Posts

Rubbish problems improving, but there’s still a long way to go

Raindrops on snowdrops and warm swollen mittens, etc. etc. may have been some of Julie Andrews favourite things but rubbish and recycling, street litter and fly-tipping are some of West Hampstead’s least favourite.

When the Neighbourhood Development Forum was drawing up its plans a few years ago, the issue of rubbish generally came up as having a significant impact on the quality of life for locals, but it falls outside the scope of the NDF as it is not strictly a planning issue.

Then, as you all know, in April this year the council introduced a new rubbish and recycling collection contract with Veolia. Not surprisingly there were what the responsible councillor, Meric Apak, optimistcally called ‘teething issues’. In reality there was a massive spike in complaints. True, these have subsided but there continues to be a constant stream of tweets and photos of fly-tipped waste in the area, and not all from Conservative activists out to make political capital from the issue.

Against this backdrop, local amenity group WHAT held a meeting about rubbish and recycling earlier in the year before the contract was introduced. In July and August it followed up with a survey, mainly of their members (but also WHL readers) on how the new contract was working. It may not be the most representative slice of the local population, but nevertheless it still gives a sense of where we stand.

WHAT summarised the survey findings and held another public meeting last week to present the results to both Camden and Veolia. The meeting was pleasingly well attended – this is clearly still a hot local issue – though if everyone who vociferously complains on Twitter had turned up the room would barely have had capacity.

West Hampstead giving Camden and Veolia a grilling

In summary, the issues raised in the report based on the survey are:

  • Overall there is a willingness to recycle
  • Fly-tipping and the state of the local streets was an issue
  • Fly-tipping hot spots
  • Bins being left on streets is a problem, who puts them back?
  • Garden waste collection was a bit unclear
  • More detailed info on what can and can’t be recycled
  • A lot of the problems are focused on houses divided into flats
  • Why don’t the Veolia team report back problems?
  • Attaching notices to ‘contaminated’ recycling bins
  • More enforcement

Richard Bradbury, who is responsible for the contract responded on behalf of Camden, backed up by Chris Burrows from Veolia. There has been a 10% improvement in recycling (by tonnage), but that only takes Camden from near the bottom of table to a bit below average. Richard reminded us that not all of Camden has switched to fortnightly collections as much of the south of the borough continues to get weekly collections.

Camden pays £40/tonne less for recycled waste than for landfill; perhaps they should make more of this to encourage those who gripe about costs generally to do their part to reduce Camden’s spending here so it can be reallocated elsewhere.

Chris from Veolia pointed out that they collect from 1,500 properties a day in the area, and now have on-board technology to start feeding back problem collections. He is already aware of many of these problems and the plan is to approach problem households in the Autumn.

The early problems with getting the right bins to the right people seem to have largely been cleared up, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the online ordering system works fairly well.

Garden waste collections can be shared but only from one address. Their systems can’t cope with changing addresses. This is for up to three bags per week.

Richard agreed that engagement with estate agents was a good idea in order to pass on the most up-to-date information to new residents, especially tenants. There are already plans to contact landlords registered with Camden (though of course this is only a small fraction of them). Local litter hound Agnes pointed out that Camden did have control over Council owned properties and some leeway over Housing Association ones, which is where a large number of the problems are (as these properties are divided into flats).

Richard Bradbury from Camden on the spot.

As for West End Lane (and KHR, Fortune Green Road and Mill Lane) all of which have flats above shops, both the businesses and flats are supposed to have time-banded collections. This means rubbish should be left outside at very specific times and is collected much more frequently. It’s true that for some people those times are not practical, and thus the problem of dumped rubbish can seem worse than it really is. Generally on West End Lane the system works quite well – but there is little evidence of recycling on these streets (recognisable by the use of clear bags).

Next came discussion on the vexing question of where people should leave bins on collection day, and where they should be returned. If the bins are within one metre of your gate, the original leaflets stated that ‘all containers will be returned to where you placed them for collection.’ However, this is not happening. Cllr Flick Rea cited an example of a neighbour who actually built a bin store for their two bins adjacent to the street and they are still not being returned.

Indeed, some bins seem to be permanently left on the street. There is a property on Hillfield Road, which since April 1st has permanently left the bins on the street. Less than half the bin capacity is used so there is no need for any bins to be left on the street. Yet in six months of weekly recycling collection and fortnightly regular collection, plus weekly visits by the street sweepers no action had been taken.

Next we heard from a woman who is not only a local resident but also a landlord of an HMO (House for Multiple Occupation as opposed to separate flats). She expressed extreme frustration at problems with collection saying there had been times when rubbish hadn’t been collected for weeks, and at being allocated bins that were too big for the space.

The Clean Camden App for reporting fly-tipping was also mentioned. If you don’t use it already then it’s worth installing but although it deals with the issue it doesn’t tackle the underlying problem of flytipping in the first place. There are now six enforcement officers spread across the borough, who between tham have issued 50 fixed penalty notices in the past two weeks.

It seemed that both Camden and Veolia were surprised at the extent of the problems and the barrage of questions from what was a largely pro-recycling and mild-mannered audience. Local elections are six months away, and there were five sitting councillors in the room. If, somehow, they had yet to appreciate the scale of the problem they left the meeting in no doubt that there is much work still to be done before anyone can consider the new arrangement a true success.

Crime tops the agenda at upcoming public meeting

Mobile phone snatches on the rise. Image: Unsplash

This Thursday, local councillors will host an Area Forum (aka: public meeting) at the Synagogue Hall in Dennington Park Road. Crime is top of the agenda. The meeting starts at 19:00 with the main business from 19:30.

Last night two suspects were arrested in Broomsleigh Street following a moped-related stabbing that had taken place earlier last night in Little Venice.  The victim, a 28 year old charity worker, was stabbed when he resisted an attempt to snatch his iPhone 7. He was taken to St. Mary’s hospital, but died an hour later.

Mobile phones continue to be snatched by guys on mopeds in West Hampstead (though the problem is far from confined to NW6). This week saw incidents on West End Green, as kids were coming out of Emmanuel School. Last Wednesday on Westbere Road as a woman was parking her car, her mobile was snatched as she was allegedly threatened with a weapon (it wasn’t clear whether it was a machete or an iron bar, but either way it’s extremely worrying).

On Saturday there was another incident on West End Lane at the junction of Cleve Road. The victim was walking alone down West End Lane at around 6.30pm, texting as she walked. When she reached the junction with Cleve Road two men on mopeds appeared and tried to snatch the phone out of her hand. It was dark and happened so quickly that she didn’t get a good description of them. She was shaken but blames herself partly because she knew it was a danger but still had her phone out. Yet it doesn’t feel right that you can’t walk safely around your own neighbourhood.

She didn’t realise that she could (and should) report this to the police, which can be done online. It is really important that this is done so that the police can build up a true picture.

These incidents follow the recent robbery at the busy Sherriff Centre Post Office by three masked guys, also on mopeds. A robbery that took place less than 50m away from the Safer Neighbourhoods office.

The rise in mobile phone snatching has replaced the spate of car thefts and burglaries earlier this summer. It’s hard to tell categorically from the figures, but it does seems that – as we suggested in August – crime is on the rise after years of falling. Hopefully, it is just a blip.

The Conservatives have been rather quiet on the matter, although Claire-Louise Leyland, leader of the local Tories, called a meeting in Hampstead last month. Labour has been suggesting that a combination of police cuts and austerity are at least partly to blame.

It is hard to believe in the face of all this there is a ‘consultation’ on closing the Safer Neighbourhoods office. We should find out more details at Thursday’s meeting.

The main speaker on Thursday will be Inspector Richard Berns from Camden Neighbourhood Policing Teams, alongside Judy Thomson Camden Community Safety.

It doesn’t really need me to say it, but I’m going to say it anyway. Please come along, at worst to find out how to protect yourself to prevent it happening to you. But also because the more residents turn up the more likely we are to get the resources we need to start tackling this issue.

PS:( ‘Locksmith’ stickers have appeared on letterboxes and by front doors (including Cllr Russell’s who was recently the victim of a burglary). They could be related to burglaries and the advice is to remove them.

Getting down and dirty on Kilburn High Road

Amid all the grumbling about filth on West End Lane, it’s always worth casting an eye elsewhere to see whether we can learn from others. Or to put our own woes into perspective. Recently, there have been some despairing tweets about the clutter, litter and, general grime on Kilburn High Road (this includes responses from one of the local councillors). We went to take a closer look down the Camden side of the road.

We started up by the railway bridge near the junction with Maygrove Road. And it didn’t take long to see the first of many (illegal) A-boards. At this point I’m going to introduce the word “curtilage“. This means the defined area of a property’s land. Within your curtilage you can do what you want (within reason) – build a deck, put out goods or an A-board etc.. Beyond is the public highway and you cannot do what you want, whether it’s within reason or not.

If the public highway is narrow then it is particularly important to keep it clear for pedestrian flow, buggies, wheelchairs and so on. It is the council’s responsibility to enforce that it is kept clear.

A-board

Further down, more A-boards appearing and furniture for sale.

More A-boards

It gets worse along the really narrow stretch of pavement from 334 to 328 ; although most of the businesses have built out on their curtilage they then obstruct the remaining narrow pavement with A-boards and allow their chairs to spill off their land (and bins too). Adding to the confusion of where responsibility lies, this stretch is actually part of West Hampstead ward, not Kilburn.

Clutter

And they've even pinned an ad to the tree...

There is even an ad pinned to the tree…

A bit further on we come to the Hilal Food Centre.  It’s a popular store – I shop there too – but it still has to obey the same planning rules as everyone else. It has ‘allegedly’ spread way over it’s curtilage and keeps creeping forward across the public highway. Their gain at our loss.

Hilal2Next up is popular pizza joint Quartieri, which had tested the limit by putting out chairs on the pavement and an A-board. However, it was slapped down pretty quickly and with a reputation to keep has been playing by rules since then.

The Black Lion has been around for longer than most businesses on the High Road. It has a nice outdoor space at the side – on its own curtilage – but has recently started putting out chairs and tables on the public pavement. Without planning permission, apparently. The pavement here is wide enough to take it, but it still needs permission guys.

BlackLion

Next up, another pub. The Sir Colin Campbell has tables outside too, but – and here’s the important bit – these are on its own curtilage. And the A-boards are on it too. Cheers to the SCC for being a responsible business.

ColinCampbell

I have spared you yet more photos of fly tipping thus far – there was certainly plenty of it, but at this point we reached a particularly egregious case, some of which appeared to have come from the other side of the road. Why did the fly-tipper cross the road? Because enforcement is tougher on the Brent side.

Cllr John Duffy, a Labour Councillor in Brent, ensures that fly-tipping (and planning breaches) are dealt with and followed up. This doesn’t seem to happen as effectively on the Camden side of the road, although the local councillors tweet the tweet!

Fly-tip

Credit where it’s due

Camden can however take credit for the physical state of the pavements and for the state of the road. Any cycling readers will know that the northern end of Kilburn High Road is in a terrible state, with potholes big enough to cause an accident. But once you pass Quex Road, the surface improves and it’s fine from then on. The reason: in an effort to do some of that famed joined-up thinking, Camden is responsible for the road on the lower section below Willesden Lane and Brent for the upper section.  Camden has met its responsibilities, while the potholes suggest Brent has not.

Pothole number one (of many)

Pothole number one (of many)

And pothole number two.

And pothole number two.

The road surface is vastly better south of Quex Road

The road surface is vastly better south of Quex Road

There is a noticeable difference in the pavements too. On what I understand is the part Brent is responsible for, but in ‘Camden’, there clearly potential trip hazards. WHL checked with Camden on this as it sounds a bit odd and even they weren’t sure.

Clearly a trip hazard. Damages in case of injury would be a lot more than 10p!

Clearly a trip hazard. Damages in case of injury would be a lot more than 10p!

Kilburn High Road marks the boundary between Camden and Kilburn (with Westminster and Barnet also getting involved at the southern and northern ends) and somewhere that’s on the periphery for all councils is always likely to struggle to get the attention of borough heartlands. There are added complications that even within one borough, the road passes through multiple wards, but that shouldn’t have an impact on enforcement.

Aside from aesthetics, why should this be of such a concern? For a start there’s the ‘broken windows‘ theory (general deterioration leads to bigger problems), and certainly the deterioration of our streets has coincided with a rise in crime. And as if that wasn’t enough, living in a cleaner more pleasant environment is less stressful, which given that Camden has some of the highest rates of mental illness across the country – with almost 50,000 adults in Camden experiencing anxiety and depression (20% higher than national levels), would be one more reason to strive for cleaner streets and a decent public realm.

Finally, WHL has been getting flack from local Labour activists about the number of tweets on the state of our local streets (don’t worry we get flack from the Tories too, about different issues – so we must be doing something right). They have said we should mention the Clean Camden App, and this we are happy to do. Just done it. WHL is a regular user but there are some things it can’t do (e.g. report those broken flagstones, or bins left on the pavement). Nor have we heard from Camden about how effective it is. In a nutshell – to paraphrase a former Prime Minister; we need to not only be tough on grime, but tough on the causes of grime.

Freshly resurfaced Black Path is positively gleaming in the June sunshine

It may have taken many months, community clear ups (instigated by West Hampstead Life), and a number of meetings and site visits, but regular users of The Black Path, which links West End Lane and Broomsleigh/Ravenshaw Streets, can’t fail to have noticed the transformation that’s come about in the last few weeks with less foliage and now a brand new (and appropriately black) path.

Firstly, at the end of May, Network Rail sent a team bearing very big chainsaws down the path to finally deal with the extensive overgrowth both on their (ie the railway) side and on the fences belonging to the houses on the south side of Sumatra Road. The difference is huge – no more ducking to get under those tree branches! – but Network Rail have been clear this level of drastic clearance is a one-off from them.

Black Path: before and after. Image from Penny Leichti

Black Path: before and after. Somewhat lighter! Image appropriately enough from Penny Leichti

It will take a while for things to grow back of course, but householders on Sumatra Road should be aware that Camden is issuing notices to owners who don’t properly maintain their boundaries, which includes keeping overgrown plants in check, so if you live along that side of the road and your garden backs onto the path, it would be advisable to keep an eye on the other side of your fence. (This also applies to landlords who let their properties – if you earn money from rent you are also responsible for ensuring the properties, gardens and hedges are maintained).

But the real challenge for local campaigners was to get the council to find the budget to have the whole path resurfaced. It was in a bad condition, with only a small section near the Thameslink station having been repaired in recent memory, and cracks and holes along almost the rest of the 500 metre stretch, as anyone who has ever tried to push a buggy, drag a suitcase, scoot or cycle along it will attest. Through persistent lobbying from local councillors, notably Fortune Green’s Richard Oszlewski, budget was found, Camden’s Street Works team stepped in and resurfacing work started earlier this month.

The works were completed on Monday 19th, and the transformation is complete. With 90% of the path resurfaced, it’s now a smoothly tarmacked joy to use, all but unrecognisable from the unloved, overgrown and potholed state of a year ago.

The group of local residents involved includes actor Julia Deakin, who has been pushing for improvements ever since she had to be treated in hospital following an accident on the path three years ago. She’s delighted they have finally been achieved, but warns: “it’s crucial that the path is properly and regularly maintained, and not allowed to fall back into disrepair”.

Future concerns aside, there’s much to celebrate in a safer and more user-friendly environment for the numerous commuters and school children who use the path every day.

Ed: This is an excellent example of what can be done when local residents, councillors, council officers and others get together to sort out a problem.  So West Hampstead – what is bugging you?  Any suggestions to moc.l1511568155iamg@1511568155daets1511568155pmahw1511568155rette1511568155b1511568155 (but don’t email if you aren’t prepared to do some of the work to solve it).

156 West End Lane proposal gets green light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote on 156 West End Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, the good news.

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

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

Now the bad news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

An "affordable" shared ownership flat on Iverson Road.

An “affordable” shared ownership flat on Iverson Road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total monthly payment: £1,625.

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

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

The red bar on the right shows your household income relative

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortnightly waste collections for West Hampstead

At last night’s public Area Action Group meeting in West Hampstead, the council gave plenty of stats on Camden’s waste and recycling. But the numbers that will have stuck in most people’s minds were “once” and “every two weeks”, as councillor Meric Apak confirmed what we reported in August; namely that much (though not all) of West Hampstead will move to fortnightly residual waste collections from April 1st. No joke.

Recycling and food waste will still be collected weekly, and this is a clear attempt by Camden to both save money and boost dwindling recycling rates. On top of that, residents who want green waste collection will have to pay £75/year.

Although the turnout last night was down on previous meetings (perhaps due to the tube strike),  there was still a useful and lively discussion though there seemed little chance of the council and unenthused residents – at least those present – finding common ground.

The facts are stark: Camden deals with 46,000 tonnes of domestic residual waste a year but only 26% of waste is recycled – a proportion that’s actually fallen over time. Yet Camden’s estimate is that 85% of household waste is recyclable.

To prove a point, earlier in the day, Richard Bradbury, head of Camden’s Environmental Services, had collected 17 bags of domestic waste from West Hampstead properties. He didn’t go so far as to bring them with him to the meeting, but he had sorted these 17 bags into 5 bags of recyclable material, 4 bags of food waste and just 3 of residual waste. Five bags fewer in total, and only three of the 17 should have been heading to landfill (an 82% recycling rate).

In 2011/12, Camden residents recycled 33% of their waste, so why has this fallen to just 26% today (about the same level as in 2004), especially after the new green wheelie bin regime was introduced in 2012 to make recycling easier? Camden’s target for 2020 is 40%, but to reach this, the council is relying on an awful lot of stick and not much carrot. Camden is not alone – just over half of London boroughs have seen a decline in recycling rates over recent years.

The hope is that fortnightly collections will encourage people to recycle more as recycling will still be collected once a week. We shall see if that happens. Importantly, not all streets will move to fortnightly collections – only existing kerbside collections are affected. The maps below will help most people, but for precise details, contractor Veolia has a very useful and clear search function so you can see how you’ll be affected.

west-hampstead-rubbish

In West Hampstead and Fortune Green, some streets will still keep weekly collections. This is usually related to housing density and availability of space for bins. On the commercial strip of West End Lane, rubbish will still be collected daily, with residents being given enough bags for up to two collections a week.

fortune-green-rubbish

All the streets in South Hampstead will move to fortnightly collections.

swiss-cottage-rubbish

Commercial rubbish is collected daily on West End Lane - though it's not always left correctly. Photo @Superfast72

Commercial rubbish is collected daily on West End Lane – though it’s not always left correctly. Photo @Superfast72

Alongside the change to fortnighly collections, there will be (yet another) crackdown on fly-tipping with more investigation. The council clears 2,000 tonnes of fly-tipped waste a year (of which surely at least 1,990 tonnes comes from West Hampstead). The bin men won’t take black bags that don’t fit into your bin (in fact they’ll photograph them for evidence so when you ring up to complain they’ll tell you you exceeded your allowance), and apparently there’ll be a lot of ‘education’.

Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea wondered what will happen when Christmas comes around, or a birthday party, or someone moving, all of which generate extra waste. Residents will also receive new black bins.

There are a tonne of caveats and other minor changes. For example, there’ll be a free weekly nappy collection service available to households with children under the age of 2 1/2 who wear nappies. Read all about them on Camden’s website.

Egregious fly tipping on Mill Lane from August 2016. Photo @damawa42

Egregious fly tipping on Mill Lane from August 2016. Photo @damawa42

Questions from the public included whether Camden would be checking our waste (Camden wearily said “no” several times) and under what legislation we are required to recycle, the answer appeared to be none, though frankly – economics aside – it shouldn’t take legislation to get people to want to help minimize landfill. Some residents also pointed out that if Camden wanted to increase recycling it would help if it made it easier. There is also a contradiction between Camden’s policy of reducing car ownership and car use and the regular refrain of ‘you can take it to the Regis Road recycling centre’, when anyone enquires about recycling something slightly out of the ordinary… like a toaster.

What are your thoughts on this? Good incentive? Unworkable? Open to abuse? Time for people to take some responsibility for the environment? Let us know in the comments.

Will fortnightly rubbish collection make us cleaner and greener?

It’s the middle of the summer holidays and Camden Council has announced (controversial) changes to waste collection. It’s yet another change after several over the past few years (e.g. switching from multi-stream to single stream recycling). But despite all these changes recent performance in terms of recycling has been poor.

In 2005 Camden beat the target of 25%, achieving… 25.2%! Woo hoo. Ten years later by 2015 this had crept up to… 26.3%, still well short of the 2020 target of 50%. That target is, however, an EU target so perhaps we should expect revised targets at some stage? However, at the current rate of improvement, 1% per decade, Camden is on course to reach the 50% target by 2255!

Changes to waste collection and recycling?

Changes to waste collection and recycling?

Camden ranks 333rd out of 352 councils across the country and 25th out of 32 among London councils for recycling. The councils at the top recycle 65% or more of their waste and even in London the best manage more than 40% (Ealing: 40.1%, Harrow: 45% and Bexley with an impressive 54%). At least Camden is doing better than Newham and Lewisham, both on 17%.

To up recycling rates – and to save money – Camden is proposing that ‘some households’ will switch to fortnightly rubbish collections of ‘residual’ waste. It is yet to specify which households this will affect, though it is understood that the south of the borough will still have weekly collections. Houses that have the space will be given a black wheelie bin and those that don’t will be given branded sacks. The Council will maintain weekly collections of food waste and dry recyclables across the borough. The theory is that this will encourage more recycling.

For those locals with gardens, Camden is introducing a charge (or tax as the local Tories have labelled it) for collecting garden waste: £60 for a nine-month ‘service’ and £75 for a 12-month ‘service’. It seems odd to discriminate against green waste; people are doing the right thing, flats and houses with gardens could well be in higher council tax bands already, and charging to dispose of green waste is likely to lead to more people simply disposing of the waste in the black bags (this will apparently be penalised, but it’s hard to see how). It could even lead to more gardens being paved over – not exactly part of the Green agenda.

Residents can take garden waste free of charge to Regis Road in Kentish Town or Hornsey Street (in Islington) but neither are local to West Hampstead and more car journeys is hardly environmentally friendly either.

Fortnightly collection of residual waste - a glimpse of the future

Fortnightly collection of residual waste – a glimpse of the future

Moving to fortnightly collections of general waste could lead to more fly-tipping – it’s certainly unlikely to lead to less. Fly-tipping and the poor state of our streets is already a serious problem in West Hampstead and was the number one issue raised in research for the NDP. There is a petition about the changes, but it has only had a few people sign it so far.

