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Is West Hampstead due an £8 million Liddell Road windfall?

Liddell Road – a school, some office space and apartments. It was a controversial scheme when it went through planning a few years ago, with Camden acting as developer and approver. There was much talk of how the numbers added up and why there was to be virtually no affordable housing. Three years on, some of those numbers have changed – so could this mean West Hampstead is about to get a whole whack of cash?

Let us take you back to the mid 2010s. Liddell Road was a council-owned piece of land used as a light industrial estate. The council wanted to use half the site to build a school – specifically an extension to Kingsgate School – and it would pay for this largely by selling off the other half of the site for housing and office space.

Revised Liddell Road plan with 14-storey tower block (reduced to nine storeys)

The plan was for a four-form entry lower school (up to 7-year-olds) that would ultimately house up to 360 children who would then move on to Kingsgate’s main buildings over in Kilburn. The council claimed the school would cost £13.4 million.

To pay for it, Camden argued it needed to sell land with planning permission to build a nine-storey tower block plus some mansion blocks. In total, there would be 100 flats, of which just four would be “affordable”, and 3,500 m2 of office space. This would cover the cost of the school and generate an additional £1.9 million for the education department. The school was also eligible for £6.7 million of central government funding. Camden took this money but excluded it from its calculations on how to pay for the school.

In March 2015, the council’s own planning committee agreed two separate yet inseparable planning applications: one for the school and one for the development to fund it.

For reasons that were never made clear, the two sites were built separately. First the school, where construction has finished and which opened in September 2017. Next, the residential and commercial buildings where construction hasn’t even started. This second part of the site is due to be sold to an external developer this spring. When work eventually starts it will obviously cause considerable disruption and potential danger from construction traffic to children at the school. Not to mention the additional inconvenience to local residents from yet more construction. It’s hard to understand why both developments were not built simultaneously.

At the time, the Neighbourhood Development Forum and West Hampstead Life did some number crunching and argued that the development would generate a much larger surplus (or “profit” as a normal person would call it) than Camden was suggesting.

The residential and office space was supposed to generate £15.4 million (£13.4m for the cost of the school + the £1.96m surplus). This seemed low. Experts that the NDF consulted valued the land £10 million higher, which would lead to a £11.96m surplus.

From speculation to cold hard cash
It turned out that building the school was more expensive than first thought. Quite a lot more expensive. The cost rose by 38% from £13.4 million to £18.6 million when the construction contract was finally given. Camden’s press office told us that “£13.4m was the estimate quoted in the December 2013 cabinet paper,” but then argued that in the period 2014-2016, “the proposals were developed in detail while at the same time construction costs rose significantly for the industry as a whole and in Camden, resulting in this increase in cost.” It seems a very large jump in costs in two years, and it was not put on the table at the planning committee in March 2015 when the scheme was approved on the basis of the £13.4 million number.

It is still not clear whether the £6.7 million central government grant for building the school actually went towards building the school – even though it would have more than offset this £5 million increase in costs.

Was such a big school needed in the first place. Demographic modelling showed a lack of primary school places, but the four-form school opened last year with only three forms and this year’s entry will also be only three-form. Camden’s response: “The unexpected national drop in births in 2013 has had a considerable impact in Camden, and other authorities. Surrounding authorities have found themselves in a similar situation, reducing pupil admission numbers to temporarily address the falling reception numbers.” It’s true that the birth rate did fall in 2013 quite dramatically, but this was public knowledge in 2014, so again why was it not made clear in March 2015 when the decision came before the planning committee. Could the school have been slightly smaller and therefore cheaper?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of predicting school places, a school that cost £18.5 million would not be paid for by the £15.4 million raised from the homes and office development. It seemed the development had lurched from profit to loss? .

Fast forward to spring 2018 and Camden is finally planning to sell the land and has pencilled in the amount it expects to get. Turns out, surprise surprise, that it should sell the land for more than £15.4 million. It’s even going to be more than the NDF’s estimate of £25.4 million. Camden has pencilled in a net £26.8 million expected capital receipt. More than enough to cover the £18.5 million for the school, and the £1.9 million surplus (all assuming that £6.7 million was spirited away elsewhere). We are now looking at an £8.3 million surplus.

Camden’s press office again: “The original estimate of £15.3m was made back in 2012 as part of the business case for the redevelopment. Since 2012, land values in Camden have increased and more detailed work has been undertaken on the development which has resulted in this higher valuation. (This increased valuation is still very much open to market fluctuations).”

