updates:

  • The new shelter on platform 1 will have a space for staff so they can answer customer queries speedily and be more in touch with the passengers.
  • There will also be a retail outlet on platform 1.
  • Oyster cards will soon be on sale at the station.
  • FCC trains will stop using London Bridge station for some years after 2014. FCC expects that West Hampstead will become a major interchange for their passengers, transferring to the Jubilee line.
  • WHAT has pressed for better information from station staff when things go wrong. They have also asked that staff be fully briefed about alternative travel options and which tube lines are closed at weekends.
  • WHAT would also like to see an art market on the station forecourt, and apparently FCC have been  receptive
  • Finally, WHAT is pressing for FCC to be included in Camden’s annual transport meeting, which will take place next month.
Here’s what the waiting room will (sort of) look like

Second student block hits hurdle

Most of you will have seen that construction of the student block on Blackburn Road is almost compelete. Whether a sudden influx of 200 students in September will detract from or add to the area remains to be seen (I’ve discussed this before).

It may be something we have to get used to as another planning application has gone in for a student block – a similiar looking building although on a smaller scale. Although this new proposal falls within West Hampstead ward, it actually fronts onto Finchley Road, and thus the impact on West End Lane may be minimal.

see the red triangle north of the O2 centre?

Right now, this land is unoccupied scrubland, with a couple of bits of railway infrastructure on it. The developers want to build a 138-room student block here on this fairly constrained plot. There’s already a major problem though. Network Rail has objected pretty forcefully.

After careful consideration of the application, Network Rail has previously relayed concerns and has reported to the applicant that the application as proposed fails to meet the necessary clearance and does not comply with an existing agreement regarding were the proposal is located in relation to Network Rails boundary and infrastructure.

Upon further advice from its engineers, it is not possible to construct the building without significant alteration to the operational railway and putting the operational safety of the railway into question, a position that Network Rail finds totally unacceptable and is contrary to Camden Core Strategy CS5 and Camden Development Policy 9.

Therefore, for above reasons Network Rail objects to this planning application

Allowing the necessary clearances (ie, not having buildings get too close to the railway) may well make the proposal financially unviable. Given the enthusiasm with which railway land around here is generally developed, I’m sure something will be built here, but a 138-unit student block may not be it.

If the developers can find a way to proceed, it’s interesting that they propose to build not out of steel or concrete, but engineered timber. The cladding would be two-tone terracotta tile.

Here’s what it would look like from the south (i.e., from the O2 car park)

Here’s what it would look like from Finchley Road

The architects’ drawings perhaps make it seem bigger than it will be in reality. The site is only 120 metres long and no wider than 22 metres at Finchley Road. It won’t look as dramatic as these four student residences from the same architect.

All the details are available online, though beware, the Design & Access statement (usually the best document to look at for an overview of any planning application) is a whopping 59Mb download and as it may not go ahead at all, i’d save your bandwidth for now!

The future of the Kilburn High Road

Last week there was a joint Brent/Camden public meeting to discuss how to revitalise the Kilburn High Road. Some might argue that it’s not lacking in vitality now, but there’s also a sense that with so many fast food outlets and shabby looking shops it’s time to rethink the KHR.

Eugene went along to the meeting at the famous State building to see what ideas were being tossed around.

“I remember coming home from school one summer and looking at an article from the Evening Standard that called Kilburn High Road “The Dirtiest Road in London”. To me, the KHR seemed bustling but also a genuine community – no cleaner or dirtier than any other road. It was busy and traffic snarled and, yes, that would annoy me but you’d always move beyond that. To me, the character of the road was where people start their journey in London before moving to the suburbs. Certainly my parents did that at one point. So I took an interest in what was discussed here.

Cllr Katz’s view as the meeting fills up

The panel consisted of Cllr Mary Arnold (Brent), Cllr Mike Katz (Camden), Mike Haines from the Local Government Association with responsibity for economy and transport, covering high streets, and Caroline Lynch, a local resident.

Each panellist set out their views on the future of the road.

Mary Arnold highlighted that the biggest new threat seems to be the opening up payday loan shops and too many betting shops. Brent is working with Camden to campaign against the gambling outlets. She talked about implementing a unified police team with Camden and would like a town team lead by residents, which is what they have in Harlesden. She also called for a planning commission on development in Kilburn Square and wants to set up a new business website that needs volunteers to set up.

Mike Katz said he wanted “prosperous, varied KHR”. Although this was hardly controversial. He emphasised that there was no reason why Brent and Camden councils cannot work together on this. He also brought up the payday loan outlets – there are now 12 on the High Road. It is difficult for councils to stop them mushrooming so encouragement needs to be given in supporting credit unions.

Caroline Lynch had some similar perspectives. She also talked about the number of loan shops and chicken outlets. She also mentioned the growing number of mobile phone shops, which, she argued, are encouraging lower budget shops in the KHR. Businesses are complaining about high rent levels and according to a survey she’d carried out, businesses also want Kilburn’s transport links to be exploited so that people get off the buses or trains and spend some money. Caroline also raised the issue of empty shops.

The floor was handed over to the audience who.

There was a question about having a Business Improvement District (apparently citing an example from Toronto). The LGA’s Mike Haines stated that such BIDs need more money and work best if small and large businesses work together with the council.

Someone pointed out that some rents were actually falling due to the recession. There was also a suggestion of “localism classes” to take on the payday lenders [Ed: I have no idea what this means].

There were also complaints that there were not enough live music venues on the High Road”

This last point must be one of the odder gripes given that there actually is quite a bit of live music in Kilburn still. I hope whoever asked that question went to The Luminaire as often as possible before it was forced to close.

Local Lib Dem worthy James King has used the meeting to launch a new website (and what might be seen as a thinly veiled manifesto for a run at the Lib Dem candidacy for Hampstead & Kilburn). At the meeting he suggested an exhibition on the High Road about the Irish immigration to the area.
There is in fact a slightly odd Kilburn business website, although if it wants to be taken seriously it would do well to be up-to-date enough to not cite The Luminaire, which closed more than a year ago, as one of the must-visit venues on the High Road.

Brent Council live tweeted the meeting, and I’ve included a selection of their tweets and a few others below. It was very unclear what the next steps are from this, but at least it shows a willingess for the two boroughs to cooperate. Lets hope willingness translates into action.

KHR: Two councils, one street

One of the challenges that Kilburn has is that is straddles two boroughs: Camden on the east and Brent on the west. Attempts to breathe fresh life into the area, and specifically Kilburn High Road itself are therefore always at risk of falling between the cracks of bureaucracy.

There have been various attempts to have cross-borough groups focus on the High Road, be they police or community-focused. There’s another one kicking off this month with a meeting that combines Camden’s Area Action Group meeting for the ward, and Brent’s “Brent Connects” meeting.

“Brent and Camden Council leaders have committed to reinvigorate the Kilburn Partnership which aims to revitalise the High Rd. Cllr Mo Butt and Cllr Sarah Hayward are supporting plans which will be discussed at the next Brent Connects meeting – a joint forum for local residents from Brent and Camden to be held at the iconic Gaumont Kilburn State, courtesy of Ruach Ministries, on April 17th at 7pm.

Put this date in your diary and come along to discuss the plans and ideas with a panel representing Brent and Camden residents and the Local Government Association (LGA) Economy and Transport.

Plans include improving pedestrian safety and reducing congestion on the High Rd and increasing the footfall by diversifying and introducing new business opportunities through meanwhile or pop-up shops. Ideas for improving access to fair credit and financial support for residents and traders are also topical in Kilburn.” (Kilburn Rose)

If you live in Kilburn, whichever side of the High Road, why not go along and contribute your thoughts and hear what other initiatives are being proposed. The speakers include:

  • Caroline Lynch, Kilburn Resident
  • Cllr James Denselow, Brent Council
  • Cllr Mike Katz, Camden Council
  • Cllr Mary Arnold, Brent Council
  • Mike Haines, Local Government Association (LGA)
Kilburn High Road (date unknown), via Julia Powell

Gondar Gardens – second appeal date set

It’s easy to get lost with the Gondar Gardens saga – it’s almost as long as Lord of the Rings, and with only marginally fewer cast members.

Here’s the recap:

Linden Wates put in a proposal to turn the whole site into a “tellytuby” development. GARA (Gondar and Agamemnon Residents Association) said “no”. Camden also said “no”. Linden Wates appealed.

While they appealed, they submitted another less controversial proposal – the so-called “frontage” scheme. GARA said no. Camden said no.

The National Planning Inspector overturned Camden’s “no” for the Tellytubby plan despite vociferous objections from GARA.

Now, even though the first scheme has approval, Linden Wates is appealing the second scheme too. This may be more about recouping their costs than to get permission to build the scheme, although were this also to be overturned, it would give them the option of either scheme.

The public inquiry will start on Tue 9th April at 10am at Camden Town Hall in Judd Street. GARA expects it will last around four days. GARA will be a formal party to the inquiry, making the case for protection of the site focusing on the potential loss of enjoyment of the open space from the street and loss of part of the protected site of nature conservation interest; the impact on neighbours; a design not in keeping with the area; and the impact on the local environment (parking, traffic etc.).

I will, of course, keep you posted as and when I hear more.

Medical Centre holds public patient meeting

Next Tuesday, the West Hampstead Medical Centre is holding a “Patients Participation Public Meeting” in the library at 7.30pm.

This follows on from the meeting held last November, and the formation of a Patients’ Participation Steering Group which hopes to have an impact on how the practice works. Ten thousand patients are registered at the centre and all are welcome to attend, so the library should be busy.

At the meeting, the doctors will explain the existing services and plans for improvements, as well as finding out what patients want. The practice manager will also share the planned changes to the appointments system and website.

Money for the community: where should it go?

Regular readers will know that I keep wittering on about Section 106 money as if it’s some sort of pot of gold at the end of a development rainbow. But how does this money get allocated, to what, and how will its successor – the marginally less obscurely named Community Infrastructure Levy – work?

Eric Pickles, MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

There was a public meeting last Thursday to discuss just this. I was at whampreview, but Father Andrew Cain from St James and St Mary’s was taking notes for me! Here’s his excellent report.

“At a crowded and occasionally boisterous public meeting on Thursday, a gathering of (as was pointed out) mostly older and white residents gathered to learn more about the potential largesse that the spate of building development might bring to West Hampstead. If only we can find out who has it, discover what it is meant to be spent on and agree where it actually might be spent without fighting each other in hand-to-hand combat to secure a slice for our own pet projects.

Arranged by WHAT, and ably chaired by Viginina Berridge, the panel consisted of Cllr Valerie Leach, cabinet member for Regeneration and Growth, David Morrissey, principal planner, Sites Team, Camden Council, Cllr Flick Rea, Fortune Green ward, and Di West, manager of West Hampstead Community Centre.

My strongest thoughts at the end of the evening were two things: first, I was struck by just how wonderful a local trooper is Flick Rea. She treated us to a fantastic rant against the iniquities of the secrecy of the council. Second, was just how little anyone seems to know about how decisions are actually made in the council, including our lovely local councillors, many of whom were present and equally frustrated and confused as the rest of us!

Val Leach spoke first about the desire to open up the issue of the allocation of money for community use in the area and then David gave us a rather interesting run through the background to Section 106 money, why it’s important and what is happening to it.

For those who don’t know, s106 money is the cash that developers are sometimes required to give to the council in order to build whatever it is that they want to build (Flick referred to it several times as being like a legal bribe). There is, however, little point in learning much about it since the government wants to replace it with a new wheeze for raising money called the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). Both are intended to ensure that something is done locally to alleviate the impact on local communities of major developments.

In the past, s106 was tailored to larger projects only and sometimes meant there was cash for schools, parks and roads and sometimes that infrastructure improvements had to be made at the developers’ cost. Occasionally, and hence the number of community group representatives at this meeting, there is money for community amenity and support. At the moment there is a lot of s106 money theoretically sloshing around in West Hampstead. The plans for 187-199 West End Lane alone represent £355,000 for community amenity – and with so many large project in various stages of the planning pipeline, there is plenty more to come.

In the future, the CIL will apply to every building project – even small house building projects – and will be a flat rate in different zones across the borough. Rather than being tied to specific named benefits, as s106 is, there will be more flexibility on how this CIL money is allocated. This is why CIL is important although, as David Morrisey explained to us, the government has yet to make it terribly clear how it is going to work: there is some suggestion that only 15 to 25% of CIL money raised will have to be spent in the area where the building developments take place. The higher figure will apply only where the community has got itself organised and formed a Neighbourhood Development Forum in order to draw up a Neighbourhood plan. The rest is not fixed to the local area (unlike s106 was theoretically) and may well be siphoned off to other parts of the borough where there is (perceived to be) a greater need.

So, at this point, a big plug for the Fortune Green and West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum. It has got itself organised for us and is developing a plan for the area (it is also looking for local support and for people to join in). Given that West Hampstead is earmarked as a Growth Area for Intensification in the London Plan, with an anticipated 800 new homes already under planning or construction there is likely to be lots of change coming – so speak now or for ever hold your peace (if you can find any amongst the influx of cars, concrete, students, babies, people looking for doctors surgeries and trying to get a seat in the Alice House).

After David had told us all this and after Flick’s fabulous rant about the lack of transparency we heard a little from Di West about how hard it is to raise money for community groups in the area, something we all know about!

The open question session then revealed a seething mass of unhappiness from everything to do with the library floor (I’m not entirely sure how that was relevant to the subject under discussion) to the prospect of the children’s library being replaced by an internet café and the ugliness of the new Jewish Centre on Lymington Road. (I can’t be alone in thinking it rather lovely, surely?). It was hard to keep people focused on the issue that was actually meant to be being discussed and without Tulip Siddiq (who is rather good, I thought) calming things down about the library and reassuring people that the children’s library is safe things might have got harder for Virginia than they did.

The upshot of the long (too long) evening was the recognition that there is a need to find a way both to decide what the local community thinks it is important to do in the area to improve local amenity, and to get a local voice heard within the arcane and shadowy world of Camden’s planning and legal departments. Needless to say I think a post office is a vital public amenity and the fact that our local one is going to close soon should focus minds and resources on making sure we keep a post office locally.

But what we need is a proper process and I do not think that the suggestion of a box in the library is a good way forward. If we were to place a box in the library then it wouldn’t be surprising if most of the suggestions were to do with the library – just as if the box went in Sidings Community Centre the outcome might favour their plans for the Peace park and football pitch and one in my church would come out in favour of our plans to house the post office and run a debt advice and family support service alongside it.

Nor do I think that a gathered wish list is necessarily the best way. What we need is some strategic thinking – possibly through the Neighbourhood forum – that identifies the needs of the area and works to support them. There has to be a process that allows for some form of planning and also appreciates timescales. Some projects need funding sooner than others, some may wait until larger sums of s106 (or CIL) are available.

What was clear from the meeting was that all present want the area to benefit and the good thing is that there appears to be a considerable amount of money around that could help many local projects and needs – we just need to be clear about what we want and find out how to get that across.

We didn’t end the evening with any consensus on what we want; nor were we any clearer about where to go and how to make our voice heard but it was a start and let’s hope that the ball keeps rolling.”

Tory candidate explains police station position

I received an e-mail yesterday from Hampstead ward councillor and Conservative PPC Simon Marcus about the closure of West Hampstead and Hampstead police stations. Simon, you’ll recall, when asked in an interview with the Ham & High about the area losing its police stations, said, “I think what people want is to see someone in that situation who is getting a result, and, as you know, what I’m trying to do in this difficult situation is get a result. People do not want empty promises and big ideals.”

Cllr Simon Marcus

Whether the difficult situation refers to the budget crisis facing central and local government, or the fact that it’s a Conservative mayor that’s driving through the cuts to emergency services wasn’t clear.

Simon continued, “What I’m fighting for is to replace those police stations with a base.”

In light of all this, here’s the mail I – and presumably many of you – received yesterday

Dear residents,

I am writing a report to be sent to Mayor Boris Johnson in response to the proposed closures of Hampstead and West Hampstead Police Stations.

As part of this report I need evidence to show how important it is that a police base is retained on these sites.

Many residents have mentioned that they no longer report crime in some circumstances. This may be because local police stations are sometimes closed, or for other reasons. However it is really important to gather evidence in order to measure the extent of unreported crime and its nature as this problem could become even more serious if we loose [sic] a police base in the area.

I would be extremely grateful if you could fill out this quick survey. To open and complete the survey, click on the following link http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BMDPRNC

It will take less than a minute or two and may help us keep a police presence in Hampstead!

Thank you,

Cllr Simon Marcus
Hampstead Town Ward
London Borough of Camden

It wasn’t obvious to me from this whether Simon wants to retain a police base in the existing station, or replace the stations with a base somewhere else. The answer, it turns out, lies somewhere between the two.

“I just don’t think we can save these police stations,” he said. “If the buildings are sold they must only go to a developer that will put in a smaller new police base on the sites at no cost to the taxpayer. In Hampstead, this could be a Safer Neighbourhoods base as well as a community centre. In West Hampstead, it might sit alongside a childcare centre.”

There is of course already a Safer Neighbourhood base in West Hampstead. Why that couldn’t be used as a (part time) front counter for the area remains unclear. Simon agreed that finding the simple solutions and taking them to City Hall was necessary. “We’ve got to go to them,” he said.

In the interim period between closing the police stations and these new developments opening up, which Simon admits could be a couple of years, he says that he’s already been discussing with Camden the possibility of using existing council premises to house temporary police counters.

In the meantime, he’s keen to gather evidence from locals on the levels of unreported crime to underpin the report he wants to deliver to Boris. He vehemently holds the line that his survey is not political and that he’s simply collecting the facts.

Simon’s going to face a conundrum, however. If the evidence shows that crime is under reported when there are police stations, that implies a) the presence of a front counter has nothing to do with crime reporting rates, or b) the front counter service is already inadequate. Yet having admitted that the closure of the stations is inevitable, this leaves Simon in a tricky spot.

There’s also a crucial question missing from the survey: “If you have reported crime in the past year how did you report it?”. Even if the survey shows that everyone is reporting all the crime, then unless we know how it’s being reported there’s not a lot we can do with that knowledge. If 100% of crime is reported via the telephone – to take the extreme scenario – then there’s very little need for any form of front counter. It doesn’t matter what percentage of people say they’ve been a victim of crime and reported it, it’s impossible to derive a meaningful implication for front counter service.

None of which should take away from the fact that it’s a good idea to collect some facts. I get the sense the closure in Hampstead is far more emotive than it is in West Hampstead. When the issue came up at last week’s Area Action Group there wasn’t as much grumbling as one might imagine – the fate of the police horses seemed to give more cause for concern (their destiny is yet to be decided). If the police station was an attractive listed building in the heart of West Hampstead, perhaps locals would have a different view.

20 mph limit: have your say

Last autumn, Camden announced it was considering introducing a borough-wide speed limit of 20 mph.

We’re now in the consultation phase of this proposal, so if you have strong views for or against, now’s the time to voice them. The council is clearly in favour – the key points of its argument are:

  • It is expected that a 20 mph speed limit will reduce the number of people killed and injured on Camden’s roads.
  • 20 mph zones already exist in most of Camden’s neighbourhoods and the 20 mph limit will fill in the gaps, making it more consistent and easy to follow.
  • By making our roads safer and more pleasant to use this will encourage more walking and cycling
  • A 20 mph speed limit may increase journey times on some roads and at certain times but we do not expect this will be significant.
  • There could be an increase in traffic congestion (traffic jams), but is not known if this will be the case. If there is an increase it is only expected at a few locations and not across the borough.

As you can see below, almost all of West Hampstead south of Mill Lane is already a 20mph zone, so it won’t have any immediate impact for many non-drivers living here.

blue: 20mph already, pink: not 20mph, green: parks

It’s important to note that the proposal excludes the so-called “red routes”, which include Finchley Road and Hampstead Road. These roads are managed by TfL. Camden would still like to know whether these red routes should be included in the 20 mph zone, so it can discuss with TfL about future inclusion. Camden High Street, a red route, is already 20 mph.

You can access the consultation at https://consultations.wearecamden.org/culture-environment/borough-wide-20mph-speed-limit/consult_view. There’s also a useful FAQ document. Personally, I’m in favour for many reasons: safety, traffic flow, and environmental considerations all featuring. If you’re of the mindset that says 30mph is quite slow enough for built-up areas then please read “The day I hit a child at 20 mph“.

Shops to become Ballymore marketing suite

After several months of radio silence on the 187-199 West End Lane development, there is now an update on progress.

There had been a nice idea that the strip of shops from Café Bon to M.L.Estates might become pop-up shops while they lay empty (they will all close at the end of this month). Ballymore has other ideas and is applying to demolish them as soon as possible it seems and erect a temporary cedar and glass-clad “marketing suite” on the site for up to two years (i.e., until completion of the development).

No, i don’t know why the London Eye features either

There are new architects on the scheme. JTP, who designed the original scheme, has made way for WCEC, urban regeneration specialists. However, rumours that the developer Ballymore was no longer involved seem to be scotched by this latest planning application. Ballymore’s name is clearly on the submission along with WCEC.

The application states that “The Marketing Suite is to be erected at the earliest opportunity and will remain for the duration of the works on the site. The building is to be removed after this time.”

Frankly, this is not the worst option. What I think everyone wanted to avoid was the shops sitting empty for an indefinite period. If they’re going to be replaced with something else, especially something which hides at least some of the construction site, then that seems reasonable.

There is a lack of clarity over timing, however. The shops have been told to vacate by the end of February. The planning application says the site has been vacant since the end of January, while the Design & Access statement talks about existing tenants vacating in April, “at which point demolition will commence.”

“The Marketing Suite is to be constructed from three temporary cabins fixed together to create a space that is 12m x 7m x 3.2m high totalling 84m². The cabins were originally used for the Olympics and are now being effectively recycled for this development.

In order to improve the aesthetics of the building the front elevation, facing West End Lane, will be fully glazed with a curtain walling system with the pressure plates removed to give a seamless façade, there will also be a 300 x 300mm ppc aluminium feature nosing around the glazing in black. The front section of the North Elevation will also be glazed with the black feature nosing. The remainder of three sides facing into the site, behind the hoarding, will be painted white as these will not be visible from outside the site.

To either side of the building there will be 2.4m high hoarding which will be clad in cedar timber with a 300mm black band to the top to match that of the Marketing Suite. The hoarding will have both the name of the development and the Ballymore logo on them.

The area in front of the Marketing Suite and hoarding will be hard landscaped with feature paving and will have various planters dotted around.”

What’s happening to the shops
I have no news on Café Bon, Wired is likely to move out of the area temporarily but the owners are hopeful of returning once they can find premises. This was only ever meant to be a pop-up, but its success has encouraged them to establish something more permanent. Capital Car Hire will close, but has other offices in London. Peppercorns has a sign saying it plans to move further north on West End Lane, though it seems that it won’t be a seamless transition. AIT Computers is moving to a collect/delivery service based out of a house further south on West End Lane. Finally, M.L.Estates is moving to Mill Lane.

Your views on local flood risk – yes, it exists.

I started this article this morning with “Newer residents might find this a peculiar topic…”. By this evening, newer residents were suddenly all too aware of the flood risk in West Hampstead as West End Lane was transformed into a river after a pipe apparently burst. [update: here’s the latest on the impact on Wednesday morning: http://www.westhampsteadlife.com/2013/02/water-out-most-of-day-road-closed-until-0043.html]

Photo via @Veena_ju

Pipes burst all the time of course, but the water is supposed to drain away eventually. The challenge is that with so much hard surface and drains and gullies getting blocked by debris, and in the case of Blackburn Road tonight, mud from the construction site, this water has nowhere to go. This is when we see the fire engines getting involved, pumping water off the streets.

Move away from a single burst pipe to a rainstorm that drenches a much wider area and it’s clear that West Hampstead could have a problem.

There have been two major flood events in West Hampstead in the last 40 years: 1975 and 2002. Both of these were caused not by a burst pipe, or even the sort of relentless winter rain we’ve got at the moment but by freak summer storms. The risk is more to do with surface runoff and blocked drains than a rising water table.

Lymington Road in 2002 (Photo: Steve Berryman)

As chance would have it, just yesterday Camden launched a consultation on flood strategy. Nick Humfrey, from the council, was on hand at last night’s Area Action Group meeting to explain more about it.

After the 2002 flood, Thames Water invested in a large flood risk project in the area, known as the Sumatra Road scheme. This increased sewer capacity and added a holding tank and flood risk has reduced as a result.Nevertheless, two particular areas have been designated as potential flood risk locations: Cannon Hill and Goldhurst Terrace.

“While we have been able to develop a strong understanding of the flood risk in the borough through our modelling, records and the knowledge of our staff, there is always more information we can use and we’re keen to hear from you about areas in your neighbourhood which flood regularly or actions that have been taken which have had an impact on flood risk.

We are also interested in hearing your views on the proposed plans for managing and alleviating flood risk. While the plans are still at an early stage and the strategy is not able to go into detail for specific schemes, we’re very keen to hear of any issues that will need to be considered when the detail for these schemes is delivered.”

The whole draft plan can be downloaded here and below is the map of Camden showing streets that have suffered from flooding in the past.

If Nick thought he was in for a quick Q&A session last night he was sorely mistaken. Local residents had plenty to say about this topic – many with damp memories of both these previous major floods as well as smaller incidents.

The two biggest concerns were – aptly enough – the council’s clearing of street gullies, and the ever-thorny issue of the impact of the increase in basement excavations. The gullies are meant to be cleared around once a year, but locals claimed there were gullies that hadn’t been cleared in years. As for basements, this is becoming a major issue all over Camden – and beyond. Planning permission needs to be sought for such work, but it seems to be granted usually. The challenge may be that too many basements in one street or one area could mean that drainage is compromised causing localised flooding. There are many anecdotal examples of this. Surveys are required for each basement, but the cumulative impact seems to be proving harder for planners to prove or act on. One indignant woman last night seemed simply stunned that Camden could allow swimming pools in basements. I haven’t heard of too many of those in West Hampstead myself – such ironic development is surely confined to our NW3 neighbours up on the hill.

Anyway, if you have any thoughts on local flooding or have been the victim of even a minor flood event in your back garden or street, do fill in the survey. The more data Camden has, the more accurately it can model flood risk and then the flood relief measures it needs to implement will be as effective as possible.

Maygrove Rd plan scrapes over affordable housing hurdle

Last Thursday, Camden’s Development Control committee granted conditional planning permission for the development of 91 flats on 65-67 Maygrove Road.

It was a rather complicated debate. The issue was not one of architecture, nor about replacing offices with housing. Rather, it was about the low share of affordable housing and whether this should be reassessed earlier than would be normal.

CGI image: Looking west along Maygrove Road

The debate was a little hard to follow for those of us not overly familiar with the nuances of planning regulation and, at one stage, the boss of developer Regal Homes was so desperate to win councillors over that he pretty much got out his wallet and promised a large lump sum payment right then and there.

Lets start at the beginning. The idea of developing this site is relatively uncontroversial. Although Camden is rightly keen to keep employment space, the owner of Handrail House – the main existing building on the site – has struggled to find tenants for some time, and the housing need is acute as we all know. The full planning report is here.

Very wisely, given the enormous impact the new development will have on the Sidings estate, Regal Homes has been working hard to offer Sidings some incentives so that residents will support the development. During the consultation phase this strategy was met with scepticism by some.

It is unusual for Section 106 money (the contribution developers make to the local area to mitigate the impact of new residents) to be allocated to specific projects up front. This is partly because over the lifetime of a building project, priorities and projects can change. However, Cllr Risso-Gill pushed for it to be recorded in the minutes that some of the money should be ring-fenced for renovation of Sidings Community Centre, sports facilities and amenities in the Peace Park, and the overgrown area on Maygrove Road. Although this will not be written into the final formal agreement, it does seem likely that money will be spent on these areas.

CGI image: View from Brassey Road

The more challenging issue, and one that vexed several councillors, was that of affordable housing provision. Camden’s benchmark is that 50% of the floorspace of any new development should be dedicated to affordable housing. In practice this is rarely achieved and developers set out to prove that the development would not be viable at all if they conformed to this requirement as their profits would be too low. They can then be forced to make a financial contribution to fund affordable housing elsewhere in the borough.