As the recent improvements to rubbish collection on West End Lane have shown, some parts of Camden Council are making progress and are effective at keeping the area cleaner. But if the challenge is to raise recycling levels and make Camden a greener, cleaner borough, it’s hard to see how these changes will achieve that.

Netherwood Street: Residents take rubbish into their own hands

If you’ve ever had cause to walk from West End Lane to Kilburn High Road via Sherriff Road, you will have been on Netherwood Street. You probably hurried by trying not to notice the unsightly dump between the pavement and the railway line. All manner of refuse, including builders waste and evidence of rough sleeping, combine to give this otherwise pleasant area a distinctly grotty feel.

WHGARA, the local residents association for that part of West Hampstead, has decided to reclaim this abandoned council-owned site, and turn it into a small park.

Cllr Phil Rosenberg, who ran a very informal consultation on rubbish hotspots in the area via West Hampstead Life, took Cllr Sally Gimson, who’s responsible for such things in Camden, on a walkabout to see the worst offending places – including Netherwood Street.

Phil Rosenberg: "being knee deep in muck is the best thing I've been able to do"

Phil Rosenberg: “being knee deep in muck is the best thing I’ve been able to do”

Camden was able to bring WHGARA together with local charity, Camden Green Gym, and national campaign CleanUpUK to make a difference to the area. The three groups joined volunteers from the Webheath estate, and the two councillors to clear the site earlier this month. Working for three hours, the 20+ volunteers moved heavy debris including mattresses and discarded builders’ material, and more than 50 bags of flytipped waste.

Netherwood St Group Photo

WHGARA secretary Brigid Shaughnessy said, “It was a real success. The community really rallied behind it and we are hopeful that it can be restored as a creative new green space for residents”.

Netherwood Street clean-up before...

Netherwood Street clean-up before…

... and after

… and after

Once the space is cleared of waste, campaigners hope to turn the plot in to a micro-park, and the possibility of new allotments is being discussed. Ms Shaughnessy paid tribute to the “sustained and positive support” of the councillors, which had helped get the clean-up off the ground.

Netherwood St Litter Pick

Phil Rosenberg said, “It sounds strange to say it, but being knee-deep in muck is the best thing I have been able to do since becoming a local councillor. It just shows that when the community, council and local charities come together, we can achieve amazing things.”

The campaigners are hoping to do another round on the weekend of May 9th/10th, which we’ll publicise on these pages – do get involved in what’s a great community initiative. However, Camden has a long way to go to win over residents who are dissatisified with the rubbish on our streets (especially the Kilburn High Road end of Netherwood) and the performance of contractors. This feels like a step in the right direction, though hopefully not every initiative will require residents to become quite so closely acquainted with the problem they want solved!

West End Lane could soon be clear of agents’ boards

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Residents concerned over Beckford School road closure plan

Camden Council has announced plans to implement a temporary road closure near a primary school in West Hampstead, angering many local residents. There are public meetings to discuss the proposals this Thursday.

The affected area is around Beckford School on Dornfell Street. Camden’s proposal is to close Broomsleigh Street at the Mill Lane end at the beginning and end of each school day, preventing traffic from entering Dornfell Street, Glastonbury Street and Ravenshaw Street from this direction. This would come into effect for a six-month period, after which a further decision would be made whether to make the scheme permanent.

The council’s rationale for the possible traffic changes, as outlined in a letter to residents last week, is to create “a safe and pleasant environment” around the school when children arrive, and to encourage families to walk or cycle to school as part of its “Healthy School Streets” initiative. Since the school year started in September, it points out, two school children have been struck by motor vehicles in the area immediately around the school.

However, people living in and around the affected roads are not happy with the street closures, which if approved would come into effect in early June. On the West Hampstead Life forum, many residents have commented that although well-meaning, the plans are misguided and do not take into account the needs of residents and businesses.

People are concerned that they will be unable to reach their homes by car at the restricted hours of 8.30-9.15am and 2.30-4.30pm, deliveries will not be made, and elderly residents will not be able to be picked up for appointments. Margaret McKillop, a forum commenter, queried  what would happen “if for instance we need a doctor or ambulance during the hours between 2.30 and 4.30”?

There is also scepticism that Camden’s scheme will do much to encourage parents to walk their children to and from school, and that instead Ravenshaw Street will become “an unspeakable nightmare” with traffic moving in both directions on an already narrow road. Avril, another forum member, wondered “how many parents will actually support their children cycling to Beckford School” – as this would inevitably mean cycling along busy Mill Lane.

There will be two meetings held at the school this Thursday, March 19th at 3.45pm and 6.30pm, to explain the reasons behind the plan and give parents and residents a chance to ask questions.

Do you live in the affected area, or are you a Beckford School parent? Join the discussion on the forum.

The busy junction of Broomsleigh Street and Mill Lane

The junction of Broomsleigh Street and Mill Lane under discussion

Locals objecting in numbers to Liddell Road plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It also states,

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

Read the full TfL response.

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

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

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

NDF Response to Liddell Road Consultation by WHampstead

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

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

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

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

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

Scooter showroom fails to comply in bike parking row

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motorcycles on the forecourt and road

Motorcycles on the forecourt and road

Open for Sunday trading against regulations

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

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

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

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

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

Img_1582_600

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

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

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

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

View from the park

View from Maygrove Peace Park looking east

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bluffers Guide to Liddell Road

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

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

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

Who owns the land?
Camden council.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liddell Road raised in council meeting

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

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

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

Camden relents on BBQs in local parks

minibbq

Ever thought it’d be nice to have a summer barbecue on Fortune Green? Up to now, it’s been strictly prohibited – not just on Fortune Green but in all of Camden’s parks.

Not any more! From July 21st, you can now get your grill on in Fortune Green, West End Green, Kilburn Grange Park and any other parks run by Camden (this means Hampstead Heath, Regents Park and Primrose Hill are still sausage-free zones).

Cllr Sally Gimson, Camden’s cabinet member for sustainability and environment, has ruled that portable barbecues can be used for a trial period of one year. Disposable barbecues are still banned as are gas barbecues, but there are plenty of eligible barbecues on the market (there’s a mini Bodum one currently for sale at habitat in the O2 centre).

Obviously, Camden expects people to be responsible and no doubt the Friends of Fortune Green – and local residents generally – will be hoping that impromptu hot food picnics don’t lead to more litter in parks. In the meantime, the next Film on Fortune Green is August 30th. I like my steaks rare please.

Support your local charity by partying on Camden Beach

Photo credit: Stuart Leech

Photo credit: Stuart Leech

Just a hop, skip and jump away from West Hampstead this August you’ll discover the Roundhouse’s Camden Beach. Think 900 square meters of the finest sand, rooftop gardens, beach huts and deck chairs… if you can’t get to the beach, the beach is coming to you.

If you fancy being the first to dig your toes into the sand then why not head to the Camden Beach Opening Party on Friday 25 July and enjoy an unforgettable night all whilst supporting your local charity?

The Roundhouse has played host to music legends such as Paul Weller, Prince and Elton John. What fewer people know is that the Roundhouse is a charity that improves the lives of over 3,000 young people each year by providing space, mentoring, equipment, projects and performance opportunities to unlock their creative potential. 45% of these young people are from the local area, and 60% of these young people are facing a social and economic disadvantage.

“I was working in a chip shop four days a week with no clear idea on how to access jobs within the music industry or how to turn my passion for music into a career. I’m now working as a Promotions Manager for a record label – if it wasn’t for the support of the Roundhouse this wouldn’t have been possible.” BoDee

The Roundhouse is hosting this party to raise vital funds so they can continue to provide life-changing opportunities for people like BoDee. The evening will feature DJ sets from Roundhouse Ambassadors Eliza Doolittle and Lliana Bird, performances from Roundhouse Emerging Artists, and a whole host of surprises on the night. Tickets start from £55 and include drinks, food, entertainment and access to the after party: so grab some friends, book now and feel good while you party this summer.

Camden Beach poster

Sponsored post

Brondesbury eruv requires West Hampstead poles

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

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

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

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

Minster_Road

Minster Road (arrows added)

West End Lane poles

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

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

Map of the whole eruv (click for larger version)

Map of the whole eruv (click for larger version)

Map_WH

The detail in West Hampstead & Kilburn

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

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

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

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

Brondesbury Eruv – the West Hampstead and Kilburn locations by WHampstead

Local election 2014: The results

As the dust settles after an emotionally intense Friday evening at the Somers Town Community Centre, it’s time to recap the results from the four wards we’ve been covering.

First up, West Hampstead

John Bryant Liberal Democrats 836
Natalie Eliades Conservative Party 800
Nick Grierson Conservative Party 811
Richard Griffiths Green Party 327
Zane Hannan Green Party 343
Keith Moffitt Liberal Democrats 943
Magnus Nielsen UKIP 202
David Pearce Trade Union and Socialist Coalition 67
Angela Pober Labour Party 1,166
Gillian Risso-Gill Liberal Democrats 901
Phil Rosenberg Labour Party 1,179
Andrew Saywell Conservative Party 715
Quentin Tyler Green Party 250
James Yarde Labour Party 1,082
Total (inc. rejected)   9,622
Turnout   38%

Labour managed the clean sweep here (something residents will hope they can do to the streets as well), with the shock being the removal of Keith Moffitt. One suspects that if Keith had been standing in Fortune Green he’d have got back in, but the slightly more transient nature of the West Hampstead population may well have meant that national politics played a larger role here and his personal reputation counted for less.

West Hampstead share

Fortune Green next

Ian Cohen Conservative 893
Juan Jimenez Green Party 326
Nancy Jirira Liberal Democrats 950
Leila Mars Green Party 403
Lucy Oldfield Green Party 318
Richard Olszewski Labour & Cooperative Party 967
Andrew Parkinson Conservative 739
Flick Rea Liberal Democrats 1,151
Lorna Russell Labour & Cooperative Party 1,028
Nick Russell Liberal Democrats 865
Tom Smith Conservative 686
Phil Turner Labour & Cooperative Party 904
Total (inc. rejected)   9,246
Turnout   39.2%

Hard to know what’s more astonishing here: Flick coming top of the poll on a day when the Lib Dems were obliterated nationally or Labour dispatching the Tories into a distant third. The Lib Dems actually came top in Fortune Green with 32.1% of the vote, vs. Labour’s 31.3%. The Conservatives were well back at just 25%, although Ian Cohen’s 893 placed him fifth overall only 11 votes off fourth placed Phil Turner. Despite the outspoken animosity between some Labour people and Flick, hopefully these three councillors can work together on local issues.

Fortune Green share

From the two marginals, to the two safer seats

Kilburn

Sarah Astor Green Party 402
Douglas Beattie Labour 1,661
Richard Bourn Green Party 276
Maryam Eslamdoust Labour 1,611
Thomas Gardiner Labour 1,543
Janet Grauberg Liberal Democrats 876
Sheila Hayman Green Party 286
Jack Holroyde Liberal Democrats 746
James King Liberal Democrats 883
Nick Vose Conservative 411
Tim Wainwright Conservative 409
John Whitehead Conservative 357
Total (inc. rejected)   9,483
Turnout   38.31%

It was billed as a two-way fight, and that’s exactly what it was although in the end Labour’s margin of victory was more comfortable than many had thought. The Lib Dems – two of whom are former Kilburn councillors – found that their local credentials weren’t enough to unseat the incumbent Labour couple who have moved out of the area, while Mike Katz’s replacement came top of the poll.

Kilburn share

And finally… Swiss Cottage

Chris Butler Liberal Democrats 300
Tom Franklin Green Party 433
Roger Freeman Conservative 1,294
Andrew Haslam-Jones Liberal Democrats 230
Helen Jack Green Party 367
Andrew Marshall Conservative 1,340
Jill Newbrook Liberal Democrats 347
Ben Nunn Labour 1,029
Sheila Patton Green Party 339
Simon Pearson Labour 1,008
Gretel Reynolds Labour 960
Don Williams Conservative 1,221
Total (inc. rejected)   8,886
Turnout   34.67%

A low turnout in Swiss Cottage, which is predominantly made up of the redbrick properties of South Hampstead. The Conservatives were always expected to hold this comfortably, but in the end the margins were a little close for comfort, with Labour polling very strongly indeed – in no other local ward did two candidates get more than 1,000 votes and not get a seat.

Swiss Cottage share

Labour sweep Lib Dems out of West Hampstead

Labour_victory

Labour pulled off an astonishing victory yesterday evening, and redrew the political map of north-west Camden. West Hampstead and Fortune Green have been a fortress for the Liberal Democrats, with each ward headed by a popular councillor: Keith Moffitt in West Hampstead and Flick Rea in Fortune Green. This morning Keith – one time leader of Camden Council – is no longer a councillor, while Flick becomes the Lib Dems only councillor in the borough.

Labour won five of the six seats available in the two wards as well as holding Kilburn fairly comfortably despite a robust campaign from the Lib Dems. Swiss Cottage was a safe Conservative hold, although Labour ran them much closer than expected and before postal votes were counted it looked as if an upset was even possible.

Last night belonged to Labour, which gained 10 seats in Camden to give it 40 of the 54 on offer. All 10 were taken from the Lib Dems, who also lost two to the Conservatives in Hampstead Town and Belsize. The Greens kept their seat in Highgate, where turnout almost hit 50%, albeit with a different councillor – Sian Berry replacing Maya de Souza. The Greens will be disappointed not to have got a second seat there.

It was apparent as soon as the count got going that the situation looked good for Labour and worrying for the Liberal Democrats. With the dubious benefit of knowing what had happened in the rest of the country well before the count even began, the orange rosettes were already nervous and stress levels were clearly rising. There was an air of despondency hanging over the Conservatives milling around the counts for West Hampstead and Fortune Green – especially the latter ward, where they had high hopes of getting at least one seat.

Camden_count

Of the two wards, West Hampstead was called first but everyone knew the result. Only Keith had any chance of surviving the cull but there was no recount called, which meant the gap couldn’t be that close. John Bryant was the first name to be called and polled just 836 votes – the lowest of the Lib Dems and only 25 clear of Nick Grierson, who was the highest polling Conservative. Keith cleared 943 votes, but with a turnout of 38%, it was always going to need more than 1,000 to get in. Angela Pober was the first Labour candidate to be called out (names are are read out in alphabetical order) and she brought in 1,166. Gillian Risso-Gill took 901 votes – the farmers market hadn’t been enough to save her. Labour’s Phil Rosenberg won 1,179 votes – the most of anyone in the ward, and then James Yarde brought up Labour’s tail with 1,082 – 139 votes ahead of Keith and bringing 20 years of council service to an end.

West Hampstead's new councillors  James Yarde, Angela Pober, Phil Rosenberg. with Tulip Siddiq (second left)

West Hampstead’s new councillors James Yarde, Angela Pober, Phil Rosenberg. with Tulip Siddiq (second left)

Keith wiped away a small tear and then made a point of congratulating all the newly elected councillors. Not all losing candidates that night were as gracious. Nor were all winners. Night like these can bring out the worst of tribal party politics, though there were mercifully examples of generosity of spirit from all parties.

In the end, a combination of hard graft by the Labour candidates and the national swing had been too much for the personal vote for Keith to overcome. It was still a surprise. Labour had known that Keith would be the hardest incumbent to dislodge, and it proved the case, but it’s always a coup to remove the leader of a party.

The CNJ's Dan Carrier interviews Keith Moffitt after he loses out to Philip Rosenberg in West Hampstead

The CNJ’s Dan Carrier interviews Keith Moffitt after he loses out to Philip Rosenberg in West Hampstead

Attention switched to Fortune Green, where a recount was ordered. We already knew that the Tories were out of this. “If only Ian Cohen had had six more months”, one Conservative told me, seeming to forget that the Conservatives only finalised their list of who was standing across the two wards at at the last minute. Ian himself was still smiling, taking the hit on the chin. He’ll still be popping up at local meetings I’m sure.

Waiting for the Fortune Green recount

Waiting for the Fortune Green recount

Lorna Russell had already been told she’d polled enough to get in – and promptly collapsed. Labour really hadn’t held out that much hope for Fortune Green, expecting the Tories to do well and the Lib Dems to put up a strong fight. No-one but no-one had really thought Flick was vulnerable and, as these pages suggested, perhaps the other two Lib Dems could ride that wave to safety.

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers

The reality was that Flick came home very safely – she actually topped the poll in Fortune Green, proving that personal votes can and do make a difference. Lorna was a surefire second, which meant the recount was between Labour’s Richard Olszewski and incumbent councillor Nancy Jirira.

Finally, the returning officer called everyone up to announce the final two wards – Fortune Green and Highgate. Fortune Green was first. The Conservative’s Ian Cohen (once thought of as a possible Lib Dem candidate) had done very well: 893 votes, more than 150 ahead of the next Conservative and narrowly in fifth place overall. Close but no cigar. Nancy was the next from the big three to be called – 950 for Nancy, agonisingly short of the 1,000 mark. Then Richard… 967. It was enough. Just 17 votes between them. Labour supporters whooped and cheered, knowing they’d done the unthinkable and obliterated the Liberal Democrats in their own backyard.

Flick took 1,151 votes and Lorna 1,028. Labour’s Phil Turner got 904 votes.

That left Flick Rea as the de facto leader of the Lib Dems in Camden. Outside the Somers Town community centre, she was in a feisty mood, and expect her to make a nuisance of herself in council meetings.

What does it all mean for local residents? At one level, not much – after all Camden was Labour before yesterday and remains Labour now – only with even more control. The Conservatives become the official opposition party.

On a more local level, it means that our new councillors have some big shoes to fill. They’ll have to learn fast how to navigate their way around the council and expectations will be high. Up in Fortune Green, Flick may well find that she’s bombarded with queries from locals who know and trust her to help them and simply don’t know much about the new Labour councillors. She’ll need to work with them though if she’s not to drown in case work.

It had been a long afternoon and evening. Labour gathered on stage for a victory celebration worthy of any cup-winning football team. Frank Dobson MP – who’d appeared for the photoshoots with winning teams in his Holborn & St Pancras constituency – had long gone home, but Hampstead & Kilburn hopeful Tulip Siddiq was very much still around. She’ll be hoping that the Labour surge in north-west London carries her to Westminster next year, while her Conservative rival Simon Marcus has to pin his hopes on a blue revivial nationally if he’s to stand any chance.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Phil, Angela, James, Lorna, Richard and Flick for winning their seats in two closely fought battles. We’ll be talking to them all – as well as some of the Lib Dems who’ve been pushed out of the way – over the coming days. You can also see a full breakdown of all the votes and the swings for the parties. I’ll leave the last word to long-time resident Tony Penfold, who tweeted last night: “Some good people who helped make West Hampstead what it is have left the stage, newbies now have to walk the walk. Whamp is watching”.

Liveblog: The Camden Count

Hmm – liveblogging from just a phone proved tricky; in the end, everything happened on Twitter!

17:45 it’s really warm in the counting hall. Most candidates in the middle, well away from the press. Two wards announced so far, Bloomsbury and Kings Cross, both comfortable Labour holds. There’s a recount in Belsize. West Hampstead and Fortune Green still close. There are an unusually high number of split ballots (where a voter chooses candidates from more than one party)

17:15 No announcements yet but most wards are more or less decided. West Hampstead and Fortune Green both very close. Latest predictions are Labour clean sweep in West Hampstead and take 1 or 2 in Fortune Green.

16:40 Here we are at the count in Somers Town. Labour looking confident both generally, where their hold of the Town Hall seems fairly assured, but also in NW Camden. West Hampstead seems to be super tight and Keith Moffitt looks anxious, though he may well cling on. Up in Fortune Green, Labour is telling me that it’s much closer than people were expecting.

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers for West Hampstead

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers for West Hampstead

Count_1

A sweaty few hours for local Lib Dem councillors

Camden’s late count means candidates will be sweating it out for longer than most, especially those in tight wards – which includes West Hampstead, Fortune Green and possibly Kilburn.

We woke up to the news that Labour and UKIP have made gains in councils that have declared so far, while the Lib Dems have taken a beating.

In West Hampstead and Fortune Green, the Lib Dem candidates, five of whom are incumbent councillors, still have a few more hours to see whether they can buck the trend. The BBC is calculating a 13% drop in support for the Lib Dems but they aren’t being wiped off the political map – as I write they’ve lost only four more seats than the Conservatives (from a much smaller base of course), and have retained 237 to date. They are losing 1 out of every three seats. The challenge they have locally is that the margins are tight in West Hampstead (remember, that Labour fell just 77 votes short in 2010 off a much higher turnout). Fortress Fortune Green was markedly safer with a 446 seat cushion over the Conservatives. Check out “What happened in 2010” for more detail on share of votes in the local wards.

Holding all six seats in the two wards would be a great result for the Lib Dems and Labour would definitely feel miffed if they can’t nick at least one – but expect West Hampstead at least to go down to the wire. A split ward is more than possible.

Over in Kilburn, in a two-way fight that got nasty right before polling day, it would be a minor miracle if the Triple-J Lib Dem team of James, Janet & Jack could buck the national trend and unseat Labour. But a ramping up of candidate sniping suggests that Labour aren’t as confident as they perhaps should have been (or arguably would have been if they hadn’t kicked Mike Katz off the slate).

Overall, it’s hard to see Labour not retaining control of the Town Hall – they’d need some strange results for that to happen. But all eyes will be on West Hampstead – the most marginal ward in the country’s most marginal constituency?

Schools: What the parties say

It’s fast becoming the most divisive issue in north-west Camden politics. Do we need more schools? What sort of schools? Where should they be? Who should run them?

Primary schools
It’s universally accepted that a new primary school is needed in our part of Camden. Under current legislation, a new school would have to be an academy – i.e., outside of local authority control. The only way round this is to expand an existing school.

Camden council, rightly proud of its primary schools, proposes to expand Kingsgate Primary School, which sits on the corner of Kingsgate Road and Messina Avenue. Kingsgate can’t expand on its existing site. Instead, the council wants to open a remote extension on what is now the Liddell Road industrial estate. We have covered this in some detail before. To fund the expansion, the council plans to allow a private residential development to occupy the rest of the site – controversially with next to no affordable housing, even though it intends to make a £9 million profit on the site (£3m from the housing + the £6m central government funding it has received since the first plans were put forward). It is not clear whether that £9m would be reinvested in West Hampstead, or be dispersed throughout the borough.

Secondary schools
It’s not universally accepted that we need another secondary school. In fact it’s almost impossible to get clarity on the statistics being bandied around by both sides.

