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And 198 new flats at West Hampstead Square

Housing targets 90 percent fulfilled with 14 years to go!

Last week we looked at job creation in West Hampstead. This week, we turn our attention to housing.

In the London Plan 2016, West Hampstead is glamorously referred to as “Area for intensification, number 45”. The original designation dates back to the time Ken Livingstone used to commute to City Hall via West Hampstead and no doubt saw all this space around the railway tracks. The “intensification” was to increase housing by 800 new homes and jobs by 100 in the Growth Area, mapped below.

In 2015, Camden confirmed these numbers in its own plan for  the West Hampstead Interchange over the following 16 years, though this is substantially lower than the number outlined in its 2010 Core Strategy document, which was 2,000 new homes but was then scaled back to 1,000. The “Interchange” is almost exactly the same as the growth area.

It is not clear who originally drew the outline of the Growth Area, and why, for example, it didn’t include the council-owned light industrial site  Liddell Road.

WH Growth area2

In early 2017, how is West Hampstead progressing towards this housing target?

Nido. The student housing on Blackburn Road immediately presents a challenge. It has 347 beds but unless you really stretch the definition of a “home”, that does not really equate to 347 new homes. A better measure, though not perfect, is to look at it as 39 shared-flats and 52 studios = 91 units.

Asher House. Next door to the student housing is the former Accurist offices, which was fairly quietly converted to residential under a government scheme to speed up planning that improved the valuation of the building without including any affordable housing. It was converted into 25 units, however, it is possible that it may be fully redeveloped in the future, which would be likely to add a couple of stories.

West Hampstead Square. If anyone ever actually moves in, then its seven blocks contain 198 units (145 market, 33 affordable rented, 20 shared ownership).

156 West Lane. The Travis Perkins building that’s just been given the go-ahead for redevelopment will have 164 units (85 market, 44 affordable rent, 35 shared ownership).

And 198 new flats at West Hampstead Square

And 198 new flats at West Hampstead Square

That’s 478 units so far within the Growth Area, but there are a number of large developments that fall just outside the Growth Area, but at the same sort of density. Should they be included in the targets? We are talking about large-scale dense developments on the fringes of the growth area and whose residents will certainly be gravitating to West Hampstead for their transport needs in particular.

Liddell Road. The largest of these developments, Liddell Road includes 106 units of housing to sit alongside the school (indeed, paying for the school). Just four of these units will be at affordable rents.

The Residence. Next door at 65-67 Maygrove Road, this scheme includes 91 units (79 market, 4 shared ownership, 3 social rented and 5 affordable rented).

The Ivery & The Central. The old Iverson Tyres site has 19 units (15 market, 2 shared ownership, 2 social rented) while the former garden centre site next door has 33 units (23 market, 7 socially rented, 3 shared ownership).

Adding these additional 249 to the 478 gives us 727 housing units – 90% of the housing target for 2031!

There are at least three other sites in the planning pipeline, although progress is slow and final numbers speculative.

11 Blackburn Road. This attractive but run-down Victorian warehouse had a planning application for six 2-bed houses and the conversion of the main warehouse into B1 employment space downstairs with a couple of flats upstairs. Nothing seems to be happening with this at the moment, but there’s a potential 8 units.

14 Blackburn Road. Way back in 2004, permission was granted to redevelop the Builders Depot. This was for two 4-storey blocks, one with employment space and one with 8 houses and 6 flats, plus underground parking. This permission has now lapsed so would have to be renegotiated, but these 14 units, would likely be the minimum of any new proposal.

Finally, Midland Crescent. That’s next to the O2 centre on the Finchley Road – which still counts as the West Hampstead Growth Area. This has been refused planning permission three times. The latest proposal included student housing, private housing, a shop and employment space. Again any estimate of potential is speculative, but the latest application would have delivered 40 units.

That’s a potential extra 62 new units within the growth area, but on top of that there are other sites that could be – and in some cases will be – redeveloped for housing: The Taveners Yard on Iverson Road, the Paramount carpark and – the big one – the O2 carpark.

At the workshop on the 02 carpark, there was talk of 300 new homes as well as employment and retail space. In one fell swoop West Hampstead could soar past the 1,000 new homes target. Maybe then, the tube station would finally be decreed worthy of an upgrade. Maybe.

2016-09-22_18h12_05

Are revised plans for Mario’s super or not?

Today was the final official day for comments on 153-163 Broadhurst Gardens a.k.a. “Mario’s block” for those of you can remember the Greek restaurant that used to be there.  As West Hampstead Life reported nearly three years ago during the first consultation for this site there were two options on offer: traditional or modern.

The site is in the South Hampstead conservation area, although not of significant architectural merit (it’s not listed).  It is not in the West Hampstead Growth Area but close enough and big enough to warrant interest.

At the initial presentation there was a high turnout – offering design options to local people is a recommended strategy for getting buy-in to a proposed development. It wasn’t clear what happened after that presentation as things went quiet. But in the background, the owners continued to consult with Camden planners (as they are allowed to do – and have to pay handsomely for).  The new Design and Access statement says that “there was a clear local preference at the local community consultation for the traditional building that reflected the immediate surrounding area” (although they don’t say by what percentage) and a preference for red brick over the yellower London stock.

At the consultation there was also concern about the bulkiness of the building, which has been addressed during design development. For example originally there were 19 flats in the building, the initial proposals raised this to 39 (which seemed squeezing a quart into a pint pot). This has been scaled back to 30 units. This reduction has come about by scaling back the rear of the building (originally the building was going to incorporate 23 West Hampstead Mews). The western side of the building has also been reduced to four storeys to match the height of the ENO building next door.

Design development for 153 to 163 Broadhurst Gardens ('modern' version)

Design development for 153 to 163 Broadhurst Gardens (‘modern’ version)

Final proposal for 153-163 Broadhurst Gardens (traditional version)

Final proposal for 153-163 Broadhurst Gardens (traditional version)

What hasn’t changed much is that the development includes two large (ish) retail units with storage space underground.  The West Hampstead NDF objected to the scale of the units and the Council’s own policies suggest it should ‘ensure that West Hampstead continues to provide a mix of units to serve the local area, but which will avoid the loss of ground floor units’. Is replacing the existing four or five units with two large ones, one of which may be a restaurant again, in accordance with these policies? This will also be an issue for 156 West End Lane.

The site has amazing transport links – you could almost fall out of your bed into the C11 and not much further onto the tube –  which has an impact on the density of development. It’s rated “6a” for transport accessibility, which means in practice 175- 405 units per ha. This latest plan works out at 344 units/ha, so within the range but at the upper end.

Both the NDF and CRASH (South Hampstead residents association) have challenged the lack of affordable housing, but no viability assessments have been disclosed yet. The development should generate more than £500,000 in community infrastructre levy thought – and 25% of that must be spent in the local area).

Sadly, the sole tree on the site (behind 159) would be removed and not replaced. If developments are supposed to be sustainable, perhaps Camden and the developers could look at options for replacing trees on or around the site. Broadhurst Gardens is a quirky retail area, could it be enhanced by some greenery (something a mini-masterplan could include)?

153-156 Broadhurst Gardens is a significant site in our area, which hasn’t received much scrutiny after the initial consultation. Still, it is good that local opinion has fed into the design development, which has led to a better building. It is super, no. Is it good enough? We will have to see what the planning committee decide.

Skylark Court image: via planning application

Finchley Road towerblock: Are they having a (Sky)lark?

In the outer reaches of West Hampstead, where it abuts the Finchley Road (indeed next to Finchley & Frognal Overground station) is 317 Finchley Road. You may know it as the heavily locked former nightclub. It could be transformed into a ten (10!) storey building. Could be.

The statutory consultation period for this planning application has closed but the application is still under consideration so in reality it’s not too late to comment – see below.

Skylark Court image: via planning application

Skylark Court. Image via planning application

The proposed development, ‘Skylark Court’, is from Linea Homes, a small developer that has been increasing the size of its developments over the past decade. One of its earliest developments was in West Hampstead, converting a house on Fordwych Road into flats; a couple of years later it redeveloped a house on Holmdale Road. Skylark Court is on a different scale.

For 317 Finchley Road, Linea is proposing a contemporary development with floor-to-ceiling windows, which might look good in Berlin, but does anyone need that much of a view of the Finchley Road? The ten storeys will tower well above neighbouring buildings, and has been rationalised on the basis of the flats next to JW3 (which is quite a distance away).

You may recall there was another recent application to redevelop 317 Finchley Road, however this was for only part of the site (the old pub). This got planning permission for six storeys, but the developer then sold the site on to Linea, who decided to combine it with two adjacent sites – and add four storeys.

Previous consented scheme image: via planning application

Previous consented scheme (note five storeys, plus a sixth set back) image: via planning application

Alongside all the glass, the developer explains its choice of materials:

Materials, colour, texture, patterns, structure and construction were under consideration while sculpting and breaking down the mass against a multiple of further competing criteria, namely Network Rail, neighbouring daylight and sunlight amenities, overlooking, road noise and atmospheric pollution, street and townscape, fire escape’.

No, we can’t understand it either, but it appears they want to clad it in some sort of red stone (see illustration below). What’s wrong with good old brick?

Berlin or the Finchley Road?

Berlin or the Finchley Road?

One final thing to note is that Linea is proposing a completely new entrance to Billy Fury Way, between the development and the Overground station, while still keeping the old one, which seems a bit odd.

The previous application attracted only a couple of comments, but this one has already reached over twenty, 95% opposed on grounds of height. If you want to add your comments on the application (2016/2910/P) you can find the related documents here or  you can comment here.

NDFmap_ft

Only one hurdle left for Neighbourhood Plan

The West Hampstead and Fortune Green Neighbourhood Development Forum has had two good pieces of news in the past week. Yesterday it announced a £6,000 grant from the Lottery, which will help enormously in setting up a sustainable Forum that can last beyond the delivery of the plan. Secondly, and even more importantly, the draft plan was passed by an independent examiner – a critical step in the process.

The Neighbourhood Development Forum has been featured on these pages for so long that some readers must be wondering whether the plan it has been developing is ever going to come into force. However, last week’s decision by John Parmiter, an independent planning examiner, to pass the plan means that it’s now assured of going to a referendum later this year.

The independent examination, to which all Neighbourhood plans must be sumbmitted, tests whether or not the plan [latest version] meets certain basic conditions that are in line with planning law. It is not a test of the plan itself and whether it’s “good” or not; more whether it is viable. The examination of the West Hampstead plan, rather unusually, took the form of a public hearing. These are used only when the examiner feels there are issues that need to be discussed or specific views that need to be heard – generally from people who have submitted comments in the consultation phase.

That meeting took place in December and the findings were published last week. You can read the full report here. The tone of the examiner’s remarks is notably constructive and although there is some criticism of the lack of supporting evidence for some of the plan’s policy recommendations, the report talks positively about the level of community engagement and the attempt to reflect the community’s aspirations.

The examiner has recommended (which is code for “insisted on”) some wording changes, some of which inevitably water down NDP policies that simply won’t work as they stand because they are not in line with national or local planning policy. Both building height and the protection of views are affected by this though the spirit of the NDP’s proposals stands.

For most people, the most signifcant change the examiner made is to strike out completely the policy on basements. The plan said there should be “a presumption against basement development more than one storey deep or outside the footprint of the property (excluding lightwells)”. The examiner found “no, or insufficient, evidence to support the… policy”.

Overall, however, the examiner’s report is good news for the NDP. Once the changes are made and Camden gives final approval, the plan will go to a referendum of people in the area – that’s everyone living in West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. A simple majority of the people who vote is all that is needed to pass the plan. Although it would seem to make sense to combine the referendum with the general election on May 7th, Camden apparently does not like this idea, so the vote may now be in early July.

West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Plan map

The boundary of the area covered by the plan, which is the same as the two wards of West Hampstead and Fortune Green

 

Neighbourhood Plan_final draft cover_ft

West Hampstead’s Neighbourhood Plan enters final phase

After two and half years work, the Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum has produced the final draft of the Neighbourhood Plan for our area – which has been formally submitted to Camden Council.

The Plan is based on extensive consultation, engagement and research – as well as the previous seven drafts of the Plan drawn up before this version.

The final document has been amended to reflect the comments submitted during the consultation period on the “pre-submission (7th) draft” during January and February, help from Camden Council planning officers and advice from independent planning consultants.

The Neighbourhood Plan – and supporting documents – can be seen in full on our website: www.ndpwesthampstead.org.uk

The Plan covers the two Camden Council wards of Fortune Green and West Hampstead (see Map 1 in the Plan). The main focus of the Plan is set out in the Vision and Objectives (see page 10). The objectives cover six areas: housing, design & character, transport, public & community facilities, economy, and natural environment.

The Plan contains 18 policies (in blue boxes) on a range of issues from housing to business, from cycling to trees. If the Plan is adopted, these policies will be used in deciding planning applications in area – so could have a direct impact on your street, as well as the wider area.

What happens next?

  • Camden Council will carry out a six week consultation on the Neighbourhood Plan from 18 September to 31 October – when further comments can be submitted.
  • The Plan, and comments received, will then be submitted to an independent examiner – who will write a report and decide if the Plan can proceed to a referendum.
  • If all goes well, the referendum on the Plan will take place in early 2015 – everyone on the electoral register in the area will get a vote.

The NDF will keep people posted as to how things progress over the coming months:

We’re also looking for people who can help with the referendum campaign – if you’re interested, please let us know.

Finally – a big thank you to everyone who’s played a part in helping the NDF and the Plan reach this important stage.

James Earl
(Chair, Fortune Green & West Hampstead NDF)

Neighbourhood Plan_final draft cover

View from the park

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.

Liddell Road plan_July 2014_ft

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.