This development proposes just 18% of floorspace for affordable housing – which translates to 12 flats out of the 91. In such cases the onus is on the developer to prove that this is the maximum viable number of units. The planning authority (Camden council) hires an independent assessor to look over these numbers. Here’s where it gets complicated. Large-scale developments take time to build. In a rising property market such as this one, the value at the time of sale could far exceed that at the time of assessment, which could of course mean that more affordable units would be viable.

In a rising market this should suit everyone. According to Camden’s independent assessors, a “modest 5% increase in sales values would improve viability by c£1.5 million.” In other words – more affordable housing could be built. In such circumstances, it’s become normal for councils to seek a “deferred affordable housing contribution” based on a re-appraisal of the scheme’s viability. However, when that reassessment takes place clearly matters. Three years is apparently standard, but can be brought forward – useful in a volatile market.

This is where the developer started to get twitchy. It felt that he saw the chances of permission being granted slipping away as councillors pushed hard on this issue. He explained that banks simply wouldn’t lend him the money if there was a lack of certainty over the return and more or less said that if the project was rejected or deferred today then it simply wouldn’t go ahead as he’d be unable to secure development finance.

In reality, it’s more likely that he could have appealed the rejection on the grounds that Camden officers had approved the plan, and had he won on appeal (I’m told this is quite likely) then other Section 106 money could have been lost as a result.

As councillors continued to push, Camden’s legal adviser explained that officers could go away and work on the wording of any permission to reflect the desire for a reappraisal closer to the completion point of the project than is usual. If the reappraisal of value determined that more affordable housing would be viable given the market value at the time, then Camden would be able to claim the money from the developer up to a capped amount based on a formula.

This is where Mr Eden, who left school at 16 and worked on market stalls before launching out into the property market, seemed to revert back to his trading roots. Clearly anxious about the direction the discussion was taking, he volunteered to add an extra £500,000 to his Section 106 money if the permission was granted tonight (see 1h58’30” in video)

Unsurprisingly, that’s not quite how development control meetings work – at least not in Camden. Frances Wheat, head of development control, explained that there was a statutory formula for calculating any deferred contribution, although this itself was capped. According to the planning documents, this could be as much as £7.7million for this development.

Finally, the vote was taken on whether to grant permission. This would be on the condition that the revisions to the timeframe for reassessing the viability of affordable housing met with councillors approval. This could happen as early as this week – if they are not approved, the whole application will come before the committee again. Eight councillors voted in favour, none against, and Cllr Risso-Gill abstained as she “was not comfortable with the application overall.” The full webcast of the meeting is below.

Of course none of this offers any guarantee that the build will take place. For all the permissions granted of late, it’s only the student block on Blackburn Road that’s making progress. Ballymore – developers of the 187-199 West End Lane strip of land – is proving difficult to pin down by anyone, even though those shops are going to shut over the next few weeks. Nor are there any signs of construction starting at the 163 Iverson Road site, where the architects told me in November that the project was on hold.

How much for this letter to the Corinthians?

The possible move of West Hampstead’s post office into St James Church is at an advanced stage of negotiation. It would be one of the first church post offices in a major British city. Yet it seems very few people are aware that it might happen.

Google Street View June 2012

The franchise owner of the existing West End Lane post office – Mr Ajay Kukadia – has apparently decided that it’s time to call it a day after almost 25 years. He has other plans for the premises. However, he has said that he will not close the post office until an alternative location has been secured. Mr Kukadia approached local estate agents Dutch & Dutch to help find a new location and they tweeted this in mid-November. Almost immediately, Father Andrew Cain, vicar of St James and St Mary, replied.

We’ve been instructed to help the@whampstead Post Office relocate to a new shop. Ideas on a postcard..or better-‘tweetme’ #newpostoffice
— West Hampstead Agent (@Dutch_and_Dutch) November 13, 2012

@dutch_and_dutch @whampstead – how about thinking a bit wider. Church?
— Fr Andrew Cain (@churchnw6) November 13, 2012

@dutch_and_dutch @whampstead – does it have to be a shop?
— Fr Andrew Cain (@churchnw6) November 13, 2012

@churchnw6 I don’t believe so. I like your thinking!
— West Hampstead Agent (@Dutch_and_Dutch) November 13, 2012

@dutch_and_dutch ok. Lets talk.
— Fr Andrew Cain (@churchnw6) November 13, 2012

Talk they did and the process has now moved on. There are, as you can imagine, lots of legal loopholes to jump through. The church – on the corner of West End Lane and Sherriff Road – has been accepted as a suitable venue, but that’s just the starting point. Now the Post Office and the church both have to prepare detailed plans and a business case. The church also has to approve the necessary alterations. When i first heard about this, I assumed that the plan was to house the counters in the church hall on Sherriff Road. But apparently, the idea is to have it actually in the church itself.

This is not groundbreaking – but it is unusual, especially in London. In 2003, the parish centre in Hemingford Grey in Cambridgeshire took over the local post office. The first post office actually in a church opened in 2004 in the exquisitely named village of Sheepy Magna in Leicestershire – a parish with around 1,000 inhabitants. It was only open six hours a week. Sleepy rural backwaters, where demand is low and the pace of life slow, seem well suited to such co-located services and the local church often plays a more significant role in the community than it does in a busy multicultural setting such as north-west London.

Unsurprisingly, given the often arcane and prosciptive nature of some religious doctrines, there may be  challenges to overcome so that some members of non-Christian faiths can enter the church. For example, here are two counter-arguments from the Jewish Chronicle in 2008 about whether Jews can enter a church or not. According to the 2011 census data, more than 2,000 people in West Hampstead identify as Jewish, although the census does not of course tell us how many would side with the stricter interpretations of the Talmud.

Some Muslims also believe they must not enter a church because of the display of idols, although once again it’s possible to find arguments on both sides given that there would be no religious context to the post office other than its location.

There may be workarounds for the most orthodox of non-Christian believers, and pragmatism often wins out eventually given how much of sacred text is open to interpretation.

Back to the practicalities of our own post office being in the church. Father Andrew points out that there are no guarantees this will come to pass.

“If the business case is not strong, if the alterations cost too much, if the approvals are not given – all could stop this happening. If that were the case then I would be sad – it’s a great opportunity and there is currently no other venue suitable for the Post Office to move to – and that will probably mean no post office in West Hampstead. That would be a real loss to the community and especially for those too old or disabled to get up to Finchley Road or down to Kilburn.”

Father Andrew is also keen to point out that the motivation for this is not financial. “We have a strong financial base of our own, we run a good annual surplus and have a steady if small congregation. We are not going to make money out of this and indeed will have to invest a very large amount of our own money.”

The motivation instead is to preserve a vital community service and to improve other community services. If approval is finally granted, the church will set up a charitable trust to run the Post Office, along with a café and a small retail space. Any profit made after running costs and loan repayments will go to funding community support workers. “We hope to have a Citizens Advice Bureau-supported debt advice worker on site, to employ a family support worker and possibly a youth worker. We hope to run pensioners’ lunches in the café, provide parent and toddler groups and also youth facilities in the evenings when the post office is closed.”

The post office space would also be an obvious location for one of the proposed pop-up police counters that are expected to appear as the police station closes. It may also cause a small but noteworthy shift in West Hampstead’s centre of gravity and could be a boost for those businesses south of the tube station.

If all the necessary approvals from the church, the post office and the public consultation are gained then we might be looking at August or September for the grand opening. This is the 125th anniversary of St James’ church – could it give a new lease of life to the building at a time when only 36% of the local population identify as Christian – substantially lower than the 48% across London as a whole.

As for what happens to the existing post office… did someone say Foxton’s?

Of course, if nothing else comes of this, the whole story proves the importance of Twitter in West Hampstead! Oh, and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians would cost him £1.66 in postage today or 87 pence if he wrote on both sides of airmail paper.

Neighbourhood plan: consultation time

Regular readers will have followed the progress of the Neighbourhood Development Forum; while even sporadic readers may have spotted the signs that have gone up around the area about the consultation stage the NDF is in now. I thought I’d let NDF Chair James Earl tell you more about it so you can get involved and make sure your views are counted.

“The Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) was established in January 2012 in response to the government’s Localism Act. This gives communities the power to draw up Plans for their area and to outline how the area should develop in future. It’s a very new concept and it’s pretty much untried and untested, but with a positive outlook it’s hoped drawing up a plan for our area will have benefits.

As some people know, the part of West Hampstead around the stations is classified as a ‘Growth Area’ in the London Plan. The stated aim is that this area should provide a minimum of 800 new homes and 100 new jobs between 2010-2031. Obviously, this will bring big changes to the area and have a large effect on it. A Neighbourhood Plan can’t change these figures, but can try to be more specific about where the homes are located and what other measures are needed in the area to accommodate this growth. It’s also important to note that the Plan can’t call for less development, and also has to fit in with the existing policies in the national, London and Camden plans.

To find out what people living and working in the area want from Fortune Green & West Hampstead in the future, we spent part of last year seeking views. Some of you may have seen our stall at the Jester Festival – which had pictures of local buildings and asked people what they thought of them – and/or filled out our survey. The results of this – along with lots of other information about the NDF – are on our website: www.ndpwesthampstead.org.uk.

In order to have the legal authority to write a plan, we have to apply to Camden Council to recognise the Forum and the Area we cover. The Council is consulting on our application and comments have to be made by 15th March. You can find details about the consultation here.

To demonstrate to the Council that we have wide support, we are urging as many people as possible to respond. All you have to do is email to say you support the application and the area we cover (see map).

If our application is approved by the Council, we will be able to write a Plan. Once it’s finalised there has to be a further period of consultation, it has to be submitted to a planning inspector and then – finally – there is a referendum of all those living in the area. If a majority of those voting approve the Plan, it becomes a statutory planning document for the area.

The Forum welcomes anyone living or working in the area to get involved with our work and come to our meetings. You don’t have to have any expertise in planning issues – just a view about the area and what it should look like in future.

If you want to get in touch you can email: or follow us on twitter: @WHampsteadNDF.”

Kilburn Grange Park: What’s the potential?

Kilburn Grange Park is rather overlooked by West Hampstead folk. Yet, for those who live in the southern part of the area, it’s by far the nearest open space – and is substantially larger than Fortune Green.

So what could the park be used for to encourage more people to use it? Camden has asked London Sustainability Exchange to help. LSX is a charity that works with business, government and the voluntary sector to build sustainable communities.

LSX is kicking off this process by holding three “Listening Sessions” on February 13th and 14th. The sessions are for residents who live near the park to come and say what they would like to use the park for, whether their needs are being met, and what activities would draw more people to use the park. Participants will recieve £10 for their time, but places are limited so if you want to go then you have to register. Obviously, you also need to live reasonably near the park, or use the park, or want to use the park.

Wednesday Feb 13th: 9-10.30am @ Kingsgate Primary School
Wednesday Feb 13th: 6.30-8pm @ Belsize Room, Abbey Community Centre
Thursday Feb 14th: 1.30-3pm @ Kingsgate Community Centre
(the first and third sessions offer a childcare service).

To book your place, e-mail Ali Lin or call on 020 7324 9406.

West Hampstead Place Plan: progress report

The West Hampstead place plan, published last year, set out a lot of areas for action. Last week, Camden issued a two-page update on progress. Later in the year we’ll summarise progress against all the action points, but this is a good chance for a mid-term report.

The plan has five sections: Development, Economy, Environment, Services and Transport.

The two key objectives:

  1. Work with the community to develop more detailed area planning guidance
  2. Involve the local community (where possible) in identifying priorities for how developer contributions are used.

On the first, the update refers to the Neighbourhood Development Forum, which is moving forward with its plan for the area and which the council supports through advice. The area covered by the forum is now under consultation (you may have seen some signs on lampposts to this effect).

This of course is not specific to the place plan – these NDFs are popping up all over the country and council support is part of the process. The update also says, “It is particularly important to establish more detailed planning guidance for the interchange area… as soon as possible. This is to ensure that if proposals come forward, the opportunities for a coordinated response to achieve the desired objectives are not missed”. Which is council speak for “lets not f*ck it up”.

This interchange plan has snuck under the radar a bit. I first heard about it at an NDF meeting late last year, although the minutes of the most recent meeting shed more light on it:

“Council officers would be carrying out work on this project; it’s mainly a technical piece of work to see how the West Hampstead Growth Area can accommodate the extra new homes and jobs as set out in the London Plan. They will work with the NDF on the detail of their proposals, although the Forum is not obliged to adopt its policies or recommendations. If both documents are approved, the NDP would sit above the framework as a statutory plan; the framework would be classed as ‘supplementary planning guidance’.”

In other words, it may not be of much concern (one might argue that it’s a waste of council time).

The second objective was getting community input on how to spend the money developers have to give for local improvements (the “Section 106” money). There is a meeting on February 21st, organised by WHAT, to discuss just this. It’s at the library from 7.30-9.45pm and is open to everyone. If you’re one of the people who grumbles that it’s the same few people always deciding what happens here, why not go along and have your say – you might be pleasantly surprised at the reception you get.

Development grade: A-

The three key objectives:

  1. Protect and promote the village character of the area
  2. Support West End Lane and Mill Lane shops and businesses
  3. Meet the needs of the people who live, work and visit the area

The update report cites the farmers’ market as an example of moving in the right direction, claiming (rightly) that it’s a great success and that it adds “variety to the shopping experience”.

Less clear-cut are the advances being made by the West Hampstead Business Forum. While the report suggests that it’s going from “strength to strength”, it doesn’t yet seem to have found its voice or even be quite sure what issues it needs to focus on.

I’ve reported already on the latest attempt of Mill Lane traders to coalesce into an active campaign group, and the council has been supportive to some extent. However, little seems to have been achieved yet in terms of encouraging landlords of vacant premises to fill them, or in terms of the traders themselves delivering against some of their creative ideas for the street.

The “look and feel” of the shopping area also falls under the Economy banner. Here, the place plan update refers to the council’s targeting the large billboards, such as those taken down from the bridge over the tube lines and says, “work is continuing to remove the remainder of the large billboards that do not have consent.” The council is also going to start targeting the the smaller signs – like all those A-boards that clutter the high street.

Economy grade: B-

The three key objectives:

  1. Provide new accessible open space to benefit the area
  2. Continue to improve open spaces, food growing, biodiversity and sustainability
  3. Maintain the valued quality and historic character of the area

The update makes no reference to any of these points and it’s hard to think what has been done in terms of open spaces although there is a move to improve Kilburn Grange Park (more on that over the next few days). The Friends of Fortune Green continue to drive improvements as phase two of the park’s renovation gets underway. This will include excavating the remains of a WW2 air raid shelter, refilling and re-turfing part of the green, replacing two noticeboards and adding a new one, landscaping a “children’s corner” and laying a ‘2012’ legacy running route.

(If you want to help out, then block out Sunday 3rd March (1-4pm ) to cut down the perennials and Saturday 16th March (also 1 to 4pm) for planting.)

Environment grade: D (higher grade could be available if you show your workings)

The three key objectives:

  1. Continue to monitor the demand for school places and nursery provision
  2. Continue to support local voluntary sector organisations and investigate innovative delivery of services
  3. Negotiate with developers for ‘affordable’ provision of community space for local groups

Again, there’s no mention of progress here on the update. Extra primary places have been secured with the proposed Liddell Road school site (although work has yet to start on this), and Emmanuel School’s expansion also helps – although this predates the place plan. It’s not clear what else has been done under this section – or at least not clear what the council has helped facilitate.

Services grade: D- (again, show your workings)

There is just one objective:
Continue to improve how people move around and between the three stations
The update report refers to a drop-in session held in July, which threw up several proposals to address road safety and improve cycling. Work is already underway in consulting on or implementing these, which include alterations to speed bumps in Sumatra Road, and improving the junction at Inglewood Road and West End Lane.

“Other schemes potentially include looking at the loading restrictions along West End Lane, alterations to parking bays and opportunities for contraflow cycling.” The first would be widely welcomed by everyone apart from Tesco I’d imagine. The second could be popular with the local businesses who often cite parking restrictions as a barrier to a thriving weekday economy. As for contraflow cycling, there aren’t many one-way streets left that haven’t either become two-way for cyclists or that have been explicitly ruled out of such a change (e.g., Broadhurst Gardens).

Although the council have been quite active in this area, it doesn’t escape my attention that these issues don’t relate specifically to the area around and between the stations. The Legible London signs that have gone up are not a Camden-specific initiative.

Transport grade: B+

Overall, a mixed performance. We should perhaps remember that council resources are stretched at the moment, and that some of these issues will not be solved in six months. Nevertheless, it would be good to see the placeshaping team running through all the action points in the plan and giving us a quick update on all of them – or a timeframe for acting on those that cannot be quick fixes.

JW3 centre nears completion

Those of you living up around the Lymington Road/Finchley Road end of West Hampstead will be all too aware of the enormous construction project that’s been taking place on that junction.

The 35,000 sq ft complex is going to house JW3 – a Jewish cultural centre. Why JW3? Well, if you hadn’t worked it out then this video explains it so clearly that a tiny child would grasp it. The opening sequence also implies that it’s in Glasgow. But these jibes aside, it’s a good introduction into what this landmark buidling will bring to London’s Jewish community.

Take a look at Abbey Area plans

Next week, drop into the Abbey Community Centre to look at the designs and plans for the large-scale redevelopment of the Abbey Area estate.

As well as viewing the designs you should be able to ask the project team questions. The overall plan is to create approximately 260 new homes, as well as services such as a health and community centre and some retail facilities.

Click for full-size (map is aligned north)

The exhibition is on Monday 28th and Wednesday 30th January from 3.30–8pm 222c Belsize Road.

For more information see Camden’s website or read this:

Councillors’ concerns over Inglewood Road site

You may recall the recent consultation from Camden regarding the proposal to sell off small sites in order to raise capital. One of these was behind West Hampstead library on Inglewood Road.

According to our local councillors, three-quarters of people who commented objected to the proposal to sell it off, but it will go before the cabinet meeting next month with the council recommending approval.

The councillors have raised four specific issues (although I’m lumping three of them together because they are so interrelated):

Cumulative Impact / Housing / Alternative uses – the concern here is that this site has not been included on any of the development plans and the constant infill of land with housing “will have an adverse impact on local services”. I wonder whether the challenge here is not one of development but manner of development. We all know that housing is a priority (as is space for employment), but the idea of cramming in apartments that barely conform to building regulations (as I believe has been suggested by one developer) is clearly not the right solution. This plot has an excellent location in the heart of West Hampstead, but is not an ideal site given its narrow shape, hemmed in on all sides. The councillors suggest, and it seems a reasonable idea, that the plot should be given B1 commercial status so it could be used for small businesses. Lets see some imagination on the part of the council in what they’d like to see here, and then encourage the right sort of bidders.

Parking – a more legitimate concern as the site now has lock-ups, so the people who use those and the outdoor parking spaces will lose them. Apparently, no alternative parking has been offered. Parking is a controversial issue in the area with local businesses wanting more to encourage visitors, while residents generally seem to favour less traffic and insist that the public transport links here are good enough for people to be able to leave their cars at home. Nevertheless, to actively lose a garage or parking space is clearly massively inconvenient.

Lets see whether the councillors have been persuasive enough or whether the site simply goes to the highest bidder.

Police station closure moves closer

As was widely expected – and reported in these pages back in November – West Hampstead police station is indeed set for closure.

This week, the draft consultation document was released that outlines which of London’s police stations will be shut. The document originates from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. This body runs the “estate” of the Met, i.e., the bricks and mortar.

The Estate Strategy (2012-2016) is “To deliver a more efficient and higher quality estate which meets the operational needs of the MPS and is significantly lower in cost to run.” The actual numbers are a 32 percent drop from £205 million in March this year to £140 million by April 2016. You’ll recall that the total cut to the Met’s budget is £500 million, so this £65 million is a relatively small part of that.

In “financial and space terms” (ie, “this means”) the Met will need to:

  • Enhance the opportunities for members of the public to meet with the police providing suitable access facilities in buildings that are already within the estate or local civic facilities, whilst also raising the profile of public facing properties through consistent standards of signage and corporate ‘look and feel’. [Yeeush. This is the “coffee shop police counters” bit]
  • Reduce the running costs of the MOPAC estate to £140m each year by 2015/16 – a 30% reduction on 2012 costs. [This is the “sell off the buildings” bit]
  • Reduce the amount of space occupied by 300,000 sq m by 2015/16. [see above]
  • Provide up to 950 modern cells, reducing the cost of the custody estate, and providing suitable facilities to support the reduction in the time it takes for a detainee being taken into custody to be processed. [This is the “centralise detention” bit]
  • To reduce the amount of residential accommodation owned by MOPAC to no more than 200 units whilst working with Residential Providers to provide affordable accommodation to officers and staff close to where they work. [This is the “force police officers to spend more time finding affordable accommodation” bit]

I’ve already discussed some of the broad principles here, but the core of the strategy as it relates to police stations is:

The Commissioner and the Mayor have committed to providing one 24 hour police station in each Borough and to not shutting any police station until there is a suitable alternative provision where the public can meet the police.

Camden’s 24hr station will be Holborn, Brent’s will be Wembley. Camden will also keep Kentish Town station open, although it will shift from being a 24hr station to a daytime station. West Hampstead, Albany Street and Hampstead stations will all close. Quite where the “suitable alternative provision” will be is not clear, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

It is debatable whether the closure of the front counter will have a major impact on most people. It’s not as if police officers are sitting at their desks waiting for someone to call 999 so they can jump in a car and hurtle to the scene of the crime. The impact of the larger cuts is likely to come more in the allocation of police resources across the regular officers, safer neighbourhood teams, and PCSOs rather than to the buildings.

We’re not in Dock Green any more

Skinny latte and a search warrant please
Back to those contact points. For those times when someone does want to walk into a police station, where will they go? Much of the press has gone big on the “coffeeshop coppers” angle, but are the police really going to use Starbucks and Costa as temporary front counters? Here’s what the consultation document says:

Many public sector organisations are now exploring opportunities to share the publicly owned/occupied estate. This not only reduces costs but creates a more engaging and vibrant use of facilities – it creates a more friendly face. 

Last time I looked, Starbucks in particular was not a “public sector organisation”. The document continues:

The MPS has recognised the need to enable the public to contact the police through a variety of different channels… The MPS describe this as ‘The Public Access Promise’. Since 2008, there has been a 20% reduction in crime reporting at front counters and a 32% increase in internet and email reporting. The Commissioner, for example, has committed that all victims of crime will be visited by a police officer if they wish rather than having to visit a police station – this benefits victims but also has a consequential effect on the need for police estate.

There’s no doubt that a Dixon of Dock Green style bobby waiting behind a front desk is both antiquated and probably largely (though not necessarily entirely) redundant. If Caroline Pigeon is right and one in four rapes are reported at front desks, then it would be interesting to know why that is so high. Surely, whatever the reason someone goes to a police station (voluntarily) they should have the right to a private room to explain their situation. That’s hard to find in a Costa, or outside a Sainsbury’s.

Not that the report appears to rule out completely working with the private sector (my emphasis):

As part of this estate strategy, MOPAC will further develop our relationships with other public sector bodies as well as private and third sector organisations specifically to find routes for the public to access the police in areas where they could access many other services.

Where might these places realistically be for us? The library is an obvious option. Perhaps the churches – St James’s is certainly looking to expand its role in the community. The foyer of the O2 centre is a regular spot for the Safer Neighbourhood roadshows, but could that replace a front counter?

The Public Access Strategy, which is being developed by the MPS, has highlighted that a number of front counters are underused. Once the strategy has been approved, following consultation initiatives, and the list finalised, those front counters will be replaced through the provision of ‘Contact Points’. The Contact Points will be in existing MPS and shared public buildings.

The pertinent question is then whether “shared public buildings” mean buildings owned by the public sector (libraries, sports centres) or buildings open to the public (shopping malls, cinemas etc.).

What I can’t understand is why Camden is apparently ruling out using the Safer Neighbourhood Base on West End Lane as a contact point? It’s an existing MPS building, it only needs to be manned whenever another contact point would be manned and the cost of making it accessible to the public would surely be fairly small – officers would have more resources on hand to deal with basic queries, there’s more privacy for members of the public, and even if a flat white was beyond officers’ ability I’m sure they could manage a milky Nescafé.

Will no-one think of the horses?
West Hampstead police station also houses some of the Met’s horses. It sounds as if their fate has yet to be decided:

The primary focus for the estate strategy is for the welfare of the animals and their proximity to where they are likely to be deployed. A review of this portfolio will be undertaken to assess the suitability of each property and location with the aim, if possible, to rationalise the number of buildings. Key Target: Opportunities will be considered for rationalising space into modern efficient facilities – delivering running cost savings of £0.5m each year.  

That’s from a total budget of £2.4m. Police horses are used at large events of course, so proximity to Wembley might help keep the horses here – perhaps we’ll get more. Having lost the Kings Troop last year, it would be a shame to lose the police horses too, for no other reason than the character they add. And the opportunity for photos like this one taken by Adam Wilson last May.

“Shocking images in West Hampstead as horse
eats policewoman’s head as she withdraws cash”

Encouraging slower speeds on Sumatra Road

Are “sinusoidal” speed bumps the way to reduce traffic speed, or should West Hampstead’s Sumatra Road become one-way?

Last year we had cycle permeability, 20mph zones, and debates over “table humps” to slow traffic. As 2013 hoves into view, Camden is launching a consultation on how to reduce traffic speeds on Sumatra Road by converting the existing speed cushions into sinusoidal road humps.

A speed cushion

Sinusoidal speed bump

Ok, lets get it out of the way: sinusoidal definitely sounds like a medical condition. In fact, a sinusoidal road hump has a less severe profile than old-style speed bumps but apparently is also effective at reducing speeds.

The speed limit on Sumatra Road was reduced to 20mph last year. A raised junction was also built at the junction with Glenbrook Road. During the consultation for this, some residents told Camden they felt the existing speed cushions were not bringing car speeds down enough, and the idea of turning Sumatra into a one-way street was mooted.

Indeed, I was cc’d on a chain of e-mail correspondence between one Sumatra resident and the council. The first mail, from Septmeber 2012, was trying to cultivate support for making Sumatra Road one-way to control speeding traffic.

“There is a children’s playground on our road and the number of speeding cars and large lorries is a danger to children and families that live on this residential street,” went the argument. “There is also only room for one car on Sumatra Road and traffic often builds up as cars refuse to reverse to let others through.”

The resident reckoned that a one-way sign placed at one end of the road would be a “cheap and common sense solution to this problem of public safety.”

Back in October I received a similar mail from another local.

“As someone who drives around [Sumatra Rd and surrounding streets] a couple of times a week they’re certainly narrow and it’s difficult to see round the corners because of all the parked cars. I think if there was a way to make them one-way it would be more useful than a 20mph limit, but I guess that’s also more expensive.”

Camden’s response to the one-way idea:

“In general it is against our policy to introduce one way streets as these often lead to increased speeds as vehicles do not have to deal with any opposing traffic and hence can speed up.

Making the road one way could potentially increase the volume of traffic as more drivers would find it an attractive option given they would not face any opposing traffic. In addition, traffic would potentially be displaced to nearby streets as they would not be allowed to use Sumatra Road in one direction.”

The change in type of speed bump is partly a reaction to these complaints. The road accident data shows that in the three years to the end of February 2012,there were six accidents along Sumatra Road, of which two resulted in serious injuries.

The proposal is therefore to convert the speed cushions into these sinusoidal road humps along the full length of Sumatra Road.

There’s also a plan to convert an existing 15 metre shared use parking bay into a 15 metre pay & display only parking bay outside the Solent Road Health Centre. This follows a request from the clinic to provide short-term parking facilities for visitors. The proposed pay and display parking will operate Mon–Fri 08:30–18:30 and would mean permit holders will not able to park in these three spaces during these hours.

If agreed, all this will happen in early 2013 and will be funded by TfL.

