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

156 West End Lane proposal gets green light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote on 156 West End Lane

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

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

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

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

The red bar on the right shows your household income relative

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

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

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

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

First, the good news.

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

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

Now the bad news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

An "affordable" shared ownership flat on Iverson Road.

An “affordable” shared ownership flat on Iverson Road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total monthly payment: £1,625.

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

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

The red bar on the right shows your household income relative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judgement day approaches for 156 West End Lane

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

To recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How big is too big?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where did the sun go?

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

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

The jobs equation

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

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

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

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

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

The thorny affordable housing question

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

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

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

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

What does it mean for West End Lane?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the impact on local amenity?

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

156 West End Lane obscured by the fog of planning

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

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

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

156 West End Lane latest plans

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

The main changes are:

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

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

Nov 15 plans.  Image via Design and Access statement.

Nov 15 plans. Image via Design and Access statement.

What stays roughly the same

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

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

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

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

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

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

A2Dominion 156 West End Lane _ preliminary plan_ft

First look at 156 West End Lane plans

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

A2Dominion 156 West End Lane _ preliminary plan

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

The existing buildings, yard and playground that form the site

The existing buildings, yard and playground that form the site

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

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

In its comments on the site, the NDP says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lymington Road back gardens

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

156 West End Lane building typology

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

View from Crediton Hill

View from Crediton Hill

View from Iverson Road

View from Iverson Road

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

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

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

The surprisingly large 156 Wes End Lane site

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

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

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

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

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

Item 9 Appendix E Primary School Places Planning Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

Item 9 Appendix E Primary School Places Planning Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

The surprisingly large 156 Wes End Lane site

Affordable housing for 156 West End Lane

The surprisingly large 156 West End Lane site

The surprisingly large 156 West End Lane site

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

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

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

50 percent tweet

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

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

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

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

Revised Liddell Road plan with 14-storey tower block

Revised Liddell Road plan with 14-storey tower block

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

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

TravisPerkins

Still empty above the ground floor

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

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

What’s “affordable”?

Affordable housing should:

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

Three types of affordable housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it mean on the ground?

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

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

Further reading

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

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

TravisPerkins damage_ft

Lorry damages Travis Perkins building

Photographers captured the moment a lorry crashed into the side of the Travis Perkins building at 156 West End Lane today. The vehicle brought down brickwork and masonry from the corner of the building, surprising the Wickes showroom staff inside.

TravisPerkins damage

Dan Hirai, who works on Maygrove Road, was walking back from lunch at Nando’s at around 1.10pm when he saw the lorry coming up the hill and turning right into the Travis Perkins site. The cab of the lorry made the turning without incident, but then Dan describes hearing “a massive crunch” as the lorry’s container made contact with the building. He then saw material from the wall falling onto the ground.

“I thought he was going to reverse, but he just carried on.”

A Lymington Road resident also described his disbelief after the initial impact. “The driver didn’t get out, but reversed half a metre and tried again, hitting the building again, and then did the same. It took three or four attempts to get through, doing more damage each time.”

TravisPerkins_damage_a

TravisPerkins_damage_a

TravisPerkins_damage_a

TravisPerkins_damage_a

TravisPerkins_damage_a

The whole endeavour took a few minutes to unfold.

Lorry damages 156 West End Lane

The offending lorry (Photo via Dan Hirai)

The Travis Perkins site has never been among the area’s most popular or aesthetically pleasing – it is slated for redevelopment over the next five years. It didn’t take long for commentators on Twitter to express their feelings on this latest development:

156 West End Lane: empty for three years?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The site offers greatest potential for higher scaled development to the western frontage (i.e. West End Lane) and to the south towards the railway lines, with a transition in scale towards the more sensitive residential interface to the north (Lymington Road).

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

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

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