Item 9 Appendix E Primary School Places Planning Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

Item 9 Appendix E Primary School Places Planning Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

The surprisingly large 156 Wes End Lane site

Affordable housing for 156 West End Lane

The surprisingly large 156 West End Lane site

The surprisingly large 156 West End Lane site

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

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

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

50 percent tweet

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

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

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

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

Revised Liddell Road plan with 14-storey tower block

Revised Liddell Road plan with 14-storey tower block

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

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

TravisPerkins

Still empty above the ground floor

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

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

What’s “affordable”?

Affordable housing should:

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

Three types of affordable housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it mean on the ground?

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

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

Further reading

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

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

153-163 Broadhurst falling down_ft

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.

Concept drawing - station front

Sneak preview of Overground station plans

Concept drawing - station front

The first pictures have emerged of what West Hampstead Overground station is going to look like after a complete remodel. The £7m scheme is still in its early stages but it looks like it will resemble most other modern stations with an abundance of glass and steel.

The Overground station, which opened in 1888, handles 3 million passengers a year, so more capacity is needed as well as longer platforms to accommodate the new 5-carriage trains that will start to run from 2015.

We reported last year that TfL was planning to rebuild the station, partly thanks to almost £1 million from Ballymore as part of its contribtuions to the community for West Hampstead Square (the Section 106 money). Architects are now finalising initial designs in advance of the planning application, which will be submitted in the spring. Before that, TfL will consult with passengers and the community to comment on the proposal.

Looking east - the footbridge is further down the platform than it is today.

Looking east – the footbridge is further down the platform than it is today.

The existing station will be partially removed so the pavement can be widened. The new station will be between the existing station and West Hampstead Square, and there will be step-free access from street-level to platform via lifts. The current platforms are too narrow for lift shafts so they will need to be widened by at least 3 metres (this will of course ease the crowding on the platform too).

Work to widen and extend platforms will commence in late spring, and work on the new station building should follow in early 2015 and take approximately one year – depending on planning permission of course.

The images, courtesy of TfL are still conceptual and are subject to change prior to the submission of a planning application. It’s still hard from these to understand quite how it fits into the streetscape, especially with West Hampstead Square yet to be built.

Trees – there are always trees

TfL has already broached the thorny issue of trees. “In order to complete the platform and station works, it is necessary to remove four sycamore trees from the railway embankment along the westbound platform. The proximity of these trees to the new station building and platform means that the scheme cannot be completed with them in place.”

One of those trees has just had a Tree Preservation Order slapped on it by Camden, but expect TfL (and Network Rail who own the land) to get its way – even if it has to deal with petitions and masked protestors.

Gary Nolan, TfL’s Stakeholder Communications Manager, Rail, said “We are currently in discussions with tree officers from the London Borough of Camden regarding these trees and we intend to re-landscape the embankments to the rear of both platforms following the completion of works.”

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Use your phone to comment on local issues

As part of the public consultation on the proposed final draft of our Neighbourhood Plan, we’re offering everyone in the area a way to express their opinions and needs of the neighbourhood, using Commonplace West Hampstead – an online mapping project.

Every comment is shown on a shared map of the area, and the data collected is part of the consultation process for the plan.

Commonplace_map

The beauty of Commonplace is that you can add comments whenever you think of them. From the comfort of your own home, or from your mobile phone when walking pass something you feel strongly about. It takes just a few seconds to add a comment.

commonplacephone

We would like to reach as many people as possible using Commonplace – so as well as commenting yourself, please do pass this link on to neighbours, friends and colleagues. We want to reach as diverse a group as possible, especially younger members of the community who may not have been involved in other meetings.

Please do take advantage of this offer, as it is an important part of our consultation and helps provide an even better evidence base of public opinion in the area. Commonplace have just re-launched the platform – so its even easier to use, and works on all computers and smartphones.

So please register now to take part! We look forward to your comments.

James Earl,
Chair
West Hampstead & Fortune Green Neighbourhood Development Forum
@WHampsteadNDF

Commonplace_map

The power of “shall”: Big crowd for NDF meeting

West Hampstead library was full last night as a pleasing number of less familiar faces joined the usual suspects to discuss the final draft of the Neighbourhood Development Plan (download the plan here).

NDFmeetingaudience

The plan, two years in the making, is out for consultation until the end of February, and locals’ input is literally shaping paragraphs and sentences even at this late stage.

Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) chair James Eark kicked off proceedings with a rapid fire overview of where we are in the process, and touched briefly on the 17 policy areas.

He handed over to Cllr Flick Rea who got off to a flying start claiming to have been a local councillor in West Hampstead for more than half a century (25 years more than her actual – impressive enough – tenure). Flick took us on a journey through local planning history, but the message behind the nostalgia was that West Hampstead was and would continue to be a fantastic place.

Kate Goodman, one of Camden’s planning officers, spoke briefly about the council’s role in this process, which boiled down to “we support it”.

Finally, Vincent Goodstadt, vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association, and independent advisor on strategic planning, management of urban change and community engagement (phew!) talked about the particular challenges of planning in an area such as ours that includes both conservation areas and a major transport interchange earmarked for growth.

The floor was then opened up for questions. It was good to see that the level of debate was more civilised than at some other recent local meetings, and most of the questions were sensible. If one theme ran through the evening, it was a fear/suspicion that, for all its good intentions, the plan would simply be ridden over roughshod by developers.

There were two repsonses to this. First, that the plan was intended to be robust (there was some debate about the power of the word “shall”, which it turns out is a Good Word), and secondly that it would be a statutory document and therefore developers would have to take it into account. The point was also made, however, that the concept of Neighbourhood Plans is brand new and has yet to be tested in the field.

The conclusion that many people have already reached is that a plan is definitely better than no plan and the more strongly worded the plan the sharper teeth it will have. It can’t achieve everything, many issues are beyond its scope, but it can try and shape the way our area evolves.

The deadline for comments on this final draft plan is February 28th. Comments can be submitted online or in the library. The sentiment mapping tool, developed by Commonplace, has also been completely revamped and you can access it here and leave comments on specific places that will also be taken into account when the final plan is submitted to Camden.

Your comments here feed directly into the consultation process

Your comments here feed directly into the consultation process

WHL live-tweeted the whole meeting (you lucky lucky people), and if you weren’t following along in real time, here’s how the evening unfolded:

CafeBonGone

West Hampstead grows: Development review of the year

“Why did no-one try and fight it?”

I guarantee that when the tower blocks that will form West Hampstead Square start to go up in 2014, at least one person will express horror and shock that such a thing was allowed to go ahead uncontested.

Of course people did contest it – or at least the scale of it. Some still are. None of that matters now – the development got its planning permission more than a year ago. If you’re new to the area The best summary article of the plan is here, though scrolling through these pages will give you the full story.

The existing buildings, businesses that almost all managed to relocate locally, were knocked down the first weekend in May.

The remnants of Cafe Bon

Ballymore, the developers, launched the marketing offensive in the early summer with a website and then a promotional newspaper that seemed to suggest West Hampstead is populated by glamorous couples who swan around the stations in 1930s garb.

When sales eventually started to the general public in September (after a few existing Ballymore customers were given first dibs), there was considerable interest though most locals were a little gobsmacked by the prices (studios start at £405,000), 2-beds are in the £750,000+ range, service charge is ~£2,800 for 2-beds (and even ground rent is £750!).

The widespread belief, therefore, is that the unit are going to investors. After all, buyers have to drop a 20% deposit within a matter of months even though the flats won’t be ready until well into 2015.

As the flats went on the market, a bruhaha developed over the fate of trees on and adjacent to the site. Emma Thompson even got involved.

It’s all been of little import, though Ballymore has agreed to look at some more “greening” of parts of the site that won’t be seen by its own residents. The trees that people are now concerned about are on Network Rail land and are almost certain to be cleared when the Overground station is redeveloped in 2014.

West Hampstead Square might be the most high profile development in the area, but it’s far from the only one.

Work has finally started on the 163 Iverson Road site. This former garden centre will be turned into flats with some imaginative architecture to make the most of an odd-shaped site. Former Conservative candidate Chris Philp is now one of the investors in the development after a property fund he set up took over the site.

163 Iverson Road looking east

Next door, McGregor Homes has an application in to turn the Iverson Tyres site into a block of flats that reflect the architecture of the 163 development. It’s hard to see any major objections to these plans – already revised once after discussion with council planners. One objection might be that Iverson Tyres itself (which ows the land) isn’t able to move its offices into the one commercial unit in the development because Camden is insisting on classifying it for light industrial use.

The redevelopment of Handrail House and the building next door (63 & 65 Maygrove Road) hasn’t really got going even though developer Regal Homes has sold some of the units off plan during an Asian roadshow. The empty Handrail House was the site of a rave by squatters back in May.

The saga of Gondar Gardens is a tortuous one, but it may be entering its final stage. This time last year, the first of developer Linden Wates’ (now three) proposals had just been successfully appealed by the developer and the second was being lined up for appeal. There was some surprise that the national planning inspector rejected that second proposal.

Linden Wates has since put forward its third proposal – a tweak of the second adjusted to take the inspectors’ comments into account. GARA – the relevant residents association – will decide at its AGM in January exactly how to respond, but its initial reaction is to push to ensure that the developer puts forward as sympathetic a proposal as possible rather than to contest this third plan outright. This is, therefore, likely to be the beginning of the end of the story.

The other big development news is for a site at the very heart of West Hampstead, but progress is likely to be slow. 156 West End Lane, the red-brick building known as the “Travis Perkins building”, has been sold for redevelopment.

156West End Lane has enormous potential

However, Travis Perkins has a lease that means it can stay in the building for another three years. In the meantime the offices above – once used by the council – sit empty. It’s hoped that, given the substantial cost to Camden of simply keeping the building, some alternative uses can be found for at least some of the office space.

Hoping to play a part in all the big developments that lie ahead, the Neighbourhood Development Forum worked through various drafts of its plan and tried different ways to reach out to the broader community. Hopefully, by now most residents have at least heard of it, and many have contributed their thoughts. The final draft should be published in late January 2014 and go to consultation.

Other planning news

  • An application was submitted to turn the ground floor of Alfred Court into an extension of a private school. It was always going nowhere fast – much like the traffic it would have created.
  • The Blackburn Road student block was finished and opened on time – few people seem to object too much, despite its bulk.
  • The “Mario’s block” on Broadhurst Gardens is up for redevelopment – will it be modern or traditional?
  • The major Abbey Area redevelopment (around the Belsize Road/Abbey Road junction) has stuttered on with amendments to plans but little seems to have happened.

As always, you can keep up to date with major planning proposals and developments with the map below (do let me know if anything needs updating)


View Developments in West Hampstead in a larger map

Liddell Road sign

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

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Gondar Gardens: The beginning of the end?

Could we be entering the endgame in the Gondar Gardens saga? The developer, Linden Wates, has submitted its third planning application for the site. This attempts to address the very specific points that the national planning inspector raised in turning down Linden Wates appeal over its second plan, which was rejected by Camden. These focus on architectural detail more than any wider environmental impact.

An e-mail from GARA – the residents association that has campaigned tirelessly against all these plans – suggests that the long fight may almost be over.

Here’s GARA’s position in its own words:

“We have successfully protected the Open Space for many years, and we have ensured that each subsequent development proposal is less damaging and less intrusive than its predecessors.

No-one wants any development on the site but when considering this application, Camden will note that the impact on Open Space, the height and bulk of the ‘frontage’ scheme, and transport and parking issues were all accepted by planning inspectors.

Camden’s planning officer says he will consider these matters as resolved, meaning that he will consider only the detailed design. If the revised design acceptable, then Camden officers and councillors will find it difficult to refuse the application. It is with much regret that we have reached this conclusion.

Our task now is to ensure that the proposed design is something we can live with; and to secure the future of the remainder of the site as a nature space, with local involvement. We can also press for conditions on working hours, construction methods, vehicle routes and local amenity contributions.

Improvements to the design since the first ‘frontage’ application include:

  • Mostly pitched roof with dormer windows rather than a solid flat frontage – this is much more in keeping with the area and considerably softens the bulk of the building
  • Improved window detailing and some (not much) subtle brickwork – adding a little character
  • A clear ‘gap’, allowing views across the site from the street (previously obscured by the ‘car lift’ entrance) – this is still only a narrow view, but at least it benefits pedestrians
  • Soft landscaping at the front (a few bushes!); and a secure site boundary”

GARA tells me that the decision not to contest the whole application is purely pragmatic. “If we thought there was a realistic prospect of no development, then we would pursue that heartily,” said David Yass, chair of GARA. “Our challenge is to secure the best we can for our neighbours and wildlife.”

Although the deadline for comments on the new scheme is January 2nd, GARA has agreed with Camden that it can submit its response after its AGM on January 8th (a reassuringly sensible stance by Camden).

To view the planning application, click here and then on “View Related Documents”. The Design & Access Statement is usually the best thing to look at (this is true for all planning applications).

Related reading
The “teletubbies” Scheme
Scheme refused by Camden.
Frontage scheme #1.
Scheme refused by Camden planning committee.
“Teletubbies” sceme approved on appeal.
Frontage scheme #1 rejected on appeal.
Frontage scheme #2 submitted exhibited.

LindenWatesPlan2

Gondar Gardens: 140 years of history

Here’s a very useful history of the Gondar Gardens reservoir site, provided by GARA – the local residents association.

1874 Reservoir constructed.
1889 Tennis courts on the reservoir roof (no-one knew about slow worms then!).

100 years pass…

1989 Roof substantially repaired.
2002 Reservoir de-commissioned. GARA formed.
2004 Thames Water plans for a six-storey block with 120 flats – thwarted at public inquiry; site protected as Open Space and Site of Nature Conservation Interest.

