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West Hampstead Square - when will it be finished?

Frustrated buyers face more delays at Ballymore

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

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

West Hampstead Square - when will it be finished?

West Hampstead Square – when will it be finished?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Authors recognised as Ballymore apartment blocks named

It’s been a long time coming, but Ballymore has finally announced the names of its tower blocks, following the competition West Hampstead Life ran back in August.

Only the first five blocks have been named so far and Ballymore hasn’t decided which name will go with which block. I’m told that the two rear blocks (which contain the affordable housing component of the development) will be named in line with the others though they’re still deciding on those names.

Ballymore has chosen authors with local connections as the theme, and the winner of the competition is Ed Fordham, who suggested three of the five names and was, coincidentally, also one of the original agitators for the names to be chosen in this way. All submissions were sent to Ballymore anonymously however.

The first five blocks will be called Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Lessing and Milne.

All five authors lived at one time or another (and for varying lengths of time!) in West Hampstead.

Here come the boys... (Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Milne)

Here come the boys… (Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Milne)

And here’s the Nobel prize-winning Doris Lessing in 1975. Lessing died in November last year having lived in West Hampstead for some 25 years.

More than 50 people submitted offical suggestions for the seven blocks with varying degrees of seriousness. More people left comments on the original article (including one who got most of the names that won). I won’t list all the entries, but here are a selection of the thoughtful, amusing and cheeky.

Classical references were popular: Seven wonders of the world, seven against Thebes (niche), and the seven hills of Rome.

Ephesus Adrastus Aventine
Giza Amphiaraus Capitoline
Alexandria Capaneus Esquiline
Babylon Hippomedon Quirinal
Halicarnassus Parthenopeus Palatine
Rhodes Polynices Caelian
Olympus Tydeus Viminal

The developers had said that “Connections” was their keyword in marketing, and some played on the transport links both at home and abroad

Marylebone Marais Paris
St Pancras Vendome Toulouse
Fenchurch Concorde Lyon
Kings Cross Vosges Marseille
Euston Bastille Strasbourg
Paddington Madeleine Avignon
Waterloo Châtelet Grenoble

Famous people loomed large, many living, some dead. Lots of submissions covered broadly similar ground with Dusty Springfield, Gerry Anderson, Emma Thompson, and Dirk Bogarde all featuring prominently. Camila Batmanghelidjh always seemed like a stretch though.

No-one would be surprised that Ballymore didn’t choose trees varieties, the suggestion of a few people (well before the tree dispute earlier this year). However two more unusual “vegetation” suggestions came in the form of English grape varieties and… inevitably… cucumber varieties.

Bacchus Vectina
Huxelrebe Olympian
Ortega Fountain
Seyval Blanc Marketmore
Rondo Corinto
Reichensteiner Kekiri
Madeleine Angevine Wautoma

Some of the odder suggestions came from people who got hung up on there being 7 towers. The seven dwarves (“Hi, I live in Grumpy House”), the seven days of the week, and the seven colours of the rainbow were all suggested twice. We had the last seven monarchs (which gets confusing with two Georges and two Edwards), seven planets and seven (rather than 8) points of the compass.

My favourite “whacky” suggestion though was to name the tower blocks after the Secret Seven: Peter, Janet, Jack, Barbara, George, Pam and Colin. Genius.

There were surprisingly few, shall we say, “satirical” entries, though someone did suggest “Totally, Out, Of, Keeping, With, West, Hampstead”. I don’t think that made the shortlist.

Alongside the winner, a genuine special mention to Jamie Murray, who put some serious thought into it and chose names linked to William Beckford. Beckford, whose name will appear on one of the buildings, owned West End House, which stood on the site of the development. Here’s Jamie’s submission in full:

As the towers in the West Hampstead Square development are to be built on the site of the old West End House, surely their names should be selected to commemorate eccentric author William Beckford, “The Sultan of Lansdown Tower”, who grew up there? So “Lansdown” is one obvious suggestion, but what about “Fonthill”, after the abbey Beckford built himself in Wiltshire?