To give Camden your views, complete this questionnaire and return it by 25th January 2013 to: London Borough of Camden, Culture and Environment Directorate, Transport Strategy Service, FREEPOST RLZH–UEYC–ACZZ, Argyle Street, London, WC1H 8EQ. Or send a separate response to each question to (you must include your postal address though).

Legible London signs aren’t perfectly placed

I first noticed the Legible London signs in West Hampstead when I almost walked smack into one that is inconviently in the middle of the entrance to the farmers’ market.

The signs popped up so stealthily that several people wondered if they’d been there all along and they’d just never noticed them.

The signs are a TfL initiative but are co-branded with Camden’s logo. Camden adopted the scheme back in 2008 and rolls it out across the borough when funding is available. However, the signs in West Hampstead were apparently funded by TfL to help with the interchange.

One of the ideas behind the signs is to encourage people to walk more. They give estimated walking times to transport links and some other arbitrary destinations (I confess to my shame that I’ve never heard of the Hampstead School of Art, which features prominently on our signs). There is also a wildly inaccurate and crude “5 minutes” circle, which is based on absolute distance from the sign and does not relate to street layout or terrain in any way whatsoever. Still, I’m all for people walking more if they can.

In central London these signs are extremely useful for visitors. They are oriented in the direction you’re facing rather than automatically north (though personally I find that more confusing).

But what of their location in West Hampstead. Are they really in the most sensible spots? Do we need so many? Who decides which destinations are highlighted? According to Camden council, it’s ultimately down to the Transport Policy and Design team to decide where the boards go, but there are several standard guidelines that are normally followed:

  • Outside pedestrian entry points – mainly tube and train stations.
  • Along high streets
  • At key decision points – main junctions
  • On footways with high pedestrian footfall
  • Other factors affect where boards are placed such as footways widths and vehicle sight lines (ie. not blocking them)

I did a recce of the signs and I’m not at all sure they are in the optimum locations. Neither local councillors nor WHAT (West Hampstead Amenties & Transport) were consulted on the location, which seems a gratuitous oversight.

From the south, the first sign is on the corner of Hemstal Road and West End Lane, which seems rather a long way from the interchange. I guess if you’re walking to or from Kilburn then it might be useful, but people who don’t know the area are more likely to go the extra stop on the Jubilee Line or Overground, and if you’re on the Thameslink then you’d use Iverson Road to travel between Kilburn and West Hampstead.

A beacon of info on Hemstal Rd
Five minutes as the crow flies not as the pedestrian walks
Hampstead School of Art??

Apparently there is supposed to be a sign installed at the top of Blackburn Road, which is the most obvious place to put one although the pavement is already quite narrow and crowded there. There is of course a map just inside the tube station anyway. The sign would hopefully replace this corrugated plastic sign that I suspect most people don’t even notice.

A basic (and largely redundant) sign high
on a lampost at the top of Blackburn Road.
Here’s the other side looking north

There are two signs on Iverson Road. One on the corner with West End Lane, and one outside the Thameslink station. It seems unnecessary to have two so close together.

Austrian tourists peruse the Iverson Road map
The times don’t tally with those from the previous sign
This Thameslink board is about 20 seconds
from the Iverson Road/WEL one

The next one is outside the library, and is in the ultra-thin format.

The last one is tucked away by the bus stand by West End Green (and not at the junction with Mill Lane as the councillors seem to think). This is perhaps the most bizarrely located sign of all. You can’t get on or off a bus here, it’s just where the 139 waits before starting service. Kate Goodman, from Camden’s placeshaping initiative, told me that as part of the place plan and the need to raise awareness of the Mill Lane shops, she had liaised with the transport officers to get Mill Lane on the signage. This has happened on this northernmost sign, although there’s no mention of shops.

Handy for, er, no-one?

While I was looking at this one, I got chatting to a woman. She was in two minds as to whether the whole idea was a waste of money or genuinely useful but was adamant that it would take her more than five minutes to walk up to the junction of Bracknell Gardens and Frognal Lane.

“Five minutes to the Finchley Road? Not with that hill!”

It’s true that the pavement is very wide here, so the sign is not impeding anyone. But surely the sign should be either nearer the bus stop or preferably at the West End Lane / Mill Lane junction, where it’s also fairly wide. There could be an argument I suppose about sight lines at this busy junction, but it’s hard to imagine there couldn’t be a solution.

Wide pavement at the corner of Mill Lane / West End Lane

Overall, as I guess comes across, I think these signs have been plonked on our streets with not enough consideration given to their purpose or location. Having more streetmaps available is a good thing, although in another five years even more of us will be used to using our smartphones to navigate around unfamiliar areas. One wonders therefore whether the cost of designing and installing them in less touristy areas such as West Hampstead justifies the benefits. No-one seems able to tell me what the cost actually is – at least it’s coming from TfL and not the council’s tightly stretched budget.

Are West Hampstead entrepreneurs being short-changed?

Is Camden council doing enough to help new businesses in West Hampstead? Local Lib Dem councillor Gillian Risso-Gill thinks not, and had a hefty swipe at the council in a letter to the Ham & High this week to say just that:

“Empty retail and business units have been allowed to stay empty for years, enquiries are rebuffed, premises are not marketed and then put up for auction.”

I have heard stories like this from local businesses – indeed there was one last month that happened on Twitter:

Cllr Risso-Gill also writes: “There is a woeful lack of available business premises in the area and units and sites are still being allowed to change from commercial to residential use.” This is also true, although one prominent example, Handrail House on Maygrove Road, has apparently been empty for some time as the landlord simply can’t find businesses to occupy it. From a residents’ perspective, it is important to remember that the local economy is not just about shops and restaurants, but business services and (light) industry too. What are the conditions they need to operate profitably?

Gillian Risso-Gill at the opening of the first Farmers’ Market

Many of you will be aware that Rock Mens’ Salon has moved from its premises in the death-row strip of shops from 187-199 West End Lane. John, the owner, was able to move fast and take the Broadhurst Gardens site that had been the Millennium Café. Yet he was also able to strike a deal with Network Rail, which still owns those premises, and open the new coffee shop Wired thereby taking advantage of the empty space. Yet, the car hire premises next door remain empty and the leases on all the units there expire in the spring. It is far from clear that building work on that site will start then however, so will the sites remain empty? Cllr Risso-Gill again:

I have asked the council for help to secure temporary tenants in the retail units currently being vacated on the 187-199 West End Lane site, to prevent the area becoming blighted prior to development, but resources are not available.

Of course, Camden’s resources are stretched under the current budgetary regime, yet there is an argument that lack of attention here is depriving the council of revenue from business rates. Lib Dem Risso-Gill finishes her letter with a direct attack on the Labour-led council:

We have a Labour administration that cannot be bothered to manage its assets to generate income and… takes the easy option of mothballing and then selling off every available site [while] the local business community and entrepreneurial spirit that could boost the local economy and create jobs, is being neglected.

Camden’s finance chief Cllr Theo Blackwell responded on Twitter:

What do you think? Should this be a priority at a time when public services are being cut back? Is the money that would come from renting out small premises sufficient to justify the extra cost?

Gondar Gardens appeal saga drags on

Planning law is a strange beast.

Let me refresh your memory. Linden Wates recently won an appeal to build very low-impact homes on the resevoir site in Gondar Gardens. In a considered review of the application, the Planning Inspector believed that any negative impact on the open space would be offset by the benefits of this development.

GARA – the local residents association – which has long campaigned against developing this site, was naturally disappointed.

It seemed as if that was the end of the story. But there was a rumbling subplot. After Camden had initially rejected this plan, the developer submitted a second plan. This was arguably less controversial than the first – it was a street-frontage plan rather than one that would develop the green space itself. Camden rejected this one too.

Now, despite having won the first appeal, the developer is appealing against this second decision too. This has thrown everyone for a loop. What is Linden Wates objective? They can’t build both developments, and surely if the first one had passed first time they’d have moved forward with it.

Street-view of second plan – now being appealed

Either they think the first scheme is less profitable than the second, and having won the first appeal are confident in the second. Or perhaps they hope that a successful appeal with this second plan would give them the leeway to propose an even more ambitious third scheme.

Strikes me that this is a waste of public money – if a developer has a plan approved for one site through appeal to the national inspector, that should be the end of it for at least the amount of time that planning permission lasts.

Royal status for Fortune Green?

Fortune Green is on the up. QEII status beckons. Which could mean some funding and additional planning protection. The Friends of Fortune Green are excited.

Phase one of the major improvements to the green took place two years ago: resurfacing paths, expanding the dog-free area, improving the entrance by the bus stop and new planting. Phase two will include excavating the remains of a WW2 air raid shelter (in the quadrant near the playground) and returfing that area, adding new noticeboards, creating a small children’s landscaped area and a running/exercise trail starting at the green, winding through the surrounding streets and finishing back on the Green. These improvements will involve fencing off part of the park over the winter.

All this has led Camden to nominate Fortune Green as a “QEII field”, all part of the Jubilee celebrations. Fields in Trust (formerly the National Playing Fields Association), a charity dedicated to protecting and improving outdoor space for sport, play and recreation, has set up the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge to add protection to community recreational facilities.

Consultation is imminent, but naturally the FoFG are strongly in favour.

School to move in to Alfred Court?

Abercorn School is a three-site private school based in St John’s Wood and Marylebone that takes children from 2 1/2 to 13. Each site takes a different age group.

Now, the school is seeking to open a school for 7-13 year-olds in the vacant unit of Alfred Court (also known locally as the Sager Building) on Fortune Green Road. It’s always been an oddity that this unit hasn’t been sold, but I don’t think many people would have predicted a school to try and move in.

Alfred Court from across Fortune Green
Photo via CZWG architects

The school would need to apply for a change of use from Camden and it’s likely that residents in the area will have questions about the implications for traffic, parking, and noise.

The High Mistress (which sounds more a title you’d find at Hogwarts rather than Grange Hill) Andrea Greystoke has already been in touch with the Neighbourhood Development Forum, and there will be a public exhibition on the site on December 17th and 18th that locals will be able to attend.

Assessing the cycling contraflow scheme

A little over a year ago proposals came forward to allow more contraflow cycling in South Hampstead. Some people thought this was madness, but it went ahead anyway.

One thing that seemed clear was that for it to work safely, the signage both in terms of road signs and on-road markings, would have to be exemplary.

With this in mind, Camden Cyclists, a lobby group, set out to explore the streets in immense detail and document their findings in order to suggest improvements.

Their full report is incredibly detailed but as with so many things, this is where its value lies. I hope Camden reads it carefully as some of the recommendations could help prevent road accidents and they are by and large easy to implement.

Perhaps a quick recap of where cyclists can now cycle on one-way streets would be helpful.

Camden Cyclists’ map of contraflows (accepted and rejected)
Click for larger version

Priory Road and Fairhazel Gardens are now both two-way cycling throughout. Fairhazel Gardens is now fully two-directional for cyclists (some sections were changed a few years ago). Greencroft Gardens has been made two-way for cyclists as has Messina Avenue, which gives a link through to Kilburn High Road.

Looking back up Greencroft Gardens from Fairhazel Gardens
“The contraflow facility is useful, but does require some confidence to use.
Note the contraflow cycle logo half-way up the road –
this is barely visible/legible to road users.”
Photo: Camden Cyclists
Looking west down Greencroft Gardens towards Fairhazel Gardens
The ‘No Entry’ on the road is misleading and the ‘No Entry’ sign on the left
is hidden in a tree; the sign on the right is unhelpfully placed.
An entry lane should be marked and the little cycle logo could be bigger!
Photo: Camden Cyclists

Camden Cyclists are still pushing for some additions to the contraflow system.

Compayne Gardens, which is two-way, is preferred by cyclists and is marked with cycle logos. But it fails as an eastbound route because it joins the one way Canfield Gardens before reaching the junction with Finchley Road. We very much regret that LB Camden has so far been unable to provide this link.

These contraflow routes are called “light”, which means they don’t require marked contraflow lanes but use signs and road markings. The Camden Cyclists page explains that last year the Dept. for Transport allowed the use of No Entry signs with “Except Cycles” subplates. “Other relaxations in regulations now allow contraflow cycling without lanes provided that traffic speeds and volumes are low.”

Camden Cyclists’ overall conclusion is that the scheme generally works well: “For the most part, the signage at the end of the roads is of a high standard.” The group does, of course, have some suggestions for improving legibility, especially so drivers are aware of the scheme. You can see all of the recommendations on its website.

NDP: Tall buildings and affordable business premises

It was a relatively small group that assembled in the creche room of Emmanuel Church last night. Thankfully a heater was blasting away (the church is apparently investing in underfloor heating at some point – very fancy), keeping the cold at bay.

Under discussion was the second draft of the Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP), and I was pleasantly surprised that progress through the agenda points was relatively brisk.

In light of the overwhelming vote from WHGARA residents to be part of the NDP area, it was quickly decided that the boundary would match the West Hampstead and Fortune Green ward boundaries. Having cleared this hurdle, the application for formal recognition of the NDP can be submitted to Camden. There is unlikely to be any objection from Camden – planning officers have been involved with the process from the outset – so once accepted there will then be a six-week consultation process. This is all before the plan itself is finalised.

James Earl, chair of the Neighbourhood Development Forum, threw the discussion open to the floor (all 9 of us) regarding the core policies (recapped below) for comment.

Building height
One topic dominated the discussion. At the moment, the draft plan has blanks for the proposed maximum building height inside and outside the intensification area (roughly the area around the three stations).

John Eastwood, from WHGARA, put forward the idea that the maximum height should be the same across both wards, with no differentiation for the intensification area. He mooted four or five stories as the limit. This would seem to be too low to be enforceable. West End Lane already has plenty of five storey buildings and given the housing demands we face, it’s impossible to imagine that a sympathetically designed six-storey building wouldn’t be looked at favourably.

A couple of us also pointed out that developments such as the student block on Blackburn Road and indeed the Ballymore 187-199 West End Lane proposals were using the fact that the ground slopes away from the road to increase building height with less impact on the roofline. In other words, site context is an important component of determining maximum heights.

The sloping land means the Ballymore 12-storey tower block won’t have
quite as much impact as it would on West End Lane

I know that there are readers of this site who look more favourably on high rise than others. The NDF’s survey on this did, however, show a sizeable majority of residents are opposed to high-rise. Finding the right balance between housing need and height will take some careful wording of the plan. The view was put forward that the “errors of planning” that led to Ballymore’s 12-storey block, or the much older Ellerton building on Mill Lane, should not be taken as a new benchmark height for the area.

There is a secondary point here in that the NDP also takes a stance on the type of housing that is needed – specifically recommending a housing mix that includes more 3- and 4-bed flats. For developers to deliver that sort of housing profitably, they will need to build high. The plan needs to ensure it’s not pushing contradictory agendas that would allow developers to exploit loopholes.

The issue of uniformity across the ward is a more interesting debate – again, I can’t see that this would be workable. However, there is a sense among some in the south that the north of the area will feel very little of the direct impact of the growth in population and housing density, even though the rhetoric is one of a larger community that spans the two wards. It is too late to change the growth area, but those in the northern reaches may need to accept that there will be development across the wards that requires an increase in housing density along some of the side streets as well as around the stations and railway tracks. Otherwise the sense of divide between the south and north of West Hampstead is only going to intensify.

Affordable business premises
The council beats the housing drum very loudly, but economic development is also a vital part of a successful community. However, it feels as if West Hampstead is losing jobs rather than creating them – especially if the Liddell Road school is built, which will mean the loss of several businesses on that industrial estate.

One of the NDP’s draft core policies is that development should also be focused on providing new jobs and attracting new businesses. Existing businesses, and the land they occupy, should be protected and encouraged. Sounds very laudable but, as Brigid Shaughnessy pointed out in the meeting, the council has no provision for “affordable business” in the same way it does for “affordable housing.” This struck everyone as rather a good point. Planning officers can encourage developers of mixed-use developments to have smaller retail or office units, which encourages independent businesses but there’s not a lot it can do about the rents charged, even if it can offer rates holidays. It seems like a point worth exploring – if a development needs to have a certain share of affordable housing to be approved by Camden, then why not also insist on a share of affordable business premises. These would clearly need some covenants to ensure that they didn’t just mean that a national chain could operate with an even bigger profit margin.

Any other business
Aside from these two issues, a few other topics came up. Basement excavations was one (apparently there are eight happening in Kylemore Road alone), although it’s not clear what sway the NDP might have here as the issue seems to be one of Camden enforcement.

Clarity is also needed on what exactly Camden’s West Hampstead Interchange Planning Framework is going to involve. This catchy sounding concept popped up out of nowhere recently, but no-one seems to have a sense of what it is trying to achieve, how it will fit in with the NDP, or indeed whether it’s necessary in the first place given all the other planning frameworks that apply to the area.

Recap of core policies (draft)

  1. New development should be focused on providing a range of housing and housing types, including social and affordable housing and 3-4 bedroom homes for families. The vast majority of new housing and development should be located in the ‘West Hampstead growth area’.
  2. Outside the growth area, new development should be on a much smaller scale.
  3. New buildings in the growth area should be no higher than xx storeys; outside this area new buildings should be no higher than xx storeys.
  4. New developments should promote high quality design which fit in with their surroundings, especially in terms of height, appearance and design.
  5. Conservation areas should promote high design standards and have policies which are strongly enforced.
  6. Development in the Area should also be focused on providing new jobs and attracting new businesses to the Area. Existing businesses, and the land they occupy, should be protected and encouraged.
  7. There is an urgent need for ongoing improvements to public transport in the Area, particularly the three rail stations.
  8. Future development should protect, preserve and enhance existing green/open space and provide new green/open space in new developments.
  9. Provide as much space as possible for pedestrians and promote ease of movement through the Area.
  10. Protect the existing public services and community facilities in the Area and provide new services/facilities as the population of the Area grows.
  11. Provide an environment that is suitable for a mixed community, including young people, old people, families and those from a range of social backgrounds.
  12. In all developments, there should be a presumption in favour of preserving the look, feel and views of the Area.

Boris puts kybosh on tube station lift

Navigating between the three West Hampstead stations is already challenging, with narrow pavements, crowds of people and at least one road to cross whichever change you’re making.

Now imagine that you’re not so good at walking – or can’t walk at all. That minor hassle becomes a major hassle. Or would be if it was even worth attempting given the lack of step-free access to the platform.

The Thameslink station does now have proper step-free access (though god help you if there’s one of those pesky short-notice platform changes). The Overground station doesn’t have a lift at the moment, but will get one, perhaps in 2014, having successfully been awarded £1m by the Department for Transport.

Which leaves us with the Jubilee Line station – arguably the most useful of all for day-to-day travel in London.

No-go area for wheelchair users

Lib Dem London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon recently asked the Mayor:

Do you agree that West Hampstead station, which sits on both the Jubilee and London Overground lines, is a good candidate for being made step free?

Boris provided a written reply (I doubt he wrote it himself, there isn’t a single classical reference in there), of which here is an abridged version:

Regrettably there is no funding to undertake works at the Tube station. Aside from the funding question, the Underground station would not be an easy location at which to install step-free facilities. This is because the small ticket hall sits on a road bridge above the tracks carrying the Jubilee, Metropolitan and Chiltern lines. The station is also surrounded by various separately owned properties and there is no space for a lift.

Customers in the West Hampstead area who require a step-free route to central London or need to access the Tube network can use Thameslink services to a number of stations in zone 1 including King’s Cross St Pancras, Farringdon, Blackfriars and London Bridge, all of which are now fully accessible.

Local resident and wheelchair user Shannon Murray certainly doesn’t mince her words in response:

Regrettably they don’t have the funding to undertake the works, well regrettably I don’t have the ability to undertake walking. I can’t use Boris bikes nor can I use the buses or navigate most pavements independently. It’s easy for politicians and decision makers to distance themselves from the implications of access issues because they don’t really impact their lives.

It is a valid point that there are engineering challenges with the Jubilee Line station and these would push the costs of installing a lift even higher. But it is beyond the wit of man to find some innovative solution to this challenge? I fear that step-free access across the Underground network will never become a reality but, at a major interchange like West Hampstead, dismissing the idea so readily feels like a missed opportunity.

Will response times slow under fire station proposals?

West Hampstead police station may be for the chop, but is our fire station safe from the latest round of cuts? The most recent proposal to close stations in London puts Belsize station on the chopping block, while West Hampstead is neither slated for any changes, nor has the security of being on the protected list.

West Hampstead fire station – 111 years old
Photo via @Tetramesh

In October, a leaked document appeared to show that 17 stations were going to be closed in response to the Mayor’s call for the London Fire Brigade (LFB) to find £65 million in savings over two years. The 17 stations included Belsize. This certainly isn’t set in stone, but is believed to be the preferred option. To understand what this means for response times, I’m going to have to show the workings.

The sexily titled Operational efficiency work in progress Fifth London Safety Plan Supporting document No.17 Pre-consultation draft is a 44page discussion of London’s fire station needs published by the LFB. It’s actually very readable and has loads of London-wide statistics. For stats at the borough level, I recommend reading LFB in Camden 2012/13, which shows even more clearly that the number of incidents is falling (it also shows that Camden has the second highest number of false alarms in London). You can even monitor fires at the ward level, and month by month if you really want to dig into the data.

Aside from the financial savings, is there any evidence that the LFB has scope to cut back services? In terms of number of call-outs and looking across London, then yes.

  • The brigade attends 35% fewer incidents than 10 years ago; some stations have seen the number of call-outs drop by two-thirds;
  • 24 fire stations attend two incidents or fewer a day;
  • False alarms make up almost half of all the calls attended;
  • Total number of fires (27,000 in 2011) is lower than at any time in the last 40 years;
  • Fewer people are dying in fires: 56 in 2011 compared to nearly 80 a year between 1991-2001;
  • Even the busiest fire engine (Soho) is occupied for less than 17% of the time;
  • The average firefighter attends 195 incidents a year; of which 101 will be false alarms and only 8 will be the more significant incidents. Some firefighters attend 10 or fewer fires a year

The document points out that although the risk of fast-spreading fires and of domestic deaths and injuries has greatly reduced, it has been replaced by what it terms “new risk”, which is now a very prominent aspect of the Brigade’s work. These new risks (by which I think it means more large-scale incidents) mean that the LFB is much more complex than the old model of stations with one or two fire engines (“appliances” in fire brigade parlance). London hosts a raft of specialist teams such as urban search and rescue teams and high volume pumps.

Of course, one of the reasons that the numbers of fires and fire-related deaths is falling is that fire officers spend more time in the community, making visits to houses and schools. If one thinks of fire crews more like all-round police officers, who have both a community role and an emergency response role, then it is clear that simply looking at the number of times the sirens are wailing through the streets will not paint the whole picture of fire safety in the capital.

What does it cost?
Here are the figures across London:

“We spend around £270m on station-based emergency response. Of that, £229m is spent on firefighters’ salaries and allowances; £21m is spent on the upkeep and running of fire stations; and £20m is spent on equipment, including fire engines.”

Salaries are clearly the big component here, though the document points out that consolidating fire stations can also create substantial savings without reducing coverage. Which brings us to the issue of response times.

Fire! Fire!
London-wide response time targets are:

  • Average arrival time for the 1st appliance: 6 minutes
  • Average arrival time for the 2nd appliance: 8 minutes
  • 95% of incidents must have a 1st appliance arrival time of 12 minutes or less

Camden’s four fire stations perform well against these. In fact, response times are among the fastest in London at just over 4 minutes 40 seconds on average for the first appliance and 6 minutes for the second. There isn’t much doubt that arriving quickly is important when it comes to a serious incident. However, the report says that there are complexities in balancing the desire for speed with the the fact that demand is extremely low in some parts of London.

To determine whether there could be a better and more cost-effective configuration, modelling was carried out based on finding £25m and £50m in savings. Several configurations for each were modelled. The report goes into a lot of detail on this, so do read it if you’re interested.

The option that was leaked back in October is shown below (you’ll need to click for the full-size version):

In terms of the impact on Camden, the two £25m options published both propose closing Belsize and adding an extra pump at Euston. In this scenario, average borough response times drop for the first appliance but are the same or faster for the second vehicle. All are still within the London-wide targets.

In the first of the £50m saving options, Belsize closes, Kentish Town loses an appliance, while Euston and West Hampstead remain unchanged. Appliance one now arrives in 6’00” and Appliance 2 at 7’03”. A marked increase in response time.

The second of the £50m options actually mirrors the £25m options, at least in Camden; i.e., Belsize closes, Euston gets an extra pump, and Kentish Town and West Hampstead remain unchanged. Other changes outside the borough mean response times for both appliances are now effectively the same at 5’57” and 6’00” respectively.

These are all just proposals, although Belsize gets closed in all of them.

Mill Lane must get creative to attract visitors

There’s a new momentum on Mill Lane. This motley collection of independent shops has tried before to unite behind some self-promotion but these efforts have largely come to nothing. Now, the West Hampstead street that’s often seen as West End Lane’s poor relation has some impetus behind it thanks partly to the arrival of Monsters of Art and the youthful enthusiasm of co-owner Abby Wells.

Several of the businesses on Mill Lane held a preliminary meeting this month to discuss how to boost the street’s profile. Since then, Abby has met with Kate Goodman from Camden Council (Kate ran the place shaping initiative that many of you will remember from earlier in the year), and more of the businesses have piled in with ideas.

What’s the problem?
Mill Lane has a few related challenges to overcome: it suffers from relatively low footfall; the popular businesses are spread out along the street so there’s no focal point; it has one of the highest vacancy rates in the borough (18% in June 2010); and many people, especially those new to the area or passing through, simply don’t know that there are shops down there. Glance down the road from Fortune Green Road and you would be forgiven for thinking it was a predominantly residential street. Yet, as the star prize at whampgather proved, there are enough businesses on the street to create an amazing hamper of goodies. From The Tiffin Tin to The Alliance, Mill Lane has plenty of gems.

Isn’t this the council’s job?
Camden’s West Hampstead placeshaping document, published earlier this year, recognises the pressures facing Mill Lane and sets out ways in which the council could help. It explains that the council cannot fund direct business support, and that its role now is to act “as an enabler to small businesses through signposting them to national and regional growth support organisations.” This also includes pointing retailers to information and providing support to trader groups.

There are some specific actions in the placeshaping plan that refer to Mill Lane.

  • Facilitate engagement with local landowners and landlords to consider how the private sector can help to support a thriving shopping area and reduce the vacancy rate in Mill Lane.
  • Investigate opportunities to carry out further public realm improvement works to the northern part of the town centre and Mill Lane.
  • Lobby TfL to include Mill Lane neighbourhood centre shops on the Legible London signs, to help increase footfall to the area.

This may sound a bit like throwing a life jacket into the ocean, but it’s better than nothing and if it helps the businesses coalesce into one group that can form a consensus on what would most benefit the area then that alone is a big step in the right direction.

The relatively new West Hampstead Business Association could have a role here. However, a separate Mill Lane group that collaborated with the WHBA might be more effective than the WHBA acting as an umbrella group for all local businesses, given the different needs of West End Lane and Mill Lane.

The latest draft of the Neighbourhood Development plan also singles out Mill Lane as in need of its own section. Specifically, it suggests the following six policies should be applied to developments in Mill Lane:

  • A presumption in favour of preserving the look of shop-fronts.
  • A presumption in favour of rejecting proposals to convert retail space into residential use.
  • Encourage a more diverse range of shops and businesses.
  • Improve pavements, signage and traffic calming; remove street clutter.
  • Co-ordinate the developments on the north side of Mill Lane where they back onto properties on
  • Hillfield Road.
  • An urgent need to level the pavements on the north side of Mill Lane.

All this tell us that the problems of Mill Lane are widely recognised. But at a time of limited (read: non-existent) public resources to help tackle them, the onus falls on the existing businesses to overcome these obstacles. Which brings us back to the latest wave of energy washing over the street.