2010 Linden Wates bought site, put up hoardings and removed trees.
2011/12 ‘Centre’ scheme rejected by planners but approved on appeal – 16 houses in pit of reservoir – this is still an option for Linden Wates to build, but would cost £6.8m in lieu of affordable housing.

2012/13 First ‘frontage’ scheme – refused by planning committee and refused on appeal as design would “harm local area” but impact on open space and height and bulk of scheme accepted.

2013 Revised ‘frontage’ scheme submitted.

  • Preserves 93% of open space as a site for nature, to be given to London Wildlife Trust
  • Opportunity for local residents to be part of management plans
  • Design improved to address inspectors’ concerns and through consultation with GARA

If the 2013 scheme is approved, Linden Wates has indicated that it will proceed and complete it within ~2 years. If it is refused, LW is likely to appeal and may use the intervening time to propose a combination of the ‘centre’ and ‘frontage’ schemes (although it cannot simply build part of each).

Liddell Road sign

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.

TheoBlackwell

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)

PhilJones

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
LiddellRoadplan

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

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

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

Let me take you back.

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

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

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

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

done the maths?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

commonplacemap

“I like it!” Share your views on local places.

West Hampstead being the sort of switched on digital community it is, it seems only right that we’re among the very first to test a new mapping/sentiment tool.

A who with the what now?
The idea is that you can pinpoint places in West Hampstead on a map – either on your smartphone or tablet or from the comfort of your desktop computer – and say what you think about them and, specifically, how they might be improved. Before you all jump and down, outraged that this excludes those people who aren’t online, this is just one strand of engagement that’s trying to reach one (large) subset of people.

To what end? This is all part of the Neighbourhood Development Forum‘s engagement programme, so the views expressed here will help the Forum as it finalises the draft plan.

How does it work?
It’s pretty simple.

First, go to http://westhampstead.commonplace.is – the site works on whatever size screen you’re using, there’s no app to download.

You’ll need to register the first time you use it with some basic information, which helps the NDF see what type of people are using it, and whether opinions vary between different types of people. No data that can actively identify you personally is collected.

After registering, you get two options: comment on a place, or view all comments.

View all comments takes you to the overview map, where you’ll see some green, orange and red circles. Zoom into the map as you would normally for more detail. Click on any of the circles to see what people have been saying.

You’ll notice that the West Hampstead Growth Area is shaded blue. The thrust of the mapping project is to get ideas on the growth area, but you are of course very welcome to comment on anything in the wider area. One thing to stress though – this isn’t intended as a way to complain about litter, or general problems the council need to attend to. For that, use FixMyStreet, or CleanCamden. This is about broader development issues; what you’d like West Hampstead to be. As a rule of thumb, if it’s something that could theoretically be rectified in 24 hours, it’s probably not for this site.

Once you’ve had a look around, why not make your first comment. If you’re out with your smarthphone then you can either turn the GPS on and the map will automatically locate you, or you can manually drag the marker. If you’re at home, just move the marker to where you want to write about.

Click Next and you’ll be given a form to fill in with your comments. Add what you like – the only thing you have to tick is the like/don’t like/neutral option.

Click Submit and your button appears on the map in the appropriate colour. You can also tweet a link to your comment if you have a Twitter account.

You can comment as many times as you like.

That’s it – happy commenting! The NDF will be demoing the site at the farmers market on Saturday December 7th as well.

Abbey Area regeneration stutters forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The entire site today

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

New 159 Iverson Road plans: 10 fewer flats

The planned development of the Iverson Tyres site is back on the agenda. Camden’s planners advised developer Stephen McGregor that the previous proposals, which I discussed back in July, would be unlikely to get permission. His architects went back to the drawing board taking into account the comments from Camden and from locals who came to the first exhibition of the plans.

Extending the timeframe of this development must be a bit hard to swallow for McGregor. I understand that the financing for this scheme is contingent on a reasonably quick turnaround. Still, Camden indicated the original plans were too dense (it’ll be interesting to see what they make of the Broadhurst Gardens scheme then), so the development has shrunk from 29 units to 19, of which 4 are affordable – still above quota. Camden’s position does mean that five affordable units now won’t be built – it does seem odd that in an area of intensification, this development was deemed too much, when the developer had unusually gone over quota on the affordable housing.

Fewer flats doesn’t mean they’ve all grown in size. Instead, the middle of the block has been cut away from the first floor up, allowing more sunlight into the landscaped garden area the development will share with 163 Iverson Road – the former garden centre site. In addition, the building has lost a storey at the back. The pictures below include the 163 Iverson Road development, which has of course not yet been built though the site has at least now been cleared.

The revised plan with 10 fewer flats
The original proposal

There are some other changes, a wider entrance, the ground floor set back further from the pavement, and a change of some materials, including the introduction of anodysed copper (which keeps its lustre rather than turning green). The affordable units have also been moved from the Iverson Road side of the property to the side and back.

In the initial proposal, there was a question mark over the use of the commercial space. Camden was insisting it remained light industrial as there is a shortage of space for that in the borough. However, this meant that Iverson Tyres couldn’t keep its offices on the site, which it wanted to do and which the developer was also in favour of. The revised plan has retained the light industrial use, despite a lack of clear evidence from Camden as to the level of demand for that. In light of the redevelopment of Liddell Road, there may be some scope for one of the businesses there to move in, but the majority of them would need much more room.

Here you can get more of a sense of what impact the new block will have on the street (once the 163 Iverson development has been built).


Mario’s brothers offer modern or classic

Last week’s exhibition on the proposals for 153-163 Broadhurst Gardens, a.k.a. “The Mario’s block”, attracted an exceptionally high turnout. Locals are being offered a say in the type of development they prefer – though concerns about housing density and size of commercial units may be of more concern than the “modern or traditional” design question that was the focal point of the exhibition.

Why is redevelopment needed at all? The building is falling down. It was built at the end of the 19th century and has been in the same family for two generations. Despite a major internal refurbishment in the mid 1980s, shallow foundations and vibration from tube trains have caused the settling that has created the significant distortion of the building so visible today. A structural report carried out last summer concluded that fixing the structure would be prohibitively expensive.

The owners – brothers, Duncan and Nick Gilbert, both of whom have lived there themselves – run a property company that manages some 50 flats across north-west London and accept that a rebuild is the only option.

It’s easy to see how wonky the building has become

The structural problems have also meant that it’s proved impossible to let the commercial space on the ground floor. The endgame has been inevitable for some time – the bulding will have to be knocked down and rebuilt. But rebuilt as what?

Squeezing in the people
Today, there are 19 flats in the block and as well as the sad-looking empty Mario’s restaurant, and a few other unused or underused commercial spaces. The plan, whichever frontage is chosen, is to turn those 19 flats into 39 flats. This, one feels, may be a sticking point for Camden – these are going to be small flats. On the basis of the current plans, the smallest 1-bedroom flat is 45 sq m, the largest go up to 55.6 sq m. The 2-beds range from 70-72 sq m. To give you a comparison, if you’ve looked at Ballymore’s West Hampstead Square, the one-beds are very similar, but Ballymore’s two-beds are slightly larger. The Broadhurst development also offers one three-bed flat.

Click for larger floor plans

Some share of this would be affordable housing, though how many flats would qualify for this remains to be decided.

Increased density isn’t deemed to be an intrinsically bad thing by Camden. The borough’s core strategy says,

The Council wants to encourage developments with high densities in the most accessible parts of the borough (… and the town centres of… West Hampstead)… Such schemes should be of excellent design quality and sensitively consider the amenity of occupiers and neighbours and the character and built form of their surroundings, particularly in conservation areas. Good design can increase density while protecting and enhancing the character of an area.

All the flats would be rented out and managed by the developers’ property company, so none would be on the open sales market.

The plans at the moment show two commercial units – the corner unit where Mario’s is looks like it would be extended slightly, with the other units would be merged into one.

It will be interesting to see whether Camden takes this opportunity to reflect both its own Core Strategy document. This points out that “there is a lack of high quality premises suitable for small business, particularly those less than 100 sq m”, as well as the NDF’s latest draft policy recommendation, which encourages “The provision of a range of different sized units, particularly smaller spaces for micro-businesses and studio space.”

In this context, it’s possible to imagine Camden accepting one larger premises – the expanded Mario’s site – but then suggesting that the other commercial site is broken into two (at the moment the smaller site has 164 sq m of space spread over the lower ground and ground floors).

Grand design
Enough about the inside, what about the outside? The building falls within the South Hampstead conservation area, though this doesn’t actively prohibit any particular design. The architects’ options are for a “traditional” look and feel, which would not be so different from what is there today, or for a more contemporary look. The latter also offers balcony space to the top floor and corner flats. In both versions, the red brick of today would be replaced with London Stock, which is a yellowish brick also common in the area. The opposite side of Broadhurst Gardens is built of London Stock, as is The Railway pub so it’s hardly out-of-keeping with the area, although it would clash with the ENO building next door and the red brick of West Hampstead mews.

There’s no particular height issue – the proposals add one extra storey [Ed: fair point made in comments, that it’s two extra floors, though total height change is equivalent to one extra floor], set back slightly, which would be in keeping with the building across the road. This would slightly affect the view from some of the flats in West Hampstead Mews, but it’s hard to see that being a major hurdle. This certainly isn’t going to be yet another high-rise.

Camden planners are favouring the more contemporary design (the architects seemed pleasantly surprised, telling me that most councils default to traditional design). My initial reaction was to favour the traditional because the street has no modern elements in it at all. There are a couple of low-level modern conversions in the mews, but otherwise it’s a traditional brick street. Without context, I prefer the more open-feel of the contemporary design, but I wonder whether it would be jarring, especially as the building abuts the former Decca Studios/ENO building so closely.

No plans have been submitted to Camden yet and, assuming all went smoothly, work wouldn’t start until 2015. This should give existing tenants time to see out their leases and find somewhere else to live. At least one tenant, who has lived in the building for nine years, only found out on the day of the exhibition that demolition was planned. Duncan Gilbert told me that they’d put up posters on the windows of the commercial units and put leaflets throught the communal letterboxes of the flats; one fears those might have gone the way of most leaflets through letterboxes.

View a PDF of the full set of exhibition boards.

Your views on West Hampstead’s future

Those of you living in West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards will have had a leaflet through your doors this past week.

This is the latest chance (and one of the last) to give input to the Neighbourhood Development Forum, which is now on the sixth draft of the Neighbourhood Development Plan. Only one more draft is expected before it’s sent to Camden for the next round of scrutiny. Eventually, sometime next year, there will be a referendum on whether to adopt the plan or not.

Regular readers won’t need the background to this concept, but for everyone else the leaflet sets out what the Neighbourhood Development Forum is trying to do, and highlights the particular challenge of the growth area around the stations. If you didn’t get one (or live outside the wards, but are interested), you can see it here.

The leaflet includes a very short survey, and the NDF team would be astonishingly grateful if you could take two minutes to fill it in. If it’s easier, then you can fill it in online instead: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/35CBQPC.

Please don’t forget to fill in the “about you” section – this helps ensure that the views collected are as representative as possible, both geographically and demographically within the area.

Look out very soon for the launch of the mobile tool that will let you record your thoughts about the area on your smartphones as you walk around.

Gondar Gardens: Spot the difference

[updated Oct 26th 7pm]

Many professions are so steeped in their own language that they find it almost impossible to communicate in plain English, even when asked. Thus it was that I found myself talking to architects about the revised plans for Gondar Gardens and having to endure lots of explanation about “verticality” and “rhythm”, and not much about what the key differences are between this and the previously rejected project.

It’s a bit of a game of Spot the Difference.

The most obvious difference between the original plan (top) and the new plan (bottom) is the all-glass bay windows, which are apparently “winter gardens”. Who knew.

The new plan also removes the housing of the entry to the underground car park between the two buildings, and the cladding for the projections is lighter. As to that verticality and rhythm, that refers to much more regular spacing of windows and more emphasis on the vertical structure compared with the broken-up facade of the original.

The developers clearly hope that these detailed changes will win over the planning inspector. Actually, they probably hope that Camden council believes they will win over planning inspector and passes the plans first time around, preventing the appeal and Camden’s liability for the appellants legal costs.

Here’s why the planning inspector rejected the previous proposal (crucially, not on any grounds of environmental impact).

However, my main concern with the appeal scheme is the detailed design. The proposed design seeks to repeat the proportions of houses and bay windows seen in the area, through a series of brick projections. However, the varying size of the projections, the large expanses of brickwork (seen particularly on the two large projections), the combination of geometric shapes and the four storey sections with a flat roof, only serve to distinguish all elements of its design from those in the surrounding area. There is no visible connection to the intricate shapes, decorative detailing (including red brick and white mouldings) or the strong vertical emphasis seen in the surrounding houses which combine to determine the character of West Hampstead.

There are examples of new development of contrasting design in the area. However, they are generally smaller developments, which exert little influence over the area. By contrast, the appeal scheme would stretch some 70 metres along Gondar Gardens, filling most of this section of the road along one side. It would impose a long development of a very different character, thereby significantly harming the distinct and attractive character of this part of West Hampstead and its contribution to the wider area.

Even if the new proposal addresses these concerns, and it certainly looks to a layman like me that it’s a step in that direction, it’s hard to believe it’s going to win over those who have contested the development of Gondar Gardens so vigorously over the past few years. You can look at all the detailed architectural responses here.

Local residents group GARA, which has worked so hard to fight the various development proposals, commented that the latest proposals “address some aspects [of the inspector’s comments] but appear to have done little about the lack of detailing around windows etc, and have not properly addressed the issue of being out of place in its environment.”

