“Aeroplane wing” fails to take off at 163 Iverson Road

With all the hullabaloo over the other development, my attention has been diverted from what’s happening at 163 Iverson Road – the site of the former garden centre, and right next to the new Thameslink station.

The plans are now in for 33 flats and 3 houses on the site. When the developers presented their initial proposals at the Camden Development Forum back in early November, there was considerable resistance to the scheme overall, to some of the details, and in particular to the dramatic “wing” roof. 

Correspondence from the council’s planning department suggests that planners were less reticent about the new look, and deemed it “exciting”. However, when the final plans were submitted in December, the roof design had been watered down.

In fact, the developers have accommodated quite a lot of the issues raised both by Camden and by residents, including lowering the overall height. Obviously, those locals who objected to the whole concept are probably going to be disappointed.

The most interesting feature of the building is the southern elevation, where stilts have been used to create a dramatic railway view apartment.

southern elevation (with original roof design)

To see all the documents, head to Camden’s planning database and enter 2012/0099/P in the Application number box, and then scroll down to find “View Related Documents”. I recommend looking at the various Design & Access Statements for a good overview, the Appendices document, and the Ecological survey from page 24 onwards. Also, who knew a bat survey would cost £4,000?

Consultation closes on February 17th, and you can e-mail them to .

187-199 West End Lane “non compliant” with London Plan

It looks like the proposed 203 unit development, of which more here and here, will have to go before City Hall. Camden has been advised to reject it because it does not comply with certain aspects of the London Plan. Having seen a tweet linking to this Hampstead & Kilburn Conservatives news item saying that “Boris objects” to the scheme, I did a little digging.

It’s stretching it a bit to say he “objects”. This is based on a report by the GLA’s Development & Environment Directorate. The comments are advisory, and say that Camden must consult City Hall when it makes its decision on the application, at which point the Mayor can accept, refuse, or reassess the application. 

Before you all get too excited/angry/worked up, it’s worth noting immediately that the scale of the proposed buildings is not the main concern (although the report talks about buildings 5 to 11 storeys high, when in fact the tallest building is 12 storeys high).

It is also worth noting that the issues raised by the Directorate are also deemed to be addressable. The recommendation is “That Camden Council be advised that the application does not comply with the London Plan, for the reasons set out in paragraph 108 of this report; but that the possible remedies set out in paragraph 110 of this report could address these deficiencies“.

If you want to read the whole document, then I’ve highlighted some of the key paragraphs, but paragraphs 108-110 are written out below (emphasis mine).

108 London Plan policies on noise, vibration, air quality, design, access, heritage, housing, affordable housing, 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:

  • Principle of development (non compliant): Further testing is required regarding the noise, vibration and air quality conditions created across the site, in particular at the western apex which is proposed to accommodate affordable housing.
  • Affordable housing, mix, tenure and density (non compliant): Further testing of the appraisal has been commissioned by Camden Council. The findings will inform further discussion regarding these policy areas.
  • Urban design (non compliant): further testing and analysis is required on the townscape and heritage views. The layout of block G needs further work.
  • Access (compliant): the provision of wheelchair accessible homes, Lifetime Homes and disabled parking should be conditioned by Camden Council.
  • Climate change mitigation (compliant): the energy strategy is broadly supported.
  • Climate change adaptation (compliant): conditions should secure water use targets and green and brown roofs and walls.
  • Noise and vibration (non compliant): the noise impact is a concern and mitigation and design measures need to be secured. The suitability of the site for residential, particularly and the western apex is being considered in further detail.
  • Air quality (non compliant): air quality impact is a concern and is being considered in further detail.
  • Transport (non compliant): a contribution to fund enhancements at West Hampstead station may be required. Clarification of the trip generation methodology and number of trips at West Hampstead station is also required. A more robust and coherent travel plan is needed with associated funding and targets including a monitoring strategy.

109 On balance, the application does not comply with the London Plan.

110 The following changes might, however, remedy the above-mentioned deficiencies, and could possibly lead to the application becoming compliant with the London Plan:

  • Principle of development (non compliant): Further testing is required regarding the noise, vibration and air quality conditions created across the site, in particular at the western apex which is proposed to accommodate affordable housing.
  • Affordable housing, mix, tenure and density (non compliant): The findings will inform further discussion regarding these policy areas.
  • Urban design (non compliant): the design team should consider verifying the views from the south and provide commentary on any potential heritage impacts. The layout of block G needs further work.
  • Noise and vibration (non compliant): the noise impact is a concern and mitigation and design measures need to be secured. The suitability of the site for residential, particularly and the western apex is being considered in further detail.
  • Air quality (non compliant): the air quality information is being further considered by the CLA.
  • Transport (non compliant): a contribution to fund enhancements at West Hampstead station may be required. Clarification of the trip generation methodology and number of trips at West Hampstead station is also required. A more robust and coherent travel plan is needed with associated funding and targets including a monitoring strategy. Construction discussions and conditions may be required further to advice from London Underground’s infrastructure Protection Team.

Some of this is a dotting the i’s exercise, but there are some more fundamental issues at stake such as the suitability of the western apex of the site (the bit furthest from West End Lane) for residential use, and specifically affordable housing (see paras 22-23 and 48-49 in the report). Personally, I’d like to see the methodology that suggests 203 flats will contribute just 42 more rush hour passengers on the tube (see para 83 and 100).

For those wondering about the height issue, the report seems to be choosing to stay out of that discussion. Here are the relevant paragraphs (original emphasis):

38 London Plan Policy 7.7 moves away from active encouragement to careful management of tall buildings and covers various tests for the location and design of tall and large-scale buildings. This proposal incorporates a number of large scale buildings rising up to 11 storeys [sic]. Policy 7.7 focuses on the impact on character by scale, mass or built form of a tall and large buildings and that they should relate well to form, proportion, scale and character of surrounding buildings, urban grain and public realm. Part B of the policy seeks that applications for tall or large buildings should include an urban design analysis that demonstrates the proposals form part of a strategy that meets the criteria in Part C and that this is particularly important where the site is not identified as a location for a tall or large building in the borough’s LDF.

39 Camden Council’s Development Management DPD (paragraph 24.10) notes that “Due to the dense nature of Camden with extensive range and coverage of heritage assets, such as conservation areas, numerous listed buildings and five strategic views and two background views crossing the borough, the Council do not consider that it is practical to identify broad areas either suitable, or not suitable, for tall buildings.” The Council intend to test each case against design policy DP24 which covers the broad considerations of good design, scale, character and access.

40 Given the above, Part C of London Plan policy 7.7 becomes particularly relevant. Against the context of Part C, the proposal is within an area of intensification and partly within the town centre with good to excellent public transport access and therefore the principle of large scale buildings may be supported subject to other townscape considerations set out below.

Consultation on 187-199 ends on Feb 14th

These plans went into the council before Christmas. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about then gen up on the background, maps, pictures etc.. In a nutshell: 203 flats to be built on the land between the tube and overground lines to the west of West End Lane, fronted today by the shops from Café Bon to Michael Leonard Estates: 187-199 West End Lane. The image below also misses out the 6-storey longer-block of affordable housing at the back (left) of the site.

The planning documents are lengthy and incredibly detailed, To access the whole lot, you need to enter ref 2011/6129/P into Camden’s planning search engine, click the application number when it comes up, and then click “View Related Documents”. I’ve linked to a few of the critical ones below, and the main planning document is here – I’ve drawn your attention to some paragraphs with red borders

If you want to comment on the plans you need to do by February 14th. You can do so via the Camden planning site (it’s easy enough to find). The sort of issues that have exercised people include:

  • Height – at 12 storeys high, the middle tower will dwarf anything else in West Hampstead;
  • Potential loss of daylight for houses close to the development (developer’s report here);
  • Whether the existing local businesses on the site will be allowed to continue operating until demolition is essential, whether they will be offered first option on the new commercial premises included in the proposals, and whether that would be at a reasonable rent (retail floor plans top left here, and see 6.30-6.33 in the main planning document);
  • The impact on traffic and transport in the area, despite being nominally a zero-parking development (developer’s report here).

There may be other issues you’re concerned about – although do check the documents to see if they’ve already been addressed. It’s probably fair to say that the plans are not going to be summarily dismissed by the planners. There is a need for housing, the land has aleady been identified as suitable for residential development, and it ties in with the London Plan that calls for 800 new homes around the stations in West Hampstead over the next few years. The details – especially the height – are up for debate though.

Local residents group WHGARA has been most vocal in its opposition to scale of the development, and is exhorting people to “Act now“. Meanwhile, WHAT has posted its letter to Camden, which I’ve added to the comments below.

Update via Cllr Andrew Marshall (Swiss Cottage): The council’s email address for comments on planning applications is changing. From the end of January, use .

Placeshaping – the draft report

If you’ve been following for a while, or have ever clicked that handy “Latest Planning News” link on the right, you’ll probably have seen me talk about Placeshaping.

Here’s the recap: Camden council is conducting “placeshaping” exercises in many areas of the borough in order to identify the concerns of locals and try and guide the planning and development of these areas to the extent they can. I have been fortunate enough to have been asked to participate in some of the meetings, and some of you have contributed with thoughts via this blog, which I assure you are read by the team drawing up the report.

Developing a unified place plan is not a quick process. The first meeting I attended was back at the end of June and now we’re at the draft report stage. Kate Goodman from Camden, who is our Placeshaping officer, has given me permission to post this draft report, which is currently in two parts but will evenutally be merged.

As you read this, please do note that it is only a draft. Your comments though (perhaps not on any typos) are actively welcomed, especially on the second part which outlines the vision and action plan. Reference copies are also available for viewing at West Hampstead Library.

I’ve ringed in red some of the more interesting bits (you may disagree with what’s “interesting”) for those of you who just want to get the basic idea. The major issues covered are planning, and especially the large developments in the pipeline, the local retail environment, public services , green spaces, and movement between stations. Although parking is discussed, it’s notable that no mention is made of whether parking for the local shops might be addressed, despite it being raised regularly by local businesses as a key issue in boosting visitor numbers to the town centre (as it’s called). It’s also a shame that The Winch doesn’t get a mention in the youth services discussion despite being relatively close by, especially for people living the Swiss Cottage side of West Hampstead.

Click the little cloud icon to download the document, or the document title above the slides to go to the web version.

West Hampstead Place Plan Pt 1 – DRAFT

West Hampstead Place Plan Pt 2 – DRAFT

If you’re interested in being involved in the next meeting, which is planned for the next couple of weeks, please contact Kate.

Are new Gondar Gardens plan a-go-go?

The Gondar Gardens reservoir is back on the planning agenda. Here’s the story so far. Gondar Gardens is a large patch of green land that sits over a disused Victorian reservoir.

The land is owned by Linden Homes and Wates, who submitted plans to build a series of homes on the site in what was generally described as “Teletubbies style”. These semi-subterranean homes were deemed to be out of keeping with the area, and the threat to local biodiversity – most notably the local slow worm population – was enough to see the plan rejected after a vociferous campaign.

The developers are appealing the decision, but one would assume that they’re not especially confident of winning as they have invested in an entirely new and completely different plan for the site, which they were exhibiting at the library last Wednesday.The new plan take up much less of the site and instead just front onto the west side of Gondar Gardens road.

The previous plans took up the space marked by the inner red rectangle

There would be 19 private homes and 9 affordable housing units. To keep the environmentalists happy, the development goes big on managing the remaining open space (which is far greater under this proposal than the previous one), and once complete the land would be handed over to a trust with covenants restricting any future development.

Architecturally, the designs so far apparently try to reflect the neighbouring buildings but in a modern style.

At the exhibition there was some debate as to whether this had been successful yet – the current design being very boxy and angular compared to the bay windows and pitched roofs of the houses around. The developer suggested that the design was a work in progress. At least, unlike some other developments locally, this one would not rise above existing buildings.