Parents campaigning for a new school mix up statistics from different geographic areas: constituency, ward, borough, postcode, which makes it hard to decipher the true need. Here’s the free school page on numbers (including links to the data). Meanwhile, the council argues that its analysis shows that there will be sufficient school places in the borough until 2022/23, including the NW6 area.

The only stat that seems clear cut is that across Camden, eight children ended up without a secondary school place in the last round of allocations.

The group pushing for a free school – already named the West Hampstead International School – submitted its application to the Department for Education about 10 days ago. The application is now for a primary and secondary school, and parents are also eyeing up the Liddell Road site. With 1,600 students, it would be the largest school in Camden when full in 2022, so potential sites are not obvious.

Dr Clare Craig submits the free school application to the DfE

Dr Clare Craig submits the free school application to the DfE

If the free school can’t secure the Liddell Road site, it’s not clear where else it could set up. The campaign website says only “Before securing a site we need to show the Department for Education there is sufficient demand so the school will be full when it opens. We are confident some of the brownfield land at the West Hampstead railway interchange can be secured for the school.”

There are almost no brownfield sites left that would be large enough – 156 West End Lane is large, but would be controversial for a school given the traffic situation on West End Lane. The O2 car park redevelopment would certainly have the size, but is a long way off. There’s likely to be more development of Blackburn Road, which could work but again, it’s not imminent and the school is hoping to take its first children in September 2015.

This issue of location has dogged proposed free schools locally. It’s been widely reported that some of these have had to tell parents who thought their child had a place that they don’t have a site and therefore parents should look at local authority options. The lack of sites is turning out to be a major problem and it’s hard to imagine that parents would have confidence in a school that has yet to secure classrooms but wants to open in 2015.

What do the parties have to say?
Labour opposes the idea of a new secondary school. It disputes the figures that suggest demand, and is pushing hard for the Kingsgate primary expansion on Liddell Road. It has by far the clearest position of the three main parties.

The Conservatives, said council candidate Andrew Parkinson at hustings, are “completely against Liddell Road as a site for a primary school”. In a more considered written response, he said, “Until we are satisfied that a full search for and assessment of other potential sites has been carried out, we will continue to oppose the choice of Liddell Road”.

The party has a manifesto commitment to supporting the free school but doesn’t seem to be throwing its weight behind the statistical analysis suggesting that a new school is needed, simply saying “Local people tell us that there are not enough local state school places for our children.”

Nor are the Tories willing to say where such a school would be located:

As for potential sites apart from Liddell Road, it would be inappropriate to name one site until a full assessment of suitability both for children and residents is carried out. However, the Travis Perkins building has been closed for three years and could potentially support either a primary or secondary school. Further, West Hampstead is to undergo significant change in the next few years as the railway lands (including sites at the O2 centre and Midland Crescent) are developed. The potential for a school to be included within these developments will also need to be fully considered.

Caught between the two seem to be the Liberal Democrats. They have argued against the expansion of Kingsgate to Liddell Road which, according to Cllr John Bryant at Monday night’s hustings, “for educational reasons, we think is wrong”. However, the party is not against Liddell Road being used as a primary school site, arguing that “we do not believe that the planned expansion of Kingsgate School is the right solution, and would prefer to proceed with either a totally new stand-alone primary school or consider the merits of a through school.”

In terms of supporting the free school, the Lib Dems say that they “support local campaigns for new schools, but would wish those schools to form part of the Camden family of schools”, which presumably means that they would come under some form of local authority control. This is broadly in line with national party policy on free schools, which boils down to “knock yourself out, but they’ve got to stick to the national curriculum and use qualified teachers”.

In a lengthy written response, the Lib Dems are keen to point out that they have supported the parents behind the free school campaign (although they acutally stop short of saying they support the proposed school itself), but that they also support Hampstead School as a “good local school.”

Where might a secondary school go?

“We believe that a general review of suitable sites for both primary and secondary school provisions in the West Hampstead and Kilburn area is needed, looking at all possible sites in the area, including Liddell Road itself, but taking full advantage of central government funding to avoid unnecessarily pushing businesses off of the site and using private housing to fund a school there; the 156 West End Lane site and other future development sites including the O2 car park, although it is important to be aware that unlike the other two sites mentioned that is not of course owned by the London Borough of Camden.”

When asked how they would ensure school place provision should the free school application fail, the Lib Dems’ response is

“We would say that the expansion of Emmanuel School and the building of the UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage have already gone a considerable way to addressing the shortage of both primary and secondary places in the area.” They continue “Should the WHIS application fail on technical grounds, we would encourage this parents’ group to continue in their efforts to provide further secondary school places in our area, possibly looking outside the precise geographical area of West Hampstead and Fortune Green.”

For the Greens, Leila Mars said at the hustings that the party supports free schools. This is in fact, not Green Party policy. The policy is to bring existing free schools back under local authority control.

UKIP‘s Magnus Nielsen didn’t have anything specifically to say on this issue at hustings, other than to recognise that primary education is very important. This was possibly the least controversial thing he said all evening.

Listen to all the parties’ comments on the schools question from last Monday night’s hustings

Election Special: Hear the candidates in their own words

As people gathered outside Emmanuel School on Monday night for the hustings, we were inside trying to get microphones to work. Despite one or two technical glitches early on, the message still came across loud and clear – people remain interested in what their politicians have to say.

Excitement builds (photo via Richard Olszewski)

Excitement builds (photo via Richard Olszewski)

The livestream of the event sadly failed (note to the school: Get a better Wifi connection!), but we do have a record of the whole evening, with just over a minute missing.

If you’re not hardcore enough for the whole thing, then here’s how the evening played out in bitesize pieces.

First up we had the three-minute party speeches.

Keith Moffitt for the Liberal Democrats focused on their record as councillors across the two wards

Ian Cohen for the Conservatives stressed their candidates’ expertise and focused heavily on the local issues

Philip Rosenberg for Labour talked about the party’s record in the Town Hall under the pressure of budget cuts

Juan Jimenez for the Green Party (apologies to the Greens, but this is where we lost a minute of the recording)

Magnus Nielsen for UKIP talked a lot about his family history but less about what he’d do for locals.

Dave Pearce for TUSC (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition) talked about cuts, jobs and housing security.

We then went on to discuss:

Rubbish – with issues of costs, enforcement and the contract with Veolia coming to the fore

Schools – specifically the different parties’ view on whether they support the proposed free school in the area.

Mansion tax – where much was made of the LibDems’ U-turn and there was an entertaining heckle!

Camden’s complaints procedure – would Sainsbury’s do a better job of managing the process?

Cycling & parking – is a wholesale review of parking restrictions needed?

Delivery lorries – everyone’s in agreement that Tesco lorries are a problem, what are the solutions?

Support for the Neighbourhood Development Plan – almost – almost – universal!

Getting the vote out – here’s where UKIP talk about removing the vote from some people

156 West End Lane – school? Community venue? What do the parties think?

Affordable housing – what does it mean?

And finally, how the candidates would fight our corner in the Town Hall (which led to one or two very odd replies).

If you want to watch everything in one go to get more of the atmosphere and hear what gets applauded and what doesn’t, then settle back with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

And a closing word:

Housing: What the parties say

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

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

TravisPerkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

MillLaneHouses1

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

West Hampstead elects

Local and European elections take place on May 22nd. Eager readers have already been checking out the West Hampstead Life election pages, which give a detailed rundown of each of the four local wards, as well as explaining why it’s worth voting and a host of other info.

All the candidates for the local elections have now been announced. Three of the the four wards we’re covering – Fortune Green, Kilburn and Swiss Cottage – have 12 candidates each; that’s three from each of the Labour, Lib Dems, Conservatives and Greens. West Hampstead ward has an extra two candidates, one from UKIP who’s already got himself in hot water, and one from the other end of the political spectrum – the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.

Why West Hampstead ward? It’s likely to be the most closely contested of the four wards with the incumbent Lib Dem candidates relying heavily on a personal vote as their party braces itself for a beating. Labour are attacking it hard, while the Tories have been waving around demographic statistics that they believe mean they’re destined for victory. The reality? It’s likely to be close, and a split ward (not all elected councillors from the same party) is quite possible.

Fortune Green feels more like a head-to-head Lib Dem/Conservative battle although Labour does have some strong candidates – all of whom are standing under the Labour and Cooperative party banner. Kilburn is a straight fight to the death between Labour and the Lib Dems and no-one else will get a look in. It’s notable that it’s the only ward that the Conservatives haven’t sent over candidate bio information for and if you can catch a local Tory off the record, they’re likely to concede that victory in Kilburn would be a surprise.

Swiss Cottage, on the other hand, is likely to remain safely in Conservative hands – if either of the other two even got a look in here, it would be an upset and would probably indicate a particularly bad day at the ballot box for the party nationwide.

What’s the difference?

The three main parties have all published their manifestos for Camden. Labour’s is a reasonably punchy document with five clear pledges followed by a wadge of extra detail. The Conservatives is a frankly too long tome that gets in cosnsistent digs at Labour (in red text, just so you don’t get confused), which is disappointing when a manifesto should be all about what you are going to do rather than trash talking the opposition. The Lib Dems have gone for a funky online version, that’s actually quite easy to navigate and lets you quickly zoom in on the topics that matter to you.

The Green Party, which I’m sad to say has been phenomenally uncommunicative, doesn’t appear to have a manifesto document, but sets out its policies here. The Greens are far from a token presence in Camden – they hold one council seat in Highgate and are working their environmentally friendly socks off to win all three seats there. Unfortunately for them, their existing councillor Maya de Souza is standing down. Richard Osley does a good job of explaining the challenge this leaves them.

UKIP doesn’t have a Camden branch and appears to have one “local election” manifesto for the whole country, which you can read here. The TUSC manifesto is here.

Over the next few days, we’ll take some of the major issues that we face here in north-west Camden and looking at the parties’ policies as well as seeing what individual council candidates have to say.

Heavy police presence at Lymington Road eviction protest

Police broke up an eviction protest on Thursday afternoon in Lymington Road at which fourteen arrests were made.

Eviction Protest poster

Photo via Alexander Blake-Pink

According to protestors, the evicted tenant, whose name is given only as Mark, had been ordered by the landlord to vacate the room he was renting at 1 Lymington Road after it had been ruled too small to live in by a council inspector.

Supporters of the tenant claim that he has mental health issues, did not want to leave the property and had nowhere else to go. He was apparently taken to Camden Housing Services.

Members of the Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group (KUWG) linked arms around the property and erected a banner above the front door.

There was a heavy police presence, with around 40 officers on the scene plus an ambulance, which according to the KUWG’s website had been called after the “heavy-handed” arrest of one of the campaigners.

LymingtonRoad_eviction1

However, a police spokesperson described their actions as a “proportionate response”.

For a bit more detail, background and some more photos and videos:
Scoop It
Kate Belgrave
Demotix

West Hampstead’s free public WiFi switched on

It’s been a while coming – we first reported this back in 2012 and again in 2013 – but West Hampstead now has free WiFi, having miraculously shot to the front of Camden’s queue. We were originally slated to be in “phase 3”, but we join parts of Bloomsbury, Holborn, and Kilburn in being first in line. Clearly the council recognises that we all need to tweet all the time!

WHL didn’t spend too long in the murky drizzle of dusk testing the full reach of the new service, but the connection was very weak by West End Green and much stronger by the first 139 bus stop heading south.

The WiFi infrastructure, powered by Arqiva, is apparently attached to lampposts, though it’s not immediately obvious where and we didn’t see any “Access point” signs, but nor did we hunt high and low for them.

My phone picked up the “_Camden_WiFi” network, which gives 30 minutes free access before you have to shell out £5 for the rest of the day or £30 for the month.

CamdenWiFi_screenshot

It’s hard to imagine that many people will pay for this in West Hampstead with most cafés offering some sort of free WiFi service already (Camden’s network appeared well down my list of options), but it’s good to have and if does stretch to West End Green then it might encourage people to sit outside and tap away on their tablets.

Of course the rise of 4G networks also means that short burst uses of WiFi for phones is less necessary, but 4G coverage isn’t that reliable yet.

In the enthusiastic press release that accompanied this launch, Cllr Theo Blackwell, cabinet member of finance, and digital champion for the borough (my words, not the press release’s), said:

“The completion of this first stage marks a major step in enhancing the borough’s digital services and making Camden the best connected place in the country.

By rolling-out a free Wi-Fi network, we’ll be able to ensure residents, businesses and visitors have access to the best mobile network experience available while at the same time addressing network congestion and coverage issues.

It will also help boost the borough’s economy by encouraging more visitors to Camden with event and travel information readily available as well ensuring, where possible, local companies are used for the installation and maintenance of the network.”

Learn a new skill at Sidings

This Wednesday, January 8th, is enrolment day at Sidings Community Centre.

Sidings

The Camden-funded centre runs a variety of courses for adults, ranging from computer skills to healthy meal planning. Want to brush up on basic maths? Or get a beginner’s guide to using Photoshop? There are some fantastic free courses available whether you want to explore a new career path, gain confidence using a computer, or just have fun.

Some courses also have a free crèche, so no need to worry about childcare.

To find out more, click on the flyer above, visit the Sidings website or give the centre a ring on 020 7625 6260.

Camden also runs classes at other venues throughout the borough, including West Hampstead and Kilburn Libraries. Visit its Adult Community Learning page to download a full list.

Recycle your Christmas tree in West Hampstead

The magical, twinkling glow of the Christmas tree can become an unbelievably depressing sight in the cold light of January once all the presents are unwrapped and pine needles are littering the carpet.

Step outside your house after Twelfth Night, and chances are the pavements will also be strewn with festive detritus, as already spotted by these locals:

How and where can you dispose of your Christmas tree responsibly? Just take it to one of Camden’s recycling drop-off points (full list here) between now and 16th January.

There are two in NW6: one on Fortune Green, and one at Kilburn Grange Park (Messina Avenue). There’s also a drop-off point on Netherhall Gardens if you’re the Finchley Road side of West Hampstead. On estates there might be a drop-off point too – check with the estate manager.

For one Fortune Green resident, Christmas tree ennui must have kicked in early, as captured in this snap by @photografter

Here's one I threw away earlier

Here’s one I threw away earlier

According to Camden’s website, Christmas trees will be recycled into paper, packaging and compost. A much more fitting end than carpeting the #whamp pavements.

Politics and public services: Review of the year

Back in January, local MP Glenda Jackson confirmed what she’d told me back in 2010 – namely that she wouldn’t stand for re-election. Thus the tightest three-way seat in the country would have three new candidates. Chris Philp, who was beaten into second place, finally secured the Tory nomination for the safe seat of Croydon South. Expect to see him on the front benches before long.

The Lib Dems stole a march on the other parties by announcing Emily Frith as their candidate. A month later, they were back at square one as Emily got a better offer. The local party grandees were distinctly unimpressed.

The Tories were next to announce their candidate, based on a open primary. Rugby fanatic Simon Marcus, councillor for Gospel Oak, got the nod. Simon’s made a big deal of trying to save Hampstead police station from fellow Tory Boris’s cuts. He failed.

That left Labour. The party decided to draw up an all-women shortlist, which ruled out popular Kilburn councillor Mike Katz.

Fiona Millar’s name was bandied about as a contender, but she withdrew and in July, the nomination went to Regents Park councillor Tulip Siddiq.

In the same month, the Lib Dems regrouped and put forward the high-profile Maajid Nawaz, founder of think-tank Quilliam. Simon and Tulip have strong local credentials, while Maajid is a TV regular focusing on more international issues. Nevertheless, the consensus is that by bringing in a big hitter, the Lib Dems have at least made the contest more interesting than it might otherwise have been.

The election isn’t until 2015, but expect the battle for hearts and minds to heat up over the year and some major players from the parties to turn up.

Not that Glenda shows signs of going quietly – she’s been more visible in the House of Commons this parliament than in previous years. She also made the news in April with a strident attack on Margaret Thatcher in an otherwise hagiographic House of Commons session.

It wasn’t Mike Katz’s year. He got shafted by his party and was deselected to stand in Kilburn in 2014’s local elections and then missed out on nomination for Brent Central.

Russell Eagling announced he wouldn’t be standing as Lib Dem councillor for Fortune Green again. Nick Russell will stand in his place. It was a big year for Russell though as he and partner Ed Fordham – who placed 3rd in the 2010 general election – got engaged after Ed’s tireless work championing the equal marriage bill paid off. The engagement even made it into Hansard and Jimmy Carr’s Big Fat Quiz of the Year.

Flick Rea, Russell’s fellow Fortune Green councillor, was awarded an MBE, which she collected from Buckingham Palace this month.

The local elections take place on May 22nd 2014. We’ll be holding a hustings nearer the time so you can meet the various candidates and get a better understanding of what councillors actually do and why you should get off your arse and vote for the ones you want.

We DO need some education – but where?
Schools were a political hot potato in 2013. A free school campaign got off to a blaze of publicity, but has been struggling in the past few months to generate enough support after a wave of negative comments.

In September, Hampstead School – the comprehensive school that’s really in Cricklewood – made the front page of both local papers for different, but perhaps related, reasons. The Ham & High ran a story about the free school campaign for a local free school, in which a Labour activist branded the campaigners “snobs”. The Camden New Journal meanwhile went with the story of the headmaster contacting police over the “anarchist tendencies” of a former pupil who ran a satirical blog about the school.

Secondary school provision is controversial, but everyone accepts that the area needs primary school places. The problem is where to put them. Camden is pushing forward its plans to expand Kingsgate School; except that the extension would be the best part of a mile’s walk away in Liddell Road, where there is a light industrial estate. Camden will build 100 private homes to pay for the school. This story continues to run.

Should they stay or should they go?
The West Hampstead police station was going to be closed, but then it wasn’t. In what seemed a very opaque process, the Fortune Green Road station was retained as an operational station, but its front desk would be open only limited hours as was the SNT base on West End Lane.

West Hampstead fire station has never been under threat in any of the restructuring plans for the London Fire Brigade, however Belsize station’s position has always been precarious and it looks like its fate is now closure.

Over the course of the year, the idea that the post office could relocate to St James’ Church has turned into a reality. The Sherriff Centre, as it will be known, will run as a social enterprise and include a café and fund community support workers. It was officially awarded the contract in August.

Meanwhile, the Swiss Cottage post office looks set to be closed completely. After some vocal campaigning, it’s now going to be moved into the Finchley Road branch of WH Smiths.

One afternoon on Liddell Road

“Shake my sleeve” said Alan, sticking out a hand covered in oily blue plastic gloves.

Alan Livingstone is one of those people you immediately like. He’s 16 – quite cherubic – and an apprentice mechanic at West Hampstead Motors. It was the 64th garage he tried for a position. Apprenticeships are hard to come by, even when the government gives employers a contribution for taking them on.

It’s not much to look at, but it’s home to more than 25 businesses

West Hampstead Motors has committed to keeping Alan even if it is forced to move out of Liddell Road as part of Camden’s redevelopment proposals.

I asked Alan if he was local. “Archway,” he replied.

“C11?”

“Yes”. He grinned. Hardly the world’s most glamorous commute, but we all know how well connected West Hampstead is. If West Hampstead Motors moves to Brent Cross, then maybe Alan will be lucky and get an even longer ride on the bus of dreams. But what if it has to move somewhere else? Alan didn’t seem to fancy the idea of working in the type of “managed workspace” that the council is planning to put into Liddell Road. He’s an apprentice, not The Apprentice.

Alan was one of several people I met last week on the industrial estate. Branko Viric, Alan’s boss at West Hampstead Motors showed me round. He’s spearheading the Save Liddell Road campaign, which is trying to get Camden to reconsider its proposal to redevelop the site for a primary school, private flats and office space.

This may be a futile cause. Sadly, in a dense urban environment and in these times of austerity, it’s rarely going to be possible to please everyone. The school places are needed, but the traders on the estate are finding it hard to see their future somewhere else and don’t feel the council – their landlord – has explained clearly enough why this is the only solution, or done much to soften the blow.

Park Royal?
Thus, the mood of most of the people I spoke to on the site was more one of despondence than anger, frustration more than fear. These are businesses that have mostly been on the site for more than 10 years, and in some cases 20 years. They have local clients and yet there is nowhere local for most of them to move to. The words “Park Royal” and “Brent Cross” kept coming up, generally with a sigh.

Relocating will mean building a new client base, and in many cases finding new staff. The number of people employed on the site is one of the areas where Camden and the traders don’t see eye-to-eye. By Camden’s reckoning, 80 people work on the site. The traders believe it to be 250. The truth is presumably somewhere in between, but the real number is moot when Camden claims that the redevelopment will deliver more jobs than it takes away.

Even if that did turn out to be true, are they the right types of jobs? Where will the Alans of West Hampstead go for work? A few doors down from Liddell Road is Handrail House, which itself is being redeveloped after agents failed to find office tenants after two years of trying.

Ironically, the development proposal for the Iverson Tyres site, also very nearby, has had a light industrial use forced upon it for its one commercial unit, even though the Iverson Tyres company want an office space there and, with flat directly above it, it would suit an office space. At least perhaps one of the smaller Liddell Road businesses might be able to move in there.

One or two of the businesses are more suspicious, there’s hushed talk of social engineering, and the most cynical believe the school will never materialise and the land will simply be cleared for housing.

That’s all too conspiracy theory for me; but when the traders complain about the lack of transparency from Camden, there’s a ring of truth about what they say. “We’re passed from one person to another,” said one trader – he’s wary to be identified in case the uncertainty spooks his customers. “Everyone tells us we need to speak to someone else if we want to find anything out.”

Something’s not right
In Camden’s cabinet meeting at which this decision was made, Cllr Theo Blackwell emphasised that he believes the council takes “extraordinary steps to reach out to people”, implying that the council had behaved in an exemplary manner in dealing with the community and businesses.

There’s a mismatch here, as elsewhere, between the council’s claims and the reaction from those affected. Some discrepancy is perhaps inevitable – people with different agendas perceive situations in different ways; when those discrepancies start to build, then they become worth examining more closely.

The trader who has been passed from pillar to post says that the council have been unclear about what would happen if businesses don’t sign the end-of-lease agreement, although they have been clear that contesting the decision would be a very expensive option.

“I am unaware of any relocation assistance from Camden,” he added. “In September I was told that a consultant had been commissioned to work with businesses and would visit Liddell Road, but we’ve seen no-one.” He acknowledges that an agent, Lambert Smith Hampton, has provided a list of possible relocation properties, although none of them are of a comparable size or rent for his business.