The original “Teletubbies plan“, rejected by Camden but overturned on appeal, could still happen. However, the developers tell me that “there are a number of complex legal arrangements delaying its development, in particular relating to the off-site provision of affordable housing.” According to GARA, this means either finding a second site where the afforable housing could be built, or making a one-off £6m contribution to Camden.

Back to the tweaked design, here’s what local councillor Flick Rea thought of it:

Just seen new design for Gondar Gardens development – precious little difference except for some sticking out chunks in light brick- ugh!
— Flick Rea (@FlickRea) October 15, 2013

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

Tree debate moves to Network Rail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New twist in Gondar Gardens saga

If you’re playing catch-up on the interminable story of Gondar Gardens, which progesses as fast as the slow worms that have previously come to its rescue, then please read this succinct summary of where we stood back in June.

In a nutshell, a developer had submitted two separate plans to build houses on this disused reservoir site. Camden had rejected both plans, the national planning inspector overturned that decision on the first plan, but upheld it on the second.

Now, the developer is talking about a third plan. Sigh. It’s tempting to wonder whether its aim is solely to bankrupt the local residents association, GARA, which rallies its troops and fights any attempt to turn this green space into property. More likely is that the approved plan is now too expensive to develop. Here’s the e-mailed invite to view the new plans:

Linden Homes and Wates Developments would like to invite you to view new images, plans and designs for the former reservoir on Gondar Gardens.

As you will know, Linden Homes and Wates Developments have been working in partnership for the past several years to redevelop the site with a new residential development. Earlier this year a scheme for a frontage development along Gondar Gardens was refused planning permission due to its architectural design.

We have been working up a revised set of plans, carefully taking into account the feedback received from the earlier scheme. The new proposals will deliver up to 28 new homes, 10 of which will be affordable, helping to meet the local housing need. We believe these revised proposals create a better design solution for the site which will contribute positively to the neighbourhood.

If you’re interested in seeing whether Linden Wates can come up with something that Camden might be willing to approve, head along to St Luke’s Church on Kidderpore Avenue on the 15th October, between 2pm-8pm.

The proposals rejected by the national planning inspector

Marios_BroadhurstGardens_1

Will Mario’s new life be sufficiently super?

I get asked regularly about Mario’s. Mario’s is the long-closed Greek restaurant on the corner of Broadhurst Gardens and West Hampstead Mews. It may soon be remembered only from photos.

The outer wall is straight. The building less so!

It’s now an overgrown empty building on the corner of a block that is slowly crumbling. The freeholders use it as a workshop occasionally. I even saw a pool table in there once.

Mario’s has been closed, I guess, for about five years. It used to be a friendly neighbourhood restaurant and if you got take-away, they’d always throw in some chips or a free salad. One of the last times I went, David Soul (Hutch from the original Starsky & Hutch) was at the table next to us.

Despite being a large restaurant in a good location, the premises has been empty ever since Mario went back to Cyprus (where I hear he runs a very successful restaurant). It’s too big for most independents to take on – especially given the structural repair work needed; while the chain restaurants with deep pockets would always prefer somewhere on West End Lane, oblivious to the lively atmosphere on Broadhurst in the evenings, and the proximity to the tube station.

When the freeholder died some years ago, I understand that his sons inherited not just the Mario’s site, but the entire block, right up to (but not including) the ENO building that used to house Decca Studios (of Beatles rejection fame). Unfortunately, despite owning a rather valuable piece of real estate, the sons had no cash with which to repair it.

The whole block would be redeveloped

Full-scale redevelopment was therefore always on the cards, and appears to have taken a significant step closer to fruition. This week I received an e-mail:

We are preparing plans to re-develop the site to improve the quality of the ground floor commercial accommodation and the residential units above. The existing building is in a very poor state, both internally and externally. We believe a new build scheme will improve the area. We are having a public exhibition on the site between 4pm -8pm on 16th October 2013 to display a number of plans.

I have no inside knowledge on what the plans are in any detail, but I’m looking forward to finding out. I hope that the height of any new building would be in keeping with the buildings in the immediate vicinity.

This land falls just outside the West Hampstead growth area, so there is less presumption in favour of development. Nevertheless, much as it will be a shame to see the old red brick building vanish, with its faded advert on the side, and tenants who’ll need to find somewhere else to live, it will be good to see new life come to what was once a stalwart of the West Hampstead dining scene. I wouldn’t say no to another really good Greek restaurant.

The writing is indeed on the wall for this building
WestHampsteadSquareTrees

Who’s saving which trees now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Hampstead Square: All trees to be axed

West Hampstead Square, the Ballymore development on West End Lane, is still in the site clearance phase. The trees on the site will be removed very soon, but at least one group of residents wonders whether such drastic measures are necessary.

Removing the trees was all part of the original planning application, so it’s not like people weren’t warned. However, with a focus on building heights and overall design, less attention was probably paid to the fate of the trees.

This overlay shows a section of the site. The grey dots are the trees that will be removed and underneath you can see the foliage that forms part of the raised gardens for each block and trees along the access road. Click to see the full site image.

There are 32 trees on the site, according to the tree survey that was carried out two years ago. All were rated category “C”. This means that they are deemed to be of low quality or value.

Here’s the map of all the trees from the survey. Click for the large version. The trees that some locals think could be spared the axe are those to the north on the Overground railway border, which form a screen, and those at the far west of the site, which the survey suggests do not need to be removed

Looking west: taller trees to the left could be retained.
These are G1-T5 (see below)

It is of course hard to dispute the experts’ view without some experts of your own. However, it is worth looking at the detail of the text (although it does appear to be confusingly contradictory) [my emphasis].

Considering the trees collectively, they form something of an intermittent visual screen between the railways and the site, but due to the proximity of the trees to the railway lines and to walls and fences, their safe useful life expectancy is unlikely to be great – for the most part less than 20 years.

It may be possible to retain a small number of trees such as G1, G2, T3, G4 and T5. G4 has the potential to grow significantly larger as do many of the other sycamores. Coupled with their poor form they are best removed and replaced with more modest landscaping proposals, consistent with the shape and size of the site.

In line with the proposed scheme plan (Appendix A), this assessment suggests that all trees other than G1-T5 will need to be removed; whilst theoretically some further tree retention could be attempted the benefits arising from such tree retention are considered to be small in relation to the costs and difficulties arising.

The main message seems to be “remove everything”, with all but five trees needing to be removed and those five “best removed”. Those five trees are all at the very far end of the site, so would have no impact on the screen from Iverson Road.

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

Not a lot of protection going on here.

Sycamore trees on southern boundary as of June 2012
(from Google StreetView)

The document also says,

The railway embankments are important parts of the green chains and biodiversity corridors in this area particularly due to the number of railway lines that pass through this area. It is important to ensure that these are protected and enhanced, particularly where developments are proposed alongside the railways.

The Council are also seeking to encourage partners, such as Network Rail, to ensure these lands are actively managed to ensure they help support the biodiversity of the area as a whole and work together to improve the missing green habitat link

WHGARA, the residents association for the area south of the site, has contacted Camden to see whether a stay of execution might be granted so that not all the trees are lost. After all, it points out, although the new development will have some green space (see map below, click for large version), the vast majority of this will not be of much benefit to non-residents, or even visible to them.

 Camden’s response:

This part of the railway embankment does not form part of the railway corridor open space or nature conservation designation.

There will be a number of trees planted as part of the redevelopment proposals and a number of other biodiversity enhancements such as living roofs and new landscaping. The overall balance of tree and other planting was considered and accepted … as part of the planning permission.

To me that reads like a “we’re not even going to look into this” answer, and I suppose the argument is that this was all in the public domain first time around and was passed so what’s the point.

Aerial view before demolition began (via GoogleMaps)

This leaves the tree defenders with one (not tree lined) avenue left – appeal directly to Ballymore to retain those five trees that its own survey said have the “potential to grow significantly” and do not need to be removed. Failing that, at least Ballymore will know that locals will be carefully matching up the trees that are eventually planted with those that appear on the map to make sure there’s no shortfall.

Full overlay of existing trees and proposed new trees

Growth area plans: Clear guidelines or muddy waters?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street environment

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

Public open space

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

Design

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

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

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

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

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

Iverson Road plans match approved scheme

The Iverson Tyres site is the next bit of Iverson Road set for redevelopment. Iverson Tyres is headquartered on the premises, but is actually a chain of tyre fitters now and the Iverson site isn’t very cost efficient as a fitting centre. Enter the property developer.

McGregor Homes was originally the developer involved with the site next door – the former garden centre. However it has sold its interest in that site and a new developer, funded by former Tory PPC Chris Philp’s Pluto Finance, is about to start construction there – you may have seen small demolition crews starting to clear the site over the past few days.

Instead, McGregor is now the developer for the Iverson Tyres site, 159-161 Iverson Road. The plan is to build 29 flats, of which nine would qualify as affordable housing. This is, very unusually, above the affordable housing quota. Very rarely do developers meet the affordable housing quota, using “viability studies” that Camden has to have independently verified to prove that more affordable housing would make the development financially unviable. It’s a contentious area to put it mildly.

Has Stephen McGregor been overcome with altruism? It’s more to do with his financing, he says. For this development to work, he needs to get it completed quickly and therefore it’s worth it for him to be generous with the affordable housing in order to speed the plan’s progress through the council.

For a similar reason, he has hired the same architects that designed the garden centre redevelopment as Camden said it would prefer a continuous look and feel down the street.

159-161 is the site to the left of the image

The result is indeed the same look, so whether you like it will depend on whether you like the first plan – though this new proposal has no aeroplane wing roof! It’s hard to appreciate from the street level, but the 159-161 site really does encroach into the odd y-shape of 163.

The red-dashed line shows how this plot overlaps with 163 Iverson Road

McGregor argues that the redevelopment of the tyre site is therefore going to benefit the new 163 flats as their view will be now of a courtyard and other flats rather than tyres and portacabins. It will, however, reduce the amount of light they’ll receive.

The affordable housing will be on the street-side of the development, with the fourth floor flats with balconies highly desirable were they ever to come on the open market. As is common practice, the affordable units will be clumped together rather than spread throughout the development. Socially and culturally this is far from desirable (it’s seen at its worst in the Ballymore West Hampstead Square scheme, where the affordable housing is tucked away right at the very back of the site), but it tends to be housing assocations’ preference purely because it makes servcing easier, and therefore cheaper. The end result in this case is that the entrance to the affordable housing units is on Iverson Road, while the other flats will be accessed via a passageway leading into the courtyard.

Looking east up Iverson Road

The final component of the scheme is employment space, which throws up some interesting questions. Iverson Tyres wanted to take the space so the company’s office could still be based on Iverson Road. This however, would mean a change in the class of employment use. You’d think that given that the actual employment would barely be changing – same people doing the same job, only without the tyre fitters – that this would all be straightforward. The local place shaping document, which Camden published, talks about supporting office employment too. However, the borough-wide policy is to support “light industrial”, which is what the site is classified as now.

Rather than engage some common sense, Camden is insisting that the employment space in the new development is also light industrial and only if it cannot be let as such for two years will they allow it to revert to office space. The particular brand of light industrial includes some perfectly viable businesses – jewellery design, commercial photography, that sort of thing. Not sure that anyone would object to that per se, but it does seem ridiculous that Iverson Tyres can’t keep its office space. End of rant.

The new development goes up to six storeys at the railway side, though the profile from the street side will be much lower. The flats at the back don’t sit flush against the railway lines as there’s an emergency vehicle area should Network Rail or the emergency services need to get onto the railway lines in case of a serious incident.

Pavement widened at West Hampstead Square

If you went to the tube station today you’ll have noticed a significant change where the hoardings have been for the past few weeks.

The pavement has been widened, a couple of trees and a flower bed have appeared as if by magic, and there’s some large stencil lettering. All this to announce that the Ballymore West Hampstead Square development is getting nearer to its launch date (although that’s still being billed as September).

Maybe they could also get rid of the “Car parking for £10 a day” sign.

Behind the hoardings, it’s still a building site – two years to go!

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

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

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

“The projected weekly cost for 156 West End Lane is £5,233 and allows for the following running costs provision whilst vacant:
  • Business rates – sizeable part of the budget representing around 75% of the total cost; taking into account any reduction in liability for the building being vacant for 3 months
  • Utilities ~ low spend but supply retained to enable ease of access and compliance
  • Removals of furniture prior to disposal
  • H&S Compliance – provision for water management and fire safety until disposal
  • Security – control measures adopted to mitigate against adverse possession (squatting)

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

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

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

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

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

Could new Iverson proposal merge with existing plan?

Iverson Tyres sits next to the old Hampstead Garden Centre on the north side of Iverson Road, just a couple of hundred yards from the new Thameslink station. The garden centre is set to become a block of flats, though building has yet to start. Now, the man behind that redevelopment is looking to build another block on the Iverson Tyres site.

 
The new block will consist of 29 new homes, nine of which would be affordable housing. There would also be flexible business space. You can see in the “before” photo below the 163 Iverson Road development – as yet unbuilt – peeping into the background.

Before (with 163 Iverson Rd in the distance)
After  – with a matching facade

Before submitting the plans to Camden, the developers – McGregor Homes – is holding a public exhibition of its plans.

This proposal represents an opportunity to redevelop the underutilised and visually unattractive tyre centre site to complete the regeneration of this part of Iverson Road and achieve key objectives of Camden Core Strategy, the West Hampstead Place Plan and the emerging Neighbourhood Development Plan. The design would complement the consented scheme on adjacent land at 163 Iverson Road. The proposal would see the delivery of 29 new homes. In addition, it would provide new high quality, flexible small business space.

Hard to tell from the photos here, but it looks like the 159-161 development might be taking advantage of the topography to add an extra storey onto the building. One also wonders whether, if this development was to get the go ahead, a new plan might come along for the whole block from 159-163, which would surely be more cost-effective for the developer?