On Wedensday December 14th, there is a Camden Development Management Forum at the synagogue hall on Dennington Park Road. This is a chance for the public to hear more about the proposals and ask questions. Registration will be at 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start and the meeting shouldn’t last more than two hours. This is not a formal consultation meeting as no plans have yet been submitted.

The exhibition boards are visible below, or you can download them from www.gondargardens.co.uk.

At the West Hampstead and Fortune Green Area Action group meeting a couple of days earlier, Fortune Green councillor Russell Eagling seemed to imply that this development was much more in keeping with the sort of thing the council would look favourably on. It is also worth noting that these units would not count towards the 800 new homes required under the intensification plan that emanates from City Hall – that is focused entirely on the land around the three railways lines.
Gondar Gardens exhibition boards

Parking and planning dominate December’s AAG

The turnout for this week’s West Hampstead & Fortune Green Area Action Group was higher than usual, with parking, planning, and local business on the agenda.

For those of you not familiar with the AAGs, they are an opportunity to meet local councillors, hear about the latest developments in the area, and for the public to share their views and ask questions.

Parking changes in Camden
The council is reviewing its parking policies. We had a quick rundown of changes over the past few years: fewer parking tickets, no clamping, allowing taxis to park on yellow lines for ATM access.

The borough is introducing cashless parking via mobile phones (meters will still accept coins), and is reviewing how its permit system will work with auto-renewal systems, e-permits and simplifying the visitor permit system with half-hour visitor permits being abolished. It was also made clear that the parking zones won’t be extended as that encourages short journeys and more parking pressure around stations.

Parking turned out to be an issue that people got quite exercised by. There was a question about all the proposed housing developments and the impact on parking in the area. All new developments are encouraged to be car free and residents will not be allowed to apply for permits on nearby streets. The view was expressed that new residents would find a way around the rules. There was also a suggestion that if there was basement parking in new developments it could then be used as public parking during the day.

There was grumbling about changes to visitor permit system and the common complaint councils face up and down the country: that they are “using motorists as cash cows”.

Parking wardens came in for flak for being too picky over permits. The representative from Camden explained that the appeals process will look at such issues. The masses weren’t impressed and the view was expressed that the permits were too complicated yet there was no process by which the public could look at getting them changed.

The parking review will also look at the details for each controlled parking zone, including on Fortune Green Road where parking for the 24hr gym is causing some local residents a degree of angst.

Next up, James Earl from the Fordwych Residents Association explained the concept of the Neighbourhood Development Plan, which you can read more about here. One local development was being displayed at the meeting – Handrail House on Maygrove Road is likely to be turned into flats. The developer is throwing money at local community centre Sidings, including astroturfing the pitch, in order to ease any objections. If plans are cleared by April then the developer will avoid the Crossrail levy that all larger residential developments in London will have to pay.

I asked whether there was any way in which we could get the Mayor’s London plan to enlarge the area designated for intensification (800 homes over the next few years) so that all the homes wouldn’t have to be clustered so tightly along the railway lines. Almost certainly a futile notion, but local councillor Flick Rea suggested that if there was ever a time to lobby politicians it was in the run up to an election and we were about to prepare for another Ken v Boris battle (and lets remember Ken lives locally so would at least be au fait with the particularities of the area). This would not be about reducing the number of new homes in West Hampstead, just spreading them out a little more. Developers themselves might not be so keen, under current planning frameworks, it’s much harder for councils to reject developments that flank railways.

Flick also mentioned that it was possible that the council offices on West End Lane (better known as the Wickes/Travis Perkins building), which are also destined to be flats, could end up as being entirely affordable housing as part of a deal with a (hypothetical) developer. So much for integrated housing projects.

Someone asked what our councillors’ own view was about the future of West Hampstead; I think suggesting that there was too much of a “our hands are tied” attitude. Councillor Keith Moffitt said that they had a clear vision, which was to preserve the villagey feel of the area, while recognising the need for new homes. One can imagine that this will translate into planners insisting that some of the larger developments lop a couple of floors off their proposals, or tone down any architectural oddities, but that any wholesale rejection of housing developments is unlikely.

I bumped into James later in the week and asked if there had been a good response after the meeting in terms of helping set up a steering group for the NDP – and it seemed like there had been. This will be a lengthy process though, and is very much going to focus on the developments that aren’t even on the table yet rather than those already under discussion.

There was a brief discussion on the new proposals for Gondar Gardens, which I’ve tackled in a separate blog. Questions were also raised as to whether there really was a need for new housing in the area, and weren’t there already too many houses on the market (the idea was firmly rebuffed by the estate agent contingent who said demand outstripped supply at the moment). And someone asked whether ownership of new flats could be restricted to Londoners or “people who need them”. You can imagine the answer.

Councillor Gillian Risso-Gill spoke briefly about the fledgling West Hampstead Business Forum and introduced David Matthews from Dutch & Dutch estate agents who has offered to chair the group. It will be interesting to see what comes out of that in the coming months.

The meeting concluded with short presentations / plugs for the financially challenged West Hampstead Community Association by Geoff Berridge, and for the financially more secure Sidings Community Centre by Sue Measures. Both run all manner of classes, so do check them out.

There were two off-agenda items that came up in final questions. The first concerned the cycle permeability scheme (allowing two-way cycle traffic on many of our one-way streets), which some locals think is a recipe for disaster. The consultation period for this has passed, but the councillors suggested that comments even now might well be considered.

The second was an impassioned plea regarding Netherwood Day Centre. This specialist Alzheimers unit just off the Kilburn High Road is teetering on the precipice again after an initial stay of execution following a high profile campaign involving local celebrities such as Ricky Gervais.

And that was that

187-199 West End Lane: The Ballymore proposals

“We actually live here, it’s not just a ‘place with great transport links’, it’s our home”

Last week, quite a large group of locals turned up at Sidings Community Centre to hear a presentation from the developers and architects of the 187-199 West End Lane site. It was chaired by Frances Wheat, Head of Development Control at Camden’s planning department.

Full minutes will be written up, and I’m not going to try and cover everything that was discussed in the session which ran for two hours. I’ve already covered the basics elsewhere, so I’ll try to shed some light on some other issues that arose and set the context very briefly.

The area around the three stations (known as “The Interchange”) has been designated as an area for intensification in the Mayor’s London Plan. That’s a done deal – the expectation is for 800 new homes by 2015. Therefore, land such as this strip which runs between the underground and the overground lines will be developed for housing, but the scale and type are not set in stone.

The site is ~450m long

The boards that were exhibited beforehand are now accessible on the architect’s website (see these for issues I haven’t covered here, for example the parks, gardens and environmental issues, or site constraints). Some changes have been made since the last designs were discussed – the “public” square (presumably private space) has been made bigger to accommodate potentially the fillip that is a farmers’ market, and more smaller retail units have been added.

West End Square

First up, perhaps the most controversial of the issues: the height. There was quite a lot of confusion and, I have to say it, obfuscation, on the part of the architects here. At the exhibition the previous weekend I’d been told point blank that the highest building would be 11 storeys. Yet, JamesEarl from Fortune Green Residents Association had been told it would be 12 storeys. It’s a fairly basic fact without much room for error. You’d think. As Eric Holding, architect at John Thompson Partners ran through his presentation he rather hurriedly said that the highest building would be 11 storeys “from West End Lane”.

When it came to audience questions, the first was: “how high are the buildings?”. No clear answer was forthcoming, with talk about the top floor being set back from the sides of the buildings, and the land sloping away, and no flats on the ground floor. The audience was getting a little irate, and it took someone (me) to shout rather loudly “how many metres tall is the highest building from the ground to the roof and how many storeys is that?” before we finally got an answer: 36m high, 12 storeys. So there we have it. That’s the height of the highest building, which would sit in the middle of the site. “From West End Lane”, it will have a relative height of 11 storeys because (presumably) the plot is about 3 metres lower than the road level.

Equal size blocks on the left, proposed layout on right

Everyone clear now? Why the developers would think that evading the question (or giving the wrong facts) would be helpful or win sceptics over when we’ll find out eventually is beyond me. The heights are also notable by their absence on the exhibition boards. The building heights running east to west (away from West End Lane) are 15m (5 storeys), 24m (8), 30m (10), 36m (12), 30m (10), 24m (8) and then a longer block that looks to be 6 or 7 storeys high at the back of the site.

They explained in more detail why they had decided to go for this ‘rise and fall’ design rather than having the buildings rise steadily with the tallest block at the back or have a uniform height across all the blocks. Some of this was aesthetic, and I agree that their design is more pleasing this way. This also means that the 30% of affordable housing that the scheme proposes can be in family home-size dwellings at the back of the lot rather than somewhere in the middle dwarfed by blocks around them (more on this issue later).

There was also the issue that if the tallest building was at the back it would block the light (think of those lovely whampsunsets) from the rest of the site. They also 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.

Click for larger view: red outline shows building behind trees

There was understandable concern from residents in streets that are closest to the site about the effect on their light. The developers explained that they had tried to take natural breaks in existing housing into consideration – but it feels like this issue could run and run as it may well have a big impact on some houses.

From Iverson Road

Big change to view looking north

In total, the development will have around 200 units (roughly equal to 540 people). I asked what was driving the total number of units – i.e., why 200 not 230 or 170, and what the minimum number of units would be that would still give the developers a reasonable return.

Naturally the second part of the question was ignored, as I expected (and having asked a question (and heckled to get a straight answer over height) I was subsequently passed over for more questions, which was frustrating as both my other questions were very straightforward). The answer to my first about driver of total size was a bit vague, but talked about the need for housing in the area, balancing the affordable housing requirements, the need to make a profit (absolutely valid) etc. It also pointed out that the density (594 habitable rooms/ha.) was below the legal limit of 700 that the site could take. This didn’t convince everyone in the audience and there were mumblings of “why are you doubling the height of West Hampstead’s buildings”.

Architecturally, the buildings seem reasonable. Unlike the initial proposals for the Iverson Rd garden centre site with its bizarre aeroplane wing roof, these are fairly simple blocks, and are a modern attempt to reflect the traditional red brick and white render of much of the area’s long-standing architecture. Given the noise from the trainlines, the apartments will have internal cooling systems so windows can remain closed, although lots of flats will have balconies, for those who really like to hear the trundling of trains. Corner balconies also reduce the visual boxyness of the buildings.

Tallest building would be 2 storeys higher than left/centre image here

Affordable housing
Thirty percent of floorspace is designated as affordable housing, split into 25 “intermediate” units and 20 “social housing” units. Note that Camden’s guidelines are for 50 percent affordable housing (by floorspace not no. of units) in mixed-use developments, which this falls well short of. As I understand it (and happy for someone to correct me as I’ve not had time to wade through the reams of planning docs.), developers who fall short of the guidelines may be/are? asked to pay the council a set amount based on a formula that is put towards building affordable housing elsewhere in the area.

Cllr Mike Katz pushed for more details on the decision to keep all the affordable housing at the far end of the site, suggesting this might not aid what he termed “community cohesion”, ie., the integration and mix of people that generally leads to more harmonious social outcomes.

To the developers’ credit they had quite a full answer to this, and referred largely to the specifics of the site: the end location would allow for gardens attached to properties rather than the communal gardens and “pocket park” that sit between the other blocks. This relates to the elevation relative to the railway lines and at ground level this would be the quieter end of the site (note that an “acoustic wall” will flank the southern side of the site using foliage as sound proofing against the noise of the trains). This is clearly seen more as family housing than single occupancy housing. It would be interesting to know, however, whether the developers have looked at integrating the non-family affordable units into the other blocks rather than forcing all the less affluent residents into the far end of the site.