Ironically, he also recently received a letter from Camden’s head of economic development, which said “As part of our commitment to support growth… the Council has partnered with Funding Circle to provide finance to lend directly to businesses like [business name removed], to stimulate growth and create employment right here in the Camden area. Meantime, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you every success with your business and hope that you achieve growth and success over the forthcoming years.”

These sort of bureacratic cock-ups are par for the course at any large organisation, but they don’t help businesses feel any better about the way Camden is managing their “transition” (as management consultants would call it) off the site.

Vacant stares
Mark McKenna, from Swiss Cottage, runs Dynergy out of one of the end units. It’s a distribution business and Liddell Road’s location was the big selling point for him. He’s unusual in Liddell Road as he’s a new boy – he’s only been there a few months and knew about the plans when he signed the six month lease. What he found odd was Camden’s reluctance to let the unit, despite there still being more than a year from when he took it to the proposed redevelopment. “They said there were no vacant units, but I’d come and peered through the windows – this was definitely vacant.”

Mark McKenna, Dynergy

We sat in Salaheddine El Bahloul’s office at German Auto Care – Branko’s chief competitor, but the camaradarie on the estate is evident. He is more angry than most about the plans, and questions the whole notion of the need for the school. He also points out that while there are other garages in the area – especially under the railway arches around Kilburn – he and Branko both offer much easier access, which lots of customers appreciate.

Jobs are already evaporating
The estate isn’t all men and vehicles. Vicki Culverhouse runs Curtain Concepts, a bespoke curtain makers and fitters. They do a lot of work for Heal’s. She’s been on the estate for 10 years, but was in St John’s Wood and Kensal Rise before that – her customer base is definitely local. “The children of our early customers are now coming to us,” she says proudly.

Vicki Culverhouse, Curtain Concepts

“I employ two people now, there were more but with all this uncertainty there doesn’t seem any point in hiring replacements.” It’s a story I hear elsewhere. It would be good to know whether Camden took this into account when calculating jobs here – some have already been lost because of this decision hanging over them. Vicki also works with people off-site on a freelance basis and she is their main customer.

The employment reports specifically states it did not look at the broader supply chain of businesses, in fact it admits that there is a lot of data is does not have, and David Tullis, Head of Property Services talked in the cabinet meeting about having spoken to “a number of businesses” to estimate employment numbers, rather than all businesses. The report says:

Data relating to the socio-demographic profile of the commercial tenants and their employees does not exist and/or is not available. Furthermore, research undertaken by the Council to identify the impact of the Council’s CIP on local business and employment in the borough did not collect or analyse any equality data relating to the age, ethnicity, ability, religion or gender of the business owners, their workforce or supply chains in situ on CIP sites (Ref: CIP Employment Study – April 2013). The above research did, however, report anecdotal evidence that entry level jobs within the larger businesses occupying CIP sites are generally filled by migrant workers. No further information is available. (link: http://democracy.camden.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=31213 page 6)

The workforce on Lidell Road is actually quite eclectic. Sam Thomasson runs Fieldmount Terrazzo Ltd, an Italian tiling specialist. He’s well-spoken and laconic. Although his company occupies one whole unit, perhaps he’ll find it easier to downsize, he suggests. He employs four people and another eight as and when. He takes his leave, to check his friendly dog isn’t playing in the traffic on Maygrove Road.

Moving isn’t easy for some people. There’s an industrial-scale t-shirt printing business on the estate. The company moved its presses from one unit to the neighbouring unit a couple of years ago – it took the presses 12 months to settle to their new home and work perfectly.

Before heading back, we catch a few minutes with Andy from one of the two adjacent metalworks businesses. He seems resigned to it. I ask who his clients are. “Property developers, architects, builders. We produce custom-made balconies, that sort of thing, steel beams; no-one seems to like walls any more in their flats” he says.

One wonders whether any of Andy’s steel beams will be used in the flats to be built on the site. He won’t be a local supplier any more, so probably not.

Coup de grâce?
Camden can slap itself on its back all it wants. Its achievement is impressive – it’s delivering a capital investment programme despite steep funding cuts. It’s also good to hear some members of the cabinet – notably Cllr Valerie Leach – be extremely balanced in their comments about the Liddell Road scheme, while some others seem to see only the positive news story. Cllr Leach specifically noted the impact on businesses saying that “We are in the process of arranging meetings with you.” Lets hope they happen.

The Liddell Road traders may have become an inconvnenience, but the least they deserve, after so many years trading, is to be treated with a bit of respect by the council that has been their landlord. In the meantime, we’re still waiting for that job breakdown data from Camden.

Related articles:
Camden steams ahead with Liddell Road redevelopment  December 4th
Liddell Road: How the night unfolded December 5th
Camden responds to Liddell Road criticism December 9th
Liddell Road: Show your workings December 13th

Liddell Road: Show your workings

The Liddell Road saga continues. Now the local Lib Dem councillors have requested a “call in” of Camden’s decision to go ahead with the expansion of Kingsgate School into Liddell Road, which would mean the end of the light industrial estate there now, and the building of 120 private flats and some commercial office space.

Calling in a decision is a formal way of stalling for time. In Camden, four councillors can ask for a decision to be called in. It’s not used very often as it is disruptive – the borough solicitor is responsible for determining whether the call in is valid.

What’s prompted the call in? Pretty much the reasons that have been articulated on these pages. It’s important to make this point: no-one is denying the need for school places; nor are people unaware that the job of politicians is to make tough decisions; there are always  trade-offs. But when those trade-offs involve the livelihoods of more than 20 businesses that have been established for many years in their local area, it is also right that the process is as transparent as possible.

More work needed
The councillors requesting the call in explain that although they recognise that the plan is largely within Camden’s policy and budget framework, they believe that more examination is needed of the numbers of jobs to be lost through the redevelopment. “The belief is that jobs are actually being lost rather than created, which we consider to be outside the policy framework. The Liddell Road Trade and Business Association believe that 250 jobs will be lost, whereas the report assumes a figure of 80-100.”

They also argue that the views of groups such as the West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum and the Sidings Community Centre were not given proper weight in the consultation process, nor was there any meaningful consultation with residents and especially potential parents north of the railway line. We’ll discuss the consultation with the businesses themselves in a follow-up piece

Understanding the equations
Then there’s the (frankly, shocking) point that all 120 homes on the site are intended for private sale, with no guarantee of any affordable units. Given Camden attempts to impose a 50% affordable housing quota on private developers for a scheme of this size (which developers are usually able to negotiate down on viability grounds), it will surprise a lot of people that in its own development the council isn’t minded to deliver any affordable housing. One wonders quite what sort of community in West Hampstead the council wants to see. This decision is even odder, when you realise that the scheme is designed to deliver a £3 million profit (I think “surplus” is the correct word, but you get the idea).

There are other more detailed concerns about the decision to expand Kingsgate rather than build a new school, which would have to be an academy and Labour – which controls the council – is opposed to the idea. These are very valid concerns, although of course there’s an argument that any party in power is going to be influenced in its decisions by its ideology – that’s why there are political parties and not just bureaucrats.

What do the local councillors want to see happen?

We request that Cabinet should revisit its decision to redevelop the Liddell Road site and to create a split-site school, and that in doing so it should have before it more complete information on the number of jobs lost on the site, the views on local groups and residents on the proposal, more complete information about the exploration of alternative ways of creating more primary school places in the NW6 area, and greater transparency around the impact on central government funding, in terms of both capital and revenue, of the decision to expand an existing school rather than to build a new school on this site or another.

Show your workings
What this all boils down to is that familiar maths teacher annotation.

  • Lets see the documents that led Camden to decide there are 80 jobs on the site. The Save Liddell Road campaign is happy to share its research that led to a figure of 250 (which it admits does involve some extrapolation).
  • Lets get a clear understanding of why Camden isn’t willing to include any affordable housing in its scheme.
  • Lets get a clear understanding of how this scheme fits into Camden’s Core Development Policy regarding employment space

On that final point, here’s the relevant policy:

Having a range of sites and premises across the borough to suit the different needs of businesses for space, location and accessibility is vital to maintaining and developing Camden’s economy. An increase in the number and diversity of employment opportunities is fundamental to improving the competitiveness of Camden and of London. The Council wants to encourage the development of a broad economic base in the borough to help meet the varied employment needs, skills and qualifications of Camden’s workforce.

Camden already has, according to its own Core Strategy document, one of the lowest stocks of industrial and warehousing space among London boroughs. There has been virtually no new provision of such premises in the borough for many years. The document also says that “it is unlikely that the retail or hospitality sectors will provide straightforward alternative job opportunities for people losing industrial/warehousing jobs in the borough.”

The Core Strategy document continues:

The Council will continue to protect industrial and warehousing sites and premises that are suitable and viable for continued use. This will help to provide premises for new and expanding businesses, support the Central London economy and secure job opportunities for local people who may find difficulties finding alternative work. In addition, we will promote development that includes space for industrial uses to serve the Central London business market.

To reiterate – councils must make tough decisions; and school places are clearly needed. Cllr Theo Blackwell has already set out here why some other alternatives are not viable. Nevertheless, if the solution is the forced removal of all the businesses and jobs on Liddell Road, to be replaced by not just a school, but office space and entirely privtate housing, then the community needs stronger assurances as to how that decision has been made, and whether there could be any way in which provision for replacement light industrial space could be built into upcoming developments (e.g., 156 West End Lane and the O2 car park).

The risk otherwise is that West Hampstead truly will become nothing but a collection of expensive two-bed flats, estate agents to sell them, and hairdressers to ensure the residents are well-coiffed.

Camden – please show your workings.

Camden responds to Liddell Road criticism

If you read the Twitter conversation from last week about the Liddell Road development, you’ll have seen that Cllr Theo Blackwell, Camden’s cabinet member for finance, offered to go into more detail about the council’s decision to give the go ahead to the expansion of Kingsgate School before the larger redevlopment plan has gone to consultation, and at the expense of the jobs on the industrial estate that’s there now.

Here are his thoughts on the matter:

On Wednesday, Camden’s Cabinet took a decision as part of the borough-wide Community Investment Programme to fund a new primary school and business units on the site of Liddell Road, NW6; currently industrial premises owned by the council and leased to a variety of businesses.

The benefits to NW6 are considerable – with 420 new primary school places and new space for businesses. Elsewhere in Camden, from Holborn through Somers Town, Kentish Town, Gospel Oak, Highgate and Kilburn – and now West Hampstead – Camden is redeveloping public land to build more than 1,100 council homes, three primary schools and two new public libraries as well as new, modern business space. This is one of the most substantial self-funded capital investment programmes in the country, providing jobs and better public services for local people.

A new school and new businesses in Liddell Road are a key part of this, showing that despite very limited resources we are trying to make a difference by improving schools in NW6 as much as everywhere else in Camden.

However, it comes at a price – the new primary school and employment space will displace existing firms on the site because the only way we can pay for the new school, as with the new Netley School and Edith Neville primaries in NW1, is by raising money by a wider development of land the council owns.

Quite reasonably, West Hampstead Life and others have asked whether we could have funded this by some other means so the community could get as many benefits as possible:

What about using central government money? Due to cuts to investment introduced in June 2010, today only 1% of all Camden’s capital need for schools, housing and other infrastructure is supplied by central government. Schools investment was particularly impacted with £170m+ in bids ended, effectively leaving schools with no money for needed works (e.g. energy efficiency, heating, new roofs, classrooms etc) for the rest of the decade at least.

The project hasn’t been without some local political stirring: statements made by some councillors that expanding the existing Kingsgate school (therefore not going for a Free School) on this site somehow ‘lost’ the council money from government which could otherwise (a) have been spent on social housing or protected existing employment space or (b) accelerated the building of the school in the first place are totally untrue and have been corrected several times.

Whitehall rules say once the ‘need’ for places is objectively verified it is the council, not the government, which must now pay for new schools – whether they are expansions or Free Schools. Independent legal advice backs this up. This is an illustration of the parlous state of school financing across London and the country – and the absurdity of Free School funding in Whitehall, which is often made available to articulate and well-organised parent groups elsewhere when ‘need’ has not been similarly demonstrated.

Can we fund this by planning gain money (‘s.106’) the council holds? No. Money tied up with planning consents have conditions attached and sadly can’t be used for general purposes. If they could, there would be competing demands across the borough for these funds, which don’t cover the project in any case.

Has the council steamed ahead regardless? No. We’ve been talking about this since 2010 at least, we’ve discussed options with many local people and the businesses impacted. We’ve conducted two business surveys and offered firms help in finding other premises and conducted a big public consultation. Mindful of the loss of existing employment space, we were keen to ensure that new business premises are retained in the development – although it is true they are likely to be of a different nature than the ones there now.

The Council initially estimated the number of jobs currently on site was between 80 to 100 jobs and then carried out an employment study in the area. The research included gathering information on the numbers of jobs at each business, which confirmed this. We do not have evidence to support the suggestions made that the site supports 250 jobs. Nevertheless we have written to businesses impacted to see if we can help them relocate.

Mindful of the impact on jobs we made sure the redevelopment proposal included new employment space, with the potential to create up to 100 jobs if used for managed workspace, in addition to the 40 new jobs at the new school buildings.

Could we have expanded the school somewhere else and not on Liddell Road? Suggestions by some objectors that we turn Kingsgate Community Centre or Kingsgate Studios into school sites are neither practical nor fair to the community or those who use or work in them. The workshops were sold by the Council on a long lease in 2005 and we will not close Kingsgate Community Centre. These properties would not provide sufficient or suitable space for conversion or redevelopment for an additional 60 pupil places per year, which is what the community needs.

Other sites in Council ownership in the area have been considered as possible sites for a new primary school. The site at 156 West End Lane is significantly smaller than Liddell Road (approximately 6,000 sq.m. compared to 10,500 sq.m.) and presents far greater challenges and risks. It was not considered to be an appropriate site for educational use and Liddell Road was adopted as the preferred site.

Camden’s Community Investment Programme is hampered in NW6 because the council is not a large landowner in the area, compared to other parts of the borough, so we have to work with the sites we have. With the West End Lane offices potentially providing a big uplift in social housing, these two schemes together will make a difference by providing a new primary school, new businesses and new social housing for local people.

Having talked about this and considered all the options for a long time, we have decided to move ahead to ensure that the new school is open as soon as possible (2016). Residents will get a further say during the actual planning process and as councillors we have asked council regeneration officers to work with displaced businesses to see what we can do. Given all the work undertaken and the financial constraints we are under from central government and planning, delaying the project further would add costs to the taxpayer but no new solutions; but – as anywhere else in the borough – we are of course open to any practical ideas people have to ensure the scheme is better than the one we propose.

Cllr Theo Blackwell

Related reading: Liddell Road – show your workings (Decmber 13th)

Liddell Road – how the night unfolded

There was a lively Twitter conversation during and after last night’s Camden cabinet meeting, at which the fate of Liddell Road was decided. If you weren’t following along, here’s the bulk of it – rearranged to make a bit more sense than the pure chronological output. It’s also a good record of the promises made by Camden to look into some of the issues in more detail.

Dramatis Personæ:
LiddellRoad – the campaign set up by traders
Richard Osley – deputy editor of the Camden New Journal
Phil Jones – Councillor (Labour) and cabinet member for sustainability
Theo Blackwell – Councillor (Labour) and cabinet member for finance
Keith Moffitt – Councillor (Lib Dem) for West Hampstead
Mike Katz – Councillor (Labour) for Kilburn
WHampstead – me!

Cllr Phil Jones

Camden steams ahead with Liddell Road plan even as job loss numbers queried

This evening, Camden Council’s cabinet met to discuss a wide range of topics. HS2 was by far the most high profile. But tucked away in the agenda – in fact so well hidden that you’d have to have inside knowledge to find it – were details about the “Liddell Road scheme”.

I’ll explain what this is in more detail in a moment, but there’s one thing to understand. In one extremely important regard, a number that Camden is using to help push its own proposal through is clearly wrong. According to some people, very wrong indeed. And this matters – not just for the people directly concerned, but for the mix of our local economy.

Let me take you back.

West Hampstead needs a new primary school. This is a different issue to the free school debate that’s going on at the moment, that’s for a secondary school. This is a primary age issue, and Camden is pushing hard for an extension to the successful Kingsgate School. When they say “extension”, we’re not talking about building a new science wing, we’re talking about an entire school-size building about a mile away from the existing one. The whys and wherefores of this don’t really matter at this moment, although some would argue that they are ideological rather than practical.

The preferred location for this extension is Liddell Road. Most people say “Where?”, but in fact Liddell Road is five minutes’ walk from West Hampstead’s stations, and is home to more than 25 businesses employing – traders there claim – 250 people. That’s a lot right?

Camden council, however, believes there are 80 jobs on the site. Even if the 250 is an exaggeration, the discrepancy is surely too big to write off as an administrative error.

Camden plans to pay for this new school by building flats next to the school and selling them on the open market. Someone told me yesterday that these would have no affordable housing units, but that seems implausible. Camden has also boasted that the site will offer employment space – office jobs for around 130 people.

done the maths?

By Camden’s reckoning, there’s a net gain of 50 jobs. By the traders’ reckoning there’s a net loss of 120 jobs. Quite a difference.

Nor are these like-for-like jobs. This is swapping light industrial jobs – skilled manual work – for office work. Yet, barely a stone’s throw from this site, agents struggled for two years to let modern office space, until they finally gave up and that site is being turned into flats. Camden also admits that it’s woefully short of light industrial space and is forcing the Iverson Tyres redevelopment to have a small light industrial unit. None of this really adds up, unless you accept that the council appears willing to go to any lengths to deliver the school.

Unsurprisingly, the local traders on Liddell Road aren’t happy. They are an eclectic bunch. I’d assumed it was most car repair outfits, and there are certainly some there. But there’s also a glassware company, an upholsterer, a Middle Easter art restorer, and other surprising businesses that I suspect most West Hampstead residents had no idea were on their doorstep.

No-one’s denying the need for the school places in this part of the borough. The traders are aware of this. They are being led by Branko Viric, who runs West Hampstead Motors. I met him, his brother, his Dad and various other employees when I went to see them this week [a side note and only anecdotal, but I saw at least 20 people working in Liddell Road and I only walked up to the end and back and only went into one unit]. West Hampstead Motors has been there 14 years, but most businesses have been on the site far longer.

What Branko is saying is that not enough thought has gone into alternative options. He has set out quite a few in an open letter to all Camden councillors. Most of them probably wouldn’t fly – expanding Kingsgate on its own site seems unlikely. One idea though has that ring of common sense about it.

Kingsgate Workshops, which sit next to the school, is a collective of artist studios. It’s very popular, it has lots of exhibitions that most of you never go to, and it’s been around a while. It’s also a perfect location for extending Kingsgate School. Largely because it’s next door.

Where would the studios go? Well, there’s space on… yes, you’ve guessed it, Liddell Road. The buildings on one side of the estate are subsiding and could do with being replaced – they’re also not all in use at the moment. It’s been impossible to let them with the prospect of redevelopment looming large. Could the Kingsgate Studios relocate to Liddell Road? It almost sounds too sensible.

It would leave Camden with a financial problem – it has to pay for a new school, and there’s no money from central government. But have they even looked into it? Has anyone done the sums? If they have, why haven’t we been told about it? There’s all that Section 106 money knocking around at the moment after all – would some of that help offset the cost? The point is less that this is a brilliant solution, and more that this is at least an alternative that makes some sense and yet we have no idea whether it’s ever beeen thought of. Would Kingsgate Studio artists like the idea? I’m sure some would find it very disruptive. But nowhere near as disruptive as losing their jobs and their livelihoods.

Local councillor Keith Moffitt was at the meeting earlier this evening and “urged” the cabinet to defer the decision as the report misrepresented both the job numbers and the consultation results. Cabinet member Phil Jones tweeted not long after, “Camden cabinet just agreed to rebuild one school in Somers Town and extend another in West Hampstead – without a penny of support from govt”, and later “officers stated that evidence supports council figures”. However, a tiny glimmer of hope flickers on the horizon as he also said in response to my question about the discrepancy in job numbers that “I agree that this issue needs to be clarified and work to now take place on that.”

The development has caused controversy for other reasons too; specifically the distance between the two schools, which won’t help parents with siblings at both sites (the sites will be divided by age group); and the fact that the school decision and the decision on the residential and commercial redevelopment that is funding it are being treated separately, even thought the former is entirely contingent on the latter making it inconceivable that the latter won’t get approved whatever objections may appear.

Branko and his colleagues on the site may yet get a chance to bolster their position. They should be applauded for not simply rolling over, even if they have left the PR campaign a little late, and for thinking about solutions that maximize the benefit to everyone and include the school.

Camden’s cabinet may have made its decision this evening, but there’s a sense that this is far from done and dusted. Do read Branko’s letter – also available below

Related reading:
Liddell Road – how the night unfolded, Decmber 5th, 2013
Kingsgate School expands… a mile away, September 22nd, 2013

Abbey Area regeneration stutters forward

Last week, Camden council voted on the latest set of plans for the Abbey Area regeneration (that’s the council development around the Abbey Road/Belsize Road junction. James King, who’ll be standing for the Lib Dems in that ward in next year’s local elections, went along and has reported back. There is also extensive documentation for this on Camden’s planning portal.

The ‘Abbey Area’ development was on the agenda of Camden Council’s planning committee. Not for the first time. Planning approval was first granted 18 months ago for the council’s own scheme to redevelop the buildings. Given that these ideas have been under discussion for six years, you might have thought the council would have worked up a well-thought out plan, commanding community support.

It didn’t turn out like that. Although the re-modelled scheme was voted through by a handful of councillors, others on the committee abstained, having exposed a number of weaknesses.

More of that later, but first of all, a brief overview of the development, which involves three phases:
Phase 1 – Demolition of the Belsize Road car park which also houses several businesses; construction of a 14-storey tower at the junction with private flats, a small supermarket space on the ground floor and an ‘energy centre’ in the basement. This will be attached to a six storey housing development with further private housing and new council properties. Shops and commercial office space will be provided on the ground floor.

This is what is now the car park
looking north-west along Abbey Road

Phase 2 – Construction of a health centre space at the base of Casterbridge tower and a new community centre at the base of Snowman tower . This new building will also include a covered courtyard connecting the two tower blocks.