At the November meeting there was broad agreement that public awareness of Mill Lane’s offering was too low, and that the lack of a cohesive feel to the retail units hindered the appeal of the street as a shopping destination. Beyond that, the more ambitious challenge was to do something economically viable with the empty shops

Raising awareness
The immediate solution proposed was to get the council to implement better signage (which would partly fall under the Legible London signage action above), at the West End Lane end of Mill Lane, on West End Green, and outside West Hampstead tube station. Since that meeting, Kate Goodman has said that extra signage to the north of West End Lane will be installed, but played down the idea that there’d be tube station signage too.

The idea of preparing a small brochure to hand out has also been raised, although it’s not clear who would fund this. Camden have broadly supported this idea though, and may be able to help with some of the distribution logistics. Prod from Mill Lane Barbers, whose enthusiasm is also hard to beat, has suggested a caricature poster capturing the essence of the Lane and the businesses on it as well.

One idea that’s likely to prove popular is a late-night Christmas shopping event. It may even be possible to get some footprints laid on the pavement to draw people in from West End Green. Those businesses at the West Hampstead Christmas Market on December 8th could also help promote the street more generally, and there’s talk of having a board at the market showing the press coverage that some of them have received over the past couple of years.

One Lane
The shops also saw that Christmas would be a good opportunity to work on the look and feel of Mill Lane and try and make it a more unified shopping district. Something as simple as having the same Christmas lights in as many of the shops as possible could achieve this – these could be officially switched on at the Christmas shopping event.

An idea that I particularly like is that businesses up and down Mill Lane ‘donate’ parts of their property, (e.g., a back door, shutter, or any outdoor area), to professional artists who will then jointly produce a piece of street art. This concept has worked brilliantly in Middlesex Street E1. It has the potential both to improve the look of Mill Lane and attract visitors.

Breathing life into empty premises
Maximising the use of the empty (or almost empty) shops on the street with pop-up projects (galleries, retail space etc.) was a popular idea. This would help animate Mill Lane, and provide more of a continuous stretch of retail operations along the street. One idea was to collaborate with artists who might rent units for a short period for gallery and/or workshop space. Kate Goodman was in favour of the pop-up shop idea, and apparently there are nine empty shops on Mill Lane that could possibly by used. She is going to find out who owns/manages these properties and forward on their details – a good example of where the council can support these initiatives.

Both the pop-up idea and the street art idea certainly tie in with my own belief that Mill Lane would be well served by becoming an explicit artisan/art quarter. In the immediate term, the local business owners recognised that coordinating so many things popping up is a lot of work and perhaps would be too time consuming for them to tackle (after all they do still have their own businesses to run). A stop-gap measure would be to use the shop fronts as art installations, or hang something in empty shop windows.

Mill Lane needs a bit of love, so why not have a wander along there this weekend and refresh your memory as to what’s available. From carpets to cupcakes, you might be surprised at the shops and services you find.

Ambitious scope for local development plan

We’re inching nearer to a final Neighbourhood Development Plan. There’s a meeting this Thursday to discuss the second draft plan.

At the time of writing the draft, the issue of the southern boundary had not been resolved. Since then, however, the results of the WHGARA (West Hamsptead Gardens Area Residents Association) vote on the matter have been released and 75% of people were in favour of being part of the plan area rather than sitting outside it. This is almost certain to mean that the area covered will exactly match the ward boundaries of West Hampstead and Fortune Green.

156 West End Lane – one of the sites up for development

The draft plan is very much a work in progress, and still has some gaps. Nevertheless, two things are worth looking at even at this early stage. The first is the overall scope of the plan, the second is the introduction of the core policies.

If you read the write-up of the public meeting back at the end of October, you’ll know that Neighbourhood Development Plans can vary enormously in scope from all-encompassing town plans to single-issue plans. The West Hampstead & Fortune Green plan certainly drifts closer to the first idea. Broadly, it seeks to influence building development (location, form, use of Section 106 money), business and economic development (retail mix, high street feel), street environment (roads, parking, cycling, pedestrians), public transport, environment (green space, trees), community, and public services (schools, healthcare). Some of these area are easier to influence than others – some lie firmly within Camden’s remit, other are the purview of larger bodies such as TfL or City Hall. But it would be hard to argue that the plan lacks ambition.

The draft plan outlines 12 core policies. Many of these are not especially controversial and only the hard core members of the “flatten everything to build more houses” brigade are likely to object to limitations on building height, or a presumption that green space is a good thing.

It is worth reiterating the message of policies 1 and 2 – namely that the bulk of dense housing development should be in the designated growth area (that is broadly the area between and around the stations and railway tracks), while the rest of West Hampstead is allowed to retain its current feel. Whether this will lead to two very distinctive town centres developing – one to the south and one to the north end of West End Lane – and whether this is desirable is up for debate. I can well imagine the good burghers of Fortune Green grumbling about how busy it is around the interchange while they enjoy the peace and quiet of the leafy suburbs the rest of the time.

  1. New development should be focused on providing a range of housing and housing types, including social and affordable housing and 3-4 bedroom homes for families. The vast majority of new housing and development should be located in the ‘West Hampstead growth area’.
  2. Outside the growth area, new development should be on a much smaller scale.
  3. New buildings in the growth area should be no higher than xx storeys; outside this area new buildings should be no higher than xx storeys.
  4. New developments should promote high quality design which fit in with their surroundings, especially in terms of height, appearance and design.
  5. Conservation areas should promote high design standards and have policies which are strongly enforced.
  6. Development in the Area should also be focused on providing new jobs and attracting new businesses to the Area. Existing businesses, and the land they occupy, should be protected and encouraged.
  7. There is an urgent need for ongoing improvements to public transport in the Area, particularly the three rail stations.
  8. Future development should protect, preserve and enhance existing green/open space and provide new green/open space in new developments.
  9. Provide as much space as possible for pedestrians and promote ease of movement through the Area.
  10. Protect the existing public services and community facilities in the Area and provide new services/facilities as the population of the Area grows.
  11. Provide an environment that is suitable for a mixed community, including young people, old people, families and those from a range of social backgrounds.
  12. In all developments, there should be a presumption in favour of preserving the look, feel and views of the Area.

The next meeting of the Neighbourhood Development Forum is at 7.30pm at Emmanuel Church on Thursday. It’s open to all, so why not come along and find out more.

A new tree in West End Green

Last Monday a small but select group of locals stood around in the bright sunshine to watch a tree being planted. This is the first tree in West End Green for more than 100 years – the previous one, in the middle of the park, commemorates the coronation of Edward VII in 1902.

Cllr Flick Rea and Chelsea Square’s Ray Jacobs

Councillor Flick Rea had the idea that it would be nice to mark the Diamond Jubilee with a tree, while Chelsea Square – the estate agents on the west side of West End Lane just by the Green – had expressed an interest in doing something for the community. Camden has no tree budget at the moment, but will provide the staff to carry out the planting if someone else stumps [sorry] up the money for the tree itself.

The tree is a Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’. If you don’t know what that is, then here’s a picture of what it will look like when it’s in full leaf. It’s rather attractive I think.


Could West Hampstead police station close?

West Hampstead police station looks certain to lose its front counter, but the murmurings that the whole station is under threat are getting louder.

The Metropolitan Police has engaged in a strange consultation process regarding front counter closures. It can, at best, be described as cursory. A cynic might even interpret it as underhand. “Priority stakeholders” were the only people due to be consulted. Andrew Dismore, the London Assembly Member for Barnet & Camden, is one of these people but, for some reason, it took the borough police a week to find his e-mail address to inform him of the consultation. By that time there were only four days left for him to respond. Even if he had received it in time, it still seems a staggeringly short period of consultation. And why was it so hard for the police to find the e-mail address of an elected representative? (Here’s a hint for them next time).

Andrew Dismore

We all know that public services are being cut back far and wide, and the Met is certainly not exempt. The consultation document (which is a strange two-pager that’s heavy on rationale but light on solutions) explains that the force’s budget need to drop by an eye-watering half a billion pounds by 2015. That isn’t just a lot of money, it’s also a huge chunk of 2011/12’s £2.7 billion budget.

There are 136 police front counters across London, although the consultation paper says that more than a quarter have less than one visitor per hour. Fewer than 50 crimes a night are reported at front counters between 11pm and 7am, and 23 of the 24-hour stations see less than one crime reported every three nights. “They are now primarily staffed by police officers, simply waiting for the public to come to them,” says the paper.

The Met is keen to point out that “This is not about reducing our service but expanding, adapting and changing it for a more modern approach.” I do wonder why it’s not possible for those police officers drumming their fingers on the front desk to perhaps be doing something else while they wait, and maybe someone has to ring a doorbell to be let in, so there’s a drop-in service, but the desk doesn’t have to actually be manned permanently. Surely multi-tasking is possible. (I don’t believe for a minute that police officers aren’t already doing something while they sit and wait).

At Mayor’s Question Time this week, Boris came under sustained fire from Assembly Members, notably Labour’s Dismore and the Lib Dems’ Caroline Pidgeon, who said that 1 in 4 rapes were reported at front counters and was it really reasonable to expect people to report these and other serious crimes in coffee shops. For the consensus is that this is Boris’s big idea: relocate police counters to more accessible locations such as shopping centres. This good ITV news report even moots our very own O2 centre as a possible location as well as showing the Mayor’s response to the questions – he accuses Dismore of “fetishising bricks and mortar”, and says that coffee shops are indeed one avenue that might be pursued.

The grand plan foresees the number of locations where the public can contact the police in person rise from 136 today to up to 270 locations in 2015. In total, 65 front counters will be replaced by more than 200 “Contact Points”, of which seven will be in Camden.

Hampstead police station has already been slated for closure and despite a vocal campaign up in NW3 it’s hard to see that it will be reprieved. Although the consultation document doesn’t expressly mention West Hampstead (in fact the only station named is Holborn which will be the borough’s only 24/7 station), Camden police told Dismore directly:

“The proposals under consultation for Camden are for Holborn front counter to remain open 24 hours and for Kentish Town to be open 40 hour per week. Albany Street, Hampstead and West Hampstead front counters will close and we are looking to create 7 Contact Points across the borough to provide alternative access to policing services.”

That seems pretty clear. It would make our nearest public access station Kentish Town, which is hardly convenient. What is still not clear is whether the whole of West Hampstead police station would close, including the 999 response units. As we all know, West Hampstead also has stables for the mounted police, although this division sits outside the borough structure. According to a letter from Camden’s conservative leader Andrew Mennear in the CNJ back in October, the mounted police would stay while the rest of the police station would close and West Hampstead’s police force would be off to Kentish Town. Even the latest draft of the Neighbourhood Development Plan mentions the police station site as a possible development space.

I’m led to understand by Andrew Dismore’s office that the (seemingly blindingly obvious) idea of turning the small Safer Neighbourhood Team base by the tube station into a front counter is not being considered. So where will locals be able to report crime (or hand in lost property)? The O2 shopping centre strikes me as the most obvious place. The SNT already runs stalls there from time to time, and there is designated community space upstairs. It’s hard to think of anywhere on West End Lane unless there could be co-sharing with the library, or with whatever comes to pass at 156 West End Lane (aka the Travis Perkins building). Mill Lane has more vacant spaces, but none of these solutions are to house a response team. Still, we all know that there’s never any traffic between here and Kentish Tow… oh, yes. Right.

Making savings of £500m is always going to lead to some difficult decisions, but efficiency and cost-effectiveness are surely only part of the equation when it comes to providing emergency service cover. In the meantime, Dismore’s changed his Twitter avatar to one that reads 999SOS – a Labour initiative in City Hall and across London to coordinate objections to the scale and speed of cuts to the police and fire services.

How would you feel about the demise of the front counter at West Hampstead? How about the loss of the whole police station?

Camden consults on “small sites” sell-off

Almost two years ago, Camden launched its 15-year(!) community investment programme. A large part of this is flogging assets in order to invest in other services. In some cases this involves quite major closures, such as at 156 West End Lane, aka the Travis Perkins building. In other instances it means looking at small plots of land that the council happens to own and deciding whether or not to sell them off.

These “small sites” have already netted Camden £2 million, money which has gone into council homes.

Fourteen more sites are now up for consultation, of which three are in the Greater West Hampstead area.

Dennington Park Road
Dennington House (between Inglewood and Dennington Park Roads) is in fact more Dennington Car Park at the moment as the land behind the house is used for garages and car parking spaces accessed from Inglewood Road.

According to Camden, “This site could contribute towards the investment needed in existing council homes in West Hampstead ward, which is £4.9m over the next five years. If the Council does decide to sell the site council tenants and leaseholders living in Dennington House who currently rent one of the garages or car spaces will be offered alternative parking in the local area. There will also be further consultation about any proposed change of use, or new development on the site, when the planning application is made.

Dynham Road
There is a communal paved space between 27 and 33 Dynham Road. The sale of this property would go towards investment needed in existing council homes in Kilburn ward, which is £13.2m over the next five years.

Kilburn Vale estate
The site is the garages and forecourt in front of Sycamore Court. Again, any funds raised would go into Kilburn ward housing and tenants using the car parking area would be offered alternatives.

If you feel strongly for or against the disposal of these sites, you can let Camden know.

Mapping West Hampstead development

Crane over West Hampstead (c) dancoffeyphotography.com

I thought it would be useful to keep track of all the major development plans in West Hampstead in map form. This is a beta version, I’m working on a more sophisticated one.

This map includes everything I’m aware of, from early-stage discussions to developments that are almost complete. If you know of anything that should be on here, please let me know (new builds only, not rennovations/house extensions etc.)

View Development in West Hampstead in a larger map

Blue: under construction
Green: planning permission granted
Red: at planning application/late-discussion stage
Pink: no imminent action / less significant

I got £199 problems but the rent ain’t one

…at least you’d hope not if you’re a student in West Hampstead next year.

You’ll have seen the large building going up on Blackburn Road over the past few months. Rising nine storeys at his highest point (furthest away from the tube lines and West End Lane), I’m sure most of you know that it’s going to house some 350 students starting in September 2013.

Students – especially en masse – can be a contentious populace. They lower the average age and lend an area a lively, more fashionable feel. Yet, they can also be noisy, messy, and do not always contribute positively to their neighbourhood. Those of us who’ve lived away from home as students can probably see ourselves reflected in both sides of the coin.

This particular bunch of students might consider themselves lucky to live in West Hampstead, as many of us do. Or they might feel it’s too far out of central London and lacks the range of nightlife and student-friendly cafés and restaurants they might get in town.

What’s fairly certain is that they’ll be relatively well off. The company’s website is a bit sparse on details, but this site (clearly targeting the international market) has a lot more info and having read it, I’m not so sure that these students will be filling up the Bridge Café. Unless egg and chips is all they can afford having paid for the relative luxury of their shared flat.

Rents in the new block start at £199 a week. That’s to live in a cluster flat, sharing communal facilities with 5-8 other students. It includes all bills, TV, WiFi etc.. That still seems like quite a lot for students, although a very quick trawl of the competition, both private operators such as Urbanest and universities’ own halls of residence, suggests that although it’s high-end, it’s not ridiculous.

The Blackburn Road development will also include a private gym, meeting rooms, an in-house cinema (!!), quiet rooms, common room and laundry facilities. There’ll be a concierge team, a 24 hour helpline, CCTV and secure electronic access. If you’re feeling flush you can pay more for in-room cleaning, laundry service, and “other technology upgrades”, which definitely either means you get a pet robot or faster WiFi.

I’m certainly not saying it’s bad value for the quality of housing, but I do wonder which students will be able to afford it. Let me mention again: it has an in-house cinema! Hopefully some of these new whampers will venture out into the big bad world – maybe even to Kilburn! My guess is that we’ll be welcoming a lot more international students with iMacs and credit cards than scruffy 19 year-olds from the provinces with beaten-up laptops and a £10 overdraft on their Lloyds-TSB student account.

163 Iverson Road – still waiting to start the build

The proposal to redevelop the garden centre site on Iverson Road into flats was given the green light back in the early summer but for some reason I never actually wrote about it.

I did discuss the plans back in January, after they had been watered down slightly from an initially very ambitious “aeroplane wing” style development.

The block will, when complete, consist of 33 flat and 3 houses. Even with the revisions, it’s not to everyone’s taste. The architects though are (naturally enough) proud of their response to what is a slightly unusually shaped site.

“Dexter Moren Associates have responded to this challenging Y-shaped site by creating two distinctive architectural treatments for the front and rear of the scheme. The southern wing adjacent to the railway tracks is raised on stilts to create a series of ‘tree houses’ and to distance the apartments from the trains. This allows the greenery from the embankment to flow under, into the heart of the development. The ‘tree houses’ are topped with a folded wing shaped metal roof that acts as a protective skin from the trains and creates a striking and dynamic roof form. The main frontage along Iverson Road is designed to respond to the streetscape with boxed balconies, roof terraces and a living green wall.”

It will also be very handy for the farmers’ market.

Gondar Gardens will be developed

News came in late last night that the Planning Inspector (that’s a national, not a Camden position) had upheld the appeal by Linden Wates. This was after Camden rejected Linden Wates’ original 2011 proposal to develop the reservoir site into 16 houses, largely submerged beneath ground level [full planning application].

You can read more about the background to the development, the critical role played by the humble slow worm, as well as look at the developers’ second, less flamboyant proposal (also rejected by Camden).

The planning inspector’s decision draws a line under this contentious development – GARA (the Gondar and Agamemnon Residents Association), which was the driving force behind the “no” campaign, has acknowledged that there is virtually no chance of any counter-appeal and, to its credit, is now looking to the future.

The inspector’s report is long, but worth reading if you’re interested in such things. It’s a thoughtful and detailed consideration of the merits and drawbacks of the proposal, and explicitly recognises the challenges of balancing housing need and ecological merit, design and environmental impact, and planning policies that do – in their details – sometimes clash. Naturally, the conclusion won’t please everyone, and it’s certainly a shame that a gated community will result.

Here are the key sections:

Para 6. The appeal is allowed and planning permission is granted for the redevelopment of the existing reservoir structure to provide 16 residential units, associated parking, refuse storage and landscaping, and use of the surrounding land and rear of the site for open space (nature reserve) at Reservoir site, Gondar Gardens, London NW6 1QG in accordance with the terms of the application, Ref: 2011/0395/P, dated 24 January
2011, and the plans submitted with it, subject to the conditions included in the
schedule at the end of this decision.

Para 7. I consider there are 5 main issues in this case. They are:
(i) the effect of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the site and its surrounding area;
(ii) the ecological impact of the proposal;
(iii) the structural condition of the redundant reservoir;
(iv) the form and content of the proposal in relation to:
 – the provision of affordable housing,
 – the density and mix of the proposed dwellings, and
 – the design of the scheme within its townscape context;
and, if necessary;
(v) whether the project justifies the obligations cited above taking account of the contents of Regulation 122 of the Community Infrastructure Regulations 2010.

Character and appearance
Para 15. …The reservoir structure constituted previously developed land within the
terms of the definition now included in Annex 2 of the NPPF. The area surrounding the reservoir falls within its curtilage and, as a result of the definition, it too forms previously developed land. Although the presumption in favour of the redevelopment of previously developed land in preference to the development of greenfield land is not now as pervasive, it is nevertheless retained in paragraph 17 of the NPPF as one of the core planning principles. My predecessor referred in this context to the urgent need to find more sites for housing development, but, in accordance with the principle, the preference for redevelopment has to be tempered if the site concerned is of high environmental value.

Para 16. I am in no doubt that such value can be derived from both the ecological value of a site within its own terms, and/or from the contribution which it might make to amenity in the broadest sense – including residential amenity. In this context my colleague referred to the extensive views into the site from the surrounding houses. Although taken individually these are private views, they amount collectively to a considerable public asset and a ‘green lung’ providing local amenity. I agree with this description and assessment. Having further discussed the ecological interest of the land, he recommended the land should remain in the Schedule to the UDP as private open space (as well as being designated as a Site of Nature Conservation Interest – SINC).

Para 17. This protection is now expressed in Policy CS15 of the Camden Core Strategy 2010. The plan recognises that open space can fall into 2 categories: that which is open to the public (and which can provide for sport and recreation), and private open space – to which there is no or limited public access (such as, for example, railway embankments). The appeal site falls into the latter category and the first purpose of the policy is that such spaces will be protected.

Para 21. I saw on my visit that, although from the higher level windows in the Gondar Gardens and Sarre Road houses the proposed development would be clearly visible, this effect would be counter-balanced by the enhanced breadth of the prospect as a whole at this level. I recognise the presence of the proposed development would vary from the many windows overlooking the land, but taking all these matters into account, I conclude in relation to this main issue that the proposed development would have a limited adverse effect on the character and appearance of the site and its surrounding area. It would thus conflict to a degree with the purpose of paragraph (a) in the first component of Policy CS15.

click for larger view

Para 24. The site was the subject of 30 ecological surveys in 2008-10, but was found to include only a low number of slow worms. There was agreement between the parties that the reservoir roof itself would not constitute a particularly attractive location for the species, but the south and east sides of the land are considered highly suitable. It was acknowledged at the inquiry that slow worms would readily travel between the site and adjacent gardens where they would be likely to find suitable features for hibernating, foraging and basking opportunities.

Para 28. …Subject to the implementation of an appropriate scheme and the regulation of access, I am unconvinced that the slow worms would be adversely affected by the scheme as a whole – rather the reverse.

Para 32. …On the basis of the evidence I have received in this case, for example, the surrounding domestic gardens appear to make a greater contribution to the nature conservation interest of the area than the reservoir roof – even though the former do not fall within the SINC and the latter does.

Para 33. …I consider the ecological interest of the site as a whole would be enhanced and improved and that in this respect the limited harm identified under the first main issue [character and apperance] would be outweighed.

Affordable housing
Para 45. I see little prospect that market housing on the land could ever be used to generate on-site affordable housing. I therefore conclude in relation to this issue that the appellant is justified in seeking to take advantage (by making a payment-in-lieu) of the exception included in Policy DP3 and paragraph 3.74 of The London Plan.

On the issue of the reservoir structure itself, the inspector says he considers “the debate over the condition of the structure to have been peripheral to the determination of the appeal.”

Much of the Section 106 agreements had already been settled, but it’s interesting to see the total sum the developers will have to stump up. This is in addition to the payment of £6.8 million in lieu of affordable housing, which the inspector agreed was not feasible on the site (it will now go towards housing elsewhere in the borough). And also in addition to the costs of looking after those slow worms!

£62,720 community facilities contribution
£261,184 education contribution
£68,610 public open space contribution
£38,777 highways contribution

In an e-mail to GARA memebers, chairman David Yass, who campaigned vigorously against the development, said “This comes as a huge disappointment”, while another member summed it up with “gutted.” GARA has undoubtedly helped improve the plan, and helped secure some significant conditions that should help minimise the impact of the development on local residents and wildlife, during and after construction.

Inside the reservoir

65-67 Maygrove Road: investing in Sidings

Last month Camden held a development forum public meeting to discuss the revised proposals for 65-67 Maygrove Road, commonly known as “Handrail House”.

The developer had withdrawn its previous application for the 1930s Handrail House office building because, it seemed, it was hard to make it economically viable while still having a chance of getting planning permission and the developers and Camden could not agree on the level of affordable housing. Since then, it has been able to acquire the residential building (No.67) next door the offices, and that extra space had made this a feasible project, although the precise level of affordable housing has not been settled on. As with the original plan, the proposals include imrpovements to the Sidings Community Centre facilities and sports pitch.

Handrail House and No.67 border the Peace Park

The new proposal is not just broader in scope, it’s also slightly higher, with a set-back top-floor. This makes a five storey residential terrace fronting Maygrove Road. The building would be set back from street by 4m with an evergreen hedge to the footpath along Maygrove Road. To the rear a terraced communal garden would act as a boundary between the Peace Park and the development. The architects are trying to recreate a terrace-feel with the ground floor different to the upper floors “to create variety”. The family units would have private roof terraces, while the communal garden would be for ground and lower ground floor units. Height, as always, is a contentious issue. The developers pointed out that the building will be the same height as 59 Maygrove Road (which locals objected to), although less “bulky”.

The grey building is No.59
Maygrove Road frontage
Artist’s impression

At the meeting, Gavin Sexton of Camden’s planning team laid out the considerations that would have to be taken into account if a planning application is submitted. These are: loss of employment floorspace, permanent housing as a priority use, affordable housing, sesign & impact on open space, amenity, transport, sustainable design and construction/energy, and basement development. His full presentation is at the end of this article.

Paul Eden from Regal Homes, the developer, outlined the contributions to the local community, including upgrading the community centre and Peace Park. Here you can see some of their proposals, the sports pitch is off to the right of this diagram, and the main building you see top-right is Sidings Community Centre.

Whether these investments are primarily because the developers are community minded, or whether they think that getting the Sidings estate on board with the overall plan is going to make life a lot easier, these are still good investments.

Andrew Barnett from Hopkins Architects gave an overview of his firm (which designed the Olympic velodrome and the Wellcome Trust HQ in Euston), before discussing the site in more detail [see below for full presentation]. He explained that Numbers 65 and 67 are not considered of architectural merit and are rather an odd combination with dual frontage onto Maygrove Road and the Peace Park.

There were plenty of questions, a short selection of which are outlined below.

Someone asked about the loss of business use, and there was a supplementary comment about the need for small workshops. Handrail House has been vacant for more than year despite, apparently, the best efforts of the previous owner to lease the space as both offices and workshops. Camden’s own planning policies allow for re-use of sites where there is no demand, and thus the developers see no requirement to incorporate business space. In addition, the office tenant in No.67 has already relocated to a modern office in Finchley Road. Revised marketing evidence and a planning statement would be submitted with the new application. Camden polices supports the provision of new houses.

Another question was around the proposal for yellow bricks and timber in an area that is red-brick dominated. The architect said that they hadn’t made up their minds yet and that there are many types of bricks used in the area. The use of timber, he explained, is for sustainability reasons and to address energy efficiency and improve insulation. It is also elegant and would contribute to the appearance of the building. Modern window frames (not uPVC) which would be openable for natural ventilation would be incorporated.

There was a question about basement excavation and whether the development was car free. The proposal does include a basement, which would include the 10 disabled parking spaces, bicycle storage, plant equipment and the lower floors of duplex accommodation.

Expect a proposal to become a formal planning application in the next couple of months, at which point there’ll be a full consultation process.

Residents’ weekend parking in Fortune Green?

Earlier in the summer, Camden held a consultation about parking in the borough, specifically around the Controlled Parking Zones (CPZs). The findings have been published, so what changes should we expect in West Hampstead and neighbouring areas?

The scope of the consultation was to “gauge opinion on issues relating to the size, days and hours of control of controlled parking zones (CPZs) as well as on the maximum hours of stay in pay and display bays.” It was not a consultation exercise asking for views about specific proposed changes, which will be dealt separately, it was more to test the water.

First up, size. Most respondents generally thought the CPZs were the right size so there are no plans to review this further.

Residents in zone CA-P, which covers a large part of West Hampstead and Fortune Green, generally believed the weekday hours were too short and there was some interest in extending/introducing Saturday and Sunday controls, particularly in CA-P(c) )(the north-western reaches of Fortune Green

Opinion was equally split on whether the existing pay and display arrangements were suitable borough-wide. Camden’s conclusion is that there is scope to look at specific arrangements in some areas with a view to simplifying arrangements, such as changing bays with a 3-hour maximum stay to 2 or 4 hours).

Any changes to parking arrangements in Fortune Green would not happen until 2013/14.

Neighbourhood Plan gets nearer

There was a great turnout last Monday for the West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum meeting, chaired by WHAT. There were slides, there were speeches, there was a bit of heckling – but was there any fruitful outcome?

This was a chance for the NDF to present its progress to the public, and for the public to get a better understanding from not just the NDF but also Camden and Urban Design London, a training and networking organisation, about what all this might mean. There was plenty of time for questions, and plenty of questions were asked!

I’m not going to recap the genesis of the NDF, as I’ve covered it at length before. The group has spent the past few months trying to find out what locals think about the area, and how they’d like to see it develop. It is perhaps worth reiterating that the resulting plans from NDFs cannot be anti-development per se.