The development is classified as “zero parking”. It won’t surprise you to know that this doesn’t mean no parking. There was will be 20 disabled parking bays, five car club spots (enlightened), and five commercial parking spaces. Residents will not be allowed to apply for parking permits on nearby streets. The developers argued that given the site’s current use as a car wash and repair yard there would actually be less traffic once the development was finished than there is today – suggesting an 85-90% reduction.

It’s true that there is a steady flow of traffic into the site today, but hard to believe that lots of the residents won’t be ordering their parcels from Amazon, or their shopping from Ocado, Tesco and the like. Not to mention service vehicles, refuse collection etc.. It may not be a increase in traffic, but I would like to see the evidence that leads to the conclusion that there would be such a large drop in traffic. In addition the single road that would run the length of the development will also be the pedestrian access for the whole site, but I wasn’t able to ask whether it would be a single track or a two-way road.

A question was raised about whether residents who needed vehicles for work – e.g., tradesmen, would therefore effectively be excluded from moving to the development if they couldn’t park. There seemed no clear answer to this.

Part of the scheme involves changing some of the West End Lane streetscape around the interchange. The zebra crossing by the Overground would be replaced by one more or less where Rock hair salon is now, and the newish southbound bus stop (long fought for by WHAT) outside the post office would be moved further north to roughly where Greene & Co. is. The idea of moving the bus stop prompted outrage from some in the audience, given the battle they’d had to get the new stop put in in the first place and there was a rapid assertion from Camden and the developers that these proposals were in their very early stages. The zebra crossing makes sense, but I didn’t understand the rationale for moving the bus stop.

red zebra crossing/bus stop = existing; blue = proposed

As we know, right now there are six businesses with West End Lane frontage on that site, from Café Bon to M.L.Estates, as well as the auto-related businesses behind including the motorbike shop and the repair business. The buildings they inhabit would be replaced by “West End Square”. There will be seven smaller retail units in the new development as well as a large 600m2, which is metro format supermarket size – and, if I understood correctly, one of them will be let only temporarily because it will need to be demolished at a later date because of something to do with the Overground station infrastructure. Apologies for the lack of clarity here, this was the second question I wanted to ask but wasn’t allowed to. I have followed up with JTP and am waiting for them to get back to me.

The architect argued that the number of units on the site was rising from five to seven (they are counting Rock and the car hire place as one unit I presume), but this clearly doesn’t translate into seven similar permanent small units for these or similar busineses to occupy. The exhibition boards say “There could be scope for some of the existing retailers and businesses to take new premises in the scheme and the developers would be happy to discuss potential tenant requirements at the appropriate time“. I find the plan for the shops baffling in terms of the first floor and ground floor plans. I look forward to being enlightened on this.

Do the ground and first floor plans on the left match those on the right?

There will also be 650m2 of commercial office space. It seems that this could be used for all manner of purposes and would not necessarily be let to one business but might be shared use (in theory this could be a great idea for shared office space for local independent sole traders – a business hub sort of thing, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

There were inevitably questions about the construction itself, which would take place in two phases and if all went to Ballymore’s plan would start in spring 2013 and take two years. The idea of both the Blackburn Road development and this overlapping should alarm anyone who already finds West End Lane traffic a problem.

The site’s location between rail lines limits the access points, and cunning ideas like adding a tunnel from Iverson Road were rapidly ruled out on cost grounds.

Summary (and “my two cents”)
Overall, the audience was initially respectful, with a few exceptions. As the meeting went on, things became a little more confrontational, and some frustration was directed at the chair who some thought was moving things on a little too quickly, not allowing all questions to be asked or pursuing answers adequately. Of course some people just wanted a good old rant and were inexplicably permitted to do this on more than one occasion, which meant other people’s legitimate questions were missed out (I’m not just talking about me here by the way).

Sadly, not all the members of the panel looked as engaged as they might have done when not speaking. As one woman in the audience pointed out “We actually live here, it’s not just a ‘place with great transport links’, it’s our home“, and it does feel insulting if the people planning large-scale changes don’t at least pretend to be interested, even though I’m sure there are plenty of things they’d rather be doing on a chilly Wednesday night in November than dealing with a bunch of disgruntled locals. Credit to David Laycock, from Ballymore, who did in fact make an effort to engage throughout.

What do I think? As longer-term readers know, I tend to try and be reasonably balanced on such matters, especially those where emotions can run high. I don’t oppose development on the site, and I think that there are some good ideas within these proposals.

I think the height is a major concern, as it is out of keeping with the character of the area (reference to the 8-storey student accommodation being built is fair, but that is on lower ground still, so “relative to West End Lane” it won’t be as dramatic), and has the potential to affect some properties’ light quite considerably. I also hope that existing businesses are given first option to take over the retail premises and that the inevitable and justifiable increase in their rent is realistic.

I do wonder whether in shooting for such high buildings, the developer is prepared for a challenge and will be happy to “compromise” at e.g., 10 storeys, which might have been just as hard for people to swallow had it been the initial proposal. But then I can be very cynical. I also hope that if the height IS a problem, the retail spaces aren’t sacrificed for extra flats in an attempt to recoup any lost profit.

I think that West End Square has the potential to be an asset to West Hampstead. It will vastly improve the image of the area for those arriving by tube and, together with the large open space by the new Thameslink station, it gives the community more flexibility for events, markets etc. I’m also acutely aware that given that this area is earmarked for intensification, the developers have a trump card up their sleeves. Should Camden refuse the plans that will be submitted later this month, an appeal to City Hall could see them passed anyway with fairly minimal concessions, which was what happened to the Blackburn Road student residences.

(all photos taken from the JTP exhibition boards)

The only way is up…. it seems.

A market square; bustly shops and cafés; new influx of residents; 12-storey building… wait, what now?

On Saturday, architects John Thomson & Partners held an exhibition in the church hall on Sherriff Road to show their latest proposals for the strip of land that slopes west from West End Lane between the tube lines and the Overground lines and is currently fronted by the parade of shops including Café Bon, Rock, and Peppercorns.

The amended proposal will house 200 flats, with a mix of 1- 2- and 3-bed apartments (the majority being 2-bed), along with some affordable housing, giving a total population of around 500 people. The affordable housing (all tucked away at the far end of the site away from West End Lane) comprises 30% of the total floorspace, although I understand that the council stipulates 50% of floorspace should be affordable housing.

The proposal is for six blocks of flats, each separated by green space – some of which will be accessible to residents only, and some of which will be small park space. The block facing onto West End Lane, behind the “market square” (remember this would be private space masquerading as public space) would be 5-storeys high. The next one back 7, then 9, then 12, then 9 then 7. To give some context, the highest buildings along West End Lane at the moment are 6-storeys high – most are four or five. [update: i was initially told by an architect from JTP to my face that the tallest building would be 11 storeys. It was only under some pressure at the public meeting the following week that they admitted that from the ground level, it would be 12. Such disingenuousness does nothing to win residents over]

We heard a few technical things, such as that that buildings would be on springs – as used in earthquake zones – to absorb the vibrations from the passing trains and that ventilation would be provided so windows wouldn’t need to be opened. The buildings would be predominantly brick. But I think for most people, the materials and technical specifications weren’t the issue – the size was. Some artists impressions of what the site would look like from West End Lane made good use of tree cover to minimize the impact – trees, for example, owned by Network Rail and that could be chopped down at any time.

(it’s behind the trees, look closely)

(think you can see it here quite clearly)

In all honesty, it seems very hard to imagine that the council is going to pass an 12-storey building, or even a 9-storey one. One option would be to have all the buildings at, say, 7 storeys. This might look even more monolithic though. I wondered whether the developers (Ballymore) and architects have already built this into their equation – a reduction in the number of private flats would increase the proportion of affordable housing to the statutory requirement.

There will be more retail space than the site has presently, although some will be on a first floor level, rather than directly on the street. There is also a space large enough for a small supermarket, and apparently Partridges has expressed an interest – although this is all very early days.

There is a public meeting on Wednesday about this, where the architects will present their proposals and take questions. I strongly suggest that if you are interested/concerned/delighted/offended about the idea then go along. Two things to bear in mind: a) no plans have officially been submitted yet; b) this land will be used for housing. You may also want to come the local Area Action Group meeting where the issue of a Neighbourhood Development Plan will be raised.

One thing that would be nice (if you’re reading this Camden) is for the consultation area to extend to Broadhurst Gardens area. A woman I was speaking to at the event lives on that road and had no idea about this exhibition until a friend mentioned it to her, despite the fact that she lives much closer to the site than many other people in the consultation area.

(What would be REALLY fun is if the student accommodation building on Blackburn Road, and whatever ends up being built on this site, are being thrown up at the same time. You think the traffic is bad on West End Lane now?)

Planning for the future of West Hampstead

We are entering a new phase in the evolution of West Hampstead. Does that sound like hyperbole? Well, there are so many large-scale plans waiting to be submitted that if they were all to be implemented as they stand, the look and feel of the area would change substantially.

On Monday there was a meeting chaired by Cllrs Keith Moffitt (West Hampstead) and Flick Rea (Fortune Green) at the behest of James Earl from the Fordwych Road Residents Association. James’s idea is to bring together all the local RAs, and other community groups such as WHAT, to form a Neighbourhood Development Plan.

I’m not going to go into all the details of what an NDP is here, partly because there are many issues still to be clarified (there’s a bit more here), but it’s part of the Localism Bill that’s going through parliament at the moment. The general idea is to give people more power over local developments, although almost certainly not as much as many people would like: the plan must fit in with the borough’s plan, the London plan (which has already earmarked West Hampstead for intensification and 800 new homes) and national planning strategy, and it cannot propose less development, only more or a redistribution of sites.

Nor is this going to happen overnight – it will be spring 2012 before NDPs can be submitted. Which is a problem in terms of mobilising to address the more imminent plans for the 187-199 West End Lane site (see next blog).

The meeting was reasonably productive, although inevitably people have differing views about development, which might make it hard producing a plan that pleases everyone. The idea of RAs joining forces was broadly welcomed, and the topic will be discussed at the next West Hampstead & Fortune Green Area Action Group, which is provisionally scheduled for December 6th.

There was some criticism about the lack of impact the place shaping workshops had seemed to have, although the outcomes of those will more guide what happens to council-owned sites that will be developed, such as the Wickes/Travis Perkins building.

Even if the NDP may not have much impact on sites where plans are being drawn up now, it could be very influential on land that might come up for development over the next few years – such as the O2 car park (long talked about as ripe for development), or swathes of Iverson Road.

There are some issues to resolve about the boundaries of any plan, and who should be involved. People living on the western fringes of Swiss Cottage ward, for example, are very much part of West Hampstead and would certainly be affected by developments around the tube/Overground interchange area (yet bizarrely aren’t included in the consulation area for the 187-199 West End Lane site).

Anne Heymann, chair of the Local Consultation Group (set up some years ago to address the large-scale interchange project that would have merged all three stations and was then shelved) argued that sitting down with architects and developers and putting in the legwork was what really made a difference to  plans.

It’ll be interesting to see what the perspective from the broader community is when the idea is discussed at the AAG, but it’s encouraging that groups from across the area want to come together to discuss proposals that might not have an impact on their immediate street.

Progress at Thameslink station

We’re geting nearer to the completion of the new West Hampstead Thameslink station on Iverson Road, and this morning I was sent some photos of the work so far by Roger Perkins, Thameslink Programme and King’s Cross Communications Manager for First Capital Connect, which I thought I’d share with you.

For more information on how station access will work over the next few months, please see my earlier blog.

Thameslink station photos

All change please: Thameslink’s next phase

Lots of you will have noticed that the new Thameslink station on Iverson Road is nearing completion. So, I thought it would be worth clarifying what’s going to happen over the next few months as the station transitions from the northern to the southern entrance. Handily, Thameslink have produced a useful guide to just this.