Phase 3 – Demolition of the Emminster and Hinstock council housing blocks, the Abbey Community Centre, Belsize Priory Health Centre, shops and the Lillie Langtry pub. A new 6-7 storey housing block will be built around Belsize Road and Abbey Road, with shops opening out onto a ‘central urban realm space’. 15 ‘mews style’ houses will run alongside the back of Priory Terrace.

The application discussed at the meeting included detailed proposals for Phase 1 only, and sought fresh ‘outline’ permission for Phases 2 and 3. There are many question marks associated with the development, including the increased height of the tower building, the disappointingly low number of shared ownership flats, and uncertainty for tenants and businesses in the buildings earmarked for demolition. But the planning committee focused particularly on the loss of trees and open space.

Although the papers didn’t make this very clear, the development identified 44 trees for the chop. This looked like lazy design, and Lib Dem Cllr Flick Rea led the charge in forcing the council to concede that they will do further analysis and consultation before deciding whether to remove most of the trees.

Meanwhile, councillors of all parties were critical of the design of the new Phase 1 housing block, which eats up the green space in front of the car park. They were rightly unimpressed by the council’s attempt to argue that the redesigned junction (rebranded rather ludicrously as a ‘central character area’) would act as a new open space for young kids. It then emerged that the council is exploring a half-baked plan to remove the traffic lights from one of the busiest junctions in NW6!

The committee did eventually approve the scheme, but the meeting confirmed my view that this development scheme has lost its way. Although it started life as a regeneration initiative, there has been no real attempt to get buy-in from the shops and other traders on Belsize Road and Abbey Road who are affected. No local residents voiced support tonight, and the Kilburn ward councillors were absent from the meeting. Although £2.3m has been spent on various consultants, who organised blue skies workshops and produced glossy brochures, when it came to the planning consultation, nobody from the council bothered to organise a local meeting clearly setting out the plans on the table.

This is not the end of the road. The council has still to work up its detailed scheme for Phase 2 of the development, which is particularly contentious. And the construction phase of the project is likely to take five years or so. So lets hope that the local community is better involved in shaping the project from here on in.

The entire site today

Related articles
Take a look at Abbey Area plans (January 2013)
Abbey Area application passed by Camden (April 2012)
Abbey Area Development will go to City Hall (February 2012)

Fly-tipping crackdown, but what about the bins?

Whether it’s due to all the local twitter and website activity, or whether our councillors have managed to put the squeeze on Camden, we finally have some action from the council on the fly-tipping blight. But what about the problems being caused by the normal rubbish and recycling collection (or lack of it)?

Here’s what the council says about “Clean Camden”, its new campaign:

We’re taking a tough approach to those people who continue to litter, dump their waste or do not clear up after their dog.

We know that you find littering, dog fouling and fly-tipping disgusting and anti-social.

Through our Clean Camden campaign we want to change this bad behaviour through education and enforcement. We need you to help by being our eyes and ears and reporting issues to us so that we can crack down on these filthy enviro-crimes.

Ignoring the crime against language that is the phrase “filthy enviro-crimes”, lets think this through.

Some have already dismissed the scheme as Camden passing the buck onto residents, expecting us to be on constant alert for someone carrying a mattress down Mill Lane, or surreptitiously dumping bags of construction waste on Minster Road. Oddly enough, quite a lot of these activities seem to happen under cover of darkness – almost as if the perpetrators didn’t want to be seen? I know, right?

@camdentalking @WHampstead So basically you’re just asking for us to grass people up, which we’re already doing. You need to be proactive!
— Daniel W (@damawa42) November 4, 2013

It’s not unreasonable to ask for some cooperation from Joe Whamper; we understand the budget constraints (even if Labour’s political opponents argue the council has its priorities wrong) and enforcement teams can’t be everywhere.

However, realistically, catching the big offenders is going to take more targeted action. Is that more expensive? Yes. That’s why it has to be targeted. But we all know where the stuff is being dumped; and as dumping is illegal and comes with a fine, there’s even some way to recoup some of the cash – sort of how parking enforcement works.

The Camden Clean website continues:

Our education and enforcement team are patrolling at hotspot areas and will catch and fine those offenders who:

  • drop litter
  • don’t clear up their dog’s mess
  • dump rubbish on our streets

We are also getting tough on businesses who don’t pay to dispose of their business waste properly

I’m not clear what the education element is here – yes, maybe there are some people who don’t realise they shouldn’t put a mattress out in the street, but the biggest “fithy enviro-crimes” [shudder] are committed by people who surely know all too well what they’re doing. Less education, more enforcement please.

The fine for littering and for not clearing up after your dog is £80. The maximum fine for fly-tipping is a slightly staggering £50,000, though as I reported, Camden very rarely prosecutes.

If you do happen to see someone furtively leaving an armchair lying around or, as Camden puts it, “if you spot a place or person that is undermining our attempts to rid the borough of dog fouling, littering or fly-tipping”, then you can ring 020 7974 4444 (that’s the standard Camden contact number) or report them online.

Camden’s also going to be “calling on residents to take part in and organise clean up events.” I think many people will be telling Camden into which bin they can stick their clean-up events.

Business waste
Residents may not be aware that businesses have to make separate arrangements for waste collection – their business rates don’t cover this in the way that council tax does for domestic waste.

Instead they have to make their own arrangements (and pay for them) with registered waste collection companies.They must also “stop waste escaping from [their] control, by storing it safely and securely.” There have certainly been examples of waste around West Hampstead that is clearly business waste – either from construction projects or restaurants. The latter should be reasonably easy to identify (and they are unlikely to dump it outside their own premises).

Larger items that do not form part of business’s day-to-day waste can be collected by the council for a charge.

But what about Veolia?
While the Clean Camden campaign is a small step in the right direction for countering littering and fly-tipping, there is another problem. At least in this part of the borough, the rubbish and recycling collection is far from perfect and this is creating problems too. When the bin men don’t collect the rubbish and bins or bags are left on the street, it’s both unsightly and unhygenic, but also gives the impression that this is acceptable behaviour.

@camdentalking, is this the way our streets should look after rubbish collection? pic.twitter.com/jp6y5KP38p
— Nicole Dunn (@_nicoledunn_) November 6, 2013

@camdentalking rubbish pile up on Hemstal Rd NW6. Been here for 3days & ignored by bin men this am!!!! #whamp pic.twitter.com/g2A0C4pnq7
— TAGC_85 (@TAGC_85) November 4, 2013

Sick of the bloody bin men they make more mess all this council tax for nothing @camdentalking @WHampstead pic.twitter.com/EUFC4uz48W
— Mr Blue™ (@allyrangers) November 3, 2013

Solving the area’s rubbish problem needs both action on the fly-tipping and action on Veolia (the contractor) to improve performance. I can imagine this is happening behind the scenes, but I think locals would like to hear a bit more about that – including what sort of penalties Camden can impose on Veolia if it misses targets (surely it has targets?).

Here’s what Camden cabinet member Phil Jones said about Veolia in response to queries by WHAT:

The introduction of the wheelie bins combined with changed collection days and new recycling arrangements (co-mingled recycling) impacted negatively on the service. Complaints rose significantly, as anticipated, in line with experience in other boroughs, as the Veolia staff didn’t know the rounds and were dealing with a new system. This should now have settled down. I can tell you that we are on track to make our anticipated financial savings and are already seeing increased levels of recycling.

Aside from the fact that it really shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks to get familiar with new rounds, this doesn’t address the problems that locals are reporting every week about missed collections, or simply missed bins.

@WHampstead doesn’t explain why my recycling bin has only been emptied three times in the last six weeks though #sloppy
— Richard Milestone (@richardmileston) November 2, 2013

Worryingly, fly-tipping actually includes putting out a bag of rubbish when it’s not a refuse collection day. So, if you put your bin out and it’s not collected and you’re away, you may find yourself accused of fly-tipping!

To find out more about Camden’s new crack-down, come to the Area Action Group meeting next Wednesday when one of the street environment officers will be explaning more – and probably copping some flak.

Rubbish problems blamed on budget cuts

We’ve discussed the rubbish problems recently; here’s what Cllr Phil Jones, Camden cabinet member for the environment, wrote in response to WHAT‘s recent enquiries about the problems both with recycling and fly-tipping. He cited three issues and mentioned a new initiative starting next week to help tackle the fly-tipping:

The introduction of the wheelie bins combined with changed collection days and new recycling arrangements (co-mingled recycling) impacted negatively on the service. Complaints rose significantly, as anticipated, in line with experience in other boroughs, as the Veolia staff didn’t know the rounds and were dealing with a new system. This should now have settled down. I can tell you that we are on track to make our anticipated financial savings and are already seeing increased levels of recycling.

Street cleansing budgets were cut 40% due to the £83.5 million of cuts targeted at Camden by the coalition government (far higher than richer, rural areas). This means streets are swept less often that they used to be. Additional money for street cleansing must be taken from other services. The council is now expecting £70 million of additional cuts to be found over four years from 2014/15 due to further extra cuts targeted at Camden by the coalition government (again far higher than richer, rural areas). The extra cuts will be front loaded and will have a big impact on services from 2014 onwards.

Street environment services staffing has been revamped in the last few months. The objectives included a) creation of a new education and enforcement team, b) increasing the skill levels of staff, c) improving contract management of Veolia. This meant that some staff were made redundant, others were demotivated for a period, and new staff had to get used to their roles. This process also had a negative impact on the services provided but is also now nearing completion. Officers should be responsive to problems and respond when issues are identified.

We are launching a new ‘Clean Camden’ enforcement campaign on 6 November. This will target fly tipping, dog fouling, littering etc. Officers will be targeting hotspots to fine people caught doing any of these environmental crimes. It will not stop these problems from occurring, so it is important to be realistic. It should highlight the unacceptability of such actions and send a warning to those who flout the law. We also need to gain more evidence on who is committing these crimes so people will be encouraged to send information to the council.

This last point is encouraging for people who are sick of their streets being strewn with debris. I think it’s easy to understand that budget cuts will have an impact on all manner of services, but when there are already laws in place that are meant to prevent some of the resulting problems, it seems strange that it takes a special initiative to enact them.

Camden says no to school on Fortune Green

The lack of a convincing transport plan meant that Camden threw out the proposals to turn the empty ground floor units of Alfred Court into a branch of Abercorn private school (that’s the modern block of flats that looks over the park).

Abercorn School in Alfred Court

Camden cited five reasons for refusal, of which four are related to the transport issues that had local residents understandably up in arms, and which you can read much more about here.

1) The proposed private school, by reason of its catchment, reliance on private transport, unsatisfactory arrangements for on-site servicing and parking for the proposed use, would result in an unsustainable development, detrimental to the operation of the site and contributing to congestion in the local area and highway safety impacts on and near to the site.

2) The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement requiring a management plan for the school, would be likely to result in unacceptable impact on the site and local area

3) The proposed development, in the absence of a Workplace and Student Travel Plan, would be likely to give rise to significantly increased car-borne trips and would result in a unsustainable form of development

4) The proposed development, in the absence of a legal agreement to secure a delivery and servicing management plan, would be likely to contribute unacceptably to traffic disruption, and would be detrimental to the amenities of the area generally

5) The proposal, in the absence of a legal agreement securing contributions towards Camden’s Pedestrian, Environmental and Safety improvement initiative would fail to undertake external works outside the application site, and would fail to secure adequate provision for the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles

Abercorn School could appeal of course, but even back in August it seemed as if this location was a hedge rather than the preferred strategy.

Local residents will be pleased. Bafflingly, the local Conservatives are trying to take some credit for the council throwing the idea out despite a extremely high number of comments from individual residents and collectively from the residents of the block itself.

West Hampstead’s rubbish

Over the past few months, rubbish has been the overriding issue in West Hampstead. First, there were teething problems with Camden’s new recycling and rubbish collection system.

@camdentalking just watched your bin lorry ignore some rubbish! Picked up some bags but not rest. No wonder @WHampstead reports bin problems
— Daniel W (@damawa42) August 27, 2013

Some problems remain with this, but the situation does seem to have improved. Not that everyone likes the new arrangement:

1 photo; 3 houses; 9 recycling bins – 5 in one garden! Unsightly. Glad I stuck with the boxes and bags. #WHampRubbish pic.twitter.com/8fbyZ1h2QP
— Steve (@SteveWHamp) August 2, 2013

The problem now – and what a problem – is fly-tipping. Camden has signs around the area threatening prosecution, but those seem to be idle threats and the problem’s getting worse.

Here’s what Minster Road’s recycling area is supposed to look like (taken 11am October 8th)

Photo via Richard Olszewski

Here’s what it’s looked like recently

Photo via Richard Olszewski

Photo via @mgscott

Photo via Richard Olszewski

This sort of “industrial-scale” waste is completely unacceptable. This looks like house clearance and builders’ waste material that they should be paying to have taken away, or drive to their nearest dump.

One might argue that at least this waste is being left by a recycling centre, and therefore it’s more likely that Camden will come along and collect it. There’s no such provision on Blackburn Road, however:

Photo via Bernadette Dear

Netherwood Street in Kilburn also suffers from business waste problems – this is nothing new, the day Kilburn flooded last summer, I took this photo on Netherwood Street.

Here’s a more recent picture:

Photo via Mr Wolf

Lib Dem council candidate James King has recently blogged about the problems in Kilburn ward. There’s one crucial paragraph:

Yet when a resident asked how many fines or prosecutions have been taken forward by Camden Council under the Environment Protection Act 1990 (as featured in the sorry ‘No Dumping’ sign), in Kilburn ward over the last few years, he was told ZERO.

One of the knock-on effects of the large-scale fly-tipping is that people… locals… start to think it’s acceptable to leave single items outside.

@Richard4FG @EugeneRegis @WHampstead yeah, leave it there, the council(-taxpayer) will dump it for you sir. Frognal pic.twitter.com/HVsppSmyV4
— John Mennis (@JfmJm) September 10, 2013

just dump it there – the council taxpayer @camdentalking will take it away. Saves you the bother #whampflytipping pic.twitter.com/UiUenGhEch
— John Mennis (@JfmJm) September 22, 2013

Very public convenience, Maygrove Road #westhampstead pic.twitter.com/n6TzDucRvQ
— Patrick (@rosanowski) October 10, 2013

The Guardian recently published an article and accompanying map of fly-tipping at the council level. Camden fared fairly badly placing 11th on the list of total incidents per 1,000 people, and 12th on the overall total (Newham and Southwark fare much worse). More interesting than the map is the data on actions taken. Nationwide, only 0.5% of incidents result in prosecutions, despite the fact that the success rate of those prosecutions is 99%.

Flick Rea, Fortune Green councillor, has written about the problem too. She concludes:

There are probably no easy answers – maybe the refuse people don’t care or they’re trying to do too much in too short a time, maybe they aren’t properly supervised either by their own bosses or by officers in Camden who are supposed to monitor the contract. Also it seems lots of people just don’t care where they leave their rubbish – smelly old mattresses, broken chairs etc. Whatever the reasons – our streets are definitely a mess!

There is though, she suggests, a light at the end of the rubbish-strewn tunnel:

Camden’s Street Environment Services have been re-organised, recruited new staff and hope that when they are all in place, things will improve and our streets will get to look a bit cleaner.

Lets hope so. Like all councils, Camden is strapped for cash at the moment, and street cleaning/refuse collections are often in the firing line for cuts. We should be thankful that we haven’t been reduced to fortnightly collections. Nevertheless, when there are so many flagrant fly-tipping abuses, it seems that a concerted effort to prosecute would help clear up the problem (and pay for itself in fines).

Meanwhile, if it’s all getting too much for you – never fear, Boris is here. The golden-haired mayor recently helpfully suggested we should all pitch in.

Problems with litter in your area? Try our free @CapitalCleanup kits http://t.co/rtknB6CARD @TeamLDN @projectdirt @GroundworkLON @McDonalds
— Boris Johnson (@MayorofLondon) September 27, 2013

I’m all for a bit of community involvement in clearing up after ourselves, but I don’t think I can lug 20 bags of building material off to the tip thanks all the same Boris.

A bike ride around Camden’s borders

Cycling correspondent @Cycle_Whamp clipped in his shoes and checked out a Camden SkyRide. Do with comments or suggestions for bike-related articles.

Since 2009, Sky has been active in sponsoring British cycling. This culminated with Bradley Wiggins’ and Chris Froome’s back-to-back victories in the Tour de France. Yet, professional cycling is a world away from cycling as a mode of transport here in Sky’s home country.

As part of its marketing strategy, Sky therefore took over sponsorship of the old London Freewheel, a mass participation event in central London, and SkyRides was born. Then the Olympics happened with a subsequent mini cycling boom, which resulted in Ride London.

The popularity and practicality of SkyRides means that they have metamorphosed from one central London event into a series of local rides. Last Sunday, I went on a ride around the borders of the borough of Camden. There were about 10 of us, and three Team Leaders. There was also organised first aid and, with a small group, the leaders rode at the front and back of the group.

It was more a gentle spin than a stage of the Tour, and open to anyone who signed up. The aim was to show that everyone can do it, and that cycling is not about lycra and carbon fibre bikes.

We met up at Kenwood House before riding into Highgate and descending through Dartmouth Park to Kings Cross, Clerkenwell, Covent Garden, Tottenham Court Road and Regents Park. We stopped here for a break before returning via St John’s Wood, Maida Vale, Kilburn, West Hampstead – of course – and a climb back to Hampstead Heath. It total we covered about 18 miles in about 3.5 hours with a break.

For me, the highlight was Kings Cross, an area changing rapidly at the moment and seemingly rising up. Talking to the other riders, the most challenging parts of the ride were Covent Garden (pedestrians) and the Kilburn High Road. The High Road is not designed for cyclists and for such a busy road, it is very narrow.

All-in-all, it was a pretty enjoyable event. With autumn already upon us, the season for SkyRides is over but more are planned for next year. I will definitely be going on more local rides, and hopefully more whampers can come along too. After all, the more people take up cycling, the more pressure there is on councils to invest in better cycling infrastructure.

If you would like to find a ride near you, register at www.goskyride.com. Click here for a map of the route, and look at the profile below!

NW6 School campaign: Camden vs. parents

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

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

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

The campaigners

Dr Clare Craig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This site would be ideal because it:

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

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

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

* * *

Camden council

Cllr. Angela Mason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could Solent Road generate more parking fines?

Camden generates the third biggest surplus from parking fines in the country, according to a report from the RAC. But should one street in West Hampstead actually be generating more revenue for Camden?

According to the RAC, Camden’s surplus is £25 million (a shadow of Westminster’s £41.6 million). Camden’s own annual parking report from September 2012 gives a surplus figure of £24.3 million. Despite falling revenues from parking fines, expenditure has dropped even more dramatically as the borough has “continued the drive to implement efficiencies”, thus the surplus has grown substantially.

Source: Camden’s 2012 annual parking report

Source: Camden’s 2012 annual parking report

The surplus has to be reinvested in transport (this is a legal requirement), and just over 50% of Camden’s surplus went into discounted travel for older and disabled people last year – entirely funding the borough’s contribution to these London-wide schemes. The money can also be spent on “off-street parking” and “transport planning costs”, but neither category has received any money from the surplus in the past three years.

Source: Camden’s 2012 annual parking report

It’s clear then that it’s in councils’ interest to maximise the surplus to help fund other transport services. Motorists would no doubt wish this to be done entirely by reducing costs rather than increasing fines. However, all residents would surely expect that, as Camden’s finance chief Theo Blackwell put it, “The parking system must be based on fairness.” Interesting then to consider the case of Solent Road.

Yesterday, there was a Twitter debate about the taxi cabs, allegedly from Direct Car Services on Mill Lane, which park on Solent while they wait for jobs.

Solent Road (photo via @mustardcoleman1)

Local tweeter Nicky Coleman wrote “More cab drivers stopping residents parking on Solent Rd. Every day is the same. They block the crossroads on Solent/Glenbrook so you can’t cross. It’s a nightmare when I’m crossing with the buggy.”

Fellow local resident Jen added, “They block the double yellow lines too, making it hard to see when you’re turning out of Solent Rd.”

Another tweeter suggested that the taxis had the same right to park there as anyone else, but the problem is that this is residents parking as you can see clearly in the photo above, and their behaviour suggests that these cars do not have permits. Nicky Coleman again, “They all park up and sit in one cab chatting, and run when and if a warden shows up.”

They scarper only if a warden shows up on foot, it would seem. This morning, still on the crusade, Nicky tweeted “Traffic warden on a moped drove down Solent Road past four cabs parked up.”

It’s not unheard of for traffic wardens to be susceptible to bribes, as happened in Westminster last year. One would hope that Camden’s parking enforcement contractor has suitably stringent measures to make sure that couldn’t happen here.

Obviously, if the cars drive off when a warden shows up then it’s hard for Camden to enforce the parking restrictions although CCTV enforcement is used in some parts of the borough. There is certainly no evidence I can find that taxis are exempt from parking restrictions, with the exception of physically dropping off and picking up passengers. You can read Camden’s parking enforcement rules here [pdf].

There is also such a thing as “Dispensation to Wait”, aimed at tradespeople and that allows them to park in permit bays or on single yellow lines where restrictions allow. This costs £30 a day.

It’s worth pointing out that Camden is moving to electronic permits, so cars can be legally parked without any displayed permit in the windscreen. Be careful therefore of jumping to conclusions. Nevertheless, it would be good to get reassurance that traffic wardens, or enforcement officers as they’re now called, are actively checking minicabs when they come across them parked in permit bays, and enforcing the rule that parking on double yellow lines is never permitted.

Perhaps a tiny sliver of that £25 million surplus could go back into making sure that everyone who parks illegally pays the appropriate fine. The upshot might be an even larger surplus to spend on improving transport locally next year.

Direct Car Services has yet to respond to my request for comment.

Growth area plans: Clear guidelines or muddy waters?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth and uses

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

Street environment

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

Public open space

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

Design

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

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

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

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

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

Previously, on Camden Council

Camden is one of the more progressive councils when it comes to transparency, with webcasts of council chamber meetings and a tolerant attitude to visitors in the gallery taking photos or filming on their phones.

However, even Camden has some way to go when it comes to capturing viewers’ imagination. It needs to look at Whitehorse in the Yukon. The territorial capital has just 10% of Camden’s population (though covers an area 20 times larger) but has a trailer for its council meetings that’s (almost) worthy of The Wire.

Mayor of Camden, or a still from the Sopranos?

Russell jumps; Mike is pushed

We’re still a year out from the local elections, but the parties are starting to get their line-ups in order and there are a few changes in the offing. Some forced, some voluntary.