There has been a survey into people’s views on architecture in the area, and a much more involved survey of locals’ thoughts, which is worth looking at to get a sense of the mood of the population.

All these findings, together with issues highlighted at meetings such as this one, will go into the draft plan. James Earl, chairman, wouldn’t be drawn on when that first plan might be ready – but we’re talking months rather than weeks down the track. Even then, there are plenty of hurdles to jump through, not least a referendum in which everyone living in the affected area can vote. A majority is needed for the plan to become a proper planning document.

The presentation from Urban Design London‘s Paul Lavelle was, for me, the most interesting of the night (it’s at the end of this article). Paul explained how NDPs could work. They are very new and although there are many plans being drafted throughout the country, none has yet come to fruition. He showed a few case studies of those that were relatively advanced to demonstrate their variety in scope. Some plans are effectively mini local plans, that cover everything a council would consider. Others are single-issue plans designed with one objective in mind.

It will be interesting to see where the scope of the West Hampstead & Fortune Green plan ends up. The major issues that people raise are the interchange area between the three stations (the streetscape, the development plans, and the physical interchange of people), and the preservation of West Hampstead’s “village feel”, along with the desire for more green spaces. Architecture also looms large in people’s consciousness. So, the plan could decide to focus very heavily on architecture and far less on service provision, for example. Perhaps at its heart this idea comes down to whether it’s a plan focusing on issues, or on sites. Or, ambitiously, both.

The final speaker was Virginia Berridge, chair of WHAT, who made a couple of excellent points. The first was that the plan had to look ahead – this is a plan that may well not be ready in time to tackle the immediate wave of development proposals for the area. She pointed out that demographic projections suggested that the area would see an increase in the proportion of over-65s and in the number of parents with teenage children. Ensuring that these groups were adequately catered for could, therefore, be a key part of a plan. This might take the form of guiding how Section 106 money (the money developers pay to the council to help offset the cost of more residents) was spent – e.g., on sheltered housing or youth centres.

Virginia also raised the question of whether West Hampstead wanted to be a “posh suburb” or a “mixed community”, and that the answer to this question might also guide the direction the plan took.

With that the floor was open. I won’t attempt to capture all the questions / statements that came up. Many of them were issues that have been voiced before and won’t be resolved by a plan like this. Perhaps the most predictable, and understandable, reaction was from those who questioned whether such a plan would have any impact whatsoever. “Wouldn’t Camden just carry on doing what it wanted”, was the gist of a few people’s arguments. Certainly, some of those who’ve been around the block a few times are somewhat cynical about what this plan could achieve.

James took the angle that it was better to be positive and try and have some influence than just sit back and say that everything was Camden’s fault. Not surprisngly, the councillors present (most of the WH and FG councillors seemed to be there), agreed. Flick Rea even saying that this if we didn’t take this step now we might look back in 10 years time and wonder why on earth we didn’t as West Hamsptead changed irrevocably around us.

Sue Measures, who runs Sidings Community Centre, and who’s certainly been involved in enough of these initiatives to be cynical, also argued passionately that this was an opportunity to build a “shared social vision”. I forget now whether it was Sue at a later point, or someone else, who said that we should “protect what made people come here in the first place”, which seems to me a good sentiment that does not have to be at odds with the inevitable intensification that the area is undergoing.

The issue of the borders came up (raised partly by me), notably the southern border, which is the contentious one. To briefly recap: the NDF is proposing that the southern West Hampstead ward boundary should be the southern boundary of the plan area. WHGARA, the residents assocation for the streets south of the tube line and west of West End Lane, which are within West Hampstead ward, has been saying that its members will have to vote on whether they want to be included or not. This vote was supposed to take place earlier this month, but didn’t. I had originally understood that Camden strongly encouraged NDFs to bring the residents associations on board. At the meeting however, the representative from Camden planning told us that the borders were up to residents to decide. So, it’s not entirely clear to me why a residents association gets to decide on this, unless it can genuinely claim to represent a majority of households within its area.

James pointed out, when he wasn’t being heckled, that no two people he’d spoken to could agree on where the southern boundary of the plan should lie. I can well believe that. My view is that the members of the forum should forget the ward boundaries, which do change over time, and simply agree on what to them seems a logical boundary based on the input they’ve received from all relevant groups. For me, the ward boundary is peculiarly arbitrary – based I assume on balancing ward populations rather than on any sense of where people identify with or any particular planning considerations.

The southern border of West Hampstead ward

In what became a slightly farcical attempt to gauge the mood of the room, we were first asked whether we felt that this area south-west of the tube lines was part of West Hampstead – overwhelmingly people thought it was – and then whether we thought it should be part of the local plan – a slightly smaller majority thought it should be.

Given that the interchange is perhaps the number one planning issue in the area it seems perverse for the area of the plan to be centred so far north. Those living immediately to the south (yes, that includes me), will be at least if not more affected by changes here as the good people of Fortune Green. We already know that the “area for intensification” is not “West Hampstead” as we tend to think of it, but specifically the land along the railway lines. This area has, to be blunt, been sacrificed by Camden to preserve the red brick houses and land to the north. Not that people living outside the plan area are disenfranchised in terms of having their say when planning applications are made that would still affect them, but they would not be given a vote in the referendum on the plan. 

What now? The NDF will press ahead with the application to Camden to recognise the Forum and the area (with an agreed boundary), and then start drafting the plan. Hopefully, to echo several voices in the room last week, quibbles over boundaries do not delay the overall process.

West Hampstead & Fortune Green Neighbourhood Development Forum presentation

Speed limit plans prove emotive

A couple of days ago I wrote about Camden’s proposal to introduce a 20mph speed limit on all roads in the borough.

Here’s a presentation Camden prepared on the subject, which is laden with stats.

Camden 20mph Limit Presentation

On Twitter and in the comments section, there were plenty of people wanting to express their point of view, so I thought I’d collate them for you here:

Misty-eyed or hungry for change? West Hampstead speaks

Are West Hampstead locals “misty-eyed” about the past, or driving for progressive change?

Depends who you ask. A few months ago, the Neighbourhood Development Forum ran a survey1 to gauge people’s views on development in West Hampstead. It is interesting to see what common themes emerged, and where there were areas of discord. Interesting, and relevant, because it is responses to these surveys that will help inform the development plan that the Forum will draft.

First up, the tickbox questions (just the most interesting ones). Two answers stand out: the relative popularity of today’s mix of chains and independent shops (which shows a healthy streak of realism among whampers), and the fairly even split between housing, employment and shops when it comes to development priorities in the area. There seems to be an understanding of the need for housing, as long as it doesn’t involve high-rise.

Do you think West Hampstead has a “village feel”? Yes: 85%
No: 15%
Do you think West Hampstead has the right balance
of shops, restaurants and cafés?
Yes: 42%
No: 58%
Which are the most valuable on the high street? Independent shops: 56%
Chains: 1%
Both: 43%
Do you think that West Hampstead has the right balance
between old and new buildings?
Yes: 75%
No: 25%
What do you think should have the greatest priority
in developing our area?
Housing: 36%
Employment: 31%
Shops: 31%
Are you willing to accept more high-rise buildings to increase
the amount of housing in the area?
Yes: 25%
No: 75%

Why is housing such a big deal? The housing crisis is fairly well understood,but behind all the statistics are real people such as the person who wrote this in the survey:

I am renting. In the future I will likely move out of London as I can’t afford to buy here. Local and city-wide population is growing. More well designed mid-rises make sense! If you look at the area – it is dominated by beautiful mid-high density housing – the Edwardian mansion flats. Lets have our version of these now. That might be high rise but well done tower blocks, it might be something along the lines of modern mansion flats but on new pieces of land. There is a reasonable block on Kingdon road like this. New housing would not spoil the village atmosphere.

The qualitative research is also enlightening. There’s a lot of emphasis on preserving green space, but the reactions to housing are mixed with some dead against, some seeking infill, and others who argue that change is a good thing, even if that means high-rises. The divide is perhaps strongest between those who are against all development (which is like trying to stop the tide), and those who have a more realistic outlook to how development should proceed:

Organically in conjunction with local residents, but with an emphasis on progress and not a misty-eyed past.

Overall, responses to the six open-ended questions ranged from the insightful to the banal to the hilarious. And one person just wasn’t sure about anything at all. Some people listed the types of shops they wanted, others used the opportunity to rant at the council.

Someone very kindly said that they really liked what I did for the community, while someone else alluded to the “prejudices and hobby-horses of self-appointed busybodies and bloggers”, which I guess refers at least in part to me, though I’m not quite sure which prejudices I’m guilty of spreading.

I’ve included an edited selection of answers below to try and give you a sense of the issues raised. These aren’t all the responses, and even those that are included have sometimes been edited for brevity, clarity and to avoid too much repetition. Nor have I included answers that reference things that have since happened, such as the farmers’ market.

As always, your comments overall would be interesting to hear. I’ll be writing more in the next day or so about the progress of the NDF and the recent public meeting about it.

Q1. What would you like to see included in a Neighbourhood Development Plan for Fortune Green & West Hampstead?

  • More parks and green space (e.g. pocket parks, access to the land with trees along the railway lines along the O2 Centre) or improving existing spaces. More employment space (to support the weekday economy). Small rise office/workshop/studios.
  • Education re: litter, manners and neighbourliness.
  • New buildings are a good thing, as they reflect the changing nature of the area. They need to be sympathetic and well designed though.
  • Ideally, plan for building more houses owned by co-operatives / Peabody [Peabody Trust] etc../ shared ownership / as well as standard private buyers.
  • More trees and grass.
  • Width restriction for large articulated lorries that use west end lane like a motorway.
  • Building in keeping in colour of visible materials. Buildings not to exceed current height in area. New buildings not to encroach on busy pavements that are narrow. Not to obscure light and pedestrian space near train stations. Not to increase density any MORE – turning the village into urban sprawl.
  • Better community facilities such as a hall for meetings that does not cost a lot.
  • Maintaining and improving the area as a good place to do business, improve quality of life for residents but also ensure the area plays its part in providing more housing for the borough and London as a whole. In particular this means a progressive approach to promoting good-quality developments (including ‘high rise’ buildings); a more mainstream high street with a better mix of shops, restaurants and other business space – accessible by car as well as public transport;
  • The provision of allotments – ideally on Gondar Gardens reservoir site.
  • More shops – mostly idependent but a Boots would be great.
  • Restictions on refurbishment of Victorian houses including the introduction of new basements, loft extensions and paving over front gardens. Prioritize the building of affordable housing on existing brownfield sites. Stopping people selling off their back gardens to developers. Retaining Gondar Gardens reservoir as a protected open space.
  • More flexible shortterm parking to allow small local shopkeepers to be more successful. Daytime parking restrictions affect shops but not restaurants whose main business is in the evenings. Traffic controls through West Hampstead to slow down traffic and to encourage them to consider pedestrians. (20mph?) More play facilities for over 5s. Better street cleaning. Our side streets are filthy and much of it comes from overflowing bins outside properties. (Enforcement?).
  • Reduction in street signage.
  • High quality modern design and architecture should be promoted but should be in sympathy with neighbouring buildings. The promotion of public transport and pedestrian movement is important.
  • A coherent plan for street trees.
  • Allow more people to convert their front gardens to driveways. Create more parking spaces. Develop underground car parks. Reduce the parking limitation zones. Make it easier for people to drive to our area to support our shops without fear of parking limits or fines.
  • A small pond.
  • A limit to the height of buildings. A higher proportion of social housing than is usually offered currently by developers. Linked Section 106 agreements which would contribute towards extra school places.
  • Space/units for small businesses and start-ups. there are no spaces like this anywhere this side of London. especially for people who want to create/make; carpenters, mechanics, crafts etc. building plans for housing around West Hampstead are too large. If you accommodate these people, where do you think they will park cars – even if its just for unloading/taxis, etc. west end lane will be grid-locked. school: another school on the c11 route is not a good idea. have any of you ever tried to get on a c11 when children need to get to school? bigger bus and more of them pls.
  • More youth clubs, or whatever the modern equivalent is.
  • Not sure.

Q2. What are the things you like about the area?

  • Good transport links. Proximity to central London
  • The location – and community feel.
  • The trees. The cafés (even though there isn’t one that is truly great). The green. How you can walk down the street at 9pm any night and it feels relaxed, with people sitting outside, it feels safe and it feels authentic… The sense that it could change and new, interesting, friendly shops/cafés/bars/art places or anything could open at anytime.
  • The openness with few high rise buildings, the safety, the numerous facilities for children.
  • Village feel, transport, not pretentious, good mix of people.
  • The traditional architecture.
  • I like the fact that there is a good balance between long, mid and short term locals and age groups. It provides a balanced feel to the area and maintains the village-y feel without it becoming too cliquey.
  • I like the village feel which is rapidly disappearing. It used to be an area of artisans and that feeling has gone.
  • The self-contained village feel – the wonderful local police – good community relations – huge effort made by existing residents to welcome new residents. The little bits of green space – the good rail connections. The family homes and the fact that families and young children still come to this area to make a home and keep it vibrant. Our good schools.
  • The transport facilities. The village feel of Mill Lane, independent shops, diversity of people in the area.
  • I love the feel of West Hampstead (apart from the West End Lane ‘parking lot’).
  • People used to be friendly and neighbours used to know one another. This has changed with property being rented and the resulting moving population.  West Hampstead still has a village atmosphere but, parking is a problem here. Travel is excellent with the new and attractive station.
  • It has a quieter feel, not busy like Kilburn.

Q3. What are the things you like about your street?

  • It’s a main road with continuous traffic and a bus route, frequently snarled up with jams so there is not much to like.
  • People are friendly and helpful.
  • The trees The mansion blocks – high density housing done well! The synagogue building (though I’ve never been inside – would like to). Its proximity to West End Lane, but relative quiet. The style of houses. Its safety – I can walk along it and feel safe mostly.
  • It is very quiet and I can nearly always find a parking space.
  • I don’t as I live on Fortune Green Road and it’s like a motorway for huge lorries. I suppose I love the large trees the most as they so beautiful.
  • The cemetery, Nautilus.
  • A lot of people I have known for 45 years +
  • It is changing for the better.
  • I like a) the attractive and symmetric architecture and the relative absence of front dormers; b) the lack of people parking in their front gardens.
  • In my humble opinion one of the most attractive streets in London – and I love that it is a street you would be hard pushed to find outside of the capital!
  • The people. I hate the narrow, old and tatty pavements. There should NOT be any trees on Weech Road. Fortune Green is moments away and provides ample trees. The pavements are too narrow. REMOVE the trees. They’re not wanted and not needed.
  • Having a park and a Tescos!

Q4. What things would like to protect in your area?

  • Parks and open spaces. Independent shops. Employment.small businesses
  • Trees. A few years ago new trees were planted. Unfortunately they were the wrong type and some have now been replaced others have disappeared and the spaced filled with a concrete slab.
  • The independent shops/cafés/bars that are left… The trees / the green. Cafés and bars that allow people to sit on the street. The public transport.
  • Trees, fewer pointless duplicate lampposts.
  • Architecture and the property frontage, stopping estate agents signs, extend conservation areas. Improve and maintain green spaces including West End Green and Kilburn Grange.
  • Green spaces, such as they are.
  • The 2 red old BT phone boxes by fortune green and have them freshly painted.
  • The look and feel of the streets. Not allowing houses to lose their original design integrity.
  • Change is part of growth and development. Parks and open spaces should be protected.
  • More police.
  • I’m happy for some development but a more open discussion about the costs and benefits.
  • The tree lined roads. No more housing.
  • The park and all nearby beautiful architecture. Replace the cheap shoddy lamps with traditional lighting fitting for the Hampstead area, Repair/replace all pavements. This is not trivial. It makes walking for the elderly more dangerous. It also makes it dangerous for walking with babies in a pushchair. The uneven surfaces cause people to trip and hurt themselves.
  • Views. There are too many big trees. I’d like to see them pruned more strongly, and more often. I’m talking both Council street trees and huge trees at the bottoms of virtually all adjoining gardens in Parsifal Road. (It’s a problem now we’re in the West End Green conservation area.). And light, again the trees’ fault. I’d pass a law saying no tree branch should ever obscure the light from a street lamp.
  • Not sure.

Q5. How do you think the area should develop in the future?

  • It would be good if the area could be developed to encourage settling rather than transience by strengthening the sense of community, identity and belonging. There will always be movement but the loss of family homes in favour of studios/bedsits, cafés/ low quality food outlets replacing shops selling quality products is turning the area into a dormitory town with a clone high street.
  • West Hampstead is great, but shows its heritage. It needs to develop infrastructure and shops/restaurants: – a couple more pubs (better quality than the current dives) – why not a Wetherspoons? – decent sit-down ociali/thai restaurants – a proper fish and chip shop more central than Nautilus.
  • More houses / flats (not just for buy to let). I am renting. In the future I will likely move out of London as I can’t afford to buy here. Local and city-wide population is growing. More well designed midrises make sense! If you look at the area – it is dominated by beautiful mid-high density housing – the Edwardian mansion flats. Lets have our version of these now. That might be high rise but well done tower blocks, it might be something along the lines of modern mansion flats but on new pieces of land. There is a reasonable block on Kingdon road like this. New housing would not spoil the village atmosphere.
  • It should be more cycling friendly.
  • I think there should be a focus on developing small businesses within the area, both so that the immediate community is better served and feels less need to go outside of the area and also so that people from other areas are encouraged to visit and spend their money. Currently parking is a problem for visitors though and any removal of resident’s parking to facilitate visitor parking would be unwelcome as it would cause issues for the residents.
  • Tricky, it feels fairly dense already.
  • I think the area should look to develop and preserve its past and not rush into putting in more and more dwellings in every spare space. I’m not unaware of the problems of housing generally. However, if we increase dwellings and developments in the future, I believe we are building in social problems for the future.
  • A big notice board in the high street to keep everyone up to date.
  • Stop cramming thousands around the station. Have a thought for quality of life and safely of those using station.
  • It should evolve from the present with the emphasis on small scale housing renewal.
  • Better use needs to be made of the commercial areas we have in the area – parts of Fortune Green, Mill Lane and Broadhurst Gardens are having a difficult time sustaining local businesses.
  • Mixed developments including housing, shops, bars and public spaces. Better interchange between stations.
  • Very very slowly and not at all until all the isuess with schoosls, water, transport, cars, noise, power and healthcare have been resolved with the council.
  • Stop too many expensive private housing projects, introduce rent controls for private landlords, stop the selling off of the few remaining council owned properties and make the location accessible to ordinary people – we are being overwhelmed by rich people from the City who have no commitment to the area or social services.
  • There should be sensitive development to ensure that intensification of accommodation does not exacerbate problems with rubbish, parking and noise. The existing style of building should be maintained.
  • Give more prominence to the needs of children and young people who are not well provided for.
  • Organically in conjunction with local residents, but with an emphasis on progress and not a misty-eyed past.
  • I don’t think West Hampstead should be a museum. It has to make a contribution towards providing additonal housing but the focus should be on affordable housing not on piedàterres for the rich. I would like something about improving the traffic flow through the areas around the West Hampstead stations and would support a major development there provided the quality was appropriate.
  • I think we need to put housing on the agenda as it is only if more housing is built that prices will come down relatively and young people will have a chance to get their feet on the housing ladder.
  • The interchange area should be a gateway to the area that we could be proud of. That area provides an opportunity for high quality, high density housing which could take West Hampstead as a whole up a level. Planners should be relaxed about the possible amalgamation of retail units to attract more A1 multiples.
  • Yes, new housing but not so high to overwhelm present buildings. More space for short term parking for shops and more space for pedestrians. Awareness on how much sign/street furniture there is in the main streets.
  • Put railings in front of the West Hampstead Thameslink, People come off the train mobile in hand and walk straight out in front of cars and cyclist.
  • Less crime (robberies).
  • More emphasis on people’s gardens, some are left trashy.
  • Less cars – the pollution, dirt and smell from them is very off-putting and very un-villagey.
  • The area, especially along the high street has started to look run down over the past 4 years. Investment needs to be concentrated into reviving the high streets of West End Lane and Mill lane and creating a vibrant community for shopping, socialising and relaxing.

Q6. Where should new development in the area be located?

  • Wherever there is space. Its a pity that one-fifth of West Hampstead ward is currently a car park (O2 Centre). Maybe development could be built over the railway lines so they are all underground!
  • The area around the stations should be tidied up and redeveloped with commercial units. The triangular area between the railway lines should be conservatively redeveloped.
  • I don’t know if i’m honest, i’m not a town planner / have access to all the data. Depends what the new development is too but: Possibly… by the transport hubs. In South Hampstead as walking up to the tube seems less busy than down West End Lane. The overground there is dead, but its a great line. Wherever there is land that is not being loved. Not just new – how about using properties that are empty? There are a lot of them. Iverson road? Back of Homebase?
  • There are patches of poorly maintained housing, especially in Sumatra Road that could be redeveloped in an appealing way.
  • In Cricklewood!
  • I don’t know where or if any new development should be permitted.
  • Around the train tracks and on Blackburn Road perhaps, but I really don’t know where they will find the space for new development…
  • In car park of O2 centre or possibly in Barnet where they have more space.
  • Where there is poorly used space such as along Maygrove Road.
  • The areas around the railway lines are obviously underutilized and should be the focus of sensible development. The whole of Blackburn road could be better utilized with a redevelopment incorporating both residential and commercial facilities. I don’t think there should be too many restrictions in terms of redevelopment. The example of the new Emmanuel school and residential development on Fortune Green are good examples of what can be achieved on existing sites.
  • It shouldn’t. Unless rundown properties need to be pulled down. You have to be realistic when the best thing is no more major development otherwise the area becomes soulless and loses appeal.
  • That manky area near the station.
  • Somewhere in London that has the space and infrastructure.
  • Renovation and conversion of old buildings should be prioritised instead of new build. One exception is that I would love to see the Sagar Building [Alfred Court on Fortune Green] demolished as it has ruined everyone’s view and looks like a prison. It could be replaced with an attractive building that was in tune with the surroundings.
  • I think encouragement, possibly financial, could be given to home-owners under-occupying their own property to release part of their homes for letting/conversion.
  • The reservoir is the last remaining undeveloped green site and would be an ideal place for open space for children but has sat empty for years. There was a small play area there in the early 80s which was closed down. If agreement is given to residential development there then the planning gain needs to be better open space facilities for local people. Please no more gated communities.
  • The development area should be constrained to the interchange.
  • High quality architecture should be welcomed all over the area.
  • Spaced evenly – everywhere. Society develops. That’s life!
  • Not sure.

1There were 180 responses from people spread across the area, with a slight bias to the northern half. Some basic demographic questions helped assess how representative the sample was, and it turned out to be moderately in line with the data from the 2001 census 2001, although with a strong bias towards responses from owner-occupiers, older people and long-term residents, who probably are largely the same group.

Each dot marks approximate address of a respondent.
The border is that of West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards

20mph in Camden: Slower, safer, sensible?

Camden’s proposed 20mph speed limit on all its roads certainly got ample press coverage when it was announced a couple of weeks ago. [update: you can see Camden’s presentation on the issue]

It’s not a new idea, it was actually being mooted back in 2004. Nor is Camden the first place to make such a move. Neighbouring borough Islington has just implemented such a scheme.

It’s predominantly a safety issue, and some of the borough’s side streets already have a 20mph limit after the last Camden administration voted to expand the go-slow zone. The new rules would not apply to roads in the borough run by TfL (such as Finchley Road), although there could be some lobbying to have the limit applied borough-wide.

Cllr Phil Jones, cabinet member for sustainability, explained the thinking behind the proposal to the Ham & High: “Introducing a 20mph borough-wide limit in Camden would prevent road casualties and make our streets safer for all. We want to give greater confidence to the pedestrians and cyclists who use our roads and encourage more people to switch to sustainable forms of transport.”

There’s a school of thought that says it’s unusual to travel at more than 20mph anyway on Camden’s generally congested roads – at least during the daytime – so would imposing a limit have any impact on accidents? As a couple of people mention in this BBC report, drivers are having accidents and close shaves with cyclists at 20mph already. However, in the CNJ, the council cites TfL statistics that there has been a more than 20 percent fall in accidents in Belsize Park, which has been under a 20mph zone since 2006.

Naturally, not everyone is keen. Keith Peat, the regional co-ordinating manager for campaigning non-profit group, the Association of British Drivers, was reported in the CNJ as saying the move was “counter productive”. He continued, “In congested areas, 20mph zones often have drivers more focused on the speedometer so they don’t get a fine than, say, keeping an eye out if a child runs across their path.”

Away from the busier southern reaches of the borough, however, there are plenty of stretches of road where 20mph is more than feasible (even if it sometimes feels as if West End Lane is at a permanent standstill), so perhaps it is around West Hampstead and Hampstead that the greatest impact might be felt, rather than in Camden Town or Kings Cross.

Enforcement, of course, is a crucial part of such a scheme’s success. Cllr Jones explains the ‘big picture’ approach he’s taking: “This is not about introducing more road humps,” he stresses, “it is about beginning to change the culture on our roads in favour of lower speeds. We will continue with small local schemes where they are supported by residents, but this is a more comprehensive proposal that would be implemented without major traffic calming measures.”

Swiss Cottage councillor Andrew Marshall wrote to the Camden New Journal with his views on the issue (he’s in favour). He recognises that not everyone will share his perspective: “The fact that 20mph zones are always going to be contentious with some should not be an excuse for inaction by the council.”

There’ll be a consultation of course, and no doubt strong views on both sides of the argument. What do you think? Is a 20mph limit enforceable on the busier roads? Will it actually have an impact on accidents?

A Queensbury Rules trade-off

I know there’s a Willesden Green contingent among readers, so although this is outside my normal patch (and because The Queensbury featured in the Sunday Lunch periphery round-up), this seemed worth covering. As I’m no expert in all things NW2, I’ve handed this post over to local resident Esther Foreman (@estherforeman), who finds herself in a predicament but has a – perhaps controversial – solution.

“I have woken up every morning for the past eight years and gazed out of my window to look at the tree-covered hills, vales and rooftops of Hendon, Hampstead and Kilburn, dotted with the odd high rise.

The Fairview New Homes development of 110 Walm Lane seeks to completely destroy my world view, quite literally. It proposes to knock down the Queensbury Pub and the Willesden Green Conservative Club, and build 56 high-rise homes. Ten of these would be affordable housing. There would be 700 m2 of communal space and 23 car parking spaces.

Impression of the new flats
(click for the full Design Statement document)

This has put me into a difficult position. Brent needs new homes, badly. The council has set a minimum target of 2,050 new homes by 2016. We have high levels of families living in temporary accommodation, and high levels of homelessness. As someone who has grown up in the area, no longer surrounded by friends and family who have been forced out due to housing shortages and high private rents, I should be welcoming this development with open arms. New homes means new money in the area and each local development is a notch up the community bootstrap and one less fried chicken shop.

However, the cost is high. We will lose the Queensbury Pub, which is the only decent pub in the neighbourhood and provides a great local community meeting point, space for mums and babies during the week, quiz nights and Sunday roasts. This is where I have bumped into Sarah Teather, our local MP, exchanged conversation with celebrities, garnished support for petitions, and argued over the best local curry house with strangers. We held our first Erin Court residents association meeting in there eight years ago. If this goes, where do we go?

I think that the plans for the Willesden Green Library development should be put into the mix here. I actually like the plans for the redevelopment and think the area badly needs a cultural centre and the new housing (92 units altogether) that will come with it. The plans are being blocked by a lot of people who seem to prioritise the car park in the back over the much-needed homes for our sons and daughters .

So here’s what I propose. We have more support for the library centre development as it provides housing, community space, books and so on – and offset this with keeping the Queensbury as is. At the start of the year there were 3,000 families waiting for housing in Brent. People have to live somewhere, and not everyone can afford a Mapsebury Avenue, 6-bedroom house. But once those people move in, they have to have somewhere to meet up in the evening and it’s better for the local economy if they spend their pound in Willesden. If the Queensbury goes, there is no other place for us to do this.