On November 14th, the existing station closes temporarily as work begins on a new ticket gate. This means passengers will have to enter the station by the side of the new station in Iverson Road. This will coincide with the work site hoardings along Iverson Road being pushed back to create a much wider pavement, although not yet to the full width we’ll see when the project is complete.

The new entrance will lead on to the new footbridge, although the old footbridge will stay open to allow people to change between platforms 2/3 and 4, but the stairs from platform 1 will be closed because the work for the new ticket gate enclosure will straddle the top of that staircase. The lifts on the new footbridge won’t be working until the new station building is complete in December.

Closing the existing entrance will mean today’s ticket office will be separated from the station. However, there will be two ticket machines at the Iverson Road entrance and staff will be available during normal ticket office hours with portable machines to sell people the full range of tickets.

On December 12th, the new station on Iverson Road will open, along with the public area in front of the station. Ticket office staff will relocate to the new building and the old ticket office will close. When the station is manned, passengers will pass through ticket gates inside the new building to reach the footbridge.

In mid-January the new ticket barriers will open above platform 1, and the original entrance will re-open. So, the station will have two permanent entrances and exits, and work will be complete. There will be a new ticket machine at the existing entrance and two machines at the new station building.

The ticket office hours will remain the same as today – 0615-1930 Mon-Fri; 0645-2000 Saturday and 0740-1715 Sunday. Outside these hours, people will access the platforms via the night entrance alongside the building, which will also be the temporary entrance from November 14th to December 12th.

There will be two touch-in/touch-out Oyster card readers at the Iverson Road night entrance, as well as Oyster readers on the new permanent ticket gates inside the station and at the existing entrance once the ticket gate enclosure there is complete.

For more information, visit the Thameslink programme page.

Coordinating West Hampstead planning?

Last week, the Fordwych Residents Association discussed concerns about the number of large developments being proposed in the area. James Earl, vice-chair, told me that the meeting came up with this list of 10 developments that have been recently built, are under construction, or have been proposed:

Sager development (FortuneGreen ) Residential block – built
Mill Lane Residential block – under construction
Maygrove Road One Housing Group/residential block – under construction
Handrail House (+car park), 65 Maygrove Road Possible demolition & new residential block
Liddell Road Proposed new school [pdf p39] & possible residential development
Iverson Road (old garden centre) Likely development of hotel or flats
156 West End Lane (council building) Likely demolition & new residential development [pdf p38]
Blackburn Road 9 storey student block approved & to be built
187 West End Lane Proposed 9-11 storey residential development
O2 Centre car park Possible future housing development

The meeting concluded that there seemed to be no over-arching plan to deal with these developments, which are all very close to each other, and which have the potential to change the character of West Hampstead and Fortune Green for ever.

At the recent placeshaping events, residents have expressed a desire to preserve the ‘village’ feel of the area; to reduce traffic and to create more green/open spaces. These developments, argue the residents association, appear to be focused on the complete opposite.

The FRA is proposing that a coalition of local residents associations use the powers of the Localism Bill (now going through Parliament) to create a “Neighbourhood Development Plan” for West Hampstead and Fortune Green. It is proposing that this issue to be on the agenda of the next Area Action Forum – with the aim of having a draft document in place by the end of the year.

Meeting on 187-199 development

If you’re interested or affected by the development of the 187-199 West End Lane site (for background, I suggest reading this), then you might want to go along to the meeting on Monday night. The relatively newly formed West Hampstead Gardens Residents Association (with its ‘rhymes with Viagra’ moniker of WHGARA) is certainly going to be represented if this flyer is anything to go by.

A trip down Kilburn’s memory lane

I got sent a fantastic link via Twitter this morning. It was to a photograph taken in 1965 of the State building on Kilburn High Road. The photograph is interesting, but the history site that it’s part of turned out to be a treasure trove.

Click on any of the seven photos of Kilburn taken around the same time, and you’ll find a few dozen comments from people who grew up in the area. It takes a bit of diving into the site to find all of them – some are comments to the initial memories, and so on. They paint a picture of post-war Kilburn that in many ways we could recognise today: a lively, bustling, rough-around-the-edges neighbourhood that people generally have an affection for, with characters such as Biff Lewis (who of course gets into a fight) and Susan the Swedish employee at Woolworths.

Naturally there are also some big changes – not least in the number of cinemas. One person recounts four different ones: the Ionic, the Grange, the Essoldo and of course the State.

I shall leave you to browse the site, but here’s one of my favourite excerpts as Fred Parker’s recalls trips to the cinema:

“Every Saturday evening I would go to the ‘pictures’.. with a group of friends. Often we would have to queue to get in and maybe stand for some time once we got in. We sat in the 1/6d seats. Films ran continuously in those days and we often saw the end of the film before we saw the beginning. We would walk home after the cinema and probably buy a bag of chips plus a pickled onion if we were flush.”

Thanks to Jon Kelly for the original link. Look out for an architecture competition on the blog in the next day or so. And if you want to read about some West Hampstead history, check out this post about how our part of London fared during the Second World War.

Update 4.30pm, 20th Century London sent me a link to some more great old photos of Kilburn including one of the Rolling Stones backstage at the Gaumont State.

West Hampstead place shaping workshop report

You may recall that at the end of June I was invited to join a “place shaping” workshop organised by Camden council. I wrote it up, but explained that the full report would be available later. That later is now. I received the document this morning. It’s quite long so, although I feel it’s a very fair reflection of at least my workshop (there were two in total), I’m not sure you need to read the whole thing unless you’re really interested.

Therefore, I’ve circled paragraphs that I think capture the main points, and made a few annotations. It’s important to clarify that the purpose of this was not to find solutions, but to try and establish some common purpose that can inform decisions taken by the council. Of course, much of what came up is not really in the council’s purview, and to some extent the least tangible concepts of community are up to residents to demonstrate themselves. Do leave comments and (if they’re appropriate) I can pass them back into the whole process.

West Hampstead Shaping the Future Workshop Final Report

Billy Fury Way officially opens

The path from West End Lane to Lithos Road was named Billy Fury Way last year following a poll. Billy Fury – one of Britain’s original rock & roll stars – recorded regularly at Decca Studios on Broadhurst Gardens.

On Friday,  the path was officially opened and a new mural was sprayed on at the West End Lane end of the path by graffiti events company Graffiti Life.

As well as being a interesting visual addition to West End Lane, the idea is to spruce up this path and to encourage young people from the area to contribute more artworks along the whole path. I understand that Graffiti Life will be supporting this and working with the local community.

Festivities began yesterday at 1pm with a song-title laden address in St James’ Church hall from Sgt Dave Timms, from West Hampstead’s Safer Neighbourhood Team. Odd? Well, not really – this is in fact an initiative driven by the police. Some of you will remember that one of the imperatives for naming paths such as this one and the Black Path was so the police could identify their location when chasing wrong-uns down these network of alleyways. It’s great to see real community support from our local police team who have similar plans for other parts of the footpath network.

Some 40 or so Billy Fury fans came along – many of whom had travelled from all over the country – including Holly Johnson of 80s band Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

After a blessing of the site, councillor John Bryant who had driven the renaming exercise cut the ribbon.

ShakeTastic took the opportunity of a crowd just outside to hand out free samples, while the police were spending half their time posing for photos and half stopping the traffic on West End Lane from mowing down ageing rock fans.

The Safer Neighbourhoods Team also worked with Network Rail on the land it owns alongside Billy Fury Way, which included overhanging shrubs, hidden lighting and damaged fencing. Network Rail has undertaken a ‘deep-clean’ of one the most badly affected areas of litter and have re-fenced the area.

Meanwhile, Camden’s Highways Engineering Team plans inspections and repairs to damaged pavement, and street cleaning contractors will clean these paths twice a week. The council will also start patrols to identify any irresponsible dog owners. Dog litter bins, as well as free standing regular litter bins, will be placed halfway along Billy Fury Way.

PC Ruth Marshall, also from the Safer Neighbourhoods Team, said: “We want people to feel safe using Billy Fury Way. By keeping the area maintained, it will encourage the public to use it,” adding that the artwork was a “fitting tribute” to Billy Fury.

There are more plans for more murals to celebrate the area’s musical heritage. Lets hope that this one sets a good precedent for the paths.

Iverson Road garden centre to close?

I received an e-mail yesterday:

“I heard today that Adrian Hall Garden Centre on Iverson Road, right next to the new Thameslink station entrance, is to close at the end of the month. The staff only heard two days ago. Apparently Network Rail sold the land at the point when Adrian Hall would have needed to renew their lease.

West Hampstead is fast becoming a desert as far as useful supplies are concerned. First Tesco and Sainsbury and now we will have no garden centre. And who will take over the site and for what? Adrian Hall has been there for 34 years…”

If anyone has any more information on this, do please let me know. Note also that this site is adjacent to the Liddell Road industrial estate, which is a potential site for a new primary school.

187-199 West End Lane report

You’ll recall that on July 2nd there was a “Community Planning Day” to discuss the plans for the site adjacent to the tube lines to the west of West End Lane currently being used by the car wash, limo company, motorbike dealers and retail services such as Peppercorns and Café Bon.

The report back was apparently very much a presentation rather than a second opportunity to discuss the plans. The distributed “newsletter” sketched out a very rough plan for the site, but this is extremely preliminary.

Click for full-size version*

The document included a list of “key themes”. These are based on the public’s contributions to the planning day. They are broadly ideas most people would agree with, but note that the newsletter doesn’t say that these ideas will be implemented, it is merely a synthesis of comments.

Residents will probably hope both that the developers and architects will do more than just bear these comments in mind, and that the council will take them very seriously when assessing the plans – especially in light of the place shaping conversations. Questions were apparently raised in the report back session about the need for public service provision in light of an increase in population, notably in schools and medical services.

The key points so far:

  • Mixed use – preliminary proposal is for a public square (with farmers market potential) bordering West End Lane and retail units near the front of the site. The development will be residential-led, however;
  • Affordable housing should be integrated into the plans;
  • Building height is very likely will increase towards the back of the site as the land slopes down;
  • Green spaces should be integral to the plans and existing trees retained;
  • New parking should be kept to a minimum.

What next?

“The Ballymore and Network Rail Team [the site’s co-owners] now plan to meet with London Borough of Camden’s planning officers and Councillors in the coming weeks or so to discuss the community feedback and work with local stakeholders to form a steering group which we intend to work with during the remainder of the consultation”

I will of course continue to keep you all up-to-date with any developments and if I can get a full PDF of the newsletter, I’ll add the link here.

Place shaping meeting overview

Wednesday’s Place Shaping meeting was very hands-on, so I wasnt able to take copious notes. There’ll be a full report produced by the independent facilitators, which naturally I’ll let you all know about. [update 18/8/11: that can now be found here]

Perhaps the most revealing moment came when the various sub-groups we’d been assigned to came together to share their visual (read “simple”) vision for West Hampstead. Three of the four groups had identical visions. They comprised green spaces, transportation, a vibrant shopping / café culture, and a coherent community. Idealistic? Perhaps a little – and of course this masked nuances – but I was pleasantly surprised at the uniformity of our basic desires for the area.

One hopes that the council (three of the West Hampstead & Fortune Green councillors were present) take note even of just this simple exercise when it comes to approving development plans for spaces coming up. Perhaps pressuring the 187-199 West End Lane developers to give the existing retailers on that space not just first option on new retail units, but first option at a reasonable rent. Perhaps suggesting that when the Travis Perkins site is sold off (that’s all council-owned property), any retail frontage is split into smaller units that would encourage independent traders rather than kept as a large unit that only a chain shop could operate. Just perhaps.

Anyway, despite going to the meeting with a fair degree of cynicism, I left marginally more optimistic. I shall be interested to see whether the synthesis of the discussion reflects my own recollection of how the evening panned out. In the meantime, do please read my original blog on it and add your comments below – I shall try and ensure that they get fed back into the process at some stage.