Russell Eagling has been one of the three ward councillors for Fortune Green since 2006. But, next year – after eight years as a Camden councillor – he will not stand again. “I have no guaranteed evenings to myself”, he told me. It’s the great challenge of councillor life – these people work hard and the younger ones like Russell, who was 29 when he was first elected, also have jobs.

Russell Eagling with fellow councillor Flick Rea at Gondar Gardens

Russell has been the whip of the Lib Dem group in Camden, which is more of an administrative role than a traditional parliamentary whip. He freely admits that rather than having a pet cause he’s interested in whatever the topic of the day is.

Russell is the partner of Ed Fordham, who stood as the Lib Dem candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn in 2010. However, both Russell and Ed stood for council seats in 2006 – Russell in Fortune Green and Ed in Hampstead Town. Russell won and Ed didn’t, which was always going to be awkward. With Ed failing to secure the seat in Westminster in 2010, Russell’s decision for 2014, also means that any residual awkwardness should come to an end.

I asked Russell what he has been most proud of during his time as a councillor. “The UCL academy [in Swiss Cottage] was the biggest thing,” he says. “It was a 2006 election manifesto commitment but people thought we weren’t serious. We had to fight hard and lots of barriers were thrown up so the admin side became very important.” Richard Osley’s article about the opening of the school sheds more light on the challenges.

What won’t he miss once he steps down? “Intractable casework,” is the prompt answer. “People sometimes come to councillors with terrible problems and you simply can’t pull the levers that would help them.”

Russell’s fellow Fortune Green councillors, Flick Rea and Nancy Jirira, are expected to stand again next year. Russell’s replacement on the Lib Dem list is likely to be decided next week when the party chooses its replacement parliamentary candidate in the wake of the Emily Frith debacle.

Russell jumped but Mike Katz was most definitely pushed.

Mike was elected as a Labour councillor for Kilburn ward in 2010 after previous election defeats in both council and general elections. His motivation, he says, “was a mix of wanting to give something back and helping make the world a better place (albeit in a small and local way).”

This year, he has already suffered the disappointment of being passed over as Labour’s parliamentary candidate when the party decided to enforce an all-women shortlist. Never mind, he must have thought, I’m still a councillor with a good chance of being re-elected next year. But strange things were afoot. Russell and Ed aren’t the only couple in local politics. Once again, Richard Osley has the inside track:

“There had been talk earlier in the year that Thomas Gardiner, often appearing restless to colleagues about the Labour group’s direction and progress, and his wife Maryam Eslamdoust, the councillor who irritated the leadership with comments about racial divisions at Camden Town Hall, might be open to an ambush. “Well, that was all in their f***ing minds”, was the blunt assessment of that idea today from one frustrated member.

The annoyance is because after the internal vote last night, Thomas and Maryam (also pictured) were re-selected and Mike, cast as a New Labour eagle in a nest of lefty voices, lost his place on the slate. Either the plan to bump them off had never existed or it had been warded off in the weeks running up to the vote.”

Mike maintained a dignified silence on the topic the next day on Twitter, but it’s hard to imagine that he wasn’t (and probably still is) seething.

Some of the comments following Richard’s article focus heavily on the politics of the matter and it’s left to Conservative councillor Chris Knight to point out that he’d “always found Mike to a decent bloke to work with”. But surely it’s the constituents who really matter?

Local resident Matt tweeted “Seemingly you get shafted if you put your constituents before party machine”, while Adrian wrote “Political shenanigans .. no sign of a meritocracy”. In my experience, Mike had always been very responsive to constituents’ concerns but it appears that popularity has nothing to do with it.

He responds robustly to the accusation that his parliamentary ambitions implied he wasn’t interested in his ward constituents:

“I’ve never been reticent about saying I want to stand as a councillor, or as an MP, because I think it’s better to be upfront with people and also I don’t think it’s something to be ashamed of! I don’t think it means I’m not committed to Camden – I only got elected to the council at my fourth attempt. If I was a fly-by-night, or didn’t care about my local area, I would have drifted off elsewhere long before 2010!”

Like Russell, Mike’s expresses pride over larger campaigns that he fought in – especially saving the Netherwood Day Centre, which was an early candidate for closure once the public spending cuts were implemented. He says, though, that he gets just as much satisfaction from smaller casework like helping local pensioners group KOVE get a bench on the Kilburn High Road. 

I asked both councillors what their one piece of advice would be for new councillors. Russell says “perservere”, which i think says a lot about the job of councillor. Mike says “never be afraid to ask”, which is good advice generally in life.

Mike’s replacement on the ballot sheet will be Douglas Beattie. Meanwhile, perhaps Mike’s wife Penny – herself a Labour activist – might want to think about running for office instead. Political couples seem to be all the rage around here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in it together

It, in this case, is your blue bag, green box or green wheelie bin (very soon). Yes, it’s recycling news. Or perhaps that should be news about recycling!

New bins, new collection days and new recycling rules – it’s all change for West Hampstead’s eco-warriors as of the start of next week. You should have received a flyer through your door about this. What it doesn’t tell you – but I do below – is where it all ends up.

The old system of green box for mixed recyclables, a brown box for food waste and a blue bag for paper and card has come to an end (although in some streets it would appear it’s never been operational).

@WHampstead NEVER seen a blue bag on @MillLaneNW6— Daniel W (@damawa42) June 29, 2013

Over the next couple of weeks, Camden will be delivering green wheelie bins of various sizes to those of you who requested one from the form sent out earlier this year. You no longer need to separate paper & card from all the other recycling. Only food and garden waste will continue to be processed separately, everything else can be lumped together. Easy. All the details of the changes are here.

click for large version of what you can/can’t recycle now

It’s all been a bit of a headache for the council, however, as people pointed out that there simply wasn’t room outside their properties for another set of bins. Not everyone can be as parsimonious with their waste as local Carol Thomas, who was in the Ham & High this week claiming she only threw away a margarine tub’s worth of rubbish a week.

If we could all replicate Carol then we wouldn’t need the dustbins, but that’s not realistic for most people so instead we’ll have to manage with more containers. Camden has recognised this and will collect recycling from any of your existing bags and boxes if you don’t want a bin. Across the borough, only 8.7% of households chose not to receive a bin. Refuse collectors (or “bin men” if you’re me) won’t take away recycling boxes when they deliver the bins, but wheelie bins and/or boxes can be removed over the following weeks – just contact Camden to request this.

Next year, the council will be aligning recycling and street cleaning so that streets will be  cleaned in the 24 hours followed recycling and waste collection.

But where does it all go?
If you’re interested in where all your recycling ends up then I can tell you: Bywaters‘ enormous 9.2 acre recycling plant in the Lea Valley in east London. I went for a tour a few months ago – anyone can join these tours, just contact ku.vo1511568155g.ned1511568155mac@n1511568155edmac1511568155neerg1511568155.

I recommend it if you’re interested. The tour is noisy and dirty, but Bywaters’ guide was happy to answer any questions, and was upfront about the conditions their workers have to deal with and their low pay, as well as what happens to the bundles of sorted material. What I found interesting was how volatile the global market for recycled material is – one week they can be shipping material to China, the next week to Amsterdam depending on the price.

West Hampstead at the back of the WiFi queue

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

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

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

Reaction on Twitter was mixed:

The future of the Kilburn High Road

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

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

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

Cllr Katz’s view as the meeting fills up

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

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

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

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

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

The floor was handed over to the audience who.

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

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

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

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

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

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

KHR: Two councils, one street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profile: Flick Rea “It’s payback time”

In our occasional series of profiles of notable locals, Moya “Scoop” Sarner spoke to Fortune Green ward councillor Flick Rea.

“Flick Rea’s home is a testament to her passions, from the theatre posters on her wall, to the ‘I heart Kilburn’ bag hanging off her kitchen chair. And, of course, Mr Monster, her cat who has his own Facebook fan page (although at the last count, he only had four likes, and one of them was mine).

Flick Rea & Mr Monster

She’s one of West Hampstead’s most recognisable faces, not only because of her standing in local politics (a councillor for Fortune Green, she was first elected in 1986), but because she’s lived here for 43 years and she knows it better than anyone.

“There’s something unusual about West Hampstead,” she says. “It’s in the air, it’s on the water, it’s in our bones – it isn’t like anywhere else. It’s much friendlier than anywhere else in London, and it’s always been a harmonious place to live. Although some neighbours might not get on, we don’t have large pockets of people who can’t stand other parts of the community. And although there are a few people who will hang on tight to the past and fight against new flats or shops, most of the changes in this area I appreciate enormously.”

She has certainly seen a lot of changes. “The place is cleaner, tidier, greener. When I first lived here, it was bedsit land, but now a lot of the cheap housing towards the north end has been turned into beautiful family houses. Iverson Road is transforming as you look at it. They’re all smartening themselves up with new gates, you can see how the area has changed just by counting the burglar alarms.”

Flick first became involved in politics nearly 40 years ago, while she was trying to cross the Finchley Road. “It all started when I was standing in the middle of the road, screaming at the traffic because I couldn’t get across to collect my kids from school – they were down at Holy Trinity opposite Waitrose. I was shouting at all these cars when a frightfully nice woman came up to me, and said ‘Oh I know how you feel, isn’t it dreadful, all these cars? I think we should do something.'”

The next thing she knew, Flick was on a protest. Without permission from the police, a group of them walked, placards and children in hand, round and round West End Green, crossing Mill Lane and West End Lane in a circle, blocking the rush hour traffic.

Soon after, she became a founding member and secretary of the local campaigning group WHAT – West Hampstead Amenity & Transport. Traffic protests and newsletters led to delivering leaflets and addressing envelopes for the Liberals, and, eventually, Flick was elected as a local councillor for the Liberal Democrats in 1986. She also created Spotlight, the local party’s “attempt at a newsletter”, as she calls it, which is still going strong. It was her husband, Charles Rea, who drew the recognisable cartoon logo of an old-fashioned theatre spotlight, a reference to their acting careers.

Flick’s was cut short by the birth of her two children, now with families of their own, but it’s easy to spot her RADA training when she’s in command a council meeting or giving a reading at a local event – or, indeed, being charming and funny in interviews.

Charles was “a very good actor and a lovely man,” Flick says. He died 20 years ago, and his memory sings out from the posters on Flick’s wall advertising his plays as well as from her anecdotes. As for the other cartoons he drew for the newsletter, they don’t get much of a look-in these days, as Flick explains: “I used to use two cartoons to illustrate news stories – a little lady with a shopping basket and a headscarf, and a man with a cloth cap and a stick. But Keith [Moffitt, Lib Dem councillor for West Hampstead] said people in West Hampstead don’t look like that any more, and now I’m only allowed to use them about once an election if I want to represent pensioners. It’s a great concession to me,” she concludes, dryly. An apt illustration, if you’ll excuse the pun, of how NW6’s demography has changed.

When I ask why she’s still involved in politics, her answer is disarmingly honest: “It’s certainly not for the money! What I absolutely love is the entitlement to poke my nose into all sorts of places. Somebody once said ‘Flick Rea would come and inspect my toilet if I let her!’ I like hearing what’s going on, being early with the news, and I really, really care about where I live. I love West Hampstead and I want to make it better. And, I hate to say this because it sounds goody-goody, and I’m not, but, it’s payback time. I’ve had a very privileged and lucky life, not exactly free from financial stress but I’ve never had to endure some of the things that other people have to put up with. If I can do something to help others, this is a good way of doing it.”

If this does sound a bit goody two-shoes, Flick’s wry demeanour returns upon mention of fellow actress-turned-local political figure Glenda Jackson. “She was the year above me at RADA. Our paths have relatively rarely crossed then or since” Enough said.

Could she ever leave? “In a box. I never want to leave West Hampstead. I’ve sorted my house out so that I can live on the ground floor when stairs become a problem. When we first moved here, into a bedsit on Fawley Road, I went to the shops on West End Lane and I remember walking back with a bunch of daffodils and thinking ‘This is just the best place.’ And so it is.”

Money for the community: where should it go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frothy coffee on Fortune Green?

I wasn’t able to make it to last week’s “listening sessions” initiated by Camden to try to increase use of Kilburn Grange Park. However, I gather that one idea that came out of at least one session was that of some form or café. It seems these days we can’t go anywhere unless there’s a double macchiato within 100 yards.

Coincidence then, or part of a concerted strategy, that the council has launched a consultation on “small, attractive mobile catering units to offer quality refreshments from a designated pitch in twelve of Camden’s parks and open spaces.” Interestingly, it specifies that it may approach commerical or social enterprises to run these.

Kilburn Grange, Fortune Green and Maygrove Peace Park are among the 12. Assuming the development of Handrail House goes ahead, Sidings Community Centre, which fronts onto the Peace Park should be getting a revamped café anyway. Two refreshment opportunities in one small park may be overkill.

What do you think? Would you use such a café year-round or only in the summer? Does Fortune Green need a café given there are a couple close by? Would it increase littering?

The consultation is here:
https://consultations.wearecamden.org/culture-environment/mobile-catering-concessions-in-parks/consultation/intro/view

20 mph limit: have your say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burst pipes, broken communication?

Burst water pipes. They happen. It’s annoying. You might lose water for the day, which – depending on your needs – is either slightly or extremely inconvenient but it’s a day, and you’ll cope.

If the water pipe is under a main road then that road will probably have to be closed and dug up and naturally that adds to the inconvenience. These are day-to-day occurrences for the public and privatised bodies that deal with our utilities. It’s easy to see that for them it’s just another job number. But they must also surely recognise that for the residents involved this is a fairly unusual and disruptive state of affairs. It is not too much to expect, therefore, for them to do everything they reasonably can to minimise that inconvenience. Overall I think we can say that in this latest incident on West End Lane, this has not happened.

Aside from the large pipe that burst, this past week has seen a spate of other burst pipes in the area. It looks like we’re in for some lengthy upgrade works, which means more disruption. Again, this happens. Stuff breaks and has to be fixed. You don’t get the Victorian architecture without some Victorian infrastructure that needs repairing.

Newly painted road markings (via @RentalFlatsNW6)

The good news is that this latest batch of burst pipes should bump us a few places up the priority list for upgrade. The bad news is that although the original stretch of West End Lane should reopen today, the leak at Cleve Road is more complicated than it looks and this section of West End Lane may also need to be closed for a few days. Perhaps if that happens then we can learn the lessons from this past week’s somewhat farcical situation.

First, it’s still not clear why there was a gap of several hours last week between Thames Water turning up to examine the West End Lane leak and Camden closing the road so they could start work on it. On Twitter, Camden told me they were looking into this but I’m yet to hear any answers.

Second, although Thames Water repaired the leak reasonably quickly, fixing the road has taken an inordinate amount of time. I realise that they have to prioritise – which is why some leaks gets fixed immediately and others, which don’t cause loss of water supply or that risk damaging property, can take weeks. However, a busy main road that is on three bus routes is surely something of a priority? We were told on Wednesday that the road would be closed until Saturday, and that Camden then hoped to continue its own road resurfacing. Two days to fix a hole in the road – even a large hole – seemed reasonable. Problem was that not a lot happened on Friday. Then there was some activity on Saturday. But not a lot on Sunday. Today, Monday, it looks like it’s going to finally be fixed and reopen. But why did nothing happen on Friday and Sunday?

Do the budget cuts at Camden mean there’s no-one left to chase Thames Water? Do such things just fall through the cracks. Is there too much trust placed on the utility by the council? It’s true that Camden insisted that Thames make good the whole section of road in order to maintain the integrity of the road surface, which added time. But there was so much downtime on this job – or at least appeared to be – that they could have probably done the rest of the West End Lane while they were at it.

In the age of Twitter and the demand for greater transparency and information, these bodies need to up their game. Camden, Thames Water, and me(!) were being asked all day what was happening. Thames, which I think is generally ahead of the game in terms of using Twitter, was not hugely responsive; Camden presumably didn’t know – or at least the people manning the Twitter feed were too far removed from the people who knew the answers. I just felt like starting a “Is West End Lane open yet” websites that just showed a big “NO”.

What SHOULD happen is that people go to Thames Water’s neat interactive map that lets you check the status of reported leaks. Yet this simply isn’t up-to-date enough. People expect real-time information in 2013, and surely it’s not a major IT task to have status data uploaded from the senior person on-site into the database that underpins the map? Yet, if that’s supposed to happen, it does not. Right now the map says “We’re aware of a leak on West End Lane” – that’s the one they’ve already fixed. The Cleve Road leak doesn’t even get a mention.

Third, TfL dropped the ball. On Friday I bumped into a heavily pregnant woman on West End Lane at the corner with Broadhurst Gardens. She asked if I knew what bus to get to Kilburn. I had to tell her that her best option – short of a taxi – was to walk down Sherriff Road. TfL, generally fairly on the ball with dealing with closures, was saying on its bus countdown app that the buses were all running fine despite the fact that the road was impassable and all three buses – the 139, 328 and C11 – were on diversion. The full website has all the details, but surely there should be a trigger that can ensure the right information comes to our smartphones?

Sure, West Hampstead isn’t Oxford Street. Sure, residents had their water supply turned back on reasonably quickly. And sure, none of this stuff is the end of the world. But the knock-on effects are frustrating to say the least. This main leak has now taken six days to fix, and means another weekend of disruption as Camden will have to come back and do the original resurfacing work it had to cancel for this past weekend.

Everyone concerned can do better.

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

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

Photo via @Veena_ju

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

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

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

Lymington Road in 2002 (Photo: Steve Berryman)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Councillors’ concerns over Inglewood Road site

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT focuses on transport

Dennington Park Road is the place to be on January 30th. One one side of the road, the Conservatives are holding their US-style primary to determine who will be their candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn in the next general election. On the other, in the library, those good burghers of West Hampstead, WHAT (West Hampstead Amenities and Transport, for those of you who didn’t pay attention in class last term) are holding their AGM followed by a public meeting about transport. Who said West Hampstead wasn’t edgy?

There are a few transport updates to share with you, based on WHAT’s meeting with Camden late last year. There were four points on the agenda for that meeting:

  • The traffic lights at the Finchley Road/Fortune Green Road junction had been installed without consultation and have apparently made the junction even more dangerous as they confuse drivers. TfL has promised to “take action”.
  • The lights at the junction of Broadhurst Gardens and West End Lane are also deemed dangerous for pedestrians (As a regular user of these, the only danger I see is from the cars and cyclists who deliberately jump the lights). Camden is apparently going to install extra lights here. I’m not entirely sure how many more traffic lights that stretch of West End Lane needs?
  • The lack of a lift at the Overground station, despite funding being available.
  • General pedestrian congestion and safety in the area between the three stations (gold star if you knew that that is generally called the “interchange”).

After the meeting, Camden’s cabinet member for transport, Phil “20mph” Jones promised a separate transport meeting in the north of the borough for full airing of grievances. And it has come to pass. Phil will share the platform with Barnet & Camden London Assembly member Andrew “Colemanator” Dismore and a guy from TfL called Steve.

WHAT’s AGM runs from 7.30pm-8.15pm. There’s 15 minutes for refreshments and then the public meeting gets underway with a 9.45pm finish time. All are welcome.

License landlords or resort to Asbos?

This month Newham will become the first council in England to require private landlords to be registered. Meanwhile, Camden has already served the country’s first landlord asbo to a West Hampstead landlady and has sought this week to extend it in court. Over at City Hall, Boris is proposing a “new housing covenant“, which puts forward some changes to tenancy agreements in the favour of tenants under a London Rental Standard.

The idea of licensing is to root out and stiffly penalise rogue landlords – the sort of people who exploit tenants by cramming lots of people into poorly maintained houses and then charge them an extortionate amount of rent. It also means that people who decide to rent their property out for lifestyle reasons rather than for pure profit must also register – there are a lot of these people. Many in the industry think that the licence requirement is overkill and that there are more cost-effective ways of protecting tenants from rogue landlords.

Last year, Camden opted for a different approach. It served a two-year anti-social behaviour order on Catherine Boyle of 14 Iverson Road back in January 2011, and sought to extend it at the end of 2012 after she failed to comply with some of the court’s requirements.

Google Street View catches a pest control
vehicle parked outside 14 Iverson Road

Catherine Boyle lives in and rents out rooms at the property, at the Kilburn end of Iverson Road. It qualifies as an HMO (house of multiple occupancy). She has been banned from causing harassment, alarm or distress to her tenants, entering their rooms without their consent, and cutting off their gas and electricity supply. She was also fined £8,000 for failing to comply with fire regulations despite having been given more than six months to meet the requirements (more than half of this was to pay the council’s court costs). In August 2010, she was cautioned for assault against one of her tenants.

Asbos seem like a pretty drastic solution to tackle problem landlords. They remain practically unheard of – the only other example that comes up is in Plymouth, where the council is appyling for an asbo against a landlord that would prevent him from letting to anyone on housing benefit. Councils do already have considerable powers to fine landlords heavily, especially those letting HMO properties, and jail sentences are not unheard of. The council can also takeover the running of the property.

In Ms Boyle’s case, I understand that there was both bad behaviour, as well as non-compliance with regulation, which may have been why the order was sought.

What is not clear to me is why a licensing policy such as Newham’s need to be applied to all landlords. Reserving it for HMO landlords, or even those with multiple properties would save time and money for both the council and plenty of ordinary landlords. This might be combined with a compulsory training program.

The Mayor certainly argues against any additional regulation in his private rented sector (PRS) report:

The Mayor does not support top-down regulation as a way of achieving better management or more choice for tenants, not least because the GLA does not possess formal powers in this area. In any case, regulation is damaging for investment into the PRS and it should always be a last resort. The sector’s capacity for voluntary self-regulation has not yet been exhausted – indeed, with the support of the Mayor, boroughs and landlord organisations, voluntary accreditation can deliver the step change in standards that tenants are rightly seeking. It is also unfair to penalise the majority of law-abiding landlords because of the actions of a small minority.”

It does seem that the system of landlord accreditation could do with some consolidation.

What do you think? Should councils use the powers they already have to deal with rogue landlords or are licensing or asbos the way forward?

Encouraging slower speeds on Sumatra Road

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

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

A speed cushion

Sinusoidal speed bump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camden’s response to the one-way idea:

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

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

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

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

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

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

To give Camden your views, complete this questionnaire and return it by 25th January 2013 to: London Borough of Camden, Culture and Environment Directorate, Transport Strategy Service, FREEPOST RLZH–UEYC–ACZZ, Argyle Street, London, WC1H 8EQ. Or send a separate response to each question to ku.vo1511568155g.ned1511568155mac@n1511568155iassu1511568155h.zer1511568155bat1511568155 (you must include your postal address though).