However, when the NDF made estimates using March 2015 valuations it estimated a sale value of £25.4 million which is much closer to the current valuation. Why was Camden using a 2012 valuation for a 2015 planning decision? Camden redacted all the numbers in its viability report due to ‘commercial considerations’ (this is the report used to justify the level of affordable housing) but the discrepancy in the public numbers and the final valuations suggests that decisions were made by the planning committee using out-of-date information.

Let us reflect that the argument for virtually no affordable housing at Liddell Road was that there wasn’t enough money and that the school itself was a public sector investment. Now the profit from the development looks like it’s risen from £1.96 million to £8.3 million. Does this mean more affordable housing is a possibility? The council does not rule this out, which is encouraging, though no chickens should be counted. How much of the money will pay for other improvements in the area, which are sorely needed as the population of West Hampstead continues to grow rapidly.

Camden’s rather vague answer to where the money will go is that “the extra money goes to support our continuing Community Investment Programme”. However, it accepts that “depending on the level of offers, additional affordable housing may be a point of negotiation with the shortlisted developers. Increasing the affordable housing numbers may result in a reduction in capital receipts so this can only be done if the overall programme remains viable.”

In fact, the Camden planning officer’s report in March 2015 was rather more specific. It states that “If the profit/surplus is more than £3m, this should be spent on an off-site contribution to affordable housing. This will be set out in the S106 agreement”.

Has this been set out? The other Section 106 payments (that’s money developers have to contribute to the local area to help offset the impact of their schemes) in the Liddell Road project were extremely low for a development of this size, only £47,000 and £30,000 for Maygrove Peace Park and local community facilities respectively. There was nothing more broadly for the larger growth area. It would seem that it’s time to revisit this.

Once again, the issues around this development are ones of transparency as much as of intent. As we wrote at the time, although it was a controversial development that led to a loss of jobs and useful local services, many people in the area were still broadly in favour of the school and accepted that some housing was needed to pay for it.

But when the development cost and possible income change so much from initial estimates – and in some cases these numbers could have been adjusted before the planning committee approved the project – we are left in the dark again.

When will Camden acknowledge that locals feel they have a right to a clearer understanding of how the calculations are made on affordable housing, of where exactly money in the “Community Investment Programme” will be spent locally, and on where that £6.7 million central government grant went that was specifically tied to the Kingsgate expansion.

Featured photo credit: Sue on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Council tax is going up by 4.99% and here’s why

Last night Camden accepted the recommendation that council tax bills will rise, a decision that will be ratified at full Council on the 26th. For the second year running, it will rise by 4.99%, an increase comprised of a 2.99% council-tax increase and an ‘Adult Social Care’ precept of 2%’. Average Camden band D council tax was £1,417 in 2017/18, which will rise by £70 to £1,487 this coming year, if the increase is approved on the 26th.

Before everyone jumps up and down and starts grumbling about the 1.99% council tax rise, remember that inflation was 2.7% over 2017. Also, almost every council in the country is doing exactly the same, so Camden is no exception. Up until this year, 4.99% was the maximum rise in tax allowed before a referendum had to be held. That number is rising to 5.99%, so let’s see next year.

Council tax accounts for 12% of total council spending (£101 million of total spending of £824 million). Retained business rates account for £89.3 million, fees and rents bring in £166.5 million (of which council tenants contribute ~£120 million directly or via benefits), and the remaining £466.6 million comes from central government.

*note these are for 2017/18 but 2018/19 is roughly the same, although there has been some reduction in the central government grant.

Government funding comprises money for statutory responsibilities, such as schools, adult care, and housing. This statutory funding has been squeezed in recent years, but not cut dramatically. What has been cut dramatically is the portion for discrectionary services. In 2010, this totalled £241 million, but it has fallen every year since and in 2018/19 it will be £119 million – basically half.

Former council finance chief Theo Blackwell argued that Camden faced the seventh highest cut in the country. Despite the cuts, he also said that “resident satisfaction with how Camden spends money is at an all-time high, and gone up by 20% in last 4 years”.

Camden has coped with budget cuts by making savings. Most visibly for most residents, it moved waste collections from weekly to fortnightly, which saved £5 million per year. This has become something of a political football. The Conservatives say they would reverse the change while Labour claims it’s the result of the cut in the central government block grant. Surely, whichever side of the political divide you sit on, we can all agree that the council should spend money as efficiently as possible?