187-199 West End Lane: what happens next

Some of you may be aware that the triangle of land west of West End Lane between the underground and overground lines is jointly owned by Network Rail and a company called Ballymore Group. This is where Mr Pink’s car wash, the motorbike shop and of course the parade of shops that includes Café Bon, Rock Men’s Salon, Peppercorns and Michael Leonard Estates is. This land has been earmarked for development – most likely for new homes but with some mixed use. John Thompson & Partners are the architects.

If you’re interested in finding out more and perhaps more importantly having some input into the plans then do go along to Emmanuel School on Saturday to find out more. There’ll be a follow-up meeting on July 13th in the evening to report back. Click the images below for larger versions.

Lend me your ears: Shaping West Hampstead’s future

Tonight I’m off to a Camden meeting about the future of West Hampstead no less. Heavens. Perhaps more alarming is that I’m supposed to be representing a different slice of the West Hampstead population from those people who normally get invited to meetings like this. Yep, I’m there on behalf of you lot – the clued-up, keyed-in, mobile-addicted, latte-sipping computer jockeys who make up a sizeable chunk (did someone say majority?) of the local area. Christ, if I was any more down wiv da kidz i’d still be in short trousers.*

We’re going to discuss what we’d like West Hampstead to be like – there’ll be a focus on the West End Lane strip and on the area around the stations (the “interchange” as it’s known) in particular. I’m after your ideas. I’m less interested in the old chestnuts of “I’d like a butcher” and “Why so many hairdressers?” and “If another estate agent moves in I’m going to go all Michael Douglas in Falling Down“.

Here’s the sort of stuff that’s in scope: “enhancing streets and open spaces, improving the shopping offer on our high streets, delivering better homes for people, investing in our community spaces or securing local jobs and training opportunities for local people.” So, yes, that includes the shopping, but remember the council can’t control directly who moves into individual units and, as I explained here, even the issue of change-of-use permission is a thorny one. Other topics are also welcome.

This is all in the context that West Hampstead is going to grow. The timescale for growth is far from clear, but aside from the students moving in when the Blackburn Road development is finished, we should expect 1,000 new homes over the next 10-15 years. So, managing sustainable growth is very important

Please have a think about the topics listed below. Then choose 1-3 of them and leave a comment below with one idea/thought/suggestion for each of your chosen three. Be creative by all means, but also vaguely realistic. Think about the sort of place you’d like West Hampstead to be.

  • Mix of employment spaces
  • New business
  • Variety of shops
  • Look and feel of town centre
  • The interchange
  • Wider links & integration with neighbouring areas
  • Transportation
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Architecture & design
  • Mixed-use development
  • Coordinated development
  • Council-owned sites
  • Open spaces
  • Education, play and young people
  • Cultural services and facilities
  • Voluntary and community sector
  • Comunity safety

Thank you very much. I will of course report back on the meeting.

*You will never catch me wearing short trousers

West Hampstead / Fortune Green Area Action Group

The rain and perhaps Andy Murray on Centre Court meant a slightly below-par turnout for last Monday’s West Hampstead and Fortune Green Area Action Group meeting. On the plus side, when Cllr Keith Moffitt asked whether anyone was attending because they’d read about it on Twitter a few hands actually went up.

The evening kicked off with a presentation from Camden council’s Principal placeshaping officer, Kate Goodman. Kate talked about the Community Investment Programme, which is Camden’s scheme to turn physical assets into cash – i.e., to sell council-owned land and buildings. The focus is obviously on those facilities that are underused or with very high runningh costs. Sixty sites have been identified across the borough, but only two are in the West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. 156 West End Lane is the large red brick building that includes the District Housing office and Travis Perkins. It has been identified as a possible site for disposal, with housing units the likely end use, although there will be a push to at least retain a ground floor retail presence. The second site is Liddell Road, the light industrial estate between Maygrove Rd and the trainline, which has been mooted as a possible site for the new primary school being discussed for this part of London. An initial report was submitted to the council in December 2010 and the second report will be in July this year.

During the Q&A the audience was reminded – although clearly some weren’t aware at all – that West Hampstead has been identified as an area for intensification in the London plan. The car park between Homebase and Sainsburys has been earmarked as an ideal site for more housing, including affordable housing. A couple of people accepted that even if there was not a lot we as residents could do about some of the development plans, it was important to be better informed about them. Obviously the council can’t track all potential private developments, but there was an agreement to provide a clearer map overview of public plans at least for the next session.

There was also some grumbling that the Thameslink station wasn’t delivering on its promises in terms of an attractive eco-friendly building. It’s true that for “cost reasons”, some of the specifications for the building were changed by Network Rail after the consultation. Cllr Keith Moffitt pointed out that although Network Rail had conducted a very good consultation “A good consultation doesn’t equal a great outcome”. With regard to some of the bigger projects, and the more general intensification, he also pointed out that these projects could take years to amount to anything, especially in today’s constrained funding environment.

West Hampstead is one of Camden’s nine “place shaping” areas, and thus has a Place Plan, which aims to get developers to fit in with the local area. I’m going to a meeting next week about this so will have more details about that then. In the meantime, you can read much more about this initiative here.

The next item on the agenda was the ever-popular topic of retail. Cllr Gillian Risso-Gill has been investing time on this issue, and ran through some of the changes on West End Lane since the last meeting, which blog readers will be familiar with and mostly boil down to more cafés/hairdressers/kebab shops.

She told us that Caffè Nero had to do battle with Costa for the Atlanta site that the blue coffee chain won. She suggested that delis were closing as a direct result of Tesco, although I find this hard to believe in all cases, as the stock is usually very different. More plausible to me is a relative fall in customers’ disposable income through inflation and economic uncertainty, so less willingness to buy high-end/high-price gourmet items, exacerbated perhaps by the convenience of supermarkets.

Gillian explained why cafés such as Nero no longer needed change-of-use permission to turn a shop into a café. Elsewhere in the country, it has been successfully argued in court that cafés where no food is cooked are essentially shops. You can argue the blatant nonsense of this all you want – it’s now been established in case law and is therefore difficult to overturn. In trying to spin a positive story, Gillian said that at least there was never an empty shop on West End Lane, which is more true since Ladudu tool over the long empty Glo site.

The conversation then turned to Mill Lane. While West End Lane homogenises, Mill Lane seems to be deteriorating as shops such as the Kitchen Stores close, and the general state of many other units is far from appealing.

Following the success of the Christmas market, Gillian is now thinking of setting up an Autumn market as well as repeating the Christmas edition, but needs helpers.

After this ‘state of the union’ address, the questions flowed. There were complaints about rents with one man saying it was now £45,000 for a shop on West End Lane – equivalent to Brent Cross (he said). There were also comments about parking (better parking would encourage more shoppers), delivery vehicles (WHAT is apparently looking into this), lobbying central government for a separate coffee shop classification, and restricting rent rises for smaller shops. Cllr Flick Rea pointed out that central governments of all hues tended to see development as inherently a good thing, and that offering objectors the right to appeal decisions might help (although at a much bigger scale you could imagine this causing some projects to never get off the ground). She also pointed out that the restaurant category A3 had in fact been split into two sub-categories, but it hadn’t made any difference.

The main outcome of the wailing and gnashing of teeth seemed to be that if we could find a way to increase footfall in Mill Lane, then that would be a Good Thing. I’ve suggested separately that having some sort of banner on the railings outside Emmanuel School pointing people to the shops further down might help, as might a rebranding of the retail section of the street focusing on its quirky more artisan shops. Finally, if an organization such as Empty Shops could find ways to tackle the empty or underused shops, that might breathe some life into it. There was much excitement as before about the idea of a regular market, but finding space for it is proving tough – traders want a hard tarmac surface for starters.

Then we moved on to the libraries – I think I’ve linked to enough stories about this that most of you should know what’s going on. In a nutshell, West Hampstead library won’t close but will see its hours cut – as will all other libraries. Camden will, however, cease provision of library services at Belsize, Hampstead and Chalk Farm libraries and their future remains uncertain.

Finally, there was a brief presentation of Camden’s newest online venture We Are Camden. This externally funded online service is being billed as a way to carry on the sorts of conversations that residents have at these local meetings. It’s in its infancy and during the first phase the idea is that it’s a way for Camden to talk to residents. Phase 2, which sounds much more valuable, will enable groups such as residents associations to set up their own presence.

West Hampstead Transition Town kicks off

On Monday evening, the Transition Town West Hampstead initiative kicked off. Sadly I couldn’t make, it but guest reporter Suzie was on hand to tell us more:

It was a good turn out for the inaugural West Hampstead TT meeting. Around 30 people gathered at St James’ Church to find out what the Transition Town movement was all about.

George Latham and nettle pesto canapés

Having been welcomed with some homemade and locally foraged nettle pesto (quite yummy, as it happens!) and elderflower cordial, West Hamsptead resident David Abrahams kicked off proceedings. He had been impressed, he said, by what our neighbours at Transition Belsize and Transition Kensal 2 Kilburn had achieved over a short period of time, and wanted to replicate this in West Hampstead.

David Abrahams

The evening started with A Farm for the Future, a film that tells the story of wildlife filmmaker, Rebecca Hoskin, who returned to Devon to run her family farm. She explains how heavily modern farming relies on oil – from the diesel needed to run the planting and harvesting machinery, to the oil-based fungicides, pesticides and insecticides used in growing the crops. As she puts it: “All food production is dripping in oil”.

The film went on to explain that with world oil reserves diminishing, energy prices on the rise, and a farming community in decline (there are only 150,000 farmers left whereas there used to be 10 times as many), the UK – a net importer of food – is in a precarious position to feed its own growing population.

So what’s the answer? The core concept of the Transition Town movement is building local resilience to a future world without oil, and finding “local solutions to global problems”. It aims to do this by sharing knowledge within local communities; by re-learning lost skills, such as foraging for food (apparently Hampstead Heath is a rich resource!) and sewing; and developing new ones, such as creating cycle groups and learning how to make your home more energy efficient.

Camden’s former ‘eco champion’ Alexis Rowell talking to the group

It’s also about teaching and inspiring people, and helping them feel safe and happy by encouraging residents to get to know their neighbours and breaking down feelings of isolation. Did you know that 48% of Camden residents live alone?

George Latham, from the Kensal 2 Kilburn group, shared a few examples of what can be achieved. He told us how it had set up a community allotment on a Brent Partnership housing estate (which has since doubled in size), and created “abundance groups” – volunteers that collect fruit from local residents’ gardens that would otherwise have been wasted. In fact, last year a staggering two tonnes of fruit went to local schools! It also shared other skills such as crocheting, apple pressing, and jam, chutney and bread making. A big success was their local harvest festival, which drew 200 people and ended up with everyone sitting next to their neighbours and sharing a ‘festival stew’.

Transition West Hampstead can be anything we want it to be and it’s up to Transition members to follow their passion, whether it be energy, sustainable transport and food production, or wellbeing and the creative arts. Last night the enthusiasm was palpable and there was a sense of momentum, but the next step is ours. The key thing is that it’s enjoyable. Remember: “If it ain’t fun, it ain’t sustainable!

If you’d like to find out more about Transition West Hampstead, or would like to get involved, please email: . Or read more about the wider transition network.

WHAT survey

Some of you will and some of you won’t have heard of WHAT. WHAT stands for West Hampstead Amenities & Transport. It’s a campaign group that’s been around a long time and has been very active in issues such as the West Hampstead interchange project that was a credible proposal some years ago.

Anyhoo…, it’s carrying out a short survey but doesn’t have such good access to the younger population in the area. Which is where I come in.

It’s looking for people who are 25–40 and who live (this bit’s important) in either the West Hampstead or Fortune Green wards. Here’s a map if you’re not sure which ward you live in.