If you decide to support those plucky bar staff at the Queensbury by signing their petition on change.org or by responding directly to Brent Council, remember to give some support for the Library Development at the same time. I say Yes to Homes and Yes to Communities.”

110WalmLane Design Statement

Fortune Green stays in Hampstead & Kilburn

It always sounded improbable. How could Fortune Green ward disappear off into the clutches of a Barnet-dominated parliamentary constituency, leaving behind its southern neighbours? There was lobbying from all three parties; there was wailing; I heard a rumour that some Liberal Democrats actually gnashed their teeth. The end result: the Boundary Commission’s revised proposals have kyboshed the idea.

The Commission proposed a Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, comprising two Brent wards and eight Camden wards, that would be similar, but not identical, to the existing Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. The Commission did not include the Camden ward of Fortune Green in this constituency, but rather in a Finchley and Golders Green constituency. It also did not include the Camden ward of Belsize, which it proposed should be included in the Camden and Regent’s Park constituency. Both these wards are in the existing Hampstead and Kilburn constituency.

In light of the many representations, such as from Camden Borough Council, that the Commission’s proposals in relation to both Fortune Green and Belsize wards would break existing ties, we have decided that these wards should be in a Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. To satisfy the electorate range, we have decided that two other Camden wards, Gospel Oak and Kentish Town, which the Commission included in its Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, should instead be included in a Camden Town and Regent’s Park constituency. Our proposed Hampstead and Kilburn constituency (which is the same as that proposed by the Conservative Party) comprises wards from two boroughs, as in the Commission’s proposals. Since this constituency would be largely similar to the existing constituency, we have decided that the name should be retained.

In the near term this is all a bit of an irrelevance, but it may not be in the longer term. We all know that the Lib Dems said they wouldn’t back the Conservatives over changes to constituency boundaries as the Tories failed to move forward on an elected House of Lords. In practice, this means that any changes have a Lib Dem’s chance in Tower Hamlets of getting through before the next election. Nevertheless, the revised proposals from the Boundary Commission may carry some weight should the Conservatives win an outright majority next time around (Labour’s already said it would scrap the proposals).

The revised proposal returns Fortune Green to its rightful home as part of Hampstead & Kilburn. There are other changes to the 2011 plans, but the upshot compared to the situation as it stands today is simple: H&K gains Highgate but loses Brondesbury Park. Everything else is as you were. You can view all the revisions across London on this gigantic map.

To recap:
Existing wards in H&K:  Belsize, Fortune Green, Frognal and Fitzjohns, Hampstead Town, Kilburn, Swiss Cottage, West Hampstead, Brondesbury Park, Kilburn, Queens Park

Proposed revision: Belsize, Fortune Green, Frognal and Fitzjohns, Hampstead Town, Highgate, Kilburn, Swiss Cottage, West Hampstead, Kilburn Park, Queens Park

Here’s the 2011 proposal from the Boundary Commission
Here’s the 2012 revision

As I say, this will not happen before the next election (at the very earliest), so it’s a bit premature to start predicting the political ramifications of any such changes.

Public meeting Oct 22nd

I know normally I’m exhorting you to go to Kilburn for comedy on a Monday night, but on October 22nd I suggest you head down a bit later. Why? Because there’s a public meeting that is really worth turning up to if you want to understand and contribute to the shaping of West Hampstead over the years to come.

WHAT (the local action group) in conjunction with the West Hampsead Neighbourhood Development Forum, is holding a public meeting to bring everyone up to speed with how the NDF is evolving and, more crucially, to set the boundaries of the area to be covered.

This is a subject I’ve touched on recently (read the comments on that link to get up to speed with the latest), and nothing has yet been finalised, especially in terms of where the southern boundary of the Neighbourhood Development Plan should be. You might believe, as I do, that as the area around the stations is likely to see the greatest development pressures the people who live both north and south of the train lines should very much be included. However, as things stand, the cutoff point for the plan could well be the tube line itself, so those living within spitting distance of the O2 car park, for example, may have little influence on plans to redevelop it, while people living the best part of a mile to the north may be far more involved.

You don’t need to do any background reading to come along – all will be explained. Help me lower the average age of attendees, find out what’s happening in West Hampstead, and have your say.The “other speakers” mentioned below are from Urban Design, Planning Aid and Camden’s planning department.

Maygrove may grow 100 new flats

The redevelopment of Handrail House has been on the cards for a while. A proposal last year was refused, but the developers are back with revisions and more ambition – at least in terms of scale.

No plans have been submitted to Camden yet, but on Wednesday there was an open meeting at Sidings Community Centre where the architects and developers presented their latest thinking. I wasn’t able to go, but James Earl – chair of the Neighbourhood Development Forum – was present along with local councillors.

Site up for development: click for larger version

It’s a big project, with approximately 100 flats over five storeys and now covering both Handrail House (65 Maygrove Rd) and No.67 Maygrove Road (flats at the moment). Like all other large housing projects in Camden the intention is for it to be car free (as with the Ballymore development, there is an argument as to how viable this really is), with disabled parking only. Camden is pushing for half the units to be affordable housing, and the developers are offering Section 106 money (the contributions developers have to make to the local community) for Sidings Community Centre, to lay astroturf the football pitch there, and install a café in the Peace Park.

The issues raised at the meeting included the removal of business/employment space from the site (there are currently offices at Handrail House), concerns about the design (yellow brick and quite modern), the impact on the Peace Park (several of the flats will over look it), traffic and parking on Maygrove Road, and a general concern as to whether the infrastructure in the area can cope with another 300 people.

As regular readers wil know, West Hampstead has been earmarked for intensification so more people are almost certainly going to be moving to the area – the issue is precisely where and what sort of buildings they’ll be moving into.

All the pictures were on powerpoint rather than display boards, so I’m afraid I don’t have any pics to show you although apparently the architect firm involved is the same one that designed the Olympic velodrome!

Velodrome in the Olympic Park

Should we pay for our own amenities?

I came across an article from Fast Company this morning. It’s about a trend in the US to ask local residents to contribute to civic improvements – so-called “crowdfunding”. A Tampa-based organisation called Citizinvestor has been pushing this.

The recession has left hundreds of parks un-renovated, and hundreds of basketball courts unpaved. Without funds, municipalities have had to delay, or cancel, projects that otherwise would get started…
… For example, the city of Philadelphia is currently asking for $12,875 so it can plant 15,000 trees. But that’s just the start. The plan is for many more, and bigger, projects than that.

Unlike Kickstarter, a crowdfunding scheme for creative projects that also operates in the UK, Citizinvestor lets locals “petition for projects as well as contribute to ones municipalities have put forward.”. There are no rewards for contributing (although contributions are tax-deductible in the US).

It’s an interesting idea and got me wondering whether such a thing would work in an area such as West Hampstead. I suspect it might. But wholehearted adoption would lead to bigger ideological questions. After all, we already pay taxes to both central and local government, and civic space has traditionally been funded by municipal government. Sure, when times are tough I think a lot of people would rather see money spent on nurses, or care for the elderly than on planting new trees or relaying paths in a park, but how likely is it that once an economy rebounds a government would resume responsibility for something its citizens had willingly paid for on top of their existing taxes?

It’s worth noting that the schemes up for funding are already on the government agenda but aren’t a priority. So, this isn’t entirely about people doing it for themselves – the Citizinvestor model has people contributing to projects that have already been approved and will be then be implemented by local government, although the petition element does introduce a populist angle.

The co-founder of Citizinvestor, Jordan Rayner, is quoted in the article as saying “There is a place for a service to make government work more like a vending machine, where I get to choose which parks and pools I want to build.” Good soundbite, but surely that runs the risk that the more affluent the area, the more “parks and pools” get funded. It would add complexity (and grumbling) if the council’s pledge was “we’ll pay for a swimming pool in this deprived area, but those of you in the richer areas have to provide your own”. Here we enter into questions of scale – in London this would surely have to work at a borough-wide level, with an understanding that people in Kilburn ward would be unlikely to cough up for civic improvements in Camden Town, and vice-versa.

We already live in a city where the divide between public space and private space is increasingly blurred; in theory citizen funding would leave no doubt as to who any such projects belonged to. But when does citizen funding bleed into “local business funding”, and in turn “big business funding”. Citizinvestor’s FAQs make no mention of any commercial interest in funding proposals, and it would perhaps be a good starting point to clarify that no branding would be allowed on any project, and no conditions could be imposed by anyone contributing to the cost.

What do you think? Do you think a few thousand locals would stump up a few quid each to tart up West End Green? Not too controversial. What about speed bumps? Cycle lanes? Increasing litter patrols? What constitutes an essential service, and what’s a “nice to have” when belts are being tightened.

I’ve included the How It Works section from the Citizinvestor website, which clarifies the mechanics of the scheme quite well:

Municipalities submit projects to Citizinvestor.com.
These are projects that have already been scored, department-approved and only lack one thing – funding. Projects range from building a new park to installing speed bumps or adding a few parking spaces to your neighborhood library. The list of these projects for any city is nearly endless. Currently, these projects sit on a long-list behind other budget priorities, especially now when local government budgets are tighter than ever before.

Citizens invest in the projects they care about most.
For the first time ever, we are giving citizens the opportunity to tell government exactly where they want their dollars spent. Citizens can find projects that their local government has posted on Citizinvestor.com and pledge to invest any amount they wish towards the project. Not only can citizens invest in projects from their local governments, but Citizinvestor also gives citizens the opportunity to petition for new projects that local government either hasn’t thought of or hasn’t approved.

Once a project is 100% funded, the project is built!
This is key – citizens only pay their portion of the project if other citizens step up to the plate and commit to fund 100% of the stated cost. This is a win/win for everyone! Citizens only have to invest money if there is a guarantee that the project of their choice will be built and governments only have to commit to building a project if they receive 100% of the funding they need. Not a dime changes hands unless everyone is happy. This ensures that there is no risk to citizens for pledging to invest and no risk to governments posting projects to Citizinvestor.com.

Gondar Gardens – first appeal nears conclusion

The tale of the proposed development of the Gondar Gardens reservoir site is a lengthy one. In essence, a couple of years ago, developers Linden Wates put forward a plan that would have seen the disused site turned into a series of semi-sunken homes, that became known as the Teletubby development. Planning permission was refused, partly due to the presence of slow worms on the site.

Computer image of original plans

A second, less controversial development was then put forward that kept much of the green space intact, but still added new housing on the street. This too was refused.


Artist’s impression of second proposal

While the second proposal was being considered, Linden Wates was appealing the first decision. That appeal opened in May but was adjourned after three days. The inquiry reconvened last week, and the hearing concluded yesterday.

Here’s the assessment of how the appeal has gone from the perspective of the Gondar & Agamemnon Residents Association (GARA):

Back in May, both Camden and GARA gave evidence as to why the refusal should be upheld, and were cross-examined at length. Linden Wates started to give their evidence.

This week, the inquiry reconvened. Linden Wates gave detailed evidence and were cross-examined by Camden’s barrister and GARA’s barrister.

On Thursday, there was a lengthy examination of opposing experts’ views about the state of the reservoir structure and its likelihood of partial or total collapse; and a debate about Linden Wates’ approach to affordable housing (i.e., paying for it to be somewhere else).

Almost all of Friday was spent with Linden Wates’ planning consultant, with arguments about the relative merits of different aspects of planning policy. That might sound interminable but it goes to the heart of the matter – does the protection of being Open Space and a Site of Nature Conservation Interest outweigh the developer’s argument that the structure itself is ‘previously developed land’?

Add in arguments about whether the new National Planning Policy Framework promotes development, or protects land of high environmental value, and you have the opportunity for some lively debate, some of it rivalling any West End theatre production (OK, only in parts).

Also on Friday, local resident Mark Stonebanks made an excellent contribution, challenging LW’s competence in areas of traffic and parking, design, and drainage.

Monday – the final day – started with a visit to houses on all four sides of the site. The inspector seemed to expect the good views from Gondar Gardens and the less good views from Agamemnon Road (obscured by trees); but he appeared surprised at the extent of views from Hillfield and Sarre Roads.

We returned to the inquiry and heard an impassioned, yet controlled statement from Hugh McCormick [Ed: I don’t know who he is]. Linden Wates’ barrister declined to cross-examine. There followed some haggling over conditions / Section 106 matters to be imposed “should the appeal be successful”. Linden Wates and Camden had pre-agreed most of this, and it was GARA that raised some issues although it made very limited headway.

Then it was onto the showpiece summing-up from each barrister. This is a curious affair in which each party submits a written statement (typically 20 close-typed A4 pages) and then proceeds to read the entire document aloud.

GARA’s barrister covered all the key points: ecological value; open space; and traffic, parking and other matters – all of which are supported by both planning policy and real local importance. Camden defended its multiple reasons for refusing planning permission, even to the extent of appearing to promote the second (frontage) scheme in order to demonstrate that alternatives to the appeal scheme could exist.

Linden Wates’ barrister was very professional in putting its case. We expect a decision by the end of November, which is just after the deadline for Linden Wates to appeal against refusal of the second scheme.

I’ll keep you posted on what happens next!

Dispersal zone could be extended

Tuesday’s meeting about the proposed West Hampstead dispersal zone was less “drop-in” and more “sit around a table” than I’d been led to believe. As a result, and because the door was locked when I arrived, I missed the start and thus (presumbaly) the set-up and the police’s perspective.

Nevertheless, I was there to hear local residents voice a wide range of disgruntlements with both the council and the police.There was a strong sense that “something had to be done”, with anecdotes of long-standing anti-social behaviour. There was also a recognition that the underlying problems wouldn’t be solved by simply moving people on, but the idea of this short-term measure was broadly welcomed with caveats around appropriate resourcing.

The main problem the police want to deal with is gang activity on the Lithos Road estate, and they see the dispersal zone as a useful tool to help them. The challenge is that dispersal zones often just shift the problem across the border, wherever that border might be. They are also extremely subjective – any group of young people can be dispersed at the whim of the police and are not allowed to return within 24 hours.

Lets take Broadhurst Gardens as an example – the whole road is included in the proposed zone. A group of 22-year-old bankers drinking outside The Gallery could be very noisy, and potentially anti-social. Down the other end of the road by the Broadfield Estate, a group of 18-year-olds could be hanging out one evening with not much else to do, just chatting and with no intention of causing trouble. Which group is more likely to be dispersed?

There appeared to be a strong push to extend the zone across West End Lane to include the Thameslink station – this ended up being stretched to the Maygrove Road/Iverson Road junction including Medley Road.

The blue lines mark the proposed extension

Ultimately, most people seemed to say they supported the zone only if it was extended as described above. Camden’s Michael Hrycak (a Senior Community Safety Officer) explained that extending the zone would delay the process as people living in that area would then need to be consulted. Cllr John Bryant pointed out that there wasn’t much point having a consultation meeting if the input was going to be ignored. It’s not entirely clear how this will proceed – quite possibly by the original zone being put in force and the extension being considered when the zone is reviewed after six weeks or so.

Such reviews are mandatory for dispersal zones. They can lead to prolonged periods of enforcement (a few years for example), or the review might conclude that the impact is negligible or that the problem has been solved. There’s also an issue in that anti-social behaviour tends to be worse in the summer when longer days and warmer nights encourages people to be out later. So, a reduction in ASB may be ascribed to a successful dispersal zone, when it could just be a function of rainy weather and chilly nights.

As soon as I hear more about the implementation of the zone, I’ll report back.

Move along please – nothing to see here

Early Tuesday evening, there’s a drop-in consultation meeting about whether a dispersal zone should be implemented in part of West Hampstead. Whether you’re an arch libertarian or in the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade (or perhaps somewhere inbetween), this is your chance to get your views across.

The idea is to “specifically target the problem of Anti Social Behaviour by youths and related incidents including large scale fights involving weapons, assaults, robbery, drinking alcohol and the use of drugs within the areas highlighted above. It is further aimed at targeting Anti Social Behaviour by groups associated with controlled drug offences on the West Hampstead Ward”

What’s a dispersal zone? Here’s the definition from Local Government.

A dispersal order will provide the police with additional powers to disperse groups of two or more people where the officer has reasonable grounds for believing that their presence or behaviour has resulted, or is likely to result, in a member of the public being harassed, intimidated, alarmed or distressed. Once asked to disperse, it will be a criminal offence for that person to return to the dispersal area for a 24-hour period.
If a young person under the age of 16 is stopped in the area after 9.00 pm and is not accompanied by an adult, the police can escort them to their home address, if they are either:

  • at risk or vulnerable from anti-social behaviour or crime
  • causing, or at risk of causing, anti-social behaviour.

A dispersal zone can be as small as the area surrounding a cash point or as large as an entire open area of a housing estate or row of shops. Once a dispersal order is in place, the escort power can be used against any under-16, but it does not necessarily have to be used at all.

Camden police’s West Hampstead crime map for July 2012 isn’t online yet, but I’ve taken a look back over the past few months to see how many anti-social behaviour crimes have been recorded within the proposed dispersal zone. I also looked back at June 2011.

June 2012 – 35 ASB offences
May 2012 – 27 ASB offences
April 2012 – 42 ASB offences
March 2012 – 28 ASB offences
June 2011 – 16 ASB offences

Such a short time series isn’t that meaningful, although the fact that of these five months, June 2011 was the quietest might suggest that the problem is indeed getting worse although as you can see from both March and April these stats can be skewed by a couple of larger incidents. A dispersal zone was recently put in place the Brent side of Kilburn, and there was one around Swiss Cottage that was renewed several times.

Not everyone agrees with the principle of dispersal zones. Aside from the fact that they can simply push the problem elsewhere, their detractors also argue that they infringe people’s rights. A group of young people hanging out on a street corner are not necessarily intent on causing trouble they may just be hanging out, and perhaps have nowhere else to go. The police of course argue that it makes their job easier.

If you’re interested in learning more about why this dispersal zone is being proposed, or want to have your say, then the meeting is Tuesday 28th August 17.45-19.00 at Hampstead District Housing Office, 156 West End Lane.

Choosing West Hampstead’s unheralded gems

Camden council is trying to determine what elements of the built environment make the borough distinctive. These will form a “local list”, defined as “a collection of the features of Camden’s local areas that are valued by the local community and that help give Camden its distinctive identity… These features make a place special for local people, they carry history, traditions, stories and memories into the present day and add depth of meaning to a modern place.”

The council is keen to point out that we’re not necessarily talking about the obvious:

“Often it is the commonplace things around us that give this character, but they may be overlooked because of their very ordinariness. Pubs, shops, places of meeting, places of worship, benches, statues: subtle or idiosyncratic elements; all contribute to the particular character of a place. These things make a place special for local people, and help it to express a ‘personality’ that carries history, traditions, stories and memories into the present day and adds depth of meaning to a modern place.”

However, before deciding what will be on this “local list”, Camden is consulting resident on what the selection criteria should be. This is what any nominations will be judged against – so if you’re interested in this whole idea, then now is a good time to get involved. This is part of a broader government initiative that encourages councils to set out a positive strategy for the conservation and enjoyment of the historic environment.

The draft selection criteria, which are below, have been drawn up in line with English Heritage’s guidance. But Camden wants to know whether the criteria meet the aim of being broad enough to allow for the recognition of a wide range of buildings features and places, but also specific enough so that it allows for rigorous and consistent assessment of any nominated assets.

“Assets” that are accepted onto the list will be parts of the environment that are not already designated, so no listed buildings for example, but which still contribute to a sense of place, local distinctiveness and civic pride. These are known as “non-designated heritage assets”. Sexy.

A non-designated heritage asset may be a

  • building,
  • monument,
  • site,
  • place,
  • area or a landscape
  • street furniture or other structures such as boundary markers, post boxes, memorials, lamp posts, and statues.

It can be important for a whole range of reasons which may include the location of a historical event or being home to an important local artist, a particularly good quality example of a recognised architectural tradition, or it may have strong cultural significance for certain parts of the local community (either now or in the past).

Around half of the borough is already protected by conservation area designation, but the rest of the borough is less well understood in terms of the significance or quality of buildings that may have local architectural, historic or townscape importance. The focus of this local list will therefore be primarily on those areas not covered by conservation area designation, but we will not rule out the inclusion of buildings of local importance within conservation areas if these are nominated.

West Hampstead has two large conservation areas already. South Hampstead is roughly bordered by West End Lane, Belsize Road, Finchley Road and the tube tracks. West End Green conservation area includes the northern half of West End Lane up towards Fortune Green. This still leaves large swathes of our area undesignated.

Have a read of the draft selection criteria below, and if you have any comments you can submit them via the consultation form. I’ll let you know when it’s time to nominate the “non-designated heritage assets” themselves, but start having a think about what makes our bit of Camden distinctive.

Draft selection criteria

To be considered for inclusion on the Local List nominations should satisfy at least two of the following criteria:

Architectural significance/interest this includes assets that
a) are good examples of a style of building that is particular to the local area, and/or
b) are good surviving examples of an historic architectural style, and/or
c) are good examples of the work of a notable local or national builder, architect, engineer or designer and/or
d) are good examples of a particular technological innovation or craftsmanship in building type, material or technique.

Historical significance this includes assets that
a) represent a significant period in the area’s history, and/or
b) are associated with a locally important historic figure, and/or
c) are associated with notable local historic events

Townscape Value this includes assets which play a key part in supporting the distinctive character of the local area, either as a landmark of by being examples of prevailing good quality built form of the area.

Social value this includes assets that have local community, cultural, religious, political educational or economic significance.

In addition, nominations to the list should retain the majority of the original features that contribute to their significance.

Driving’s hard enough, says CRASH

Back in October last year, Camden asked locals what they thought of some changes to our streets. The most controversial was the provision of “cycle permeability“. In other words, allowing cyclists to pedal the wrong way up one-way streets. Not all one-way streets were included; some, such as Broadhurst Gardens, were considered unsuitable. But many of the quieter residential streets, especially around the Gardens area of South Hampstead were part of the plans.

There were 76 replies to the consultation [pdf], 21 positive, 37 netural and 18 objections. Camden made a couple of tweaks to the plans, but otherwise decided to go ahead. Fairhazel Gardens has had such a system in place for more than 10 years, so one assumes that both the council and cycling lobby groups have sufficient data to make meaningful recommendations. Indeed, looking at a map of pedestrian and cyclist accidents in London from 2000-2010, there wasn’t a single reported bike accident (or pedestrian accident) on Fairhazel Gardens during that period.

Fairhazel Gardens has had contraflow cycling for years

However, South Hampstead Residents’ Association (appropriately, in this case, named CRASH) is not happy. At this late stage, it is appealing for people to write to Camden expressing their horror at this scheme. Their argument is that it is unsafe for cyclists and other road users (the scheme was initially proposed [pdf] by Camden Cyclists). Crash’s argument includes this gem of a debating point (original emphasis):

“You will not only have to keep an eye on your rear mirror and side mirror for cyclists on your left, as usual, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, look forwards and in your right hand mirror for a cyclist on your right”

Imagine having to look forward when driving!

In other words, drivers would have to behave as they would on a normal road – checking both side mirrors and their rear-view mirror, as well as keeping an eye on the road ahead. Or as they have been doing on one-way stretches of Fairhazel Gardens for many years already.

Is there a safety risk? Well, cars should be driving slowly anyway on these residential streets. It’s also up to cyclists to ride responsibly and err on the side of caution (and use lights when it’s dark). But to my mind it doesn’t seem to be beyond the wit of man to accommdate such a thing, even if drivers do occasionally have to look in the direction they’re going.

Love it or loathe it?

At the Jester Festival a couple of weeks back arguably the most interesting stall was a rather low-key affair. When I walked past it was manned by James Earl, chair of the Neighbourhood Development Forum. On his table were a set of photos of local building and spaces and a sheet against each one for a “love it” “hate it ” or “no comment” tick. West Hampstead being West Hampstead, some people of course wanted to write a few words as well – even in the “no comment” box.

The idea of all this was to get a sense of what sort of developments people felt were appropriate for the area as James and the rest of the NDF begin to draw up the Neighbourhood Development Plan.

The results are interesting, not least because they don’t always show a consensus, which is both encouraging (diversity of opinions is generally good) and worrying (how will locals ever agree on what we want). I’ve ranked them below are in descending order of “love” votes (which does not correlate exactly with the number of “hate” votes – Emmanuel School’s new building in particular was vehemently despised by many, but still attracted a fair number of “love” votes).

I’ve included most of the comments. I’m not sure how I feel about the vitriol with which some people want to pull down buildings in which other people live. Overall, there’s a clear sense that everyone likes the traditional architecture of the area, while the rather monolithic structures such as the Travis Perkins building are almost universally loathed. This building is owned by Camden and is up for redevelopment in the not too distant future, so you shouldn’t have to look at it for too much longer – nevertheless, I await the outcry over the proposed redevelopment.

People are much more divided over the smaller-scale modern buildings – some appreciating their design aesthetic, others seeming to claim that anything with a more bauhaus feel is automatically ugly. Of course many modern buildings, although offering less living space, are often far more environmentally friendly than the large high-ceilinged Victorian and Edwardian mansion blocks and homes that dominate the area.

James decided not to include the artist’s impressions of the 187-199 West End Lane development, with its set of tower blocks or the student accommodation that’s under construction down Blackburn Road at the moment. I think everyone who cared has probably expressed their view on the former, while the latter seemed to pass relatively unnoticed, despite being of a similar height.

There are still a couple of days left to fill in James’s survey about the local area, and it’s well worth doing as this will help inform the Development Plan, which is being drafted as we speak.

Ok, on with the results…. I’m sure you’ll have your own comments to add at the end.

Mill Lane Shops
Love: 118 Need more; Hooray, lovely, more like this on Fortune Green Rd please
No comment: 3
Hate: 0
Library seating
Love: 101 Good but should have been 3 or 4 separate benches; nice; very nice; excellent
No comment: 9 No cleaning provided, now a rubbish dump, but an improvement; waste of money during a recession; Money donated by private donor; waste of money improvement
Hate: 1 Should have spent it on books
New Thameslink station
Love: 86 Very nice; great design; modern – nice; great new street scene; need benches please; longer to get to but looks nice; we should use the space for a weekly market
No comment: 3Could have been more creative in using the space inside and outside; how about some seats; looks ok; need benches
Hate: 4 Lighting not good at night
View down Hillfield Road
Love: 79 Gorgeous
No comment: 8 Beautiful; shame about the estate agent’s board; ok
Hate: 2
West End Green area
Love: 76 Gorgeous
No comment: 3 A mess, should be improved for the community; dull paving; too much dog poo; the green needs doing up
Hate: 4 pigeons
Leafy Solent Road
Love: 73 Gorgeous
No comment: 2 OK
Hate: 3 too many cars
New houses on Mill Lane
Love: 66 Very nice; sustainable
No comment: 10 Ok; great; clean design; nice design but extortionate for the size of the houses; very small, very expensive
Hate: 37 Should have had front gardens not drives; ugly; does not fit in with environment
Extra floor added to mansion block
Love: 51 Blends; ok; well done; very good
No comment: 21 Didn’t know it had been done; didn’t notice; it goes with existing building
Hate: 3
Mill Apartments (under construction)
Love: 39 Blends in well
No comment: 13 Ok; not sure; average
Hate: 11 too tall
Infill house on Ravenshaw St.
Love: 36 Love it; great; lovely; very good
No comment: 17 not bad; half-good half-bad; brick fits in, windows ok, maybe juts out too much; why white?
Hate: 18 poor; not in keeping; too modern for the street
Zero-carbon house on Ranulf Rd
Love: 25
No comment: 18 Nice, but how sustainable is the wood? Interesting
Hate: 24 ugly; took up too much road and pavement on a blind corner
Emmanuel School
Love: 35 Colour of bricks will stand test of time; needed regardless of appearance; well proportioned, well detailed; not bad; not love but it’s pretty good; very good; great design
No comment: 16 Not sure about purple bricks; brickwork rather dark; brickwork wrong, design ok; why were red bricks not used; great it’s extended but bad design
Hate: 51 Don’t like dismal grey brick; no red bricks; too near street; ugly; grey; frontage too far out, too high; out of character; disgusting brickwork; looks like architect’s office in Berlin; shame on you Camden; industrial building
Flats on Kingdon Rd
Love: 19
No comment: 17 Does not go with red brick
Hate: 57 Too high
New houses on Gondar Gardens
Love: 16 Ok here; quite nice look and good-sized windows; successful infill
No comment: 11Ok some issues with brick; wrong design does not match the surroundings
Hate: 64 looks like an industrial building not a home; ugly; too much grey
New house on Mill Lane
Love: 10
No comment: 8
Hate: 54 Awful; ugly; not in keeping; poor; urgh; terrible eyesore
Office conversion on Sumatra Rd
Love: 9
No comment: 18 Ok
Hate: 29 ugly; more trees; shockingly ugly and cheap looking
Ellerton Tower on Mill Lane
Love: 7 Classic Sydney Cook era architecture; looks like a giant snail but it is monumental; love it, from the inside top floor
No comment: 7 Don’t like it; monster ugly
Hate: 78 Hideous knock it down please; vile; demolish now!
Paved-over gardens
Love: 6 who cares; none of our business
No comment: 28 Ok; nice garden to sit in
Hate: 34 environmentally unsound; shame!; ok; bad for foundations; awful; nasty; too much run off
New building in Maygrove Rd
Love: 5 
No comment: 8 good functionality; very poor exterior design; low brick wall is security risk for residents
Hate: 33 needs trees; front looks life office building
Buldings on Maygrove Rd
Love: 2
No comment: 13 Ok
Hate: 32
Travis Perkins building
Love: 2
No comment: 8 Rather indifferent
Hate: 74 Demolish; horrible desing; height

Have your say on local planning

If youv’e been following the birth of the Neighbourhood Development Forum, then you’ll know that the next step is to start putting together the actual plan. This is a document that will, unlike Camden’s Place Shaping document, have actual statutory powers. It must, however, be coherent will all other planning frameworks, which is basically a posh way of saying that it can’t be anti-development.