Vathek, the antihero of the gothic novel for which Beckford is best remembered, is probably a bit too gothic, but what about “Carathis”, surely the most memorable character in the book? She’s based on Beckford’s own mother, Maria, who ended her life at West End House. And how about “Istakar”, after the destination of Vathek’s quest? It’s an old name for Persepolis, and has a lovely ring to it.

We ought not to forget “Azemia”, the heroine of one of Beckford’s more satirical works. Finally, while northwest London is already graced with a Mozart estate, we really must remember Beckford’s music tutor somehow: so what about “Amadeus” or “Wolfgang”?

So my suggestions are: Lansdown, Fonthill, Carathis, Istakar, Azemia, Amadeus, Wolfgang.

But the winner is Ed Fordham whose full list was: “AA Milne, George Orwell, Gerry Anderson, Thomas Hardy, Dusty Springfield, Joe Orton, WH Ainsworth”. Well done Ed, a meal for two at The Wet Fish Café awaits.

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Ballymore construction starts March 10th

Having cleared the site (and, yes, the trees), construction of West Hampstead Square is now imminent. At the first working group meeting between developers Ballymore, building contractors O’Hare McGovern and community representatives, Ballymore announced that work would start on March 10th and is due to finish next summer.

Work will take place 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays.

Perhaps of more concern for locals will be the 45 lorry movements per day along Finchley Road and West End Lane, delivering materials and removing waste.

Local councillor Gillian Risso-Gill will be speaking to the council about a traffic management plan for the development. The contractor’s own report says it will have a “left turn in, left turn out” policy, so lorries won’t have to cross lanes. Sounds good in practice, though if it leads to more traffic heading up West End Lane beyond Iverson Road then it may be preferable to endure the right turns out of the site.

Having promised to look into ways to mitigate the loss of the trees by “greening” the north wall (the one that will face the Overground tracks), Ballymore came back with no suggestions, saying that there was no scope for additional planting on the north side due to Network Rail fencing. Don’t expect the campaigners to roll over easily on this one.

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Timber! Ballymore trees finally felled

This morning the trees on the Ballymore site, which have been the subject of so much protest, are being felled.

Cut logs are being piled up and a woodchipper is making short work of the spindly branches.

The petition that hoped to stop the removal of the trees reached 897 signatures.

The green woodchipper

The green woodchipper

The trees are being cleared

The trees are being cleared

The woodchipper minces up the branches

The woodchipper minces up the branches

Logs piled up in the foreground

Logs piled up in the foreground

Ballymore Tree Vigil

Tree vigil outside West Hampstead Square

Ballymore Tree Vigil

A small group of about a dozen people stood in the weak winter sunshine this morning protesting about the removal of the trees on Ballymore’s West Hampstead Square site. It had been described as a “vigil”, but that would really mean hanging around until the trees were actually removed.

A few cars were honking their horns – presumably in support, while what looked like a stag party changing trains gave them a few whoops.

Some of the protestors were wearing white masks, though quite why a protest about trees requires that level of anonymity isn’t obvious.

Signs read “Towers 7 Trees 0” and “Camden Council Thanks for Nothing”. At least someone had tried for a good pun, with “We’re Syca Ba££ymore”

If you’re not familar with the tree saga, the latest installment is here.

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David vs. Goliath as tree campaign takes root

As all bright schoolchildren know, King Canute didn’t believe his regal powers could stop the tide. In fact, he got his feet wet precisely to prove this point to his obsequious courtiers.

Still, to this day “Canute-like” is used to describe people who battle on against an inevitability. This must be what the local campaigners behind the Save the Trees petition feel like. Since January 16th they have been tweeting seemingly non-stop to anyone and everyone in the area, pleading that they sign the petition. They are trying to convince Ballymore and Network Rail to spare the lives of the trees that are destined for the chop on the West Hampstead Square site.

The petition has had some success, attracting almost 600 signatures to date. However, any stay of execution for the trees seems extremely unlikely.