The exhibition is at Sidings Community Centre on Wednesday July 17th from noon-8pm.

156 West End Lane: empty for three years?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WestHampsteadGrowthAreamap

Whampforum: The people speak

On May 21st, more than 30 locals gathered to discuss a range of issues along with James Earl, chair of the Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF), Cllr Flick Rea, and me. Parking, development, shops; all came under scrutiny. The topics are ones we are used to hearing about but the audience wasn’t the usual suspects. This was #whampforum and pretty much everyone was under 45, with a healthy smattering still in their 20s.

Some comments on the website before the event captured a view I hear too frequently among some of West Hampstead’s older and longer-standing citizens: young people aren’t invested in the area emotionally or financially because they don’t own property, so why would they care.

Apart from the staggering prejudice against long-term renters, either from the council or in the private sector, it also misses an important point: there are twice as many people in West Hampstead under 40 as over 40, and 5,000 more in the 20-40 age-group. Are they consigned to live according to the attitudes of their elders (and, the implication always seems to be, betters). Or perhaps the very fact that many of these people can’t afford to buy property here is something we might want to think about. Do we want West Hampstead to be perpetually occupied by the old and rich and the young and transient? Maybe we do, but we will then be beset by the same issues we have today and the age-divide will remain.

Perhaps the single most interesting question we asked at the forum was how many people saw themselves still living in the area in five years’ time. A majority of hands went up. Maybe this population isn’t so transient after all. Of course, many in the room were themselves younger home owners – I wouldn’t deny that this has an impact on engagement, but it’s naive to think it’s the sole driver.

The meeting was lively, and I think (hope) most people had the chance to speak if they wanted to. There were business owners, a property developer, the inevitable politicos and plenty of ordinary residents who were interested to hear more about local developments and to find out how they could have some input without having to sit through the interminable (and at times depressing) local meetings that seem to be the norm in any community.

We touched on three big topics: amenities and transport, business mix, and housing, development and architecture. I’ve tried to summarise the key points below as well as discussing how to feed your thoughts and ideas to the decision makers. At the bottom of the page is a factsheet.

Amenities and Transport
Camden’s policy of car-free developments struck many as odd, unrealistic, and potentially adding to  traffic problems as car-owners tried to find somewhere to park. About a third of the audience owned cars already, more than I would have expected. Car clubs were popular, though people said there weren’t enough car club cars in the area and not enough different types of vehicles.

People commented on the street clutter, the rubbish that accumulated on the streets, especially from local businesses, the seemingly bizarre phasing of the traffic lights, delivery lorries and even the location of the bus stop by the post office.

Schools also came onto the agenda, with the idea of a free primary school being mooted (there are also murmurings about launching a free secondary school in the neighbourhood).

The major lobbying group for all these topics is WHAT (West Hampstead Amenities & Transport). It has a good track record of working with the various bodies responsible for many of these topics, especially transport. You can find out more about them at whatnw6.org.uk. Don’t be put off by the relatively basic website, this group is very active and lobbies effectively. You may not agree with its policies on everything, but it is a great starting point for finding out more about transport issues.

Business mix
The issue of whether charity shops are a good or bad thing for the high street and the local economy came up. The perennially thorny topic of Tesco came up though for this audience, even though there was general support for independent shops and restaurants, the convenience of metro format supermarkets generally overcame the idea of corporate behemoths invading the high street. We discussed the challenge of finding out who landlords are in some units, and how this makes it hard to develop the “pop-up shop” culture when units sit empty.

There was a feeling that “destination” shops would do well, and the challenge faced by Mill Lane in attracting people to walk along was discussed. Yet again, people proposed better signage for Mill Lane shops and the idea of having a street festival there was mooted. These are ideas that Mill Lane traders have had themselves, but the group seems to find it hard to come together and act as one group. The council, however, is always going to be more responsive if it’s dealing with a collective body than with one or two individual traders. The onus here is on the traders.

Most people understood that the council had no control over what types of shops or restaurants moved into spaces already designated for that use. We explained that it was only when a business applied for a change of use or a chance of licence that it was possible to object. This is a planning topic with lots of grey areas, however. Cafés that don’t cook anything on the premises (microwaves and panini grills don’t count) can take retail premises, for example, without a change of use. There is also a push by central government to make it easy to convert shops and offices into residential units, although Camden is one of the boroughs exempt from this.

(from the BBC) “At the same time, a two-year freeze is also being introduced on the need for planning applications for temporary change of use for a range of High Street premises, including hairdressers, banks, bars, cafes, post offices, takeaways, libraries and cinemas. This would allow units not exceeding 150 sq m to spring up at short notice and trade for a limited period as long as long as they meet the criteria of being either shops, restaurants, business offices and financial or professional services. Multiple changes will be permitted within the two-year period but retailers will need to notify councils what they intend to use the building for, and for how long, in advance of setting up.”

There wasn’t much discussion of the business-to-business economy, although with plans to develop the Liddell Road industrial site, this may become more of an issue. The questions here are about local employment, a change in the local weekday economy, and general business mix of the area.

This remains an area where the biggest impact locals can have is by voting with their wallets. If there are shops and businesses you like, then use them. If you want to object to a licence or change of use application, then it’s good to be familiar with Camden’s “town centre” plans and guidelines (see the factsheet for details of Camden’s Core Strategy).

Housing, development and architecture
The cost of property was clearly an issue for many who wanted to stay here. We explained about the affordable housing quota that developers are obliged to meet in any new development, and how more often than not they are able to prove that meeting the quota would render the whole development unprofitable. There are complicated rules about how much money they then have to pay so that affordable housing can be built in lower-cost locations by Camden.

People expressed an interest in shared housing schemes. I don’t know a lot about these – though there are some in the area (Fairhazel Gardens has one). This is more popular in North America, but there’s no reason why it can’t work here.

There seemed to be a sense that with property prices rising so quickly at the moment, the area was at risk of becoming even more homogeneous in terms of the social mix, with pockets of social housing becoming less and less integrated. The housing conversation also took us back to the issues of schools and other services, such as GP surgeries. With so much housing planned in the area by City Hall (West Hampstead is designated an “area for intensification”), people were concerned to know whether service provision would keep pace.

Health centres are typically less of a problem locally, and very few people in the room had had any issues finding medical treatment when they needed it. Schools are a different proposition, requiring much more investment either from the public sector or private providers. Of course, the demand for schools depends on the existing and proposed housing stock – a dearth of affordable family houses would mean relatively low demand for additional school places.

There’s not a lot you can do about house prices of course, but housing is a topic where your political vote has an impact at both the borough, city and national level. If this is an issue of concern then make sure you read the housing policies of various parties next time you’re heading to the ballot box. Camden council elections are next year, and the political leaning of the council does have an impact on housing policy. The NDF is also concerned with housing, so providing input into its policies as they are finalised would be a good way of shaping the direction of the area – more on this in the next section.

There’s clearly a large overlap between housing and development but also a clear difference of opinion between age groups over the scale and type of development in the area. When prompted by Flick, there was an agreement that the views from the area looking up to Hampstead were part of West Hampstead’s character but there was also broad consensus that it wasn’t the height and scale of new developments that mattered, it was design and planning. We discussed the O2 car park, which we all assume will be built over at some point, and the view was that a large-scale, fairly high-rise development here would be ok, as long as the area was well planned, attractively landscaped, and it wasn’t a “high density at any cost” proposal. People didn’t want to feel hemmed in, but accepted that it was possible to have high(er) rise living in an area like West Hampstead.

Modern buildings in the area, such a the Thameslink station, the Mill Apartments and even the more controversial Emmanuel school were generally seen as good buildings.

We also explained about the ever-mysterious “Section 106” money that gets discussed a lot. In a nutshell, it’s money that developers pay to allow the council to offset the cost of the influx of new residents, as well as to contribute to amenity in the area. The detail gets very confusing and there’s a very strong push at the moment for much more transparency over how it is allocated, where exactly it is spent, and who makes the decisions. To add to the confusion, many of the things funded by Section 106 will, from next year, be funded instead by the Community Infrastructure Levy. The affordable housing offset payments, however, will still be paid for by Section 106 agreements so you’ll still be hearing about it.

Engaging with the West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Plan is by far the best way to influence these matters. I have talked about it many times on this site already, but as the Plan starts to move into the final stages (and we’re talking months here, not weeks), there will be more information about specific policies. You can contact James directly (moc.l1490406370iamg@1490406370daets1490406370pmaht1490406370sewpd1490406370n1490406370) with any specific thoughts; a PDF of the latest draft of the plan is available here (this is very much a draft) so do have a read. Look out for NDF stalls around West Hampstead over the coming weekends. Stop by and give your feedback in person. 

Remember that underpinning the very idea of these local development forums is the rule that they cannot be “anti-development”. They are about shaping what happens, not standing in its way, so they are by definition not a NIMBY-organisation.

* * *

One of the reasons I convened this meeting is that the main contributors to the NDP thus far have been the usual suspects. They are well-meaning and in many cases the same issues arise, however priorities do vary between different segments of the population and it’s important that the silent majority have their say. Rest assured that by coming to the meeting, you have already helped shape some of the thinking around these topics. Nevertheless, it will do no harm to reinforce that feedback in person at the stalls, or via e-mail and those of you that couldn’t make it should also feel free to get involved. As well as street stalls, there will also be “street walks”, one of which I might even lead myself!

For me, it was important that this meeting wasn’t just a talking shop but that it had some impact. Hopefully you will see some of the views expressed here filtering into the Plan, but also into council thinking. They also help me when I am asked in formal and informal interactions with council officers and councillors what “younger people” think.

We may well hold another, more focused meeting later in the year on one or two specific topics and will probably have one to discuss the final NDP policies before they are set in stone. They will of course be heavily trailered on the site and on Twitter. In the meantime, thank you to everyone who came and to the Alice House for hosting.

Factsheet

You can also download the factsheet here.

Gondar Gardens: Second appeal rejected

This morning I heard that the verdict of the Planning Inspector was finally in on Linden Wates’ second appeal. To recap very quickly:

  • Scheme #1: 16 large houses in the middle of the to-be-excavated reservoir space, mostly below ground level; major loss of open space and major impact on wildlife; low impact on street frontage; and a large contribution to Camden in lieu of affordable housing. Refused by Camden.
  • Scheme #2: 28 units filling-in the street frontage between existing mansion blocks; lower impact on wildlife but significant impact on openness from the street and houses opposite; affordable housing included within the scheme. Refused at Camden planning committee.
  • Scheme #1 approved on appeal by the national planning inspector
  • Scheme #2 rejected on appeal by the national planning inspector – see below!

What does this mean? The developer can:

  1. Build the first scheme;
  2. Improve the design of the second scheme within the same envelope and re-submit;
  3. Prepare another scheme combining elements of #1 and #2, and addressing points on design;
  4. Sell the site.

All these options would also have been available to the developer if they had won this appeal, but the inspector has now removed the option to build what has been deemed the poorly designed scheme #2.

Read on for all the details, via GARA (the local residents association that has so actively campaigned against development on the reservoir site):

“Fantastic news, at least temporarily … the ‘frontage’ appeal is dismissed for reasons of poor detailed design. But the impact on Open Space, SNCI, views, parking etc are all considered acceptable.

As you know, having won one appeal, the developer appealed against refusal of its second planning application for this site. The first scheme allows destruction of a large part of the protected Open Space and Site of Nature Conservation Interest. The second scheme – refused on appeal – would block the Open Space aspect from the street, including views across the site towards Hampstead.

Here is what the inspector says in dismissing the second appeal:

Conclusion [from Inspector’s report, 3-Jun-13]
The development has been designed to minimise the impact on the POS [private open space] and SNCI [site of nature conservation interest] and I have concluded that the benefits of the scheme outweigh any small harm in this regard. While many other aspects of the scheme are acceptable including the siting and size of the proposed buildings, the scheme fails on the detailed design as outlined above [in the report]. For this reason, it would be contrary to National and Local Plan policy and the appeal is dismissed.

You can read the inspector’s report. It’s fairly brief and to the point.

As one resident said, “It makes last year’s report on the centre scheme seem even more odd and I think we were incredibly unlucky that we did not win that appeal. I welcome the fact that she says the site is of high ecological value and re-emphasised the public asset and green lung.”

Well done to everyone involved (we represented ourselves at this public inquiry, against the developer’s expensive legal team and raft of experts) and thank you to everyone for your great support. Thanks also to Camden for defending the council’s position and to the inspector for her decision.”

West Hampstead Square

Today marks the end of an era.

The building site where 187-199 West End Lane stood must, I think, be now known as West Hampstead Square. The marketing suite is being dropped into place, and the development’s website whsquare.com is live so you can register your interest in the flats. No word on pricing yet, but when you register your interest, the site asks which price bracket you are interested in in increments of £250k with a £1m+ option.

The images on the website thus far focus much more on the square element of the development and less on the enormo-tower blocks behind.

And here’s what it looked like at around 10.45 this morning

Initial reaction on Twitter was mixed

Second student block hits hurdle

Most of you will have seen that construction of the student block on Blackburn Road is almost compelete. Whether a sudden influx of 200 students in September will detract from or add to the area remains to be seen (I’ve discussed this before).

It may be something we have to get used to as another planning application has gone in for a student block – a similiar looking building although on a smaller scale. Although this new proposal falls within West Hampstead ward, it actually fronts onto Finchley Road, and thus the impact on West End Lane may be minimal.

see the red triangle north of the O2 centre?

Right now, this land is unoccupied scrubland, with a couple of bits of railway infrastructure on it. The developers want to build a 138-room student block here on this fairly constrained plot. There’s already a major problem though. Network Rail has objected pretty forcefully.