Smart and diverse – the Camden census

Camden census – some highlights

The Office for National Statistics released its first set of data today from the 2011 census for England & Wales. I waded through the spreadsheets to find some of the more striking figures relating to the London Borough of Camden and tweeted some of them. It’s too early for ward-level analysis yet.

Storified by West Hampstead · Tue, Dec 11 2012 05:51:29

Population

#whampcensus Camden’s population 220,338 49m/51f, that’s up 18k from the (revised) 2001 populationWest Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden has the 8th densest (steady…) population in the country at 101.1 persons/ha. (Islington is the densest 138.7) *cough*West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden has Inner London’s 2nd highest absolute number of people 65+ living alone.West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden has highest % of flats in converted houses in the country (7th for purpose-built)West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden 6th highest level of private rented accomm. (top 9 are all in Inner London), 3rd lowest ownership (excl. Isle of Scilly)West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden has the lowest % of people living "in a household" in Inner London (96.4% vs. avg 98.4%)West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden has an average household size of 2.2, but an average number of bedrooms per household of 2.1West Hampstead
#whampcensus worth thinking about today: 3,406 households in Camden don’t have central heating. That’s 3.5%, above inner London average 3.2%West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden has 5th highest % of single mother households as % of single parent households (K&C is #1)West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden has Inner London’s 3rd and UK’s 4th highest number of registered same-sex civil partnershipsWest Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden has country’s (and London’s) 6th highest % of single person (never married) households 42.9%West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden ranks 10th for % of people born outside the EUWest Hampstead
@WHampstead #whampcensus Camden ranked 6th highest nationally in % of households with no carEllen

Ethnicity

#whampcensus Camden has 5th highest % "any other white" popn in country (at local authority level). Brent the 2nd lowest "White British"West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden has country’s 4th highest % White Irish population; Brent is No1 unsurprisingly. 3.2 and 4.0% of total popn respectivelyWest Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden ranks 2nd (behind the often anomalous City of London) for "Irish and British only" identity, and 4th for "Irish only"West Hampstead
#whampcensus 44 people in Camden identify as Cornish only.West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden ranks 4th for mixed-ethnicity partnerships (this would include eg. 1 x White Irish and one 1 x White British I assume)West Hampstead

Employment & Education

#whampcensus Camden people work long hours – we rank 6th for % of people working 49+ hrs a week, 5th if you just take womenWest Hampstead
#whampcensus is it surprising that Camden ranks 343rd (out of 348) for % of economically active popn. who are employed part time?West Hampstead
#whampcensus 62 people in Camden work in Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing. Who knew!West Hampstead
#whampcensus Those 62 people working in Ag & Fish are split exactly 50/50 male/female.West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden ranks 3rd however for Professional, Scientific and Technical activities (behind City of London and Islington)West Hampstead
Camden also ranks 2nd for "other" (which includes actors).Oddly, Forest Heath comes top, perhaps due to the 2 USAF bases there?West Hampstead
#whampcensus 2,232 people work in "real estate activities". It is believed 2,231 one of them are based within 100 yards of West End LaneWest Hampstead
#whampcensus Unemployment rate in Camden was 4.5% (vs. inner london average of 5.6%).West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden 2nd lowest proportion of people working in manufacturing (behind the City of London, where they just manufacture money)West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden ranks 9th for % of single parents not in employment (51.3% of all single parent households)West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden has 5th highest % graduate population in country. Over half of 16+ popn. have at least an undergraduate degree.West Hampstead

Religion

CORRECTION: #whampcensus Camden had the highest % of people not stating a religion (and came 180th for "no religion").West Hampstead
#whampcensus Camden has the 3rd lowest % Christian popn. in England and Wales at 34% (Tower Hamlets 27.1, Leicester 32.4% are lower)West Hampstead
@WHampstead I’m one of the 0.4% Sikhs locally. The rest are all my relatives #takingover #whampcensusSimi
#whampcensus Camden is in the ONS’s lowest bracket for Christian % popn (0-45.9%), and has 5th highest Jewish % popn. (4.5%)West Hampstead
#whampcensus 704 Jedis in CamdenWest Hampstead
#whampcensus One person in Camden belongs to the Church of All Religion. Hedging their bets there a bit.West Hampstead
#whampcensus 9 Druids, 6 Heathens, 1 Mystic, 2 Occultists, 13 "own belief system", 143 Pagans, 6 Satanists, 2 Shamanists, 23 WiccansWest Hampstead
#whampcensus 54,759 Camdeners put "no religion", just 269 actually wrote atheist, and 264 agnostic, 2 wrote "Free Thinker", 18 "Heavy Metal"West Hampstead
#whampcensus Amused that Heavy Metal followers outnumber Scientologists in Camden. OK – enough religion now.West Hampstead
#whampcensus 45,276 didn’t fill in the religion box at allWest Hampstead

Web chat with Mike Katz

The We are Camden website seems to have struggled to gain traction since it launched some 18 months ago. The idea was to provide a community forum on a ward basis, but posts are sporadic at best. It’s slightly surprising that the venture has lasted this long, at a time of cuts.

Perhaps one way of drawing people to the site is to make it more interactive. So, on Friday, Councillor Mike Katz (Kilburn ward) will be doing a live webchat for an hour from midday om how Kilburn can be improved. You can ask him questions directly then, or mail ku.vo1511568155g.ned1511568155mac@r1511568155ebmiK1511568155.kciN1511568155 with questions in advance.

Cllr. Mike Katz

If you can’t make the webcast live, it will be up on the site for a while.

Are West Hampstead entrepreneurs being short-changed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will response times slow under fire station proposals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camden consults on “small sites” sell-off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mapping West Hampstead development

Crane over West Hampstead (c) dancoffeyphotography.com

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

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

View Development in West Hampstead in a larger map

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

Residents’ weekend parking in Fortune Green?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speed limit plans prove emotive

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

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

Camden 20mph Limit Presentation

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

20mph in Camden: Slower, safer, sensible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transport spotlight on West Hampstead

Tonight, Camden council is holding a public meeting about transport issues in the borough. Isabel Dedring, London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport, and Councillor Phil Jones, Camden’s Cabinet Member for Sustainability will discuss residents’ ideas for improving transport.

Officers from Camden Council and TfL will also be on hand to answer your questions.

Thanks to WHAT, there is a whole section of the agenda dedicated to West Hampstead. The topics being raised are:

  • Progress on lift installation at West Hampstead Overground station.
  • Traffic light changes by TfL without consultation at Fortune Green Road/Finchley Road junction
  • Pedestrian flows in the area of the three stations at West Hampstead
  • Safety issues regarding traffic light grouping at junction of Broadhurst Gardens and West End Lane.
  • Request for purchase of Oyster cards to be made available from West Hampstead Thameslink Station.

The meeting will be held from 6pm to 8.30pm in the Camden Centre in King’s Cross, Bidborough Street, WC1H 9JE. Do go along if you’re interested, or contact Antony Holloway in the transport strategy service if you have any questions on ku.vo1511568155g.ned1511568155mac@y1511568155awoll1511568155oh.yn1511568155otna1511568155 or 020 7974 2087.

Changes to recycling

You may well have had a leaflet through your door recently about quite major changes to the way Camden handles recycling.

The council plans to do away with the always-disappearing blue bags and the never-quite-big-enough-for-all-my-wine-bottles green boxes and replace them next summer with one wheelie bin.

This bin will be the sole receptacle for paper, plastic and glass recycling. Food waste will conut in one place.

Apparently, “experience from other councils that have introduced wheelie bins shows that by providing additional storage capacity the amount of recycling increases.”

This is not hugely surprising – it is, after all, a bit of a faff to have to separate stuff out, especially for those who live in flats who might not have so much room for all the various bags and boxes and bins.

Camden is not rushing into this without checking with you lot though; specifically on the important matter of what size and what colour you want the bin to be. There are also some other data gathering questions about how much you like to recycle, whether it gives you a warm glow, that sort of thing.

They come in TWO sizes (gasp)

You can fill in the survey here.

If you have not received a letter, but would like to be considered for a wheelie bin, then you should definitely fill in the survey. Camden will then contact you about your request. There are also roadshows where you will be able to see the wheelie bins (it’s like the Olympic torch all over again) and ask questions. There are some brilliant questions already answered in an FAQ document. This tells you, for example, that you can hold on to your existing green box and perhaps keep your tools in it!

The nearest roadshows to us are:
Thursday October 25th 2pm-5pm, Kilburn library, 12-22 Kilburn High Road, NW6 5UH
Thursday November 1st 10.30am-1pm, Swiss Cottage library, 88 Avenue Road, NW3 3HA
Friday November 2nd 11.30am-2pm, West Hampstead library, Dennington Park Road, NW6 1AU.

Meanwhile, click the image below for a full-size reminder of what you can and can’t recycle.

Choosing West Hampstead’s unheralded gems

Camden council is trying to determine what elements of the built environment make the borough distinctive. These will form a “local list”, defined as “a collection of the features of Camden’s local areas that are valued by the local community and that help give Camden its distinctive identity… These features make a place special for local people, they carry history, traditions, stories and memories into the present day and add depth of meaning to a modern place.”

The council is keen to point out that we’re not necessarily talking about the obvious:

“Often it is the commonplace things around us that give this character, but they may be overlooked because of their very ordinariness. Pubs, shops, places of meeting, places of worship, benches, statues: subtle or idiosyncratic elements; all contribute to the particular character of a place. These things make a place special for local people, and help it to express a ‘personality’ that carries history, traditions, stories and memories into the present day and adds depth of meaning to a modern place.”

However, before deciding what will be on this “local list”, Camden is consulting resident on what the selection criteria should be. This is what any nominations will be judged against – so if you’re interested in this whole idea, then now is a good time to get involved. This is part of a broader government initiative that encourages councils to set out a positive strategy for the conservation and enjoyment of the historic environment.

The draft selection criteria, which are below, have been drawn up in line with English Heritage’s guidance. But Camden wants to know whether the criteria meet the aim of being broad enough to allow for the recognition of a wide range of buildings features and places, but also specific enough so that it allows for rigorous and consistent assessment of any nominated assets.

“Assets” that are accepted onto the list will be parts of the environment that are not already designated, so no listed buildings for example, but which still contribute to a sense of place, local distinctiveness and civic pride. These are known as “non-designated heritage assets”. Sexy.

A non-designated heritage asset may be a

  • building,
  • monument,
  • site,
  • place,
  • area or a landscape
  • street furniture or other structures such as boundary markers, post boxes, memorials, lamp posts, and statues.

It can be important for a whole range of reasons which may include the location of a historical event or being home to an important local artist, a particularly good quality example of a recognised architectural tradition, or it may have strong cultural significance for certain parts of the local community (either now or in the past).

Around half of the borough is already protected by conservation area designation, but the rest of the borough is less well understood in terms of the significance or quality of buildings that may have local architectural, historic or townscape importance. The focus of this local list will therefore be primarily on those areas not covered by conservation area designation, but we will not rule out the inclusion of buildings of local importance within conservation areas if these are nominated.

West Hampstead has two large conservation areas already. South Hampstead is roughly bordered by West End Lane, Belsize Road, Finchley Road and the tube tracks. West End Green conservation area includes the northern half of West End Lane up towards Fortune Green. This still leaves large swathes of our area undesignated.

Have a read of the draft selection criteria below, and if you have any comments you can submit them via the consultation form. I’ll let you know when it’s time to nominate the “non-designated heritage assets” themselves, but start having a think about what makes our bit of Camden distinctive.

Draft selection criteria

To be considered for inclusion on the Local List nominations should satisfy at least two of the following criteria:

Architectural significance/interest this includes assets that
a) are good examples of a style of building that is particular to the local area, and/or
b) are good surviving examples of an historic architectural style, and/or
c) are good examples of the work of a notable local or national builder, architect, engineer or designer and/or
d) are good examples of a particular technological innovation or craftsmanship in building type, material or technique.

Historical significance this includes assets that
a) represent a significant period in the area’s history, and/or
b) are associated with a locally important historic figure, and/or
c) are associated with notable local historic events

Townscape Value this includes assets which play a key part in supporting the distinctive character of the local area, either as a landmark of by being examples of prevailing good quality built form of the area.

Social value this includes assets that have local community, cultural, religious, political educational or economic significance.

In addition, nominations to the list should retain the majority of the original features that contribute to their significance.

Kilburn floods while Twitter explodes

I woke up on Wednesday and lazily checked Twitter only to find my timeline swamped by a deluge of tweets about Kilburn.

A burst water main initially believed to be in Maygrove Road, but later believed to be in Christchurch Avenue, caused a quite spectacular flood that was up to a metre deep in places according to London Fire Brigade.

Photo via @Kilburn_Dave

As it was the morning rush hour, the flood caused considerable disruption but the sight of the road under water seemed to be so amazing that grumbling was largely replaced by astonishment.

Photo via @mossbat

This is exactly the sort of news story that works well on Twitter. It doesn’t require in-depth analysis, public bodies can get important information to the public very quickly, and – as my hastily aggregated Pinterest board shows – it’s very photogenic.

No surprise then that Twitter formed the backbone of news reports.

The Evening Standard’s quoted heavily from Twitter and (in later versions) from eye witnesses who’d tweeted.

LBC actually sent a reporter to the scene and she tweeted good photos of the large hole in Christchurch Avenue and of the cleaning up operation in local shops.

Photo via @stanchers

You’d expect the local media to be on site and indeed, after the CNJ’s Richard Osley fired up a Storify page about it, he dispatched reporter Ruth Stivey to the scene. Ruth tweeted a good photo of the damage done to the cellar of the Sir Colin Campbell pub.

Photo via @LollyGee
Photo via @RuthStivey

The Brent & Kilburn Times also actually went to speak to the flooded business including the pub.

Not everyone manages to nail the use of new media. Brent Council, clearly preoccupied by the arrival of the Olympic torch through the northern reaches of the borough popped up on Twitter with a link to a page (since thoroughly updated) announcing that the High Road would be closed for five days.

This rather melodramatic scenario was clearly nonsense as the Fire Brigade did an amazing job of pumping out the water in a matter of hours and traffic was already flowing freely by mid-morning, even if the pavements were still a little muddy.

Once the water was gone, so was the news interest. The Brondesbury Medical Centre was closed all day, and Thames Water’s loss adjusters have been on the scene no doubt trying to work out quite how much damage this flood has done. Having seen the photos it’s actually amazing that the damage wasn’t more serious. Hopefully all the businesses that suffered don’t also incur any financial loss.

Driving’s hard enough, says CRASH

Back in October last year, Camden asked locals what they thought of some changes to our streets. The most controversial was the provision of “cycle permeability“. In other words, allowing cyclists to pedal the wrong way up one-way streets. Not all one-way streets were included; some, such as Broadhurst Gardens, were considered unsuitable. But many of the quieter residential streets, especially around the Gardens area of South Hampstead were part of the plans.

There were 76 replies to the consultation [pdf], 21 positive, 37 netural and 18 objections. Camden made a couple of tweaks to the plans, but otherwise decided to go ahead. Fairhazel Gardens has had such a system in place for more than 10 years, so one assumes that both the council and cycling lobby groups have sufficient data to make meaningful recommendations. Indeed, looking at a map of pedestrian and cyclist accidents in London from 2000-2010, there wasn’t a single reported bike accident (or pedestrian accident) on Fairhazel Gardens during that period.

Fairhazel Gardens has had contraflow cycling for years

However, South Hampstead Residents’ Association (appropriately, in this case, named CRASH) is not happy. At this late stage, it is appealing for people to write to Camden expressing their horror at this scheme. Their argument is that it is unsafe for cyclists and other road users (the scheme was initially proposed [pdf] by Camden Cyclists). Crash’s argument includes this gem of a debating point (original emphasis):

“You will not only have to keep an eye on your rear mirror and side mirror for cyclists on your left, as usual, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, look forwards and in your right hand mirror for a cyclist on your right”

Imagine having to look forward when driving!

In other words, drivers would have to behave as they would on a normal road – checking both side mirrors and their rear-view mirror, as well as keeping an eye on the road ahead. Or as they have been doing on one-way stretches of Fairhazel Gardens for many years already.

Is there a safety risk? Well, cars should be driving slowly anyway on these residential streets. It’s also up to cyclists to ride responsibly and err on the side of caution (and use lights when it’s dark). But to my mind it doesn’t seem to be beyond the wit of man to accommdate such a thing, even if drivers do occasionally have to look in the direction they’re going.

Will West Hampstead get free WiFi?

Last Wednesday, Camden council approved recommendations for the provision of free wireless “within the borders of the London Borough of Camden in areas of the borough that commercially viable as they have a high ‘footfall'”. What does that actually mean and would it include West Hampstead?

It’s far from clear exactly what “high footfall” means. After all, Camden includes Kings Cross, Camden Lock, and even parts of Covent Garden. Relative to that, even the interchange between West Hampstead’s stations at rush hour would be considered “sleepy”.

So are we going to get free WiFi or not? Camden’s finance chief, Theo Blackwell, has tweeted saying “Wifi could cover most of the borough”. Provision requires the use of exisiting council infrastructure, which is a posh way of saying “lampposts”. In response to a direct question as to whether West End Lane would be included, he replied “Wifi attached to street furniture so where people and streetlights, there should be coverage.”

The main reason for the lack of a straight answer is that this will be a commercial concession put out to tender. This is not a public-sector scheme to deliver universal WiFi, it’s a money raising exercise that brings some public benefits. Coverage will depend on what is economically viable for the provider. Camden intends to derive income from this (a good way to raise cash and provide a public service) and incur zero expenditure. We shall have to hope that bidders recognise the commercial benefits of giving access to our reasonably affluent neighbourhood, even if we lack the volume of pedestrians of Covent Garden.

The language used in the report (shown below with key passages highlighted) that Cabinet voted on does strongly imply that there will be a core network at first and then it says “It is expected this network will be further extended over time to support the priorities as set out in the Camden Plan.” 

There is also talk of “inter-borough collaboration” although the details seem a bit sketchy at the moment. It says, “The concession will be established in a way to permit other London Boroughs to participate in the arrangements to enable wireless services to be provided across Borough boundaries”. Those living on the Brent borders may wonder what likelihood there is of Brent council embracing this idea. Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea boroughs have already collaborated to award a concession. Although the document states that Camden is working with other London boroughs on joint procurement, it doesn’t specify which ones unfortunately.

The contract is expected to be awarded in February 2013.

What do you think? Are we well served already by free WiFi in coffee shops and bars and in the library. It’s unlikely that any free network would enable heavy home use – it’s intended for the public realm, so you can instagram a police horse, or send a quick e-mail from the street without using the slower 3G networks (and any data allowance). So do we even need it? Or would omitting NW London’s twitter capital be a horrendous oversight?

Camden Cabinet Meeting July 18 2012 Notes on Wireless Provision

Place plan published – actions for West Hampstead

West Hampstead will be a place where local communities experience real benefits from the opportunities that come with redevelopment and people feel that they have influenced and shaped how investment is made in the area. Support for local business will be a key part of enhancing the distinctive village character and more local jobs will contribute to a successful local economy. Local services, housing, open spaces and facilities will meet the needs of local communities as will the quality of experience that people have moving around the area. Cooperation with local people, voluntary sector organisations, developers, businesses and the council will make this happen.

This is the vision for West Hampstead, as laid out by the place plan finally published by Camden council. From this extract it feels a bit like “local shops for local people”, but this document really isn’t that parochial. It has been quite some time in the making, and I’ve reported on its progress over the past 12 months.

You can access the original, or view a version where I’ve ringed the passages that I think are particularly worth reading (also embedded below).

The idea of the Place Plan is to set some context for local development – of which much is planned over the next 5-10 years. It has no statutory power, but the council are supposed to take it into account when assessing planning applications, and budget allocation. It is very strongly informed by local residents – even by readers of this website (as it mentions on page 10) – and I can imagine that lobbying groups are likely to refer to it heavily when responding to proposed changes.

One of the underlying objectives is to make people feel (hopefully justifiably) that they have some input into what happens around them. In this regard, the Place Plan should dovetail with the Neighbourhood Development Plan.

To quote the report:

“This ‘placeshaping’ approach is about taking the opportunity to think and act strategically about how to address these needs in terms of investment decisions, service delivery and physical changes. Understanding local concerns and priorities is at the heart of this approach which is all the more important against a backdrop of reduced Council resources arising from reductions in central government funding.”

Although it has no legal bearing on anything at all, it does purport to enable locals to hold the council to account over the concrete measures that it says it will undertake (starting from page 46). It is also a dynamic document and action plans can (and hopefully will) be updated as the situation evolves.

The plan is broken down into five sections, and each has a series of objectives.

  1. Development. To secure real local benefit from development opportunities. Key objectives: Work with the community to develop more detailed area planning guidance; involve the local community (where possible) in identifying priorities for how developer contributions are used.
  2. Economy. To support a successful local economy with a thriving neighbourhood. Key objectives: protect and promote the village character of the area; support West End Lane and Mill Lane shops and businesses; meet the needs of the people who live, work and visit the area.
  3. Environment. To provide new open space and improve the local environment. Key objectives: provide new accessible open space to benefit the area; continue to improve open spaces, food growing, biodiversity and sustainability; maintain the valued quality and historic character of the area.
  4. Services. To deliver improved local services. Key objectives: continue to monitor the demand for school places and nursery provision; continue to support local voluntary sector organisations and investigate innovative delivery of services; negotiate with developers for ‘affordable’ provision of community space for local groups.
  5. Transport. To make it easier and more pleasant for people to move around the area. Key objective: Continue to improve how people move around and between the three stations.

Generally there’s not much that’s controversial here. I’ve been at two of the group consultation sessions and these were the main topics that emerged – naturally with different people placing different emphases on them. I know some people think the idea of West Hampstead as any sort of village is risible, but it’s certainly a focal point both for transport and shopping/entertainment (more of the latter than the former these days). I’m pleased to see such specific recognition of the challenges facing Mill Lane, and a statement of intent to work on improving the street without sacrificing its character.

Amid all the bullet points and action plans, there are a few interesting comments in the overall vision and background section. Despite generally high levels of satisfaction among residents the plan recognises that different segments of the local population do not necessarily interact. Is this unusual, and does it matter? I would argue no it’s not unusual, but yes, it does matter. It matters because if we take one cut – age – 20-34 year-olds account for roughly half West Hampstead’s population, yet barely figure when it comes to deliberating local issues.