Readers who’ve been following the story for some time will recall that developer Ballymore has decided to chop down 27 of the 32 trees originally identified as being on its building site. This is in line with the planning permission it was granted, despite its own tree survey suggesting that some of the trees could be retained.

WestHampsteadSquareTreeMap2011

Ballymore did realise that it could make five trees Network Rail’s problem as they were just off its land. Network Rail, which plans to redevelop the Overground station next door, is expected to remove those final five trees.

Helpful "infographic" via the campaigners

Helpful “infographic” via the campaigners

Lots of people have been unhappy about all this – Emma Thompson and Jim Carter even weighed into the debate. At a recent meeting between campaigners and Ballymore, the developer repeated that it intended to remove all the trees on its own land as it had planning permission to do just that. It agreed to look at how it might make the north-facing wall of the development “greener”, though no firm proposals have yet to emerge.

Despite another wave of publicity, Jonathon Weston, senior development manager at Ballymore, said this week, “Of the 32 trees identified in the Arboriculture Report we anticipate removing 27 within our site boundary. As part of our development plans we intend to replace these trees with 70 new trees as part of a comprehensive, high quality public realm offer.

We are currently in the process of reviewing the landscaped gardens between each new apartment building with a view to “greening up” the northern boundary at these locations as discussed at the meeting with the residents.”

The company, which has now named O’Hare & McGovern as its principal contractor, intends to be on site in February and, according to Weston, “we anticipate the trees to be felled within the next few weeks.”

In the face of all this, the campaigners hasve soldiered on. One of them, local resident Stephen Jones, recognises that the petition may be futile: “I think the only thing that could save the trees  would have to be some kind of miracle, like Ballymore going bust or the right person hearing about it.” However, he also makes the point that there is a bigger issue here. “At the least more people will be aware of the actions of greedy developers”. He casts it as a “David and Goliath” contest, although it seems highly unlikely that this slingshot will be enough to fell the giant this time around.

At this week’s West Hampstead NDF meeting, the issue of trees came up again. Local residents group WHGARA has written that, according to a different assessment of the trees called CAVAT, they are worth more than £400,000, for which the community is not being compensated.

The passion aroused by the tree saga is palpable. At the NDF meeting this week there was also a suggestion that the neighbourhood plan should state clearly that there should be a presumption against the removal of any trees in future developments.

If Ballymore has done anything, it has perhaps galvanised locals into recognising the benefits of greenery in our neighbourhood and perhaps will end up strengthening the protection afforded to trees.

Which would be good for property prices no doubt…

Trees: Will they stay or will they go?

The saga of the trees on and around the West Hampstead Square site drags on. The campaigners continue to pester Camden to slap preservation orders on those trees growing by the Overground line that are off the Ballymore site, but on Network Rail land. Camden is resisting, partly because, as I understand it, it wouldn’t have any impact anyway as Network Rail has the power to override that.

As far as I’m aware, Ballymore has yet to respond to Emma Thompson’s open letter to them on this matter.

In the meantime, if you’ve been wondering which trees might stay and which might go in the short term… well, you’re in luck. I was sent a handy visual. I think this is what all infographics should look like.

Emma Thompson joins Ballymore tree row

It’s been quiet of late on the Ballymore building site at West Hampstead Square. This has meant a stay of execution for the trees that have caused so much heated debate over the past couple of months.

Emma Thompson at the 2011 charity cricket match
Photo via @bubela

Now, one of West Hampstead’s most famous residents has waded into the debate with a letter, published in the Ham & High this week, which she’s given me permission to print in full here.

An open letter from Emma Thompson to Sean Mulryan, Chairman & Group Managing Director of Ballymore Developments and Peter McCall, Construction Director

RE: THE REMOVAL OF 32 MATURE TREES ON THE RAILWAY EMBANKMENT FOR “WEST HAMPSTEAD SQUARE” DEVELOPMENT

I am a long-term resident of West Hampstead (54 years) and have watched as over the years, development has all but removed any green spaces and most of the life-giving trees from the area. I understood from the Council that your development was set to include the trees that give pleasure and vitally – oxygen – to the area but I now understand that you are planning to chop them all down.