After careful consideration of the application, Network Rail has previously relayed concerns and has reported to the applicant that the application as proposed fails to meet the necessary clearance and does not comply with an existing agreement regarding were the proposal is located in relation to Network Rails boundary and infrastructure.

Upon further advice from its engineers, it is not possible to construct the building without significant alteration to the operational railway and putting the operational safety of the railway into question, a position that Network Rail finds totally unacceptable and is contrary to Camden Core Strategy CS5 and Camden Development Policy 9.

Therefore, for above reasons Network Rail objects to this planning application

Allowing the necessary clearances (ie, not having buildings get too close to the railway) may well make the proposal financially unviable. Given the enthusiasm with which railway land around here is generally developed, I’m sure something will be built here, but a 138-unit student block may not be it.

If the developers can find a way to proceed, it’s interesting that they propose to build not out of steel or concrete, but engineered timber. The cladding would be two-tone terracotta tile.

Here’s what it would look like from the south (i.e., from the O2 car park)

Here’s what it would look like from Finchley Road

The architects’ drawings perhaps make it seem bigger than it will be in reality. The site is only 120 metres long and no wider than 22 metres at Finchley Road. It won’t look as dramatic as these four student residences from the same architect.

All the details are available online, though beware, the Design & Access statement (usually the best document to look at for an overview of any planning application) is a whopping 59Mb download and as it may not go ahead at all, i’d save your bandwidth for now!

Money for the community: where should it go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shops to become Ballymore marketing suite

After several months of radio silence on the 187-199 West End Lane development, there is now an update on progress.

There had been a nice idea that the strip of shops from Café Bon to M.L.Estates might become pop-up shops while they lay empty (they will all close at the end of this month). Ballymore has other ideas and is applying to demolish them as soon as possible it seems and erect a temporary cedar and glass-clad “marketing suite” on the site for up to two years (i.e., until completion of the development).

No, i don’t know why the London Eye features either

There are new architects on the scheme. JTP, who designed the original scheme, has made way for WCEC, urban regeneration specialists. However, rumours that the developer Ballymore was no longer involved seem to be scotched by this latest planning application. Ballymore’s name is clearly on the submission along with WCEC.

The application states that “The Marketing Suite is to be erected at the earliest opportunity and will remain for the duration of the works on the site. The building is to be removed after this time.”

Frankly, this is not the worst option. What I think everyone wanted to avoid was the shops sitting empty for an indefinite period. If they’re going to be replaced with something else, especially something which hides at least some of the construction site, then that seems reasonable.

There is a lack of clarity over timing, however. The shops have been told to vacate by the end of February. The planning application says the site has been vacant since the end of January, while the Design & Access statement talks about existing tenants vacating in April, “at which point demolition will commence.”

“The Marketing Suite is to be constructed from three temporary cabins fixed together to create a space that is 12m x 7m x 3.2m high totalling 84m². The cabins were originally used for the Olympics and are now being effectively recycled for this development.

In order to improve the aesthetics of the building the front elevation, facing West End Lane, will be fully glazed with a curtain walling system with the pressure plates removed to give a seamless façade, there will also be a 300 x 300mm ppc aluminium feature nosing around the glazing in black. The front section of the North Elevation will also be glazed with the black feature nosing. The remainder of three sides facing into the site, behind the hoarding, will be painted white as these will not be visible from outside the site.

To either side of the building there will be 2.4m high hoarding which will be clad in cedar timber with a 300mm black band to the top to match that of the Marketing Suite. The hoarding will have both the name of the development and the Ballymore logo on them.

The area in front of the Marketing Suite and hoarding will be hard landscaped with feature paving and will have various planters dotted around.”

What’s happening to the shops
I have no news on Café Bon, Wired is likely to move out of the area temporarily but the owners are hopeful of returning once they can find premises. This was only ever meant to be a pop-up, but its success has encouraged them to establish something more permanent. Capital Car Hire will close, but has other offices in London. Peppercorns has a sign saying it plans to move further north on West End Lane, though it seems that it won’t be a seamless transition. AIT Computers is moving to a collect/delivery service based out of a house further south on West End Lane. Finally, M.L.Estates is moving to Mill Lane.

JW3 centre nears completion

Those of you living up around the Lymington Road/Finchley Road end of West Hampstead will be all too aware of the enormous construction project that’s been taking place on that junction.

The 35,000 sq ft complex is going to house JW3 – a Jewish cultural centre. Why JW3? Well, if you hadn’t worked it out then this video explains it so clearly that a tiny child would grasp it. The opening sequence also implies that it’s in Glasgow. But these jibes aside, it’s a good introduction into what this landmark buidling will bring to London’s Jewish community.

Take a look at Abbey Area plans

Next week, drop into the Abbey Community Centre to look at the designs and plans for the large-scale redevelopment of the Abbey Area estate.

As well as viewing the designs you should be able to ask the project team questions. The overall plan is to create approximately 260 new homes, as well as services such as a health and community centre and some retail facilities.

Click for full-size (map is aligned north)

The exhibition is on Monday 28th and Wednesday 30th January from 3.30–8pm 222c Belsize Road.

For more information see Camden’s website or read this:

Councillors’ concerns over Inglewood Road site

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gondar Gardens appeal saga drags on

Planning law is a strange beast.

Let me refresh your memory. Linden Wates recently won an appeal to build very low-impact homes on the resevoir site in Gondar Gardens. In a considered review of the application, the Planning Inspector believed that any negative impact on the open space would be offset by the benefits of this development.

GARA – the local residents association – which has long campaigned against developing this site, was naturally disappointed.

It seemed as if that was the end of the story. But there was a rumbling subplot. After Camden had initially rejected this plan, the developer submitted a second plan. This was arguably less controversial than the first – it was a street-frontage plan rather than one that would develop the green space itself. Camden rejected this one too.

Now, despite having won the first appeal, the developer is appealing against this second decision too. This has thrown everyone for a loop. What is Linden Wates objective? They can’t build both developments, and surely if the first one had passed first time they’d have moved forward with it.

Street-view of second plan – now being appealed

Either they think the first scheme is less profitable than the second, and having won the first appeal are confident in the second. Or perhaps they hope that a successful appeal with this second plan would give them the leeway to propose an even more ambitious third scheme.

Strikes me that this is a waste of public money – if a developer has a plan approved for one site through appeal to the national inspector, that should be the end of it for at least the amount of time that planning permission lasts.

NDP: Tall buildings and affordable business premises

It was a relatively small group that assembled in the creche room of Emmanuel Church last night. Thankfully a heater was blasting away (the church is apparently investing in underfloor heating at some point – very fancy), keeping the cold at bay.

Under discussion was the second draft of the Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP), and I was pleasantly surprised that progress through the agenda points was relatively brisk.

In light of the overwhelming vote from WHGARA residents to be part of the NDP area, it was quickly decided that the boundary would match the West Hampstead and Fortune Green ward boundaries. Having cleared this hurdle, the application for formal recognition of the NDP can be submitted to Camden. There is unlikely to be any objection from Camden – planning officers have been involved with the process from the outset – so once accepted there will then be a six-week consultation process. This is all before the plan itself is finalised.

James Earl, chair of the Neighbourhood Development Forum, threw the discussion open to the floor (all 9 of us) regarding the core policies (recapped below) for comment.

Building height
One topic dominated the discussion. At the moment, the draft plan has blanks for the proposed maximum building height inside and outside the intensification area (roughly the area around the three stations).

John Eastwood, from WHGARA, put forward the idea that the maximum height should be the same across both wards, with no differentiation for the intensification area. He mooted four or five stories as the limit. This would seem to be too low to be enforceable. West End Lane already has plenty of five storey buildings and given the housing demands we face, it’s impossible to imagine that a sympathetically designed six-storey building wouldn’t be looked at favourably.

A couple of us also pointed out that developments such as the student block on Blackburn Road and indeed the Ballymore 187-199 West End Lane proposals were using the fact that the ground slopes away from the road to increase building height with less impact on the roofline. In other words, site context is an important component of determining maximum heights.

The sloping land means the Ballymore 12-storey tower block won’t have
quite as much impact as it would on West End Lane

I know that there are readers of this site who look more favourably on high rise than others. The NDF’s survey on this did, however, show a sizeable majority of residents are opposed to high-rise. Finding the right balance between housing need and height will take some careful wording of the plan. The view was put forward that the “errors of planning” that led to Ballymore’s 12-storey block, or the much older Ellerton building on Mill Lane, should not be taken as a new benchmark height for the area.

There is a secondary point here in that the NDP also takes a stance on the type of housing that is needed – specifically recommending a housing mix that includes more 3- and 4-bed flats. For developers to deliver that sort of housing profitably, they will need to build high. The plan needs to ensure it’s not pushing contradictory agendas that would allow developers to exploit loopholes.

The issue of uniformity across the ward is a more interesting debate – again, I can’t see that this would be workable. However, there is a sense among some in the south that the north of the area will feel very little of the direct impact of the growth in population and housing density, even though the rhetoric is one of a larger community that spans the two wards. It is too late to change the growth area, but those in the northern reaches may need to accept that there will be development across the wards that requires an increase in housing density along some of the side streets as well as around the stations and railway tracks. Otherwise the sense of divide between the south and north of West Hampstead is only going to intensify.

Affordable business premises
The council beats the housing drum very loudly, but economic development is also a vital part of a successful community. However, it feels as if West Hampstead is losing jobs rather than creating them – especially if the Liddell Road school is built, which will mean the loss of several businesses on that industrial estate.

One of the NDP’s draft core policies is that development should also be focused on providing new jobs and attracting new businesses. Existing businesses, and the land they occupy, should be protected and encouraged. Sounds very laudable but, as Brigid Shaughnessy pointed out in the meeting, the council has no provision for “affordable business” in the same way it does for “affordable housing.” This struck everyone as rather a good point. Planning officers can encourage developers of mixed-use developments to have smaller retail or office units, which encourages independent businesses but there’s not a lot it can do about the rents charged, even if it can offer rates holidays. It seems like a point worth exploring – if a development needs to have a certain share of affordable housing to be approved by Camden, then why not also insist on a share of affordable business premises. These would clearly need some covenants to ensure that they didn’t just mean that a national chain could operate with an even bigger profit margin.

Any other business
Aside from these two issues, a few other topics came up. Basement excavations was one (apparently there are eight happening in Kylemore Road alone), although it’s not clear what sway the NDP might have here as the issue seems to be one of Camden enforcement.

Clarity is also needed on what exactly Camden’s West Hampstead Interchange Planning Framework is going to involve. This catchy sounding concept popped up out of nowhere recently, but no-one seems to have a sense of what it is trying to achieve, how it will fit in with the NDP, or indeed whether it’s necessary in the first place given all the other planning frameworks that apply to the area.

Recap of core policies (draft)
  1. New development should be focused on providing a range of housing and housing types, including social and affordable housing and 3-4 bedroom homes for families. The vast majority of new housing and development should be located in the ‘West Hampstead growth area’.
  2. Outside the growth area, new development should be on a much smaller scale.
  3. New buildings in the growth area should be no higher than xx storeys; outside this area new buildings should be no higher than xx storeys.
  4. New developments should promote high quality design which fit in with their surroundings, especially in terms of height, appearance and design.
  5. Conservation areas should promote high design standards and have policies which are strongly enforced.
  6. Development in the Area should also be focused on providing new jobs and attracting new businesses to the Area. Existing businesses, and the land they occupy, should be protected and encouraged.
  7. There is an urgent need for ongoing improvements to public transport in the Area, particularly the three rail stations.
  8. Future development should protect, preserve and enhance existing green/open space and provide new green/open space in new developments.
  9. Provide as much space as possible for pedestrians and promote ease of movement through the Area.
  10. Protect the existing public services and community facilities in the Area and provide new services/facilities as the population of the Area grows.
  11. Provide an environment that is suitable for a mixed community, including young people, old people, families and those from a range of social backgrounds.
  12. In all developments, there should be a presumption in favour of preserving the look, feel and views of the Area.

Ambitious scope for local development plan

We’re inching nearer to a final Neighbourhood Development Plan. There’s a meeting this Thursday to discuss the second draft plan.

At the time of writing the draft, the issue of the southern boundary had not been resolved. Since then, however, the results of the WHGARA (West Hamsptead Gardens Area Residents Association) vote on the matter have been released and 75% of people were in favour of being part of the plan area rather than sitting outside it. This is almost certain to mean that the area covered will exactly match the ward boundaries of West Hampstead and Fortune Green.

156 West End Lane – one of the sites up for development

The draft plan is very much a work in progress, and still has some gaps. Nevertheless, two things are worth looking at even at this early stage. The first is the overall scope of the plan, the second is the introduction of the core policies.

Scope
If you read the write-up of the public meeting back at the end of October, you’ll know that Neighbourhood Development Plans can vary enormously in scope from all-encompassing town plans to single-issue plans. The West Hampstead & Fortune Green plan certainly drifts closer to the first idea. Broadly, it seeks to influence building development (location, form, use of Section 106 money), business and economic development (retail mix, high street feel), street environment (roads, parking, cycling, pedestrians), public transport, environment (green space, trees), community, and public services (schools, healthcare). Some of these area are easier to influence than others – some lie firmly within Camden’s remit, other are the purview of larger bodies such as TfL or City Hall. But it would be hard to argue that the plan lacks ambition.

Policies
The draft plan outlines 12 core policies. Many of these are not especially controversial and only the hard core members of the “flatten everything to build more houses” brigade are likely to object to limitations on building height, or a presumption that green space is a good thing.