As we get further into the savings programs, the easy savings have all been made and there is concern that some of the harder savings might not be realised, which would lead to Camden’s deficit rising. As the chart below shows, a growing share of savings fall into the “maybe” and “uncertain” to be realised categories.

These are the expected savings with the probability they will be realised; green = fairly certain, amber = maybe, red = uncertain. And they will have to find further savings on top of these.

Slicing the pie

Where does the council spend all this money? Every year it produces a finely sliced pie chart that breaks it down. The biggest area of spending is education (about 25% of the total), which is spent according to government rules. The block grant for education has been cut by 3% a year for the past few years. In 2018/19 it will rise by 0.5% (still a cut in real terms, given inflation is 2.7%).

*note these are for 2017/18 but 2018/19 are roughly the same, although there have been some reductions.

There were a couple of sizeable one-off items in the 2018/19 housing expenditure. The evacuation of Chalcots estate in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire led to emergency housing costs of £17.5 million and the cost of replacing the cladding was another £31 million. The council is asking central government to bear at least some of the cost but will have to find the extra money from its reserves.

Another change to the balance sheet stems from the changes to housing benefit and universal credit. So far only a small number of people have been switched over to universal credit but as has been widely reported, the process has not been smooth and has led to an increase in rent arrears. As more recipients get switched over, Camden expects these arrears to rise.

Meanwhile, central government is mandating a 1% rent reduction per year, until 2020/21. From then on they will increase again by 1% (though, depending on inflation, this is likely to still result in less income in real terms).

Adult social care makes up a large part of Camden’s expenditure. The last few years have coincided with a real-terms squeeze on the NHS budget and a rise in the number of older people, particularly of the very old. Between 2013 and 2023, the number of people aged 90+ is projected to increase by 50%. This is why central government has allowed councils to add a ring-fenced 3% precept for adult social care.

Still, Camden has been able to set a balanced budget for this year, assuming frozen block grant, there are budget deficits forecast for 2020/21 (of £36 million ) and beyond. Plus some of the expected savings are looking uncertain (as in RAG – red/amber/green graph above).

“More rough than ready”

Since Theo Blackwell departed to be Sadiq Khan’s digital tsar, Fortune Green councillor Richard Olszewski has taken over as cabinet member responsible for Finance. Richard said that the medium-term financial strategy Camden established in 2014 has helped it mitigate the impact of the cuts. It has also focused on ‘outcomes-based budgeting’ to help it spend money more effectively. Finally, the council also digitised many services, such as parking permits, making them work better (and cheaper).

“Council tax was brought in 1990 after the Poll Tax and was rough and ready but by 2018 its now more rough than ready”. The simple truth is that, broadly speaking, Londoners massively underpay council tax relative to the rest of the country as banding has not kept up with the stratospheric growth in house prices in the capital. But re-banding would be political suicide for the Tories who would hurt their home counties base and for Labour who’d alienate their urban voters.

Richard recognises that locals should be more involved in setting Council tax. “It would help if there was a more obvious link between council tax and council services, but people did get involved back in 2014 when we were consulting on budget cuts.”. He also argues that over the past few years, “we have been in an almost permanent election cycle”, and therefore there’s real-time feedback on the doorstep. “Yes, at first they criticise us, but then they recognise we have to make cuts, but end by saying we could do better!”

Richard says that there will need to be a further round of cuts, though won’t yet be drawn on specifics. Camden is dominated by Labour councillors, and the local party tries to plan its budget in line with Labour motivations with a focus on tackling inequality and spending more on early years provision.

Camden Conservatives’ finance spokesperson is Swiss Cottage councillor Don Williams. He argues that the Conservatives would try to be more efficient. He points out that Westminster (population 220,000) has 1,700 employees, while Camden (population 246,000) has 3,968. He also suggested ways of raising more revenue, such as through advertising, which now brings in £5 million a year.

Every year, the Conservatives produce an alternative budget that goes into more detail about how they would save money. Pages 7-11 of this document set out their ideas (for 2017). Note that the Conservatives accept the need for the 3% precept, so even under the Tories your bills would rise, but they would freeze the council tax component. In the end, last year their proposal would have led to a £21 annual saving over the actual rise in band D council tax, which doesn’t seem like a radically different vision.

 

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, optimistically 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 flak 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 (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.