Please do not indulge in this act of vandalism and eco-savagery. It’s totally unnecessary and you will endear yourselves greatly to this community if you listen to their desires in this matter.

No-one wants to lose the few trees we have. Their survival is of the utmost importance. Your development will be infinitely more attractive with the trees in place. Your recommendations stated that you would protect and enhance the ‘green infrastructure’ – which it now seems you had no intention of doing. I understand all too well the way these things happen. Give lip-service to the ‘green’ bits and then when everyone has forgotten about the agreement, lop it all down.

Do not be tempted to do this. It won’t help you and it will anger the community.

I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely yours
Emma Thompson (actor/writer and conservationist)
Local resident

I think we all look forward to Ballymore’s reply, which I’d be very happy to publish here.

Trees on Network Rail land liable to be removed at a later date

Tree debate moves to Network Rail

If anyone still sent actual letters, then the local back-and-forth about the chopping down of the trees on and near the Ballymore site would have accounted for a small copse all by itself.

Mercifully, it’s only been everyone’s inboxes taking the strain as councillors, concerned locals, residents associations, the Neighbourhood Development Forum, council officers and the developers have been trying to establish clarity on the subject. The one group conspicuous by its absence from these discussions is Network Rail and yet it is in their hands that the fate of many of the remaining trees rests, along with the views of many future West Hampstead Square residents.

One of the issues seems to be that it’s not easy to determine from the ground (without access to the building site), precisely which trees are on the Ballymore land, and which are on the railway embankment by the Overground lines and owned by Network Rail.

These must be Network Rail trees, right?
(photo via Candice Temple)

This story first came to light about six weeks ago, when it appeared that Ballymore was going to cut down all the trees on its West Hampstead Square site. This was in line with its planning permission, but there had been some hope that a small handful of trees might be spared.

One communication from Camden, which followed a meeting between a Trees and Landscape Officer and Ballymore, says “The large sycamore at the top of the site and trees at the other end of the site can and will be retained.”

If this is the case, then this is already better news than we had back in August (if you’re in the pro-tree lobby). Ballymore has planning permission to cut down all the trees – although the report it’s using does suggest that some could be spared.

If Ballymore does the right thing and saves the trees it doesn’t need to remove (and plenty of eagle-eyed locals will be watching very carefully), then the issue then becomes the trees that fall outside the Ballymore footprint. These are Network Rail trees and are highly likely to be removed when the new station or access point from West Hampstead Square is built.

Neighbourhood Development Forum member Mark Stonebanks manage to dig up the document that summarised the key themes that emerged as the views of participants in the main public consultation for West Hampstead Square. It dates from July 2011, and says: “The development should retain the existing trees along the boundaries of the site where possible to help soften the proposals”. It even includes a direct quote: “People won’t mind the height so much if there’s a lot of green grass and organic things growing up the building.”

There was a brief flurry of interest on Friday when it appeared this might open up a loophole to save more trees, but the document states clearly that this is simply a summary of participants’ views, not something the developers should adhere to.

Another school of thought suggests Camden hasn’t enforced its own planning guidance to Ballymore, citing one sentence: “Ensure appropriate relationship to adjoining open space and ecological corridors and provide new open space”. Again, it strikes me this is all open to interpretation. What’s an “appropriate relationship”? Nor is it saying Ballymore must provide its own ecological corridors.

If it is indeed correct that Ballymore is able to retain a handful of trees on site, that is good news. If it can now be persuaded to engage with its development partner Network Rail to protect as many of the trees that are in the line of fire when the new station is built, even better.

Remember these are trees that screen the railway lines from the expensive flats and if you think it’s just quiet London Overground trains on those lines, think again. Tomorrow alone, 24 freight trains are scheduled to use that line between 6am and 8pm. If I’d paid north of £700,000 for a 2-bed flat with a balcony on that side of the building, I think I might expect a few trees between me and the freight trains as I sat outside with glass of Chablis and farmers’ market goats cheese.

WestHampsteadSquareTrees

Who’s saving which trees now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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