If you were at the Jester Festival, you may have seen the NDF stall, where chair James Earl was asking people to say what they thought of various developments and buildings. When I swung by on Sunday afternoon it was noticeable that views were very mixed. Such diversity is good, I would argue, but it also means that if you don’t take an active role in helping to shape West Hampstead’s future, then you risk leaving it to people with diametrically opposed views to your own.

To this end, can I suggest you fill in this survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BQNWN5B about the area, and have a think about what to say in the open questions section so that when the plan is being devised it can truly reflect the viewpoints of the community and not just the few people who always fill in such forms.

Place plan published – actions for West Hampstead

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

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

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

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

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

To quote the report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Hampstead Place Plan_annotated

Parking’s no joke

When I was a small boy, my grandparents’ favourite joke involved a sign outside a public toilet in a car park that said “Have you paid and displayed”. Oh how we laughed. Well, I laughed the first time, aged about six. After that I laughed politely, then just smiled, and eventually took to walking off in disgust.

I don’t own a car, and therefore the question of paying and displaying is not one that vexes me personally very often. However, for many people it’s a big issue – whether it’s paying for a residents permit or paying to park for 30 minutes so you can pop to the shops, parking is an emotive issue in these parts.

We’ve touched on it before, after Wet Fish Café owner Andre openly mused as to whether the lack of visitor parking was the single biggest problem facing local businesses.

Now is your chance to do something about it.

Camden is in the middle of its parking review focusing on the size of residents’ parking zones (careful there Grandpa), parking zone hours, and pay & display parking hours. If you have views on how your local zones will operate in future, please fill in the online questionnaire or contact or 020 7974 4639 to get a paper version.

The consultation runs until 18th June and is an “open” consultation; i.e., there are no specific proposals, the council wants to collect residents’ views. Any proposed changes would then be subject to further consultation.

The West Hampstead Business Association has some quite strong views, and its chairman, David Matthews (from estate agent Dutch & Dutch) has given me permission to reprint the letter he sent Camden on behalf of the organisation.

Dear Sirs,
I write on behalf of the West Hampstead Business Association, a recently formed group set up to support and promote all businesses within the West Hampstead area. Local residents and businesses alike are making every effort to improve West Hampstead by doing all they can to create a pleasant environment and encourage good quality shops and amenities in the area. All of our members sight parking as the biggest obstacle to growing their businesses and achieving these objectives.
The most prevalent concerns of our members are:
  1. The limited number of available Pay & Display parking spaces for visitors in and around West End Lane and Mill Lane
  2. Shared Use bays being rarely available for visitors
  3. The poor provision of Loading Bays for retail units on West End Lane and Mill Lane
Attached is a petition with over 200 signatures highlighting the concern of both business operators and customers.
Clearly for Pay & Display parking to benefit local businesses they need to be in close proximity to West End Lane and Mill Lane and not shared use as these bays are very rarely available to visitors. We feel the following should therefore be implemented:
  • The loss of 8+ Pay & Display bays to form the new First Capital Connect Station should be provided elsewhere and in close proximity to West End Lane.
  • The ‘Shared Use Bays’ in Sandwell Crescent and Dennington Park Road should be ‘Pay & Display’ only as they are very rarely available to visitors.
  • Between 10am and 3pm various parts of West End Lane could accommodate additional Pay & Display parking. Clearly at peak times it needs to be clear.
  • There is currently an overprovision of Shared Use and Pay & Display bays in Alvanley Gardens. If some of these bays became ‘Permit Parking’ there would be no net loss for local residents.
We look forward to hearing that West Hampstead businesses have your support.
David Matthews
West Hampstead Business Association

O2 facade alterations

It appears that work is due to start soon on alterations to the O2 centre on Finchley Road. These are largely cosmetic. If you’re interested then the relevant planning applications then head off here, here, here, and here, but these are probably more of interest to specialist architects than to most O2 users.

Instead, I can offer you a picture of what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done (this is from a 2011 application and there have been some amendments since then, but they are all minor). There are some interior changes planned as well, but really everyon’e waiting to see what happens with the large premises immediately to the right as you walk in, which has been empty now for some time.

Gondar Gardens saved again

At last week’s Development Control committee meeting, councillors voted 7-2 against the proposed development by Linden Homes and Wates Development of the Gondar Gardens reservoir site up in Fortune Green.

The reservoir site at sunrise (photo via GARA)

This is the second time Camden has turned down a plan from these developers to build flats and houses on this disused but much loved plot of land. The first proposal, for “Teletubby” style semi-submerged dwellings, is in the appeal process (due to be heard next week) and Linden Wates will presumably appeal this latest decision too.

There seemed to be some confusion as to why Camden planning officers were recommending that permission be granted, while acknowledging in their report that the plans were not always in keeping with planning policy. That, combined with an impassioned speech by Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea (who chose to remove herself from the DC for this vote so she could speak against it) and the articulate statement of a 13 year-old boy called Benjamin seemed to sway councillors.

Cllr Rea invoked images of bucolic destruction in her statement: “Imagine the diggers destroying grassland, sending valuable wildlife scurrying or slithering off into the undergrowth. Two years of construction will drive away birds and bats and probably kill off the slow worms.”

Benjamin meanwhile focused on the legacy that Camden would be leaving if councillors approved the proposals. “This is like children going into a toy shop knowing they can’t have anything. You are the parents. If you give in now, they’ll be back for more. When did one lonesome toy ever satisfy a child?”

Councillors ultimately deemed that the scheme was of little architectural merit and not in keeping with the area, while the issue of public access to the remaining open space was unclear.

For the Gondar and Agamemnon Residents Association, this was another significant victory in what has been a long-running campaign to preserve the reservoir site, which is home to slow worms and other species rarely found in built-up areas.

Loading…Webcast Available Here : <a href=”http://www.camden.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/56645/start_time/7787000″>http://www.camden.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/56645/start_time/7787000</a>

Parking changes in Camden

Camden has been postponing the public engagement part of its parking review – it was supposed to have happened in March, now apparently it wil be in May. Camden will be seeking residents’ views on parking zone days and hours of control and pay & display maximum stays. However, many other parking changes have been made already, without consultation. Here’s an overview of the major changes implemented in April. The full details are available on Camden’s parking pages.

None of these address the concerns local businesses have in West Hampstead about the lack of short-term parking in the area to attract customers during the week.

Resident parking permits

  • Residents with the lowest polluting vehicles that fall under tariff 1 will pay slightly less but the price has risen for other tariffs, with the largest increase for those with the largest and most polluting vehicles.
  • A free annual car club membership and £50 worth of drive hours for the first 150 residents willing to give up their resident permit.
  • A £10 supplement introduced for diesel vehicle owners.
  • Classic car owners will no longer be eligible for a free resident permit.
  • A £50 and £75 charge introduced for registering a 2nd or 3rd vehicle to a resident permit.
  • Persistent evaders (someone with three or more unpaid parking tickets beyond the appeal stage) will not be able to apply for a 6 month or annual resident permit.
  • The discount for electric car owners has been retained and will now also apply to electric motorcycle owners.
  • Renewably sourced electric vehicle owners will no longer be eligible for a free resident permit

Resident visitor permits

  • The tiered pricing system is being replaced with a flat rate charge of 90p per hour.
  • The charge for disabled people and the elderly (over 75) falls to 45p per hour.
  • Residents can now buy their full annual allocation in one go if they wish, rather than having to buy visitor permits every three months.
  • We will no longer sell the 30 minute visitor permits when an alternative electronic visitor permit system is ready.

Pay & Display parking

  • Camden is no longer enforcing meter feeding contraventions meaning that customers can now top up their parking session.
  • Electric vehicle owners will no longer be able to apply for the pay & display permit

Business permits

  • Camden is increasing the price of business scheme A and B annual permits to £290.
  • A 75% permit discount has been introduced for businesses with electric and bio methane vehicles.
  • Applicants will be asked to supply proof that the vehicle is insured for business purposes (where a permit is being requested on the basis that there is an operational need for a vehicle for the viability of the business).
  • The price for installing a dedicated bay on-street for business scheme A first time applicants has been increased to £1,689.71.
  • We are proposing to convert resident bays to permit bays in four zones which will give business permit holders greater flexibility when parking.

Business visitor vouchers

  • The tiered pricing system is being replaced with a flat rate charge of £2.50 per hour.
  • Restrictions that prevent businesses in certain streets from applying for business visitor vouchers will be removed.
  • The all day business visitor voucher will no longer be available.

Parking permission

  • We are merging the current Permission to Park and Dispensation to Wait into one product that will allow tradespeople to park in permit bays or on a single yellow line.
  • We have reduced the daily charge for a parking permission to £30.
  • Parking permissions for funerals and weddings will remain free of charge.

187-199 West End Lane: the Mayor’s report

It’s been a month now since the dust settled on the 187-199 West End Lane development. You may recall that the plans had to go to City Hall where the Mayor would take a decision on them. His decision, or at least that of Sir Edward Lister, deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff, was to allow Camden to determine the case itself. In other words, City Hall saw no reason to intervene.

Building is scheduled to start in the spring of 2013, although it is unclear when the site is likely to be cleared – which is of specific interest to the businesses on the site, some of whom have commented on a previous post.

Below is the relevant planning report from the Greater London Authority from March 27th, with some paragraphs highlighted by me.
GLA Planning Report 27.3.12 187-199 West End Lane

Neighbourhood Development Forum gets own website

I’ve mentioned the newly formed Neighbourhood Development Forum a few times before – it’s being set up so that locals can have a little bit more say into local planning issues.

The group has just launched a website, so I no longer feel the need to post the full minutes of meetings, but I will certainly continue to link to them when they are published and will keep West Hampstead Life readers up to speed with developments.

The minutes of April’s meeting aren’t quite up yet, but I have had a sneak preview, and below is an abridged version of item no.3, which is worth reading as it sets out what the Forum and the Plan can and can’t do based on a presentation by Camden planning officer Jennifer Walsh and answers she gave to questions. (For much more about the general concept, I’d suggest exploring the NDP website in more detail).

  • NDPs have to fit in with Camden planning policy, the London Plan, the national planning framework, plus some aspects of EU legislation.
  • Once the Plan is submitted to Camden Council, it then goes to an independent planning inspector for approval. If it is found to be sound there is then a referendum in the area covered by a plan; approval is by simple majority of those who vote. The government has yet to publish the rules about the referenda, so the process is not currently clear.
  • If the NDP is approved in a referendum, it becomes at statutory planning document, sitting alongside the Camden plan.
  • The NDF can make comments on any current planning application, just like any other local group.
    The NDP has to fit into the national planning policy of ‘pro-growth’. Questions were asked about the growth predicted in both wards; it’s not clear if the Camden plan goes into this much detail for the two wards.
  • Once the NDP is approved, it will be used as a framework for development by developers.
    There were questions about how specific the NDP can be – it can’t have a blanket ban on basement conversions; it can mention a general height limit and require new developments are in keeping with existing buildings (the example given was red/grey bricks); it is difficult to be too prescriptive in architectural terms.
  • The NDF will need to liaise with Conservation Areas in our area.
  • Questions were asked about high streets/shops – we can’t regulate who occupies each shop (eg we can’t have a ban on new Tescos); we can have design guidance (eg for shop frontages); we can seek to promote diversification of shops & facilities.
  • Questions were asked about how we express social provisions – eg for schools, health facilities. We need to get the opinions of schools and health centres/surgeries. We are still awaiting data from the 2011 census; information from the 2001 census will be circulated, although this may be significantly out of date.
  • The NDP needs to consider where future S106 payments [Ed: that’s the extra money developers pay to the council in theory to mitigate any financial impact the development has on public services/public realm] should be directed; into what services & facilities we would like to see more of.
  • A new Camden council initiative is seeking to produce a ‘Local List’ for the borough. This is a list of undesignated (ie not currently listed) ‘heritage assets’ – this can be buildings, monuments, sites, places, areas or landscapes – which merit consideration in the planning process. These can be listed in the NDP. It might be possible to protect certain views.
  • The NDP can be used to raise issues like the need for a permanent area available for markets.
    In terms of the number of licensed premises, licensing is generally separate from planning, but there is some overlap.

It will be interesting to see how much influence these Plans really do have when it comes to larger planning decisions. The whole process is obviously brand new and although such groups are springing up around the country now, even the pilot schemes haven’t been in place long enough to give a clear indication of how it works in practice. Lets hope it’s not just a talking shop, nor that the people giving up their time to put all this together end up being frustrated. A few early successes in driving positive change would help enormously in generating support for the idea.

All change by West End Green

The stretch of West End Lane from Nando’s to Walnut is set to see big changes over the next couple of months.

As many of you will have read on Twitter, or (heaven forbid) seen with your own actual eyes, Walnut has closed. The ethically minded restaurant has been a fixture on the corner for just over 10 years, but came up for rent back in June (at just under £2,300 a month if you’re interested). Feng Sushi – also known for its ethical stance – will be moving in this June. Indeed work has already started on what will be the chain’s eighth outlet.

£18 for the 22-piece selection box

There’s much more detail on the design of the 50-cover restaurant here. Feng Sushi expressed an interest in West Hampstead a long time ago, so may feel a bit miffed that in the meantime, the area has become sushi capital of NW London. Alongside MeLoveSushi on West End Lane, there’s also newly opened Sushi Kou on Fortune Green, competing head-on with the well-established Yuzu. There are two newish sushi places on Finchley Road, and the longer-standing outlets Sushi Gen (with an ominous For Lease sign outside), Atari-ya on Fairfax Road (for my money the best of the local options), and Yo! Sushi in the O2 centre.

If the rumours that Karahi Master has closed are correct, hot on the heels of Bon Express shutting down, then are we finally relinquishing the mighty kebab for the healthier sashimi?

Still, if you’re missing your meat fix, rejoice. Apparently some of you haven’t yet caught up with the news that a butchers is coming to town. Since I started this whole blog/Twitter thing back in 2009, this has probably been the single biggest moan of locals: “Why can’t we have a butchers”. The fact that such places have to make a profit in what is a tough market has largely washed over you. So, I don’t want to hear a single person complain that Hampstead Butcher & Providore is too expensive. The high-end butchers already operates on Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead, and has done so for a couple of years now. The only way that a butcher is likely to survive in a high rent area like West End Lane is going to be to target the higher end of the market, and differentiate itself from the supermarkets.

£54 for this “Meat for a week” selection

Hampstead Butcher & Providore (I assume it’s not changing its name for us) will be at 260 West End Lane, where the Chinese medical centre has been (next to Domino’s).

If you fancy a chop with your chop, then step next door. 258 West End Lane is becoming a new salon. Because that’s what we really need in the area. Marco Aldany is a new name for me, but then I’m not really a salon kinda guy. It appears to be a Spanish chain of hairdressers. I can’t tell you much more about it, but I can show you a picture of what the front will look like if it gets past the planners, and tell you that the glass will be armour-plated. Should you be thinking of driving a car into it or anything.

Throw in the changes to The Lion – which has been learning the hard way about the power of Twitter – and the northern end of West Hampstead will have a very different feel to it by the end of the year.


Planning on the streets of West Hampstead

Alongside the Abbey Area and Lymington Road proposals, Thursday’s Development Control committee meeting was also meant to discuss 163 Iverson Road – known as the “garden centre site“. This had been postponed from the previous DC meeting, but was now removed entirely from the agenda of this meeting. The reason was not given at the time, but I heard later from cllrs Risso-Gill and Rea that the developers are increasing the proportion of affordable housing in order to comply with Camden’s own planning guidelines (the council’s planning officers were recommending rejecting the proposal). So this one is still to run.

Fortune Green ward councillor Flick Rea posted a useful summary of other local planning news this week. The headlines are:

“The Gondar Gardens reservoir site proposals rumble on – having appealed the previous refusal by the Council,(decision by Government Inspector pending) the developers also submitted a new plan which still didn’t find favour locally – it encroaches on the open space and towers over the rear of the houses on Sarre Road. It was withdrawn for further consultation and will probably come up for decision in May.”

“The new block on Maygrove Road is complete but an application for its neighbour “Handrail House” was basically refused by Camden before it ever got to Committee decision. In a way its a shame as they had worked out a good deal for improvements to the Peace Park and Sidings Community Centre ( a new cafe for example) which may get lost with a new application.”

“From 1st April most developments over a certain size will have to pay a special levy to the Mayor which will go towards the mounting costs of CrossRail and therefore have less to spend on local improvements.”

Hampstead Cricket Club to become temporary school

When I gatecrashed the Crediton Hill Residents Association meeting a few weeks ago, it wasn’t just to see how many of the celebs who live on West Hampstead’s poshest road I could spot. It was also a great opportunity to catch up on the proposal to turn part of the cricket club land into a temporary school – temporary being two years. The proposal went before Camden’s Development Control committee last Thursday and was narrowly passed.

The background
South Hampstead High School, a private girls school in Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead, is undergoing an enormous refurbishment/rebuilding program. It had initially hoped that the school could function around these works, but it became increasingly clear this was not viable, so an alternative was needed.

The school is run by an organisation called The Girls’ Day School Trust, which conveniently owns the cricket club land in Lymington Road. So, the proposal is to relocate the majority of the school to the cricket club for two years while work is carried out. Despite owning the land, this isn’t something the school can do without planning permission as it’s a change of use and requires the present day squash courts to be knocked down (and then rebuilt afterwards). All the details are in the document below (the tick marks show the most important pages).

South Hampstead High School Design Access Statement (annotated)
Crediton Hill voices concern
The idea has been discussed for some months now but, although public meetings have been held, judging by the mood at the residents association meeting (held in the bar in the cricket club itself) some local residents remain sceptical. The primary concern is traffic and parking, noise is a secondary concern, and for actor, local resident, and keen cricketer Greg Wise, the risk of girls invading the cricket pitch itself.

The deputation from the school and developers handled the discussion rather well I though – if a little caught on the back foot initially. They argued that today, some 80% of their 500 pupils walk or cycle to school, and that they are working very hard to explain to parents that driving their child to the new site is a bad idea. Maresfield Gardens is about a 10 minute walk away from the sports ground, and depending where you live a child’s new route to school might involve walking down the less than user-friendly Finchley Road. It’s hard to believe that some parents – especially of younger children – won’t be tempted at least initially to run their kids down rather than have them walk further along a busy road. Of course, the reverse also holds true and perhaps some kids will now live nearer and that will make life easier for them.

There is simply no parking along Lymington Road, so a little bit of coordination with Camden council could see revenues from parking tickets soar!

Aside from the traffic, noise is understandably a concern – one resident who works from home, clearly envisages two years of high-pitched screaming ahead of her. The school argued that while, of course, some noise was inevitable at breaktimes and as pupils arrive and leave, the girl at South Hampstead were generally a well-behaved lot and there were so many school activities organized at lunchtimes that they weren’t generally running around the place. Lunch would be held in the large room in the cricket club.

The deputy head also explained that not all the children would be on the site at any one time – most sixth formers and approximately a fifth of the other pupils would be at the Maresfield Gardens site as some lessons will stay there (I think largely for science, so no bunsen burners to burn down the portacabins… temporary modular accommodation. Equally, she was sure that the girls would respect the wicket and although they couldn’t be stopped from walking over the outfield of a lunchtime [here she adopted a slightly steely gaze and politely reminded Mr Wise that the school owned the land], many of the girls were keen on sports and would quite understand.

Some residents were keen to pin the school’s deputation down on exactly how many children, teachers, and other staff would be on site at any one time, but given that the existing site will still be operational, this number seemed hard to come by but around 400 seemed to be the broad consensus.

Over to Camden
On the surface, this might have looked like a fairly simple decision. A school needs land, whether its private or state-owned. The school owns the land, and visually it is not an eyesore. In fact, it turned out to be a rather contentious application. The planning officer’s report, which recommends apprival is below.

Camden Report on SHHS Hampstead CC Application – annotated
There were strong objections here from residents of Alvanley Gardens and from West Hampstead ward councillor Keith Moffitt (who does not sit on the Development Control committee). The objections boil down to three topics: increased risk of flooding, noise and traffic. The flooding issue is hard to understand without diving into the details, but given that hard surface tennis courts are going to be built on I’m certainly not sure what the additional impact is meant to be – it would be different if the units were being built on grass or open land.

Cllr Marshall made the point that it’s hard to consider noise at school breaktimes as a serious planning consideration in an urban area, especially when one factors in that this is weekdays, working hours, and term times only. The planning officer pointed out that noise is a legitimate planning consideration, but far more so for a restaurant open in the evenings than for a school active only during weekdays. Cllr Freeman suggested that it was a sad indictment of our times when the innocent noise of schoolchildren is deemed offensive.

Traffic was unsurprisingly by far the most legitimate consideration. There was some disagreement about the impact on traffic, with the school arguing that it is putting in place all sorts of measures to mitigate the impact on traffic – and from the meeting I went to on this, I believe they really are doing this. At the same time, it’s “a stretch” as Cllr Marshall put it, to believe that parents are going to drop their kids at the Maresfield site and let them walk down.

For Cllr Simpson and others, the traffic plan currently in place was simply too vague. There was a high degree of scepticism that any attempts to dissuade parents from dropping their kids off could be enforced; concern about the girls crossing the Finchley Road; and general worry about a main east/west road being cluttered up with cars at peak morning times. My personal view on this is that the school should be given the benefit of the doubt but that the situation should be very carefully monitored and if traffic and short-term parking levels become unaccpetably high, then further action should be taken.

There was a broader point that the Girls Day School Trust is a wealthy organisation, so although it’s clear that trying to combine the work on the Maresfield site with the running of the school would add substantially to the time taken for the build, and thus the cost, this shouldn’t mean that local residents have to suffer for two years as a result of saving money. I suppose a counter argument is that the pupils deserve a reasonably quiet educational environment with minimal disruption, especially those in exam years – and that is independent of their parents’ ability to afford a private education.

There was also some confusion about the number of pupils on site at any given time. The vote was taken as to whether to grant planning permission conditional on a limit of 500 pupils (which is the size of the school, so not going to be breached, and who’s going to count anyway) and, more importantly, a much stronger travel plan to be submitted ahead of work starting on the site.

On that basis, the decision was approved by six vote to five.
Councillors in favor: Hayward, Apak, Freeman, Marshall, Braithwaite, Nuti.
Councillors against: Simpson, Gimson, Rea, Risso-Gill, Sanders.

The whole webcast of the discussion is available below:


Abbey Area application passed by Camden

Three local planning applications were on the agenda for Thursday’s Development Control committee meeting (Where Camden councillors vote on large planning applications).

The major decision to be made was regarding the Abbey Area development. This a proposal by Camden council itself, so naturally planning officers were recommending approval. The full 171 page report is here (sorry, not annotated this one!). There was a lengthy discussion in the meeting about this, with some strong views concerning the mix of housing in the new proposal as well as the impact of another large-scale development. Kilburn ward councillor Mike Katz perhaps captured the challenges of the plan most eloquently, pointing out that although the plans might not be perfect, “The best is often the enemy of the good and there’s much good about this development” He went on to address one of the criticisms head on: “I rather take objection that by trying to address our housing needs in NW London that you create a ghetto.”

Loading…Webcast Available Here : <a href=”http://www.camden.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/55628/start_time/3684000″>http://www.camden.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/55628/start_time/3684000</a>

Eventually the vote was unanimously in favour, with two abstentions (Cllrs Rea & Braithwaite). There was no news of what might happen to the businesses that will see their premises destroyed – both under Emminster (Oscar’s Den, the piano shop, the pub), and in the car park (the framers, the upholsterers etc.). The entire webcast of the discussion can be viewed here.

City Hall gives the go ahead for 187-199 West End Lane

It was the news many residents feared. On Tuesday, City Hall decided not to raise any objections to the proposed development of 198 flats, including a 12-storey tower, in West Hampstead. Here’s the relevant extract from an e-mail sent by the public liaison team:

“On 27 March 2012, Sir Edward Lister, the Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff, acting under delegated authority, considered a further report on the matter (PDU/2832/02) and decided that he was content to allow Camden Council to determine the application itself, subject to any action the Secretary of State may wish to take and therefore did not wish to direct refusal.”

Camden has already approved the plans, so it rather seems as if that is that. The developers had previously stated that work would start in spring 2013 and it’s a two-year build. It will be interesting to see whether the height and scale of this development prompts other developers to be more ambitious with their own plans for other sites as and when they come up. Are we entering an era of high-rise West Hampstead?

Do we need more visitor parking?

Last week, a Twitter debate raged (i.e., a few people commented for about an hour) about whether West End Lane needs more pay & display parking to encourage people from outside the area to come in to West Hampstead to shop/eat/drink, especially during the week. It’s a timely discussion, in light of Camden’s imminent parking review. Here’s how it went – more commentary after the tweets.

Afterwards, I asked André for some more background on the problem as he sees it.

“It took me years to recognise the problem, so I do see it from the locals’ point of view: the idea of more traffic, more pollution, harder for locals to park etc. I empathise with and experience that myself.

But 20 or so extra pay & displays (that exclude residents permits) would make little difference to those issues – in fact, maybe less traffic as people wouldn’t be circling for hours. But it would make a positive difference to retailers.”

At the recent West Hampstead business forum meetings that have started, it’s been a strongly voiced concern. Weekends in West Hampstead are generally busy and profitable, but weekdays can be a struggle. It’s true that the area has a high number of self-employed and home workers, but they’re not hanging out in cafés all day (unless it’s to have a cappuccino while they use the Wifi) and aside from lunchtime, it’s not that busy around the area, especially at the northern end of West End Lane away from the transport hub.

Click for full-size. NB: predates new Thameslink station on Iverson Rd

He says that customers tell him and other local business owners that they hesitate to come during the day because they can’t park. “This is one big fat feedback message that echoes around West Hampstead every day.”

“I had a meeting last week around midday, the guy called to say he’d been circling for 45 minutes and could we postpone… and he wanted to sell me something! Customers aren’t that determined. In fact, we’ve lost valued suppliers because they decided parking’s too difficult.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is that the people who proclaim to support independent businesses are also those who tend to be anti-car. So how do we reconcile that? People want more people to use our local businesses so they stay, but they don’t want more traffic – either locally or even generally. West Hampstead is, of course, amazingly well connected by public transport so the arguments of those who say enough people can come in to the area that way are valid. But are they realistic? If you live further out on the Jubilee or Met lines, or along the Overground routes, do you know much about West Hampstead – would you come in and meet your friends for lunch here, or pop into the bookshop rather than going somewhere else nearer and more convenient?