It is worth reiterating the message of policies 1 and 2 – namely that the bulk of dense housing development should be in the designated growth area (that is broadly the area between and around the stations and railway tracks), while the rest of West Hampstead is allowed to retain its current feel. Whether this will lead to two very distinctive town centres developing – one to the south and one to the north end of West End Lane – and whether this is desirable is up for debate. I can well imagine the good burghers of Fortune Green grumbling about how busy it is around the interchange while they enjoy the peace and quiet of the leafy suburbs the rest of the time.

  1. New development should be focused on providing a range of housing and housing types, including social and affordable housing and 3-4 bedroom homes for families. The vast majority of new housing and development should be located in the ‘West Hampstead growth area’.
  2. Outside the growth area, new development should be on a much smaller scale.
  3. New buildings in the growth area should be no higher than xx storeys; outside this area new buildings should be no higher than xx storeys.
  4. New developments should promote high quality design which fit in with their surroundings, especially in terms of height, appearance and design.
  5. Conservation areas should promote high design standards and have policies which are strongly enforced.
  6. Development in the Area should also be focused on providing new jobs and attracting new businesses to the Area. Existing businesses, and the land they occupy, should be protected and encouraged.
  7. There is an urgent need for ongoing improvements to public transport in the Area, particularly the three rail stations.
  8. Future development should protect, preserve and enhance existing green/open space and provide new green/open space in new developments.
  9. Provide as much space as possible for pedestrians and promote ease of movement through the Area.
  10. Protect the existing public services and community facilities in the Area and provide new services/facilities as the population of the Area grows.
  11. Provide an environment that is suitable for a mixed community, including young people, old people, families and those from a range of social backgrounds.
  12. In all developments, there should be a presumption in favour of preserving the look, feel and views of the Area.

The next meeting of the Neighbourhood Development Forum is at 7.30pm at Emmanuel Church on Thursday. It’s open to all, so why not come along and find out more.

Camden consults on “small sites” sell-off

Almost two years ago, Camden launched its 15-year(!) community investment programme. A large part of this is flogging assets in order to invest in other services. In some cases this involves quite major closures, such as at 156 West End Lane, aka the Travis Perkins building. In other instances it means looking at small plots of land that the council happens to own and deciding whether or not to sell them off.

These “small sites” have already netted Camden £2 million, money which has gone into council homes.

Fourteen more sites are now up for consultation, of which three are in the Greater West Hampstead area.

Dennington Park Road
Dennington House (between Inglewood and Dennington Park Roads) is in fact more Dennington Car Park at the moment as the land behind the house is used for garages and car parking spaces accessed from Inglewood Road.

According to Camden, “This site could contribute towards the investment needed in existing council homes in West Hampstead ward, which is £4.9m over the next five years. If the Council does decide to sell the site council tenants and leaseholders living in Dennington House who currently rent one of the garages or car spaces will be offered alternative parking in the local area. There will also be further consultation about any proposed change of use, or new development on the site, when the planning application is made.

Dynham Road
There is a communal paved space between 27 and 33 Dynham Road. The sale of this property would go towards investment needed in existing council homes in Kilburn ward, which is £13.2m over the next five years.

Kilburn Vale estate
The site is the garages and forecourt in front of Sycamore Court. Again, any funds raised would go into Kilburn ward housing and tenants using the car parking area would be offered alternatives.

If you feel strongly for or against the disposal of these sites, you can let Camden know.

Mapping West Hampstead development

Crane over West Hampstead (c) dancoffeyphotography.com

I thought it would be useful to keep track of all the major development plans in West Hampstead in map form. This is a beta version, I’m working on a more sophisticated one.

This map includes everything I’m aware of, from early-stage discussions to developments that are almost complete. If you know of anything that should be on here, please let me know (new builds only, not rennovations/house extensions etc.)

View Development in West Hampstead in a larger map

Blue: under construction
Green: planning permission granted
Red: at planning application/late-discussion stage
Pink: no imminent action / less significant

I got £199 problems but the rent ain’t one

…at least you’d hope not if you’re a student in West Hampstead next year.

You’ll have seen the large building going up on Blackburn Road over the past few months. Rising nine storeys at his highest point (furthest away from the tube lines and West End Lane), I’m sure most of you know that it’s going to house some 350 students starting in September 2013.

Students – especially en masse – can be a contentious populace. They lower the average age and lend an area a lively, more fashionable feel. Yet, they can also be noisy, messy, and do not always contribute positively to their neighbourhood. Those of us who’ve lived away from home as students can probably see ourselves reflected in both sides of the coin.

This particular bunch of students might consider themselves lucky to live in West Hampstead, as many of us do. Or they might feel it’s too far out of central London and lacks the range of nightlife and student-friendly cafés and restaurants they might get in town.

What’s fairly certain is that they’ll be relatively well off. The company’s website is a bit sparse on details, but this site (clearly targeting the international market) has a lot more info and having read it, I’m not so sure that these students will be filling up the Bridge Café. Unless egg and chips is all they can afford having paid for the relative luxury of their shared flat.

Rents in the new block start at £199 a week. That’s to live in a cluster flat, sharing communal facilities with 5-8 other students. It includes all bills, TV, WiFi etc.. That still seems like quite a lot for students, although a very quick trawl of the competition, both private operators such as Urbanest and universities’ own halls of residence, suggests that although it’s high-end, it’s not ridiculous.

The Blackburn Road development will also include a private gym, meeting rooms, an in-house cinema (!!), quiet rooms, common room and laundry facilities. There’ll be a concierge team, a 24 hour helpline, CCTV and secure electronic access. If you’re feeling flush you can pay more for in-room cleaning, laundry service, and “other technology upgrades”, which definitely either means you get a pet robot or faster WiFi.

I’m certainly not saying it’s bad value for the quality of housing, but I do wonder which students will be able to afford it. Let me mention again: it has an in-house cinema! Hopefully some of these new whampers will venture out into the big bad world – maybe even to Kilburn! My guess is that we’ll be welcoming a lot more international students with iMacs and credit cards than scruffy 19 year-olds from the provinces with beaten-up laptops and a £10 overdraft on their Lloyds-TSB student account.

Gondar Gardens will be developed

News came in late last night that the Planning Inspector (that’s a national, not a Camden position) had upheld the appeal by Linden Wates. This was after Camden rejected Linden Wates’ original 2011 proposal to develop the reservoir site into 16 houses, largely submerged beneath ground level [full planning application].

You can read more about the background to the development, the critical role played by the humble slow worm, as well as look at the developers’ second, less flamboyant proposal (also rejected by Camden).

The planning inspector’s decision draws a line under this contentious development – GARA (the Gondar and Agamemnon Residents Association), which was the driving force behind the “no” campaign, has acknowledged that there is virtually no chance of any counter-appeal and, to its credit, is now looking to the future.

The inspector’s report is long, but worth reading if you’re interested in such things. It’s a thoughtful and detailed consideration of the merits and drawbacks of the proposal, and explicitly recognises the challenges of balancing housing need and ecological merit, design and environmental impact, and planning policies that do – in their details – sometimes clash. Naturally, the conclusion won’t please everyone, and it’s certainly a shame that a gated community will result.

Here are the key sections:

Para 6. The appeal is allowed and planning permission is granted for the redevelopment of the existing reservoir structure to provide 16 residential units, associated parking, refuse storage and landscaping, and use of the surrounding land and rear of the site for open space (nature reserve) at Reservoir site, Gondar Gardens, London NW6 1QG in accordance with the terms of the application, Ref: 2011/0395/P, dated 24 January
2011, and the plans submitted with it, subject to the conditions included in the
schedule at the end of this decision.

Para 7. I consider there are 5 main issues in this case. They are:
(i) the effect of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the site and its surrounding area;
(ii) the ecological impact of the proposal;
(iii) the structural condition of the redundant reservoir;
(iv) the form and content of the proposal in relation to:
 – the provision of affordable housing,
 – the density and mix of the proposed dwellings, and
 – the design of the scheme within its townscape context;
and, if necessary;
(v) whether the project justifies the obligations cited above taking account of the contents of Regulation 122 of the Community Infrastructure Regulations 2010.

Character and appearance
Para 15. …The reservoir structure constituted previously developed land within the
terms of the definition now included in Annex 2 of the NPPF. The area surrounding the reservoir falls within its curtilage and, as a result of the definition, it too forms previously developed land. Although the presumption in favour of the redevelopment of previously developed land in preference to the development of greenfield land is not now as pervasive, it is nevertheless retained in paragraph 17 of the NPPF as one of the core planning principles. My predecessor referred in this context to the urgent need to find more sites for housing development, but, in accordance with the principle, the preference for redevelopment has to be tempered if the site concerned is of high environmental value.

Para 16. I am in no doubt that such value can be derived from both the ecological value of a site within its own terms, and/or from the contribution which it might make to amenity in the broadest sense – including residential amenity. In this context my colleague referred to the extensive views into the site from the surrounding houses. Although taken individually these are private views, they amount collectively to a considerable public asset and a ‘green lung’ providing local amenity. I agree with this description and assessment. Having further discussed the ecological interest of the land, he recommended the land should remain in the Schedule to the UDP as private open space (as well as being designated as a Site of Nature Conservation Interest – SINC).

Para 17. This protection is now expressed in Policy CS15 of the Camden Core Strategy 2010. The plan recognises that open space can fall into 2 categories: that which is open to the public (and which can provide for sport and recreation), and private open space – to which there is no or limited public access (such as, for example, railway embankments). The appeal site falls into the latter category and the first purpose of the policy is that such spaces will be protected.

Para 21. I saw on my visit that, although from the higher level windows in the Gondar Gardens and Sarre Road houses the proposed development would be clearly visible, this effect would be counter-balanced by the enhanced breadth of the prospect as a whole at this level. I recognise the presence of the proposed development would vary from the many windows overlooking the land, but taking all these matters into account, I conclude in relation to this main issue that the proposed development would have a limited adverse effect on the character and appearance of the site and its surrounding area. It would thus conflict to a degree with the purpose of paragraph (a) in the first component of Policy CS15.


click for larger view


Ecology
Para 24. The site was the subject of 30 ecological surveys in 2008-10, but was found to include only a low number of slow worms. There was agreement between the parties that the reservoir roof itself would not constitute a particularly attractive location for the species, but the south and east sides of the land are considered highly suitable. It was acknowledged at the inquiry that slow worms would readily travel between the site and adjacent gardens where they would be likely to find suitable features for hibernating, foraging and basking opportunities.

Para 28. …Subject to the implementation of an appropriate scheme and the regulation of access, I am unconvinced that the slow worms would be adversely affected by the scheme as a whole – rather the reverse.

Para 32. …On the basis of the evidence I have received in this case, for example, the surrounding domestic gardens appear to make a greater contribution to the nature conservation interest of the area than the reservoir roof – even though the former do not fall within the SINC and the latter does.

Para 33. …I consider the ecological interest of the site as a whole would be enhanced and improved and that in this respect the limited harm identified under the first main issue [character and apperance] would be outweighed.

Affordable housing
Para 45. I see little prospect that market housing on the land could ever be used to generate on-site affordable housing. I therefore conclude in relation to this issue that the appellant is justified in seeking to take advantage (by making a payment-in-lieu) of the exception included in Policy DP3 and paragraph 3.74 of The London Plan.

On the issue of the reservoir structure itself, the inspector says he considers “the debate over the condition of the structure to have been peripheral to the determination of the appeal.”

Much of the Section 106 agreements had already been settled, but it’s interesting to see the total sum the developers will have to stump up. This is in addition to the payment of £6.8 million in lieu of affordable housing, which the inspector agreed was not feasible on the site (it will now go towards housing elsewhere in the borough). And also in addition to the costs of looking after those slow worms!

£62,720 community facilities contribution
£261,184 education contribution
£68,610 public open space contribution
£38,777 highways contribution

In an e-mail to GARA memebers, chairman David Yass, who campaigned vigorously against the development, said “This comes as a huge disappointment”, while another member summed it up with “gutted.” GARA has undoubtedly helped improve the plan, and helped secure some significant conditions that should help minimise the impact of the development on local residents and wildlife, during and after construction.

Inside the reservoir

A Queensbury Rules trade-off

I know there’s a Willesden Green contingent among readers, so although this is outside my normal patch (and because The Queensbury featured in the Sunday Lunch periphery round-up), this seemed worth covering. As I’m no expert in all things NW2, I’ve handed this post over to local resident Esther Foreman (@estherforeman), who finds herself in a predicament but has a – perhaps controversial – solution.

“I have woken up every morning for the past eight years and gazed out of my window to look at the tree-covered hills, vales and rooftops of Hendon, Hampstead and Kilburn, dotted with the odd high rise.

The Fairview New Homes development of 110 Walm Lane seeks to completely destroy my world view, quite literally. It proposes to knock down the Queensbury Pub and the Willesden Green Conservative Club, and build 56 high-rise homes. Ten of these would be affordable housing. There would be 700 m2 of communal space and 23 car parking spaces.

Impression of the new flats
(click for the full Design Statement document)

This has put me into a difficult position. Brent needs new homes, badly. The council has set a minimum target of 2,050 new homes by 2016. We have high levels of families living in temporary accommodation, and high levels of homelessness. As someone who has grown up in the area, no longer surrounded by friends and family who have been forced out due to housing shortages and high private rents, I should be welcoming this development with open arms. New homes means new money in the area and each local development is a notch up the community bootstrap and one less fried chicken shop.

However, the cost is high. We will lose the Queensbury Pub, which is the only decent pub in the neighbourhood and provides a great local community meeting point, space for mums and babies during the week, quiz nights and Sunday roasts. This is where I have bumped into Sarah Teather, our local MP, exchanged conversation with celebrities, garnished support for petitions, and argued over the best local curry house with strangers. We held our first Erin Court residents association meeting in there eight years ago. If this goes, where do we go?