It’s a survey about local community facilities – doesn’t matter whether you use them or not, they’re interested in everyone’s views, and also what you might use if it was available. It will take about 10–15 minutes to fill in. There’s a Word doc. and an Excel sheet to complete, which I can mail you.

If you’d like to participate, please drop me a mail (link is top right) or DM me on Twitter with your e-mail address. WHAT is ideally looking for a mix of longer-standing and recently arrived residents, so let me know how long you’ve lived here too, please. I’ll mail out the questionnaires over the next day or two.

Thank you very much

Sainsbury’s Local gets West Hampstead over excited

As everyone knows, because the sign is so brightly lit that aircraft are now using it as a navigation device, a new Sainsbury’s Local opened on West End Lane on Friday where Best One used to be.

It’s fair to say that this caused a fair amount of Twitter traffic. The story unfolds below

Congratulations to Richard, who took the first photo from inside the store

[let me know if you like this format of showing tweets/telling stories]

Library cuts – is West Hampstead immune?

So what exactly is going on with local libraries? Amid accusations that closures have been pre-determined, a consulation process that has triggered some fierce criticism, and the very raison d’être of libraries evolving, I thought it was time to try and make sense of it all.

First the facts. Camden, like every other council in the country, is facing a shortfall in the funding it receives from central government of £80-£100 million over the next four years. The final number is unclear because the budget gap for the fourth year of these restrictions has yet to be calculcated. Council tax accounts for less than 10% of Camden’s spending, so even substantive rises there would make little difference overall.

Like every borough, there are services that Camden has to provide (statutory requirements) such as transport for adults to social care services, schooling etc. Everything else is discretionary and therefore could be cut. Discussion rages about where the balance should fall between cuts to frontline services and further efficiency savings at Town Hall.

Camden’s contentious budget meeting last week set the level of cuts for each department. It has been decided that £2 million of the £8m library budget needs to be cut. (The Culture department’s total budget is £14 million). At 25%, libraries are one of the more heavily affected services although almost no frontline discretionary services remain unaffected as we have seen with the proposed closure of children’s centres such as the one on Acol Road and the Netherwood centre for Alzheimer’s patients. 

One criticism, levelled by West Hampstead Lib Dem councillor Keith Moffitt among others, is that the £2m figure seems to be set in stone already even before deciding how it might be cut.

Some savings have already been made. Camden’s cabinet member for Culture, Cllr Tulip Siddiq explained to me that she has already saved £400,000 in back-office efficiencies, but that still leaves a £1.6m shortfall over the four years. However, and much to her displeasure, it is front-loaded, so that £1.2m has to be found next year (2012/13).

Rumours circulated early on that Camden’s officers (the term used for what is effectively the borough’s civil service) had a plan in their back pocket to slash the library provision in one fell swoop, reducing the service from 13 libraries to just four “super-libraries”. Cllr Siddiq told me she rejected this out of hand, although it is hard to see how it would ever have gone through anyway given the level of outcry it would have triggered. Although some level of library provision is statutory, the definition is open to enormous interpretation.

Cllr Siddiq hopes we don’t have to close libraries

Are closures inevitable? And how safe is West Hampstead library? The consultation document – especially the online version – was roundly criticised for forcing people to agree with some form of closures or major reductions in service before other options were discussed. Of course, where library passions run high this hasn’t stopped community groups getting together to discuss taking over the running of a couple of libraries. Cllr Siddiq wouldn’t say which libraries, but it’s fair to assume that such an initiative would be feasible only with the smaller libraries.

Taking over libraries – or a “community asset transfer” to use the big society parlance – could work in a number of ways. A group could be granted a long lease, say in excess of 20 years, to run the library and would take responsbility for all aspects of it. Or a shorter lease could be considered whereby Camden would retain a little more control, perhaps even providing one librarian to work alongside the volunteers, but the major running costs would come off the balance sheet without it being considered a closure.

West Hampstead, having recieved investment relatively recently would be an unlikley candidate for closure and is large enough to be daunting for a community takeover. However, it is probably wise to take nothing for granted – West Hampstead is the most expensive library in the borough in terms of cost-per-user.

The consultation process, which 3,000 people have so far engaged with, has thrown up all sorts of other ideas both for cutting costs and generating income across the board and Camden is also working on its own ideas. Some, such as charging for WiFi access, seem to go both against the grain of why libraries are there in the first place as well as surely offering a mere drop in the ocean in terms of extra revenue. Higher library fines may be marginally more popular, but for serious money-spinning ideas then ideas such as licencing coffee shops within libraries, or perhaps a post office would have a greater impact. There’s even talk of turning some of the Swiss Cottage library space into an art gallery – with at least one artist offering to pay handsomely (and rather philanthropically) for the privelige of hanging work there.

Cutting hours at individual libraries is one option. The more costly the library is to run the bigger the absolute savings this generates. There is always a risk that reducing hours becomes a downward spiral as fewer and fewer people use the service, but at some of the mid-sized libraries it’s hard to imagine that shaving some of the quietest hours off would make much difference to users.

This really leads to the bigger question of what exactly libraries are for today. Are they book lending services, are they places for quiet(ish) study, are they a depot for information about local services, or do they offer a place for people otherwise stuck at home – young parents, the less mobile – to have some access to the outside world? The answer of course is that they are all of these things – but different libraries serve different needs.

In thinking about issues such as opening hours, Camden has to make some judgement calls on priorities. Swiss Cottage library, for example, seems to be heavily used by schoolkids and ensuring it’s open for them after school hours might be deemed more important than it being open early for young parents. These are tough choices and will almost certainly vary across the library network, but some smart thinking here could help get close to the savings required while keeping the negative impact as low as possible.

The notion of libraries as community spaces rather than just book depositories could also be taken a step further. This might mean making the library a shared services space. Imagine, for example, if West Hampstead library hosted a drop-in housing clinic at certain times of the week – especially now the housing office on West End Lane is closing. Such cross-departmental coordination is needed during these difficult times, and one hopes that council officers and cabinet members are not too caught up in their own departmental problems to peer over the fence to see what benefits could come from collaboration.

Consultation officially closes on April 4th. The findings should be made public in May and decisions ratified at the council meeting in June.

Iverson Road pavement works

You’ll have noticed that Network Rail’s works on Iverson Road are progressing well. What you may not have yet realised is quite how big an impact the pavement widening is going to have.

I’d seen the plans and noticed the extra space, but if you walk a few yards along and peer over the fence you can see just how wide it will be. Everything right up to the far wall will be pavement. It’s going to be 3-4 times as wide again as the existing pavement. This picture taken from up against the current fence line doesn’t really do it justice.

This whole space – which will be owned by Network Rail – will (at least outside of rush hour) become a rather pleasant open area, almost like a mini town square. It should vastly improve the whole environment at the junction (good news for Ladudu opening across the road on West End Lane).

It is also now possible to see just how big the new cut corner is going to be – again hard to capture on camera, but worth noticing next time you walk past from the tube direction. All the space you see will be pavement. This section is owned by Camden, but hopefully the whole unified area can be used for hosting small events (Christmas market, carol singing, community stalls), and preferably not as a hangout for chuggers.

This should be a very positive change to West Hampstead’s streetscape as well as improving the pedestrian flows between the stations. Hurrah.

Read more on the various roadworks on West End Lane.

West Hampstead & Fortune Green Area Forum report

Monday night saw the latest area forum for the combined wards of West Hampstead and Fortune Green. Maygrove Road resident Matt went along to find out more:
About 75 people braved a chilly February evening to attend this month’s area forum. Through some geographical anomaly Maygrove Road counts as Fortune Green, so this was a good opportunity for me to meet my councillors and find a little about what’s going on in the local area.
Keith Moffitt introduced five of the six councillors for the two wards (Gillian Risso-Gill is on holiday in Antarctica!) before handing the floor to Theo Blackwell, council cabinet member for resources (i.e., Finance), for the first 45 minutes or so.
Theo’s brief cannot be an easy one in the current climate. His role was to outline where and how Camden would need to cut services in order to balance the books. Whilst the figures are sobering, Theo was keen to point out Camden had historically provided “over and above” what is required by law. This will hopefully mean that, even after the cuts, we get more from our council than some of our neighbours.
Theo first explained where the money comes from. I was surprised to learn only 11% of Camden’s income comes from council tax, with a massive 70% coming from central government in one form or another. It’s this central funding that’s being heavily cut in the coming years. Over three years there is a budget gap of £80-100 million. To put that in perspective, this could be plugged by a rise in council tax – a rise of 35%.
This is obviously not going to happen, so the alternative is spending cuts. Camden thinks efficiency savings can cover about half of the deficit. This includes around 1,000 council jobs, which puts a bit more of a human face on the word ‘efficiency’. A few more pennies can be raised by increased fees. Motorists have already been bled pretty dry, but things such as planning applications for large houses or removal of washing machines will start to cost a little more.
It’s at this point when the cuts will really start to bite, and this was where the attendees started to make their voices heard. There was some good debate on the balance between preventative and reactive services: cut £10,000 on home visits to the elderly and you might spend £20,000 on extra A&E admissions.
The take home point was that Camden is consulting on the spending cuts and it’s important to contribute to the debate. The older age demographic at the meeting made me wonder if younger adults will lose out in this debate. Age Concern reps spoke several times at the meeting and are clearly well-organised at getting their points across. Do the 20- and 30-somethings have anything similar? Anyway, if you have some views, get on the website.
The £80-100m is just the spending gap for Camden’s operating costs. Capital spending is a bit of a car crash too. Camden lost out to the tune of £200m with the scrapping of Building Schools for the Future (BSF) funding for new schools projects. Whilst Camden owns about £3.4bn of property, most of this is housing stock. The Council is reviewing how some property assets can be utilised to release funds for new capital schemes.
We then heard a little about what Keith Moffitt calls the ‘jigsaw’. This is a range of building and infrastructure projects around Mill Lane and Emmanuel School. Much of this was over my head (coming from the other side of the ward), but what was clear is just how complicated these interconnected projects are. Problems with one affect all the others, so it’s important that our councillors take an overview of the whole area, particularly as it seems that a different council officer is responsible for each individual project.
Next, a planning officer gave a presentation on the Blackburn Road development. In short, nine floors, residential accommodation for 347 students (University of Westminster), and six business units (probably workshops). Much was made of the safeguards for the area (such as no car-parking for the students), but many were worried about the impact of construction works on an already congested road that is a vital thoroughfare for pedestrians down to the O2. The developer is paying c£500,000 in “Section 106 monies” (which will be spent by the council on offsetting the impact of the development), but the student accommodation will bring in nothing in council tax revenue. However, perhaps it will provide a useful shot in the arm to the shops on West End Lane. As long as the students don’t overcrowd the Lower Ground Bar…
Flick Rea then talked about the library consultation, which had launched earlier in the day. Camden is looking for £2 million in savings, which means either closing libraries, or reducing opening hours across the board by up to 50%. Flick felt the consultation was unimaginative and did not even consider things such as library sharing across boroughs (Kilburn library for example sits on the boundary of Camden, Brent and Westminster boroughs). There was widespread horror that the council had paid a private contractor £25,000 to draw up a simple consultation document. I’d have done it myself for £10k!
Finally we heard from the chair of Friends of Fortune Green. Since the Sager building (think Tesco Express and Gym Group) went up, the residents have got together to make sure their voice is heard, but also to improve their local community. Some modest National Lottery grants, together with some free labour from Community Payback has meant that lots of painting and planting has been happening on the green. They are currently looking at improving the play areas to keep things interesting for the over-5s. Bravo.
Whether the council listens to us on all the current consultations remains to be seen. But it is at least consulting on lots of things at the moment. Please do make your views known, if only so that we can have a good moan on Twitter if we’re all ignored!