Perhaps there’s an argument for targeted marketing. Lets say Camden agreed that footfall was low in some parts of the area, perhaps they could split the relevant budget between pay & display parking and funding marketing for the area in very specific places along the transport corridors so we try and boost footfall but do so using public transport. Certainly any pay & display parking would have to have restrictions that meant it matched the need without encouraging excessive car use when it wasn’t needed – at weekends for example when there’s enough footfall in West End Lane already.

There is one very different perspective: keep the cars away and footfall low and the large chains will start to lose interest/move out, which could bring rents down and make local busineses more viable. But that’s a long-term game, and at odds with the fact that West Hampstead is destined for a large increase in population over the next 10 years.

What do you think? Is there a problem at all? Is a small amount of extra parking going to make much difference? Is it worth trying to lure the residents of Elstree & Borehamwood, or Stanmore, or Acton onto the tubes and trains to visit West Hampstead? Perhaps businesses should behave very differently on weekdays and weekends to maintain profitability?

Neighbourhood Development Forum moves forward

Following the first meeting in January, and enthusiasm for a Neighbourhood Development Plan for West Hampstead, a second meeting of the Forum was held at the end of February. The minutes are below.

Personally (and I haven’t been able to attend the meetings, so can’t blame anyone for this), I think it’s a shame that the southern boundary of West Hampstead ward delineates the edge of the area being considered (see point 6 below). There are pockets of both Swiss Cottage and Kilburn wards that could be considered part of West Hampstead (certainly in comparison to parts of Fortune Green ward, which abut Cricklewood Broadway).

I like the fact, however, that the emphasis is on making this process open to individuals rather than just the residents associations and community groups (see point 7). Although these groups often work tirelessly on various campaigns, they don’t necessarily reflect the area’s true demographics. If you’re interested in being involved with the NDP then do join in – it is early days for the whole concept nationally, so it’s hard to say now whether the impact will be substantive but, in my view, it presents a good opportunity in my view to help shape the area you live in.

1. Welcome & Introductions:
James welcomed everyone to the second meeting of the Forum.

2. Minutes of the last meeting – 25th January:
There were no corrections.

3. Further questions on NDPs:
Michael asked what NDPs would look like. James said it wasn’t clear as there are no final examples to look at; some are being drawn up in pilot areas. Sue said research online can give an idea of what people in different places are aiming at. James said the finalised regulations, which will set out how NDPs work and need to be established, won’t be published until early April.

4. Initial work – recent developments:
James said he was aware that some people were keen to start work on the plan; there were complaints that the first meeting focussed too much on process. He said he wanted to take up a suggestion from Mark Stonebanks to start work on an initial project, which will aim to form the basis of the Plan. It will focus on looking at existing and recent developments in WH&FG. James asked for volunteers to come forward and offer to get involved. It’s hoped this work will be reported back to the Forum in March or April.

John said such a project needed to set out what is/isn’t acceptable and give examples. Sue said the work could reflect the recently published draft Place Shaping document eg the desire to protect the ‘village feel’ of the area.

5. Place shaping workshop – 8th February:
This was held to discuss Camden Council’s draft Place Shaping Plan (PSP) for West Hampstead. The PSP aims to reflect the views of local residents in terms of what they want the future shape of WH to be. It will be given to developers planning to build new developments in the area. It was questioned whether developers would pay any attention to the PSP or the NDP – unlike PSPs, NDPs will have a statutory role in the planning process. Cllr Bryant said the PSP would also be used in the development of council owned and private development sites. It was pointed out the PSP is a very generalise document setting out ‘an outline vision’ for the area. There was a feeling that the PSP should mention a future NDP – James said he would feedback this comment. Sue said the final version of the PSP would be useful when it comes to writing the NDP; she said we should aim to make the two documents mutually supportive.

6. Agreement on area to be covered by the NDP:
Following on from the discussions at the last meeting, it was agreed to largely stick to the existing ward boundaries of FG&WH. In the east, it was agreed to keep the boundary as Finchley Road. In the north, it was agreed to keep to the northern boundary of Camden borough. In the West, there was discussion about Cricklewood and Kilburn – James said he would find out about any plans for a Cricklewood NDP; John proposed excluding the Kilburn High Road from our area. In the south, it was agreed to stick to the current southern boundary of WH ward. A final decision on the NDP boundaries will need to be made at the next Forum meeting, so that our application can be made to Camden Council in early April.

7. Constitution:
A draft constitution had been circulated to members ahead of the meeting. There was discussion about membership of the Forum and whether it should be for individuals and/or groups. A number of speakers said they did not want the Forum to be a federation of associations, arguing it should be open to all residents regardless of whether or not they are members of a local group. The majority view was that membership should be for individuals, with groups invited to support/donate to the Forum. There was also discussion about a membership fee and how this would be imposed, and whether donations should be requested instead. James said money was needed for room hire and printing. There was also discussion about voting and how to prevent one particular group or part of the area dominating the Forum.  There were questions about how meetings would work and whether there was a need for steering committee.

James said he had noted the views expressed and would rewrite sections of the draft. A second draft will be circulated with the minutes and further comments invited. A final version will be put to a vote and adopted at the next meeting.

8. Funding:
A number of residents associations have offered to contribute the £50 suggested at the previous meeting. Funds will be collected once a Treasurer is elected and a bank account opened. One group had asked to see a budget; James said it was too early to be able to draw up a financial plan for the Forum. Nancy suggested bidding for additional funding. Money might also be available from S106 agreements with developers.

9. Future plans – March/April meetings:
James said the March meeting would vote to adopt the constitution and elect officers. An officer from Camden Council’s Place Shaping team would be invited. In April, a Planning officer will be invited to discuss the NDP rules and regulations.

10. Do we continue?:
It was agreed to continue with the Forum and go ahead with the NDP.

11. Any other business:
Camden Council’s Development Control Committee will consider the 187-199 West End Lane proposed development at a meeting on Thursday 1st March.
Gillian said WH councillors were canvassing views on the proposed development at 163 Iverson Road (the site of the former garden centre).
There are plans for an 18 day music festival on Kilburn Grange at the same time as the Olympic Games; Camden Council is asking for comments.
There is a London Civic Forum event to discuss NDPs on Saturday 3rd March.
Details were circulated about proposals to redevelop the King’s College site on Kidderpore Avenue.

12. Next meeting:
The next meeting will be on Monday 26th March at 7.30pm – venue tbc.

187-199: Focus shifts to City Hall

A group of West Hampstead residents unhappy with Camden council’s decision to approve the plans for 187-199 West End Lane have written to City Hall (and David Cameron!) to express their views. The Mayor’s Office will be deciding the next steps with all outcomes still on the table. The full text of the letter is below.

I’ve followed up with a couple of the councillors who voted in favour to find out their reasoning in light of the strength of objection to the scale of the development. The response has been much the same as Cllr Hayward’s comment on the night: “given the other benefits I think we should approve it.”

Cllr Jonathan Simpson said, “There didn’t seem a policy reason to vote against,” while Cllr Andrew Marshall tweeted: “on [a] scheme like this it’s overall balance, but housing volume, the section 106, the square, plus I’m not so anti tall buildings!”.

Given the complexity of planning decisions, there is a view that if the planning officer who has worked with the developer feels it should get the go ahead, it is hard for the committee to object. 

The more I dig into all this, the less convinced I am that some of the emotive language in this objection letter, such as “It will have a chilling impact on the local community,” is especially helpful. As someone whose main objections are the height/scale of the development, the siting of the affordable housing, and what I see as a lack of rigor in the analysis of the traffic/parking situation, I’d rather see less “chilling impact” (although such rhetoric might appeal to Boris), and more of the dull sentences like:

“The height, bulk and density of the development is far above the existing historical, mainly Edwardian and Victorian dwellings and contravenes Camden’s Core strategy CS14.” 

That is, fewer subjective issues and more policy reasons for a committee to demand some reduction in scale.

What’s CS14? This refers to the section in the council’s Core Strategy document on “Promoting high quality places and conserving our heritage”

“The Council will ensure that Camden’s places and buildings are attractive, safe and easy to use by: a) requiring development of the highest standard of design that respects local context and character;”

Paragraph 14.2 states:

“Our overall strategy is to sustainably manage growth in Camden so it meets our needs for homes, jobs and services in a way that conserves and enhances the features that make the borough such an attractive place to live, work and visit. Policy CS14 plays a key part in achieving this by setting out our approach to conserving and, where possible, enhancing our heritage and valued places, and to ensuring that development is of the highest standard and reflects, and where possible improves, its local area.”

When I raised this “context and character” point with one of the councillors, the response was that it didn’t apply to this development because it wasn’t in a conservation area, but conservation areas are dealt with separately; this is a borough wide strategy.

Clearly it’s possible – indeed correct – to argue that this site is not a “valued place”, but this local context and character is more interesting. This is partly about architecture, and the developers would argue that the choice of colours and building materials does broadly fit in with the local area. But what about the scale? Paragraph 14.8:

“While tall buildings offer the opportunity for intensive use, their siting and design should be carefully considered in order to not detract from the nature of surrounding places and the quality of life for living and working around them. Applications for tall buildings will be considered against policy CS14, and policies DP24 Securing high quality design and DP25 Conserving Camden’s heritage in Camden Development Policies, along with the full range of policies on mixed use, sustainability, amenity and microclimate. Effect on views and provision of communal and private amenity space will also be important considerations.”

And what’s DP24? That’s from Camden’s Development Policies document. It says:

“The Council will require all developments, including alterations and extensions to existing buildings, to be of the highest standard of design and will expect developments to consider: a) character, setting, context and the form and scale of neighbouring buildings;”

One might argue that being twice the height of existing buildings, is not considering the character or scale of neighbouring buildings. The full text of DP24 is worth reading (the entire DP document is on Camden’s website).

West Hampstead is mentioned specifically in the Core Strategy docment, under CS7 “Promoting Camden’s centres and shops”. Here are some of the relevant bullet points:

“The Council… will …

  • seek to improve the street environment south of West End Green, in particular, to enhance the street scene around the transport interchange area between Broadhurst Gardens and the Thameslink station;
  • ensure that development around the interchange provides an appropriate mix of uses and contributes towards improved interchange facilities and a high quality street environment.”

The development does tick these boxes – whether you think it’s the best way of achieving these aims is another matter, but it will help improve the interchange area.

So, anyway, those of you that want to carry on the fight to make this development more reflective of West Hampstead’s “local context and character”, should get your objections in. Our London Assembly member is Brian Coleman. If you’re a glutton for reading, then here’s the document that explains the Mayor’s role in strategic planning, alternatively, there’s a brief overview. Or you may feel that, given development on this site is inevitable, this proposal could be worse. It’s all the Ocado drivers delivering groceries to 200 flats down one narrow access road that I feel sorry for!

187-199 Objection Letter

Camden approves 187-199 West End Lane plan

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Thameslink station: Love it or loathe it

When the new West Hampstead Thameslink station opened in December last year, the broad consensus seemed to be positive.

Photo: Peter Cook

The “modest yet thoughtfully designed” (according to Architecture Today) modern glass structure made a statement but there weren’t too many objections, despite the plans having been scaled down from something more interesting due to budget constraints. It also was more or less on time – and the site constraints had given rise to some construction challenges (again, the Architecture Today article has a lot more detail). Here’s a timelapse video of the project.

Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone came along to the opening, and said a few words.

The large open boulevard along Iverson Road also seemed like a refreshing change although it was predictable that the green tiling wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste.

Fast forward a couple of months, with the northern entrance now open again so people aren’t missing their trains because they can’t leave the house one minute earlier, and murmurs of dissent are appearing on Twitter. Last week there was a brief flurry of messages on the topic.

Personally, I quite like the station building, but there is an undeniable mismatch between the station and the footbridge that leads to the platforms. This, as most of you will know, was in place long before the station building work began – they were sadly not an integrated design and it shows. What’s your view? Is this a landmark building West Hampstead should be proud of, or a harbinger of the architectural doom that lies ahead in the next wave of development in the area. Or do you simply not care?

WHGARA’s objection to 187-199 West End Lane

Local residents association WHGARA has perhaps been the most vocal opponent of the proposals to redevelop 187-199 West End Lane. Here is a copy of its submission to the Camden Development Control Committee, which it will make on March 1st.

187-199 WEST END LANE APPLICATION No 2011/6129/P

1. WHGARA represents the residents of the area of West Hampstead, immediately next to and south of the proposed development. This application directly affects every one who lives in this Association’s area and who will see – and experience the consequences of – these overbearing tower blocks every day of every year.

We speak also for the interests of the wider number of residents of this part of West Hampstead who come and visit our area who have no one to speak for them. Many individuals, groups and businesses in this community will be disadvantaged for no good reason other than the profits to be made by the developers.

2. We support and agree with all that has been said by all three of our West Hampstead Councillors, Keith Moffitt, John Bryant and Gillian Risso-Gill. They speak with one voice in opposing this development in its present form with convincing reasons. We ask you to accept what they say. West Hampstead is primarily a residential area of low-rise housing – none more than 4 or 5 storeys high. Our Victorian and Edwardian forefathers recognised that low levels in a suburban environment are a necessary and attractive feature of town planning. As a result, even the tallest existing buildings are within a human scale. Blocks along West End Lane’s going towards Abbey Road are only 4- 5 storeys high. There are no tall buildings away from West End Lane itself. In the last 40 years, there has been no permission in West Hampstead, Hampstead, Swiss Cottage, St John Wood or Child’s Hill for a developer to build a 12 storey residential tower block – a skyscraper – let alone two more blocks which are10 storeys high. We have a heritage of a built-environment with a rich social mix of residents and many small businesses. Many other developers are waiting to see what the outcome of this application is going to be.

3. We are at a defining moment. This joint development by a public body – Network Rail – and its private enterprise partner, Ballymore is totally out of keeping with anything that has gone before and is closer to the ghastly tower blocks which planners allowed to be built in the 1960s. It represents a massive overdevelopment of a small, narrow and tapering site. The site may be ripe for development, but not like this. It defies Camden Core Development policy CS 5 and is detrimental in great measure to the amenity of all local residents. It goes against Core Policy CS 14, because it is completely at odds with the context and character of the area. It has few saving graces and nil charm.

4. Much emphasis has, for instance, been laid on payback in the form of a small public square, just by the railway station. In reality, it is just about twice the size of the fire-station forecourt in West End Lane. It will contribute little to our community and the reality is that any developer of the site is going to do much the same kind of thing, because a small open space is needed there nowadays to allow for the current, very large number of daily commuters who use the 3 stations which lie next to each other.

5. The size and bulk of the development is hostile to our environment and will have a chilling impact on our community. This is not central, inner London, but a lovely village, close to the centre. Queen Victoria used to go riding along West End Lane because it was a pleasant place to come. These tower blocks are going to be directly visible from a great number of places – not least from West End. They overshadow (from the south) the nearest street –Iverson Road- robbing it of light. To allow the construction of 1 x 12 storeys, 2 x 10 storeys and 2 x 8 storeys anywhere, let alone on this small site of less than 1 hectare would be unforgivable. These tower blocks will be there, long after our lifetimes. The Members of this Committee must not bestow such a ghastly legacy on this generation and the many generations to come. Get it into perspective: the height of the 12 storey block is more than twice as high as St Pancras. There is an almost complete absence of a proper analysis of this impact in the Officers’ report.

6. Although the Mayor’s Intensification Plan may envisage 800 new homes in the area, it does not mean that 25% of that plan needs to be stuffed onto one small site. The designation as a growth area does not mean that just one developer partnership should be allowed by our elected representatives to rob our community of its pleasant environment and to set a chilling precedent that other developers will eagerly follow. This development represents over-ambition and a thirst for unjustified profits by Network Rail and its partners at our environmental and social expense. The size of the buildings is driven by the commercial decision to cram in 200 or so apartments – as if this was in the heart of the West End or the City. We ask the committee members, as our elected representatives, to moderate this scheme to not more than 6-8 storeys and send the message to the developers to go back to the drawing board. The development as proposed will devastate the infrastructure and village feel of West Hampstead, which the draft Place Shaping document describes as the KEY ATTRIBUTE of this area.

7. Some of the statistics deployed by the developers are highly suspect and, as the Councillors point out, out of date. For instance, these 200 homes will produce some 700 – 800 new residents, given the mix of flats. The developers claim only 363 residents on the basis that no bedroom would be occupied by more than one person! That is obviously nonsense. They suggest that there will be only 72 children needing new school places, whereas the true number will be many more. There are just 2 doctors’ surgeries within or on the fringe of the West Hampstead Ward – So the developers used a one mile radius instead, and included any surgery in Kilburn, St John’s Wood, Swiss Cottage and so on. The calculations concerning increased pressure on public transport and traffic generally are also unusually low.

8. The impact on local parking is unpredictable because of car-capping. “Let them use car clubs” -you may say, but the Application provides for a tiny number of car club parking spaces and completely ignores the impact of residents and their visitors who will want to park – outside controlled hours. 14% of residents in West Hampstead, according to the Council, commute by car. For this development alone, that equates to well over 100 new residents’ cars, which will be searching the surrounding streets for spaces at night and weekends. And that does not take into account the delivery vans servicing the number of shops in the proposed scheme, for whom almost no special provision has been made.

9. This is an Application for a completely overwhelming and undistinguished piece of architecture, involving a huge overdevelopment of a small site and one which is going to impact adversely on all our lives and the future generations to come. If built, this is not going to win any prizes – only universal condemnation for the developers and the town planners who allowed it, contrary to the local community’s strong objections and in the face of broad local protest.

We, therefore, ask the Committee to refuse the application.
Stephen Nathan QC, Chairman, WHGARA. 27.ii.2012

Abbey Area Development will go to City Hall

Those of you living at the southern end of the neighbourhood are probably already up to speed with the extensive plans to redevelop the Abbey area estate at the Belsize Road/Abbey Road junction. There has already been a public consultation on this.

If you’re not sure what this is, The Abbey Area Redevelopment Project is a part of Camden’s estate regeneration programme approved in December 2007. The proposals involve the demolition and replacement of 70 homes at Emminster and Hinstock, a community centre health centre and some shops along with the existing Belsize Road multi-storey car park. Casterbridge and Snowman House tower blocks (the two big ones the east side of Abbey Road) would be retained with alterations proposed at the base of the buildings.

The new scheme will provide up to 299 homes including provision for larger family accommodation for affordable rent, some new homes for shared ownership and private sale.

Click for full-size version

The proposals also allow for the delivery of new community and health facilities at the base of the retained Casterbridge and Snowman House tower blocks along with new retail and business space to support the existing and new community. Here’s what the plans look like.

As you can see, it’s a large-scale development. Just for a bit of historical context, here’s what the site looked like in 1940.

I can’t immediately find evidence that this site was bombed, but it seems highly likely given that railways were targeted. The area was redeveloped in the 1960s and 1970s, including the Grade II listed Alexandra & Ainsworth estate (aka Rowley Way), which is outside the scope of this plan. The site also is adjacent to the proposed HS2 line out of Euston, however, HS2 shouldn’t affect these current plans, which would be underway well before HS2 construction starts in earnest. (There is an issue down the other end of Rowley Way with an access shaft for HS2, but that’s for another post.)

As would be expected for a development of this size, City Hall has already responded to the plans. There are a few areas where they are non-compliant with the London plan, and the final application will have to go before City Hall and cannot just be passed by Camden. The devil here is largely in the detail. Here’s the relevant extract from the report:

“London Plan policies on land use, housing, estate renewal, affordable housing, housing choice, density, child playspace, tall buildings, design, inclusive access, noise, climate change and transport are relevant to this application. The application complies with some of these policies but not with others, for the following reasons:

  • Land use: The principle of this residential led estate renewal scheme is supported
  • Housing, estate renewal, affordable housing and housing choice: Further discussion is needed on viability, tenure mix and minimum levels of affordable family housing
  • Density: the density should be calculated using the indicative scheme and in line with London plan guidance.
  • Child playspace: a playspace strategy should be submitted and off-site improvements committed to
  • Tall buildings and design: the design principles are generally supported however further discussions is needed on materials and the appearance of the tall building in particular
  • Inclusive access: Further information and commitments are needed.
  • Noise: Further information and commitments are needed.
  • Climate change: Further information and commitments are needed.
  • Transport: Further information and commitments are needed.”

Some of these issues sound a bit like dotting the i’s, but others – the child playspace and the tenure mix of units – present more of a challenge to the developers. You can read the full report here.

Camden’s planning site has all the documents related to the plan, including the reports on the retail situation – will Oscar’s Den be given first option on a new retail space? We can but hope.

Meanwhile, here’s an annotated copy of the full proposals (look out for the pages with the big green ticks, and the red outlines). Click on the title for access to the full-size version.

Abbey Area Redevelopment Project

First meeting for West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Plan

Under the Localism Act, communities can form a Neighbourhood Development Plan. Given the extent of potential development in West Hampstead, James Earl from Fordwych Residents Association has proposed that we form one. The first meeting to get the ball rolling on this took place on January 25th. James forwarded me the minutes.

1. Welcome & Introductions:
James thanked everyone for coming & thanked the Sidings Community Centre for hosting the first meeting of the Forum.

2. Election of interim chair:
James was elected with no objections; there were no other candidates.

3. Membership, future elections & constitution:
It was agreed to keep the Forum as inclusive as possible. Anyone living or working in the area should be able to attend meetings and contribute to the Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP).

James said a future meeting would elect a chair, vice-chair, secretary & treasurer. There was a discussion about sharing or revolving posts and the Forum not being hierarchical, but it was agreed that permanent officers would be needed to lead the work of the Forum.

As part of the requirements set down for NDPs any group drawing up a plan needs a constitution. A group in Kentish Town has already drawn up a document for their group. James said he would draft a constitution for the next meeting & circulate to those interested beforehand.

4. Introduction to Neighbourhood Development Plans:
James outlined the basic idea behind NDPs, which are set out in the Localism Act, which comes into force in April 2012. A number of points were raised:

  • It was pointed that it was a resident led process, not a council-led or top down process.
  • Any NDP needs to fit in with the Camden Council Local Development Framework (LDF) & the Mayor of London’s London Plan (LP).
  • An NDP can’t propose less development – but can set out where future development should be located.
  • Residents can list things they don’t want – eg very high buildings.
  • There was concern that an NDP wouldn’t carry much weight & would not affect new developments.
  • An NDP is a chance to be more locally focussed than the LDF.
  • An NDP could link in with the Camden Council ‘Place Shaping Plan’ for WH & the Area Action forums.
  • If we don’t draw up a plan, someone else (eg a developer) could.
  • The area around the railway stations marked as an area of intensification in the LP can’t be overturned.
  • The NDP could be an opportunity for developers to give more back to the community – there were complaints that the current Section 106 agreements are a closed process.
  • The NDP will not stop current developments but will be able to shape future developments.
  • The NDP needs to be a forward thinking document that considers infrastructure too – such as transport, schools, health services etc.
  • The Forum has the chance to create a positive document that has a strong and lasting effect on our area.
  • The Forum can usefully bring together people and RAs from different parts of the local area and give residents a stronger and unified voice.

5. Camden Council workshop – 24th January:
Those who attended said there were both positive and negative voices about NDPs – there is a need to be realistic about what a NDP can achieve. People should go into the process with their eyes open.

When NDPs come into force they will have a formal role in the planning process and can be referred to when commenting on/objecting to planning applications. The Council are keen for Forums to work with them and engage in a dialogue. Forums need to be clear about what they want to achieve and be aware of the other changes to the planning system. The Council will have to approve the proposed NDP area; there can’t be overlapping plans. The Plan will need to be approved in a referendum, so will need to attract wide support.

It was pointed out that NDPs were originally designed for villages wanting more development.

There is a surprising amount of land in our area that could be developed in the future – although new developments can also take place when existing buildings are knocked down.

6. Issues to be covered by the Plan:
James set out a range of different issues that could be covered by the NDP. As well as future development, it could include – traffic/street issues; businesses; green space; community facilities; local services etc.

Residents are keen to focus on the ‘village feel’ of the area and in particular the shops & businesses on West End Lane & Mill Lane.

The Forum will need to identify the priorities for the area and its residents/businesses.

It was suggested that the Forum could look at recent development in the area and what does & doesn’t work.

It was agreed to ask a Camden Council planning officer to a future meeting to ask questions.

7. Area to be covered by the Plan:
James said the original proposal for the area used the current ward boundaries for Fortune Green and West Hampstead. In the East, this is Finchley Road; in the North, the northern boundary of Camden Council; in West, Cricklewood Broadway/Shoot-up Hill/Kllburn High Road; & in the South, part railway line, part streets in South Hampstead.

There was a discussion about excluding Cricklewood/Kilburn areas, in case they wanted to come up with their own NDP for the high streets.

In the NW, some of the streets might want to tie in with Barnet.

It was suggested consulting with CRASH on the southern boundary.

There was a suggestion to keep the Plan focussed on the area around the interchange, as this is the area affected by big developments. Others felt it would be more useful to bring the wider community together, and people living away from the interchange area were affected by it.

On a show of hands, a clear majority agreed to proceed by including the full area covered by the two wards.

8. Proposed timescale:
James said that because of the number of developments being proposed in the area, it was best to get on with the Plan as soon as possible. He said he thought it was realistic to have the Plan drawn up within the next year, with a referendum in spring 2013. Those present agreed that it would be wise to move quickly and start work on the Plan sooner rather than later.

9. Funding:
The Forum will need money to pay for meeting venues, printing, administration etc. There might also be a need to employ professional help with the plan. There is no money at present and no money from the Council. It was suggested local RAs could each contribute £50 to get the Forum going. S106 funding could be sought from the current developments. Local businesses could be asked to contribute.

10. Other issues:
There is a Camden Council West Hampstead Place Shaping workshop on February 8th. Those attending can report back to the next Forum meeting. [Ed: my report on that workshop]

There was a call to continue to oppose the current proposed developments in the area; if they are rejected, the sites could be covered by the Plan when it comes into force.

11. Future meetings:
James said he would like to have monthly meetings to help get the Forum and the process established.

The next meeting will look to agree on the area & constitution – plus initial work on the Plan.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday 28th February at 7.30pm – venue tbc.

Place shaping update

Last Wednesday, the usual suspects along with a few welcome newcomers gathered in a chilly hall in Dennington Park Road to discuss the draft vision and action plan for West Hampstead’s place shaping programme.

In small groups we discussed whether we agreed with the broad vision statements. There was some disagreement about the need to “attract visitors”, with the more business-focused people arguing that West Hampstead very much should encourage more visitors to help support the local businesses here, while some of the longer-standing residents felt that we had visitors aplenty thanks to the stations and the congestion on the roads was already too much.

The meeting focused on what some of the concrete actions were that would help realise the vision and, in true Big Society fashion, who the groups or people were who might be able to help – including the council of course. Stimulating local business and encouraging local shops proved popular topics again, with the proviso that seems to be need to be repeated ad nauseum that the council can’t control specific companies moving in to the area. There was some interest in the community supermarket idea, especially if the Transition West Hampstead movement gets going and produce can be grown locally.

One area where the council can have influence, and that some of us have been suggesting for some time, is in the guidance to new retail developments – or residential developments that have retail components, such as the Ballymore 187-199 West End Lane site. Encouraging/forcing developers to focus on small format stores rather than large retail spaces would inevitably encourage smaller retailers who could afford the rents, and discourage the chains who thrive on economies of scale. It’s not a sure-fire way to keep local businesses, but it’s a good start. Certainly for developments that take place on council owned sites, such as the existing Travis Perkins/Wickes site, which is likely to be sold off, the council would be able to set such terms.

I’ll publish the full report as soon as it’s available. In the meantime, the draft reports are available here. And if you have any contributions, please do contact Kate Goodman, our place shaping officer, before February 20th with any concrete suggestions – the more practical the better.