Although younger people here may not be long-term residents (largely, anecdotally, because they can’t afford to stay rather than because they don’t want to), it would be a mistake to think they don’t care. They also, inevitably, have some different priorities and sometimes a more forward looking outlook. It is to the council’s credit that one of the reasons they have involved me in this placeshaping process is because it gave them access to the views of younger people.

Although not explicitly discussed in the Place Plan, there is also something of an affluence divide. I heard at a recent local event that some of West Hampstead less well-off residents sometimes feel that they don’t fit in at lots of these community activities. Meanwhile, I wonder how many people in the “young professional” category avail themselves of the services offered by, for example, Sidings Community Centre. Just a thought. I hope that everyone feels welcome to attend #whampevents.

Do have a read of the document. There was plenty of cynicism at the first meeting I attended about the real impact such an initiative could have. At least by setting out clear actions, the council is saying “judge us on progress”, even if you think that many of them are a little vague, with a focus on “identifying”, “facilitating”, “monitoring”, “supporting” and “exploring” rather than more concrete words like “investing”, “building”, “changing”, or “upgrading”.

West Hampstead Place Plan_annotated

Parking’s no joke

When I was a small boy, my grandparents’ favourite joke involved a sign outside a public toilet in a car park that said “Have you paid and displayed”. Oh how we laughed. Well, I laughed the first time, aged about six. After that I laughed politely, then just smiled, and eventually took to walking off in disgust.

I don’t own a car, and therefore the question of paying and displaying is not one that vexes me personally very often. However, for many people it’s a big issue – whether it’s paying for a residents permit or paying to park for 30 minutes so you can pop to the shops, parking is an emotive issue in these parts.

We’ve touched on it before, after Wet Fish Café owner Andre openly mused as to whether the lack of visitor parking was the single biggest problem facing local businesses.

Now is your chance to do something about it.

Camden is in the middle of its parking review focusing on the size of residents’ parking zones (careful there Grandpa), parking zone hours, and pay & display parking hours. If you have views on how your local zones will operate in future, please fill in the online questionnaire or contact ku.vo1511568155g.ned1511568155mac@w1511568155eiver1511568155.gnik1511568155rap1511568155 or 020 7974 4639 to get a paper version.

The consultation runs until 18th June and is an “open” consultation; i.e., there are no specific proposals, the council wants to collect residents’ views. Any proposed changes would then be subject to further consultation.

The West Hampstead Business Association has some quite strong views, and its chairman, David Matthews (from estate agent Dutch & Dutch) has given me permission to reprint the letter he sent Camden on behalf of the organisation.

Dear Sirs,
I write on behalf of the West Hampstead Business Association, a recently formed group set up to support and promote all businesses within the West Hampstead area. Local residents and businesses alike are making every effort to improve West Hampstead by doing all they can to create a pleasant environment and encourage good quality shops and amenities in the area. All of our members sight parking as the biggest obstacle to growing their businesses and achieving these objectives.
The most prevalent concerns of our members are:
  1. The limited number of available Pay & Display parking spaces for visitors in and around West End Lane and Mill Lane
  2. Shared Use bays being rarely available for visitors
  3. The poor provision of Loading Bays for retail units on West End Lane and Mill Lane
Attached is a petition with over 200 signatures highlighting the concern of both business operators and customers.
Clearly for Pay & Display parking to benefit local businesses they need to be in close proximity to West End Lane and Mill Lane and not shared use as these bays are very rarely available to visitors. We feel the following should therefore be implemented:
  • The loss of 8+ Pay & Display bays to form the new First Capital Connect Station should be provided elsewhere and in close proximity to West End Lane.
  • The ‘Shared Use Bays’ in Sandwell Crescent and Dennington Park Road should be ‘Pay & Display’ only as they are very rarely available to visitors.
  • Between 10am and 3pm various parts of West End Lane could accommodate additional Pay & Display parking. Clearly at peak times it needs to be clear.
  • There is currently an overprovision of Shared Use and Pay & Display bays in Alvanley Gardens. If some of these bays became ‘Permit Parking’ there would be no net loss for local residents.
We look forward to hearing that West Hampstead businesses have your support.
David Matthews
Chairman
West Hampstead Business Association

Remember when it was all fields?

Dick Weindling and Marianne Colloms quite literally wrote the book(s) when it comes to local history. And now they’re taking their work online with a new Kilburn History website.

The first story to appear concerns a wartime murder at Kilburn station, but it’s not all blood and guts. Dick tells me that subsequent stories will include a Professor of Swimming and the now extinct Kilburn Baths, a painting of a Kilburn farm by an artist who was also an astronomer, and South Pacific tribal objects.

Dick Weindling talks about A.A.Milne back in October 2010

If you haven’t come across Dick and Marianne’s books then you are missing out. Their Kilburn and West Hampstead Past book is essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in learning more about this part of London. I wholeheartedly recommend it. Also worth a read, although published by the Camden History Society, is The Streets of West Hampstead, which is a bit more of a gazeteer, but is a handy reference.

Having heard Dick speak at the unveiling of the green plaque to A.A. Milne in October 2010, I can attest to his engaging manner – this is no dusty historian.

The two of them have a book due out in July called Camden Town and Kentish Town: Then and Now, and one next year called Bloody British History: Camden, with lots of blood and gore, which will cover the whole of the modern borough of Camden. It’s fairly gory around Camden Town most Saturday nights today if you ask me. They clearly have a slight fascination with the macabre; one of their other books is called The Good Grave Guide to Hampstead Cemetery.

Stories from all these books and more will pop up on the new blog I’m told. It’s a very welcome addition to the local blogosphere.

Parking changes in Camden

Camden has been postponing the public engagement part of its parking review – it was supposed to have happened in March, now apparently it wil be in May. Camden will be seeking residents’ views on parking zone days and hours of control and pay & display maximum stays. However, many other parking changes have been made already, without consultation. Here’s an overview of the major changes implemented in April. The full details are available on Camden’s parking pages.

None of these address the concerns local businesses have in West Hampstead about the lack of short-term parking in the area to attract customers during the week.

Resident parking permits

  • Residents with the lowest polluting vehicles that fall under tariff 1 will pay slightly less but the price has risen for other tariffs, with the largest increase for those with the largest and most polluting vehicles.
  • A free annual car club membership and £50 worth of drive hours for the first 150 residents willing to give up their resident permit.
  • A £10 supplement introduced for diesel vehicle owners.
  • Classic car owners will no longer be eligible for a free resident permit.
  • A £50 and £75 charge introduced for registering a 2nd or 3rd vehicle to a resident permit.
  • Persistent evaders (someone with three or more unpaid parking tickets beyond the appeal stage) will not be able to apply for a 6 month or annual resident permit.
  • The discount for electric car owners has been retained and will now also apply to electric motorcycle owners.
  • Renewably sourced electric vehicle owners will no longer be eligible for a free resident permit

Resident visitor permits

  • The tiered pricing system is being replaced with a flat rate charge of 90p per hour.
  • The charge for disabled people and the elderly (over 75) falls to 45p per hour.
  • Residents can now buy their full annual allocation in one go if they wish, rather than having to buy visitor permits every three months.
  • We will no longer sell the 30 minute visitor permits when an alternative electronic visitor permit system is ready.

Pay & Display parking

  • Camden is no longer enforcing meter feeding contraventions meaning that customers can now top up their parking session.
  • Electric vehicle owners will no longer be able to apply for the pay & display permit

Business permits

  • Camden is increasing the price of business scheme A and B annual permits to £290.
  • A 75% permit discount has been introduced for businesses with electric and bio methane vehicles.
  • Applicants will be asked to supply proof that the vehicle is insured for business purposes (where a permit is being requested on the basis that there is an operational need for a vehicle for the viability of the business).
  • The price for installing a dedicated bay on-street for business scheme A first time applicants has been increased to £1,689.71.
  • We are proposing to convert resident bays to permit bays in four zones which will give business permit holders greater flexibility when parking.

Business visitor vouchers

  • The tiered pricing system is being replaced with a flat rate charge of £2.50 per hour.
  • Restrictions that prevent businesses in certain streets from applying for business visitor vouchers will be removed.
  • The all day business visitor voucher will no longer be available.

Parking permission

  • We are merging the current Permission to Park and Dispensation to Wait into one product that will allow tradespeople to park in permit bays or on a single yellow line.
  • We have reduced the daily charge for a parking permission to £30.
  • Parking permissions for funerals and weddings will remain free of charge.

Abbey Area application passed by Camden

Three local planning applications were on the agenda for Thursday’s Development Control committee meeting (Where Camden councillors vote on large planning applications).

The major decision to be made was regarding the Abbey Area development. This a proposal by Camden council itself, so naturally planning officers were recommending approval. The full 171 page report is here (sorry, not annotated this one!). There was a lengthy discussion in the meeting about this, with some strong views concerning the mix of housing in the new proposal as well as the impact of another large-scale development. Kilburn ward councillor Mike Katz perhaps captured the challenges of the plan most eloquently, pointing out that although the plans might not be perfect, “The best is often the enemy of the good and there’s much good about this development” He went on to address one of the criticisms head on: “I rather take objection that by trying to address our housing needs in NW London that you create a ghetto.”

Loading…Webcast Available Here : <a href=”http://www.camden.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/55628/start_time/3684000″>http://www.camden.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/55628/start_time/3684000</a>

Eventually the vote was unanimously in favour, with two abstentions (Cllrs Rea & Braithwaite). There was no news of what might happen to the businesses that will see their premises destroyed – both under Emminster (Oscar’s Den, the piano shop, the pub), and in the car park (the framers, the upholsterers etc.). The entire webcast of the discussion can be viewed here.

Camden approves 187-199 West End Lane plan

On Thursday night, Camden’s Development Control Committee sat, and the first issue on the agenda was the 187-199 West End Lane development. This was to decide whether to accept or reject the plan. You can watch the proceedings below (it’s long – runs to 1h35), but to cut to the chase the plan was accepted with a condition to look into adding car club spaces (there is provision for two at the moment).

Loading…

The session kicked off with a presentation by Max Smith, Camden’s planning officer, which set the context for the plans. (His full written report is referred to in the video) I was surprised at this being very much in favour of the proposals rather than being neutral. Shows what I know about how councils work I guess. There were two interesting bits of this presentation. First, the announcments that the developers had pledged £30,000 to support master planning in the wider West Hampstead area in light of the large number of developments happening (a cynical person might see that as a sop to locals).

Second, the issue of building height: “Consideration was given to asking the developer to reduce the scale, but losing a floor or two wouldn’t reduce the scale significantly, and there would be a price to pay for that in terms of affordable housing or the other benefits that would be provided by the scheme.” Some photos were shown to reinforce this point, although one suspects that for the nearest of neighbours the impact would acutally be quite noticeable.

Deputations were made against the development by WHGARA’s Stephen Nathan QC and a resident of Rowntree Close, and in favour of the development by a young local resident, although it wasn’t clear who if anyone he represented. Bit odd.

The councillors then made lots of comments and asked questions of the planning officers. This all goes on quite a bit. Some councillors, notably Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea, clearly had reservations. West Hampstead ward councillor Gillian Risso-Gill abstained from the vote as she opted to speak against the development (council protocol deems this to be prejudicial, so abstention is expected). Other councillors had specific issues they wanted answers on, especially on how the affordable housing was distributed (this has slightly improved since the last plans), those car club places, and community services such as education.

There seemed to be a concern that failing to approve the plan would lead to delays, which could have a major financial impact. Let me explain. Plans of this scale that are approved after April 1st will have to pay a Crossrail levy (yes, even those in areas like West Hampstead that won’t be affected or benefit especially from Crossrail). This would amount to some £700,000 for this development. To pay for that, Ballymore and Network Rail have two options: they either try and make more money from the development, or they take the money from somewhere else. Right now, they have allocated £900,000 to improve the area around the Overground station, and indeed there would eventually be access from a new Overground ticket hall into the new development as well as out onto West End Lane. Reducing the proportion of affordable housing on the site would be another option, but one less popular with the council, and building yet more storeys onto the tower blocks is probably also a non-starter.

Given that there will be development on this site, so the issue is scale not “yes/no” to anything at all, one might conclude that the thought of losing £700,000 to the Mayor’s Crossrail fund sticks in the throat of the council more than the idea that West Hampstead’s much vaunted “village” atmosphere might struggle in the face of a 12-storey tower block flanked by some smaller brethren.

Cllr Sarah Hayward perhaps captured the mood of other committee members in favour when she pithily said “I don’t think the architecture is up to much, but given the other benefits I think we should approve it”.

What now? Well, as you’ll know, the plans now have to be sent to City Hall where the Mayor’s office will have 14 days to give the green light, or reject them. Bear in mind that the plans have already been deemed “non-compliant” with the London plan, so it would be odd if City Hall just waved them through. So, here’s a thought – as I understand it, as Camden has passed the plans, money won’t be diverted to Crossrail even if City Hall requires some changes. Had they been rejected by Camden and then resubmitted at a later date, that money would have gone.

I’ve already been contacted by one local resident asking what can be done to challenge the decision. Anyone (councillors?) who knows what the next steps are, let me know and happy to post.

Here’s how they voted
For: Cllrs Apak, Gimson, Hayward, Marshall, Nuti, Sanders, Simpson
Against: Cllrs Braithwaite, Freeman, Rea

Abbey Area Development will go to City Hall

Those of you living at the southern end of the neighbourhood are probably already up to speed with the extensive plans to redevelop the Abbey area estate at the Belsize Road/Abbey Road junction. There has already been a public consultation on this.

If you’re not sure what this is, The Abbey Area Redevelopment Project is a part of Camden’s estate regeneration programme approved in December 2007. The proposals involve the demolition and replacement of 70 homes at Emminster and Hinstock, a community centre health centre and some shops along with the existing Belsize Road multi-storey car park. Casterbridge and Snowman House tower blocks (the two big ones the east side of Abbey Road) would be retained with alterations proposed at the base of the buildings.

The new scheme will provide up to 299 homes including provision for larger family accommodation for affordable rent, some new homes for shared ownership and private sale.

Click for full-size version

The proposals also allow for the delivery of new community and health facilities at the base of the retained Casterbridge and Snowman House tower blocks along with new retail and business space to support the existing and new community. Here’s what the plans look like.

As you can see, it’s a large-scale development. Just for a bit of historical context, here’s what the site looked like in 1940.

I can’t immediately find evidence that this site was bombed, but it seems highly likely given that railways were targeted. The area was redeveloped in the 1960s and 1970s, including the Grade II listed Alexandra & Ainsworth estate (aka Rowley Way), which is outside the scope of this plan. The site also is adjacent to the proposed HS2 line out of Euston, however, HS2 shouldn’t affect these current plans, which would be underway well before HS2 construction starts in earnest. (There is an issue down the other end of Rowley Way with an access shaft for HS2, but that’s for another post.)

As would be expected for a development of this size, City Hall has already responded to the plans. There are a few areas where they are non-compliant with the London plan, and the final application will have to go before City Hall and cannot just be passed by Camden. The devil here is largely in the detail. Here’s the relevant extract from the report:

“London Plan policies on land use, housing, estate renewal, affordable housing, housing choice, density, child playspace, tall buildings, design, inclusive access, noise, climate change and transport are relevant to this application. The application complies with some of these policies but not with others, for the following reasons:

  • Land use: The principle of this residential led estate renewal scheme is supported
  • Housing, estate renewal, affordable housing and housing choice: Further discussion is needed on viability, tenure mix and minimum levels of affordable family housing
  • Density: the density should be calculated using the indicative scheme and in line with London plan guidance.
  • Child playspace: a playspace strategy should be submitted and off-site improvements committed to
  • Tall buildings and design: the design principles are generally supported however further discussions is needed on materials and the appearance of the tall building in particular
  • Inclusive access: Further information and commitments are needed.
  • Noise: Further information and commitments are needed.
  • Climate change: Further information and commitments are needed.
  • Transport: Further information and commitments are needed.”

Some of these issues sound a bit like dotting the i’s, but others – the child playspace and the tenure mix of units – present more of a challenge to the developers. You can read the full report here.

Camden’s planning site has all the documents related to the plan, including the reports on the retail situation – will Oscar’s Den be given first option on a new retail space? We can but hope.

Meanwhile, here’s an annotated copy of the full proposals (look out for the pages with the big green ticks, and the red outlines). Click on the title for access to the full-size version.

Abbey Area Redevelopment Project

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.

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.

Planning
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

Boundary review: securing H&K for Labour?

[this article has been updated several times]

The Boundary Commission’s inital proposals to change electoral constituencies were published a day in advance it seemed by political blogger Guido Fawkes. Today they are online on the Commission’s own website.

There are a lot of changes across London, including to our own Hampstead & Kilburn constituency. If you recall, the seat was won by Labour’s Glenda Jackson in 2010 by a whisker from Conservative Chris Philp, and Lib Deb Ed Fordham wasn’t much further behind. H&K was the closest three-way seat in the country.

Inevitably, therefore, any changes to the constituency are likely to affect the next election. There was talk earlier in the year that the seat would lose its Brent ward, and pick up two of the Westminster North wards, which would swing it clearly in favour of the Tories.

However, the commission’s review suggests something entirely different.

We would keep Kilburn and Queens Park in Brent, but add Gospel Oak, Kentish Town and Highgate that were part of Frank Dobson’s Holborn & St Pancras constituency. This means losing some wards. Oddest of all, Fortune Green would become the only Camden ward in the otherwise Barnet-dominated seat of Finchley & Golders Green. Belsize meanwhile becomes part of a new Camden & Regents Park constituency with four north-eastern Westminster wards and the rest of Camden.

Context
Lets remember first of all that these are just proposals. Why are they happening? The government asked the commission to reduce the number of constituencies in England by 29 to 502, and every constituency had to have a population between 72,810 and 80,473. This is a major change to preview boundary reviews. These sought to try and balance the number of voters in each seat, but it was not a legal imperative. At the moment in England, electorate numbers per seat range from 55,000 to 111,000.

The proposals are up for discussion as the Commission’s report explains at great lengths. If you want to attend a public meeting about it, then there are two for our whole region (North-West London) will be held at Brent Town Hall in Wembley on Thursday October 20th and Friday October 21st

Implications
What does this mean for the constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn? It’s almost impossible to tell, but it’s definitely not great news for Chris Philp, who is surely looking for a safer seat than one that keeps two Brent wards and loses Belsize.

Gospel Oak – home of Alastair Campbell – seems to be fairly strong Labour; Highgate elected two Labour and one Green councillor last time around – so not immediately obvious that it would be an easy task for a Tory candidate to win over voters there; Kentish Town meanwhile appears resolutely Labour.

In other words, the changes would seem to suit Labour more than any other party at least in H&K. Glenda has announced she won’t run again, so if the proposals are adopted will this be seen as a moderately safe seat for someone to snap up? Fiona Millar – Campbell’s wife and free school advocate Toby Young’s worst nightmare – has said she won’t stand. But we’re almost certainly still two to three years out from the next election.

Indeed, changes elsewhere in the country could leave high profile Labour MPs without a seat and H&K might be one to move to. Most notably Ed Balls and Hilary Benn may have to decide who stays and who goes as their West Yorkshire constituencies are redrawn around them. Closer to home, London MP Tessa Jowell’s seat of Dulwich & West Norwood could be split into three constituencies if the proposals are implemented,

For other parts of Camden, the picture is very different. Frank Dobson’s safe Holborn & St Pancras looks much more marginal as Camden & Regents Park as it picks up Belsize and some Westminster wards and loses Highgate (which returns to the fold of the old Hampstead & Highgate constitutency that Glenda represented for so long before H&K). This might explain this tweet from Labour councillor and former Mayor of Camden, Jonathan Simpson: “The review is a bit bonkers, can’t let this happen”.

And what about Fortune Green? Well, the seat it’s joining changed hands from Labour to Conservative at the last election, and could be fairly close again. In the council votes, the Tory candidates were just ahead of their Labour rivals, but both were well behind the Lib Dems. Oddly, therefore, Fortune Green’s 7,000 voters could still have some impact in the vote, but to be the only ward from Camden in a seat dominated by Barnet does feel strange (if you look at how far south-west Fortune Green ward covers – right down to Maygrove Rd – this feels strange. Don’t expect too many canvassers down there)

I’ve left in the info on how to have your say in the abridged version of the document below, which has details for most West Hampstead Life readers I think.
Abridged Boundary Commission Proposals Sep132011

Have your say

Now it seems that order has been restored to the streets of London after the rioting and looting of a couple of weeks ago, Camden council has set up three public meetings to discuss the borough’s response. Camden Town and Chalk Farm were the worst affected parts of the borough. Nevertheless, as we know, the problems were fairly widespread, with even the relatively calm Kilburn High Road having one shop looted.

The nearest meeting for NW6ers is at Kingsgate Community Centre on September 6th.

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

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.

Retail
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.

Libraries
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.

Conversation
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.

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.

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!

Area group postscript : Burn, baby, burn

After the Area Group meeting had disbanded, West Hampstead Lib Dem councillor Nancy Jirira approached me to make what were distinctly party-political points.
“The Labour party in Camden,” she said “needs to be managing more efficiently, rather than just focusing on ‘cuts cuts cuts'”. She accused Labour – now in control of Camden council – of a lack of imagination, and argued that the proposed cuts were “officer-led” decisions rather than being developed by political debate. 
“There could be much more business process re-engineering,” she argued (that’s ‘doing things better’ to you and me), based on her experiences of working for a local PCT. She couldn’t tell me what proportion of the £80 million in cuts could be delivered through efficiency savings vs. cuts to services/programmes. 
She also thought that Labour, as the opposition party nationally, should be holding the government to account, even though her own party is in government. In fact, she came come across as disillusioned and disappointed with Labour as a whole. Which is no doubt how many in her own party feel about the path that their own leadership has taken them down.
She also said that it was crazy that schoolchildren were going on demos, and seemed to be blaming Labour for that too. I pointed out that most of the anger about changes to education funding was being directed towards Lib Dems over the broken promise on tuition fees. 
In what may be a representative position of Lib Dem councillors across the country* she was clearly extremely sympathetic to the protestors. “They can burn Nick Clegg’s effigy if they want,” she said, which is an odd thing to say about the leader of your own party. 
Do other Camden Lib Dems hold similar (if less publicly expressed) views? Will all six West Hampstead and Fortune Green councillors run under the Lib Dem banner again? Might some with a strong personal reputation be better placed running as independents given that the Lib Dems could get hammered the next time we go to the voting booth?
*wild speculation – probably