West Hampstead & Fortune Green area action group

On a cold Monday evening, Liberal Democrat councillor Keith Moffitt (West Hampstead) kicked off the first combined area action group meeting. This is the successor to the local area forums. All six of the local councillors were present (all Lib Dems).

The audience – around 80 people, the vast majority being older members of the community – settled down as Keith mentioned that they had publicised the event on Twitter and on the two local blogs. He asked if anyone except me had come because they had seen it promoted online. No-one had.

A man behind me said sotto voce “Twitter is one of the most ridiculous pointless things I’ve ever heard of”. I wondered whether he’d ever even seen it. Keith introduced me, which I wasn’t quite expecting, but I sensed only mild curiosity rather than active interest.

There was a really quick rundown of projects funded by the £10,000 per ward improvement fund (inevitably that isn’t being offered again). These included two new benches (Agememnon Rd/Ulysses Rd and top of Fortune Green Rd); a “give-and take” event at Emmanuel School in March; new dog/litter bins and hanging baskets on Mill Lane.

One project – improvements to the paved area around the library – has yet to happen, but it is still being planned. A plan to use Mill Lane Bridge as a community art project had to be shelved due to health & safety concerns apparently.

Thameslink station
The session kicked off with a team from the Thameslink programme bringing us up to speed on the developments at West Hampstead Thameslink station. They had a powerpoint presentation that no-one could read, which was ill-thought out. The headline news is that the platforms will be ready for the longer 12-carriage trains by December 2011, but the new trains won’t be fully installed until 2015.

The plans for the station on Iverson Road have had to be adapted to bring it within budget. The changes are largely in materials although it’s clear that the initial plans were on the ambitious side. The station is also due for completion in December 2011.

As you all know, the pavement is being substantially widened on the north side of Iverson Road. The existing embankment is being built up and paved, and this should alleviate some of the congestion between the stations.

The design of the wall running from West End Lane to the station has been adjusted – and will now be a flat wall rather than with “profiled bricks”. There’s been an invisible change to some water flow issue and the zinc roof is becoming aluminium, so will look different from above but not from ground level (makes you wonder why they went for zinc in the first place).

Finally, the sedum roof (i.e. the one covered in greenery) is being replaced by a separate larger area of grass at ground level.

All the construction materials will now be delivered trackside and not by road, so there shouldn’t be road congestion. The timetable is also designed to ensure that work takes place on weekdays during working hours.

There were plenty of audience questions, and rather a lot of talking at cross-purposes. Someone pointed out that with all the street clutter outside Starbucks, Costa etc., this was still a pinch point. Keith explained there would be a sizeable project in 2011 to widen West End Lane pavements, and that tackling this issue would be part of the January phase of that (the plan is for work to be done up the west side of WEL and then back down the east side. Expect more traffic disruption for most of next year then).

There was another question about how a car club has procured more spaces than it had apparently bid for, which went unanswered, and one woman appeared disproportionately angry that the pavement had been widened on both side of the street without consultation. Keith said he thought this might just have been a lack of clarity on the diagrams, to which she replied rather ominously, “Lets hope for your sake it is”.

There was a more measured question about lighting. Network Rail explained that there will be strip downlighting all along the wall between West End Lane and the station, and the footbridge will also be lit. This should minimize glare for residents, while ensuring enough light for safety.

The existing station on the north side of the bridge will close, and there will be ticket barriers under a weatherproof shelter there that will be manned (or left open). There will also be ticket machines.

Strangely, despite the longer platforms, there is no provision for extra platform signage. Given the frequent platform changes and running delays on the service, the information boards are of course very useful, but clearly they won’t be visible from further along. Roger Perkins, the communications manager for the Thameslink Programme, said he would look into this and that there may be some other sources of funding available. It seems crazy to extend platforms and not think about extra signage.

Roger then explained the service improvements. As was announced last week (and mentioned on my weekly round-up) the Thameslink programme survived the spending review but the completion date has been pushed back from 2016 to 2018. This drew inevitable groans.

The new trains won’t appear until 2015 (although there will be a few longer trains in service from the end of 2011 using leased carriages) but even then very few if any will stop at West Hampstead. Priority for the extra capacity will go to the fast commuter trains from Bedford that are fast from St Albans. Most of the trains that stop at West Hampstead head down to the Wimbledoon loop, where many of the stations can’t be extended.

It began to dawn on everyone that we’re enduring quite a lot of disruption for not much immediate benefit. Eventually of course, more longer trains will be rolled out and services that do not go down to Wimbledon will use them. The major benefit to locals will be that there will be new routes opening up beyond the Bedford-Brighton/Sutton services, but these routes are yet to be decided.

Roger also said that 5,000 seats had already been added to rush hour trains – but again, not necessarily to services stopping at West Hampstead.

Appropriately, Keith now announced that we were now running 20 minutes late.

Seargeant Dave Timms of the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood Team spoke very briefly and wanted some input/feedback on how best the SNTs might be deployed. As he explained, they were suffering from funding restrictions like everyone else so they are very open to hearing how the public would like them to operate and whether the current organisation (where they are strictly ward-based) was appropriate. You can contact the team here.

New West Hampstead councillor Gillian Risso-Gill then discussed the issue of shops on West End Lane and Mill Lane. This is a emotive issue, as we know from the response to the “Changing Streetscape” blog from August.

She argued that West End Lane was faring relatively well in the aftermath of the recession, with very few units remaining empty for long. Glo of course being an exception and Mill Lane showing a more mixed picture. She argued that Tesco can live alongside independent shops and helps increase footfall. This met with a mixed reaction from the crowd.

Apparently, no-one other than Sainsbury’s had expressed any interest in the Best-One site. She also said that Penguin – the vintage boutique opposite the Overground station – is closing due to retirement rather than for financial reasons.

The main thrust of her talk was that we should look at other avenues for smaller retailers, such as markets. There was notable vocal support for a farmers market, although the issue of where it would be is tricky. The Christmas market, which is very clearly a retail opportunity and not a ‘festival’, will be on West End Green, but this is probably not big enough for a full-scale farmers market.

Someone asked what happened to the market that used to be at the O2 car park, which has moved to Eton Avenue (perhaps not realising that the car park solution was in fact temporary and the market was originally in Swiss Cottage).

A woman who works at West End Lane Books argued that the lack of parking was a big problem and stopped people from coming to West End Lane. This wasn’t especially well received by the councillors. Surely, if we’re trying to get local people to local shops then they can walk or use buses? It’s very hard to see much being done to increase parking in the area.

A more sophisticated issue is that of rates and rents and planning use. One local businessman said he knew of two chain restaurants that were actively looking to move into the area, but wouldn’t say which.

He also said he’d heard a rumour that M&S was going to take the Pizza Express site. This is an extension of the rumour a while back that Sainsbury’s was going to take that site, which a Pizza Express spokesperson categorically refuted when I put it to them earlier in the year. I am not convinced that site would work for M&S, but we shall see.

“Multiples” (as chains are called in the business) do of course bring footfall, but they can also afford to pay top whack in terms of rents, which raises the baseline level on the street, squeezing out smaller players. The audience member cited examples where rents had rocketed from £28,000 to £43,000 with change of use and suggested that the planning department could do more to control these changes of use.

Someone suggested whether Camden could turn a unit into a sort of permanent pop-up shop, allowing rotating use of the space. The idea was well received, but Keith pointed out that the council doesn’t own any units on West End Lane. Whether they could enquire/put pressure on landlords of empty units when they are available remains to be seen.

Not surprisingly, the issue of Tesco (and soon Sainsbury’s) delivery lorries came up. Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea explained that the Tesco on her patch had been expected to use a delivery point at the back of the building but it turned out the lorries couldn’t access this service area because it was too low. She is looking at getting a delivery bay built into the street as there is room there.

The West End Lane Tesco remains a problem as the company sees the constant parking fines as simply part of the cost of doing business.

A man from Fawley Road asked what he admitted was a NIMBY question about where Sainsbury’s delivery lorries would park. Flick said that she hoped it would be possible to have a conversation with Sainsbury’s about this, as they were more socially amenable than Tesco.

Budget cuts
The final topic of the evening was the budget cuts in Camden. By the time you read this, these will have been debated in the council chamber, and at this stage the programme of cuts is light on detail. Keith pointed out before the discussion started that legally this couldn’t be a party-political discussion as it is funded by the council*.

Given that much of this was hypothetical I shall keep this section short and wait until the budget plans have been approved for a longer discussion of how cuts will affect West Hampstead.

The nub of the issue is that Camden needs to cut £80 to £100 million of its budget, which is approximately 10%. Councils of course have statutory commitments and discretionary roles. Camden historically has been a council that has prided itself on going the extra mile but inevitably some of these discretionary services would have to be cut or provided by the voluntary or private sectors.

Keith also pointed out that there would be job cuts: 1,000 positions would go although many would happen through early retirement or posts not being filled rather than redundancies. However, plenty of jobs are on the line.

Libraries are one service that always receives a lot of publicity. It seems inevitable that some Camden libraries will close. Keith seemed reasonably confident that West Hampstead would not be one of them. However, whether it can remain in its current state is not clear. It is expensive to run (behind me a voice whispered authoritatively that it costs £290,000 a year to run WH library of which half is staff costs).

There was some confusion as to whether the mobile library service had already been cut or not. A tweet the following day from Camden suggested that it hadn’t been cancelled just yet and Alan Templeton from the Camden Public Libraries User Group (CPLUG) seemed to think that nothing had been definitively decided. However, he also believed that council officers had already decided which libraries were for the chop, suggesting Belsize, Chalk Farm and Highgate as the most likely casualties. He argued that no library was safe however, and locals should definitely adopt a “use it or lose it” attitude.

Other conversations discussed community centres and children’s services/play services. Keith mentioned the rebuilding/expansion of Emmanuel School, which has been discussed at length already. The issue of whether the possible new primary school on Liddell Road is the best location was also mentioned but not discussed.

And that was that. Not everyone had stayed to the end, and most scarpered off into the dark cold night as soon as the meeting was brought to a close. Surprisingly, no-one asked anything about the proposed student accommodation, although Keith mentioned it and there was a handout about it.

*unlike the conversation after the meeting drew to a close.

West End Lane’s changing streetscape

Ten days or so ago, it was brought to my attention that Best One – the mini-market on the corner of Fawley Road and West End Lane – was covered in memos from Sainsbury’s regarding an impending licence application.

I posted this on Twitter and got a few tweeted groans in reply, along with a more interesting response from local councillor @KeithMoffitt who said “Understand Sainsbury’s interested in Best One site but nothing finalised yet, so licensing notice odd.”

Yesterday, I noticed that the licence application had now been registered at Camden and is online.

Posting this elicited far more reaction, with the usual comments about the destruction of the character of West End Lane, the replacement of independent shops with chains, and the swamping of the neighbourhood with supermarkets. I think it is debatable whether replacing a franchised mini-market with a large-brand mini-market is particularly a bad thing, although it does serve to homogenise further the high street.

A broader issue is whether large chains can (and do) pay over market rates for rents and leases, thereby raising the market level and squeezing out existing independents as well as making it almost impossible for start-ups. I also think it’s worth looking at what we do have in West Hampstead.

I am building a directory of all the shops, restaurants, consumer services in the area and was astonished that I could tally more than 50 places that served food without venturing beyond the traditional borders of West Hampstead into Swiss Cottage or Kilburn. Yes, some of these are national chains (only four restaurants: GBK, Nandos, Pizza Express and Strada), especially in the take-away market, where some are franchises just like Best One) but the vast majority are independent.

We also – as everyone knows – have an amazing number of estate agents and a lot of charity shops. We don’t have very many ordinary independent shops – but we do have some, such as the electrical shop, the bookshop, the greengrocers and others, especially those tucked away along Mill Lane.

I’m not in the militant camp that thinks we should boycott chains, or who won’t shop in Tescos. When possible, yes, I do try and support local businesses but like most people I am also beholden to cost and convenience.

My request from this blog is simple: by all means berate the homogenisation of West End Lane, and by all means let your local councillors know your views on the matter (although remember that at the most basic level there’s little they can do to prevent individual shops from moving into existing retail units), but above all if you do believe in maintaining some independent shops in West Hampstead then please use them from time to time.

I know some of you don’t see the problem and are quite happy to see more chains move in as long as they’re selling things you want to buy. I also know that a lot of you do already make efforts to shop at independents where possible. But if you’re someone who always buys books from Amazon, why not – once in a while – buy or order a book from West End Lane Books; forsake Homebase for the electrical shop, the Iverson Road nursery or The Kitchener; or escape the congested fruit & veg aisle in Tescos and walk a minute up the road to the greengrocers. Not necessarily every day, but some days. Even if costs you a few pence more (and stop press folks: the chains in fact are not always cheaper), think of it as a small investment back into your community.

Comments welcome of course

West Hampstead area forum report

Transport, Tesco, important recycling news, the library and schools. It can only have been a West Hampstead area forum. #Whamper @Marciamac31 went along to the meeting last Tuesday and reports back

“Unfortunately, nothing new on the tube closures: Keith Moffitt, council leader, said they will ‘keep plugging away’ at TfL, particularly to try to prevent several lines being closed at once. Meanwhile, Camden is trying to ‘manage the traffic’ in a way that will make it easier for replacement buses to move around, and Moffitt also said he would contact TfL to try to fulfil requests from the floor for a senior executive from TfL to speak at an area forum; last time they sent a junior who was just a little out of his depth.

Tesco‘s new store on Fortune Green Road – the second opened in West Hampstaed within a year and just a few minutes’ walk from the first – raised hackles throughout the audience. Councillor Flick Rea made it clear that there was nothing Camden could do to stop Tesco going into the new development because planning for A1 retail use had already been given; councils do not have the power to decide what type of retailer goes into the space. Camden could have some impact on unloading times, but the planning permission  includes permission to load on the street from 8.00-18.00 weekdays and 8.00-16.00 Sundays. Permitted unloading hours on West End Lane will be changed from a 9.30 start to 10.00 in an attempt to ease rush hour congestion.

Camden – and local residents – could also hit back by trying to stop the sale of alcohol from 6.00-23.00. An application is being considered: if you object, write to the local licensing authority now. Better still, vote with your feet and your pocket: if you object to Tesco, don’t shop there.

Recycling in Camden is turning over a new leaf in June when food waste will be collected separately from ordinary rubbish. Senior recycling Officer Claire Howard explained that households – but not blocks of flats – will be given a medium sizes brown bin for food waste and a small one to keep in the kitchen, the idea being you transfer whatever is in the small bin into the one outside. Camden seems to have ignored the needs of flats in converted houses, though: in my building of four flats, we have four green recycling boxes, four rubbish bins – and no room whatsoever for anything else.

In addition to the food waste boxes, households will be given separate blue bags for paper and card, which makes up the majority of recycled material. In other words, we are going to have to separate all our recycling. As some compensation, white sacks for garden waste will be delivered and collected every week. The council insists the different types of collected material will not be put in the same lorry.

West Hampstead library will be closed 10-23 May for refurbishment, which, said Mike Clark, head of Library Customer Service, will include a new layout, making it easier to find what we want; new stock and a new stock security system; new enquiry counter; and self-service kiosks. Wifi is also going to be installed – despite the fact that users of the existing computers complain the network is down more times than it is up.

I do feel sorry for librarians and their bosses when I listen to some of the complaints voiced at the forum. One resident moaned about students taking over the library to study, surely one of the reasons why libraries were invented in the first place!

Louise Trewevas, communications manager, discussed the highlights of the new UCL Academy being built at Swiss Cottage, which will also lead to a new school for the deaf, to replace the existing building on the site earmarked for the Academy. Hampstead School will get some of the £200m Camden has to invest in schools, money that will be used to upgrade the arts and sports facilities. The community could benefit as Hampstead School plans to make its swimming pool available to the public. Parents interested in hearing more about the UCL Academy should attend the meetings on 17 and 18 March at the existing Swiss Cottage school; each day will feature a presentation by a different developer.

Finally, the first AGM of the new WH Community Association is being held at 8.00 on 9 March at the West Hampstead library.”

Camden helps West Hampstead small businesses

The Small Business Network is a group of small businesses and self-employed people who meet on the first Tuesday of the month at LoveFood in West Hampstead (and the third Monday of the month at Sable D’Or in Muswell Hill). @Marciamac31 – long-time resident, SBN member, and new tweeter – went along on Feb 2nd and reported back on the talk given by council leader @KeithMoffitt.

“Forty-six small businesses have succeeded with the help of Camden’s one-to-one outreach ‘turnaround’ service. This provides tailored support for companies struggling to survive, while advice for micro businesses – sole traders and companies employing only one or two staff members – includes a review of the firm’s or individual’s business plan, a look at the viability of the product or service being offered, and advice on marketing and public relations.”

Alfred Court

Some progress on finding out what is happening with the commercial space at Alfred Court on Fortune Green Road. I just spoke to one of the agents who couldn’t reveal details yet as deals have not been finalised.

What he could tell me, however, is that there is planning permission for retail, restaurant, and gym use (A1, A3 and D2 if you’re a planning geek). And that there is a clear recognition that there is not the footfall to attract big mainstream chains. The aim is to “create something special,” and it sounds like there may be a collection of different outlets rather than, say, one big retailer.

It’s going to be 3–4 weeks before the first transactions are completed, at which time I should find out exactly what is moving in.

So, no definite news, but an indication of the direction things are taking.

West Hampstead Digest No.4 Local news where you set the agenda

Bit of a change for this week’s digest. Have summarized and updated the blog posts below into one article on new retail developments in West Hampstead. Access the one-page PDF here.

Updates to Newcommers [sic]

The unit next to the florists may not be empty for long. There’s an application in for it to become a whisky and cigar shop. It’s seeking a license to open until 10pm even on Sundays.

More alcohol in West Hampstead? Perhaps a good thing that the Camden housing advice centre by the tube station (currently unused) is destined to be a Metropolitan Police Safer Neighbourhoods unit. This is intended to be a base for PCSOs rather than a place to charge/hold members of the public.

Newcommers [sic]

A few new faces on West End Lane, and a continuing mystery in Fortune Green.

Alexis the bakery up the north end of West End Lane has shut. To be replaced by… a bakery. But a bright orange bakery, if that makes any difference. There’s a Dylan’s already in Willesden (170 Church Rd), so presumably orange is a tried and tested formula. The West Hampstead one hasn’t opened yet, so no review but here’s a picture of it in all its orangeness.

(by the way, the pharmacy next door looks like it’s closing down – it’s not, it’s just being refitted).

Further down towards the tube station, the unit that was X10 computers (a strange den of chipboards, cables and the owner’s aphorisms, which acted as some sort of test as to your worthiness as a customer) closed a few weeks ago. It has reopened as Matrix. Nice to see the “x” theme being carried through there. This one has nothing to do with motherboards and hard drives and everything to do with nails and extensions [CORRECTION: it appears to be just a hair salon, not a nail bar]. Perhaps it will make up for the nail bar that closed earlier in the year on Broadhurst Gardens.

Regular readers will remember the Photo of the Week from Digest No.2. Here it is again to refresh your memories.

Of course, they couldn’t possibly leave such a huge billboard up with such a bad typo on it, so the board has been changed.

To this. Oh dear.

The friendly girls who work in that teeny-tiny branch of Goldschmidt & Howland next door gave me a wry smile when I asked about it. It’s going to be redone again apparently.

I was actually in their really very small space to try and solve the burning issue of the day: what is the retail space going to be in the very development advertised above. Rumours (some started by @bubela‘s local shopkeepers again) have been pinging around, and as G&H are selling the flats I thought they might know. They don’t. They did try and find out though and I spoke to Sam from their Hampstead sales office who explained that they weren’t responsible for the non-residential units and he couldn’t say for sure what would be there. The consensus in the office was that a gym/health club was pretty much a given. There was also talk that there might be some sort of mother/baby centre (whatever exactly that might be), and a shop. But what the shop was no-one seemed sure. Fear not, I’m still on the case and if I find anything out I shall let you know – and if you hear anything then do pass it on.

For what it’s worth, my hunch would be that something like a Spar is the most likley. I would be surprised if a Waitrose/M&S would move there as it lacks the footfall they need. Would Tesco’s really open somewhere quite so close to its Express store on West End Lane? And would Sainsbury’s open a Local quite so close to a Tesco Express? My money is on a Spar or another of the franchise operations, which can be half-way decent when they are in ok areas.

Finally, there’s the unit on West End Lane next to Starbucks that was Prime internet café and DVD/video rental. It’s been closed for a while and is being refitted at the moment. Place your bets for what will move in there. My guess is that it might stay empty for a little while. But I’ll try and find out when I get the chance.

West Hampstead Digest No.3 Local news where you set the agenda

(for a one-page PDF version: click here)

Twitter Unplugged
Parts of West Hampstead were plunged into darkness on Monday evening when an EDF substation failed. The CNJ reported on the impact on businesses following the 10-hour outage. Being off the grid didn’t mean being offline though. Some residents had to change their cooking plans for the evening. @Gitfinger (below) also dug out the candles.

Later that evening David announced there was some left in the pan for any hungry locals. Perceptions of the impact varied depending on your love of the dark.It wasn’t long, however, before the novelty of life in the dark began to wear off.
Power was restored the following morning but dropped out again later that day. Let’s hope Cllr Keith Moffitt delivers on his tweeted promise. #whampower
A platform for change
West Hampstead’s library turned into a railway platform of a different kind on Wednesday. First Capital Connect and Network Rail were using the space to display their plans for the revamped Thameslink station. Digest went along to investigate.

Architecturally, the plans look attractive. The new station will be on Iverson Road, linking up to the new footbridge. An entrance “probably” with ticket gates, will be retained near the existing entrance, so pedestrian traffic over the road bridge should be reduced substantially. Of course it will make no difference to the pedestrian crush between the tube, the Overground, and Iverson Road. Broadly the plans make sense: as well as the new station, the platforms are being extended to accommodate 12-carriage trains, which will increase capacity substantially. Residents (and councillors) are concerned, however, about the impact of the work.
It’s not a positive result for everyone. Joule the jewellers has to move, as Network Rail owns its property and it will fall victim to the pavement widening scheme. Joule has notices of protestation in its window. Full details of the overall Thameslink programme here, but precise details on the West Hampstead programme are not online yet. #whamptravel

Social media emphasizes the social
West Hampstead’s social networking took another step forward this week. First, the date and venue were confirmed for the second #whampgather. Followers were encouraged to vote for their preferred dates, and the most favoured date was Thursday December 10.

The Alice House agreed to give us the same space again. Negotiations over any free drinks will take place nearer the time, but the signs are encouraging. The immediate reaction was positive, and numbers should be good. For any confused readers:
The Wet Fish Café has generously agreed to donate a prize of a meal for two. The winner will be drawn from a list of attendees on Dec 10. #whampgather

Whampreview launched this week. The concept marries the social side of whampgather with requests for eating and drinking recommendations. Eight of us will be going for dinner at the Czech & Slovak National House in mid-November (that may include dumplings) and to generate a review of this long-established local restaurant. At least that’s what the idea was. #whampreview
Spinning a new tale
In The Rooms Above, (West Heath Yard, opposite The Emmanuel School), a gym has opened where you pay only when you use it. Most of the world operates on similar lines, but gyms have traditionally made money on apathy. My Fitness Boutique has joined Twitter, so go and say hello. #whampnew

Whither Whifi?
Tell us your fave local WiFi outlets. #whifi

Photo of the week
Christmas creep from Camden