I think that the plans for the Willesden Green Library development should be put into the mix here. I actually like the plans for the redevelopment and think the area badly needs a cultural centre and the new housing (92 units altogether) that will come with it. The plans are being blocked by a lot of people who seem to prioritise the car park in the back over the much-needed homes for our sons and daughters .

So here’s what I propose. We have more support for the library centre development as it provides housing, community space, books and so on – and offset this with keeping the Queensbury as is. At the start of the year there were 3,000 families waiting for housing in Brent. People have to live somewhere, and not everyone can afford a Mapsebury Avenue, 6-bedroom house. But once those people move in, they have to have somewhere to meet up in the evening and it’s better for the local economy if they spend their pound in Willesden. If the Queensbury goes, there is no other place for us to do this.

If you decide to support those plucky bar staff at the Queensbury by signing their petition on change.org or by responding directly to Brent Council, remember to give some support for the Library Development at the same time. I say Yes to Homes and Yes to Communities.”

110WalmLane Design Statement

Maygrove may grow 100 new flats

The redevelopment of Handrail House has been on the cards for a while. A proposal last year was refused, but the developers are back with revisions and more ambition – at least in terms of scale.

No plans have been submitted to Camden yet, but on Wednesday there was an open meeting at Sidings Community Centre where the architects and developers presented their latest thinking. I wasn’t able to go, but James Earl – chair of the Neighbourhood Development Forum – was present along with local councillors.

Site up for development: click for larger version

It’s a big project, with approximately 100 flats over five storeys and now covering both Handrail House (65 Maygrove Rd) and No.67 Maygrove Road (flats at the moment). Like all other large housing projects in Camden the intention is for it to be car free (as with the Ballymore development, there is an argument as to how viable this really is), with disabled parking only. Camden is pushing for half the units to be affordable housing, and the developers are offering Section 106 money (the contributions developers have to make to the local community) for Sidings Community Centre, to lay astroturf the football pitch there, and install a café in the Peace Park.

The issues raised at the meeting included the removal of business/employment space from the site (there are currently offices at Handrail House), concerns about the design (yellow brick and quite modern), the impact on the Peace Park (several of the flats will over look it), traffic and parking on Maygrove Road, and a general concern as to whether the infrastructure in the area can cope with another 300 people.

As regular readers wil know, West Hampstead has been earmarked for intensification so more people are almost certainly going to be moving to the area – the issue is precisely where and what sort of buildings they’ll be moving into.

All the pictures were on powerpoint rather than display boards, so I’m afraid I don’t have any pics to show you although apparently the architect firm involved is the same one that designed the Olympic velodrome!

Velodrome in the Olympic Park

Should we pay for our own amenities?

I came across an article from Fast Company this morning. It’s about a trend in the US to ask local residents to contribute to civic improvements – so-called “crowdfunding”. A Tampa-based organisation called Citizinvestor has been pushing this.

The recession has left hundreds of parks un-renovated, and hundreds of basketball courts unpaved. Without funds, municipalities have had to delay, or cancel, projects that otherwise would get started…
… For example, the city of Philadelphia is currently asking for $12,875 so it can plant 15,000 trees. But that’s just the start. The plan is for many more, and bigger, projects than that.

Unlike Kickstarter, a crowdfunding scheme for creative projects that also operates in the UK, Citizinvestor lets locals “petition for projects as well as contribute to ones municipalities have put forward.”. There are no rewards for contributing (although contributions are tax-deductible in the US).

It’s an interesting idea and got me wondering whether such a thing would work in an area such as West Hampstead. I suspect it might. But wholehearted adoption would lead to bigger ideological questions. After all, we already pay taxes to both central and local government, and civic space has traditionally been funded by municipal government. Sure, when times are tough I think a lot of people would rather see money spent on nurses, or care for the elderly than on planting new trees or relaying paths in a park, but how likely is it that once an economy rebounds a government would resume responsibility for something its citizens had willingly paid for on top of their existing taxes?

It’s worth noting that the schemes up for funding are already on the government agenda but aren’t a priority. So, this isn’t entirely about people doing it for themselves – the Citizinvestor model has people contributing to projects that have already been approved and will be then be implemented by local government, although the petition element does introduce a populist angle.

The co-founder of Citizinvestor, Jordan Rayner, is quoted in the article as saying “There is a place for a service to make government work more like a vending machine, where I get to choose which parks and pools I want to build.” Good soundbite, but surely that runs the risk that the more affluent the area, the more “parks and pools” get funded. It would add complexity (and grumbling) if the council’s pledge was “we’ll pay for a swimming pool in this deprived area, but those of you in the richer areas have to provide your own”. Here we enter into questions of scale – in London this would surely have to work at a borough-wide level, with an understanding that people in Kilburn ward would be unlikely to cough up for civic improvements in Camden Town, and vice-versa.

We already live in a city where the divide between public space and private space is increasingly blurred; in theory citizen funding would leave no doubt as to who any such projects belonged to. But when does citizen funding bleed into “local business funding”, and in turn “big business funding”. Citizinvestor’s FAQs make no mention of any commercial interest in funding proposals, and it would perhaps be a good starting point to clarify that no branding would be allowed on any project, and no conditions could be imposed by anyone contributing to the cost.

What do you think? Do you think a few thousand locals would stump up a few quid each to tart up West End Green? Not too controversial. What about speed bumps? Cycle lanes? Increasing litter patrols? What constitutes an essential service, and what’s a “nice to have” when belts are being tightened.

I’ve included the How It Works section from the Citizinvestor website, which clarifies the mechanics of the scheme quite well:

Municipalities submit projects to Citizinvestor.com.
These are projects that have already been scored, department-approved and only lack one thing – funding. Projects range from building a new park to installing speed bumps or adding a few parking spaces to your neighborhood library. The list of these projects for any city is nearly endless. Currently, these projects sit on a long-list behind other budget priorities, especially now when local government budgets are tighter than ever before.

Citizens invest in the projects they care about most.
For the first time ever, we are giving citizens the opportunity to tell government exactly where they want their dollars spent. Citizens can find projects that their local government has posted on Citizinvestor.com and pledge to invest any amount they wish towards the project. Not only can citizens invest in projects from their local governments, but Citizinvestor also gives citizens the opportunity to petition for new projects that local government either hasn’t thought of or hasn’t approved.

Once a project is 100% funded, the project is built!
This is key – citizens only pay their portion of the project if other citizens step up to the plate and commit to fund 100% of the stated cost. This is a win/win for everyone! Citizens only have to invest money if there is a guarantee that the project of their choice will be built and governments only have to commit to building a project if they receive 100% of the funding they need. Not a dime changes hands unless everyone is happy. This ensures that there is no risk to citizens for pledging to invest and no risk to governments posting projects to Citizinvestor.com.

Gondar Gardens – first appeal nears conclusion

The tale of the proposed development of the Gondar Gardens reservoir site is a lengthy one. In essence, a couple of years ago, developers Linden Wates put forward a plan that would have seen the disused site turned into a series of semi-sunken homes, that became known as the Teletubby development. Planning permission was refused, partly due to the presence of slow worms on the site.

Computer image of original plans

A second, less controversial development was then put forward that kept much of the green space intact, but still added new housing on the street. This too was refused.

 
Artist’s impression of second proposal

While the second proposal was being considered, Linden Wates was appealing the first decision. That appeal opened in May but was adjourned after three days. The inquiry reconvened last week, and the hearing concluded yesterday.

Here’s the assessment of how the appeal has gone from the perspective of the Gondar & Agamemnon Residents Association (GARA):

Back in May, both Camden and GARA gave evidence as to why the refusal should be upheld, and were cross-examined at length. Linden Wates started to give their evidence.

This week, the inquiry reconvened. Linden Wates gave detailed evidence and were cross-examined by Camden’s barrister and GARA’s barrister.

On Thursday, there was a lengthy examination of opposing experts’ views about the state of the reservoir structure and its likelihood of partial or total collapse; and a debate about Linden Wates’ approach to affordable housing (i.e., paying for it to be somewhere else).

Almost all of Friday was spent with Linden Wates’ planning consultant, with arguments about the relative merits of different aspects of planning policy. That might sound interminable but it goes to the heart of the matter – does the protection of being Open Space and a Site of Nature Conservation Interest outweigh the developer’s argument that the structure itself is ‘previously developed land’?

Add in arguments about whether the new National Planning Policy Framework promotes development, or protects land of high environmental value, and you have the opportunity for some lively debate, some of it rivalling any West End theatre production (OK, only in parts).

Also on Friday, local resident Mark Stonebanks made an excellent contribution, challenging LW’s competence in areas of traffic and parking, design, and drainage.

Monday – the final day – started with a visit to houses on all four sides of the site. The inspector seemed to expect the good views from Gondar Gardens and the less good views from Agamemnon Road (obscured by trees); but he appeared surprised at the extent of views from Hillfield and Sarre Roads.

We returned to the inquiry and heard an impassioned, yet controlled statement from Hugh McCormick [Ed: I don’t know who he is]. Linden Wates’ barrister declined to cross-examine. There followed some haggling over conditions / Section 106 matters to be imposed “should the appeal be successful”. Linden Wates and Camden had pre-agreed most of this, and it was GARA that raised some issues although it made very limited headway.

Then it was onto the showpiece summing-up from each barrister. This is a curious affair in which each party submits a written statement (typically 20 close-typed A4 pages) and then proceeds to read the entire document aloud.

GARA’s barrister covered all the key points: ecological value; open space; and traffic, parking and other matters – all of which are supported by both planning policy and real local importance. Camden defended its multiple reasons for refusing planning permission, even to the extent of appearing to promote the second (frontage) scheme in order to demonstrate that alternatives to the appeal scheme could exist.

Linden Wates’ barrister was very professional in putting its case. We expect a decision by the end of November, which is just after the deadline for Linden Wates to appeal against refusal of the second scheme.

I’ll keep you posted on what happens next!

Love it or loathe it?

At the Jester Festival a couple of weeks back arguably the most interesting stall was a rather low-key affair. When I walked past it was manned by James Earl, chair of the Neighbourhood Development Forum. On his table were a set of photos of local building and spaces and a sheet against each one for a “love it” “hate it ” or “no comment” tick. West Hampstead being West Hampstead, some people of course wanted to write a few words as well – even in the “no comment” box.

The idea of all this was to get a sense of what sort of developments people felt were appropriate for the area as James and the rest of the NDF begin to draw up the Neighbourhood Development Plan.

The results are interesting, not least because they don’t always show a consensus, which is both encouraging (diversity of opinions is generally good) and worrying (how will locals ever agree on what we want). I’ve ranked them below are in descending order of “love” votes (which does not correlate exactly with the number of “hate” votes – Emmanuel School’s new building in particular was vehemently despised by many, but still attracted a fair number of “love” votes).

I’ve included most of the comments. I’m not sure how I feel about the vitriol with which some people want to pull down buildings in which other people live. Overall, there’s a clear sense that everyone likes the traditional architecture of the area, while the rather monolithic structures such as the Travis Perkins building are almost universally loathed. This building is owned by Camden and is up for redevelopment in the not too distant future, so you shouldn’t have to look at it for too much longer – nevertheless, I await the outcry over the proposed redevelopment.

People are much more divided over the smaller-scale modern buildings – some appreciating their design aesthetic, others seeming to claim that anything with a more bauhaus feel is automatically ugly. Of course many modern buildings, although offering less living space, are often far more environmentally friendly than the large high-ceilinged Victorian and Edwardian mansion blocks and homes that dominate the area.

James decided not to include the artist’s impressions of the 187-199 West End Lane development, with its set of tower blocks or the student accommodation that’s under construction down Blackburn Road at the moment. I think everyone who cared has probably expressed their view on the former, while the latter seemed to pass relatively unnoticed, despite being of a similar height.

There are still a couple of days left to fill in James’s survey about the local area, and it’s well worth doing as this will help inform the Development Plan, which is being drafted as we speak.

Ok, on with the results…. I’m sure you’ll have your own comments to add at the end.

Mill Lane Shops
Love: 118 Need more; Hooray, lovely, more like this on Fortune Green Rd please
No comment: 3
Hate: 0
Library seating
Love: 101 Good but should have been 3 or 4 separate benches; nice; very nice; excellent
No comment: 9 No cleaning provided, now a rubbish dump, but an improvement; waste of money during a recession; Money donated by private donor; waste of money improvement
Hate: 1 Should have spent it on books
New Thameslink station
Love: 86 Very nice; great design; modern – nice; great new street scene; need benches please; longer to get to but looks nice; we should use the space for a weekly market
No comment: 3Could have been more creative in using the space inside and outside; how about some seats; looks ok; need benches
Hate: 4 Lighting not good at night
View down Hillfield Road
Love: 79 Gorgeous
No comment: 8 Beautiful; shame about the estate agent’s board; ok
Hate: 2
West End Green area
Love: 76 Gorgeous
No comment: 3 A mess, should be improved for the community; dull paving; too much dog poo; the green needs doing up
Hate: 4 pigeons
Leafy Solent Road
Love: 73 Gorgeous
No comment: 2 OK
Hate: 3 too many cars
New houses on Mill Lane
Love: 66 Very nice; sustainable
No comment: 10 Ok; great; clean design; nice design but extortionate for the size of the houses; very small, very expensive
Hate: 37 Should have had front gardens not drives; ugly; does not fit in with environment
Extra floor added to mansion block
Love: 51 Blends; ok; well done; very good
No comment: 21 Didn’t know it had been done; didn’t notice; it goes with existing building
Hate: 3
Mill Apartments (under construction)
Love: 39 Blends in well
No comment: 13 Ok; not sure; average
Hate: 11 too tall
Infill house on Ravenshaw St.
Love: 36 Love it; great; lovely; very good
No comment: 17 not bad; half-good half-bad; brick fits in, windows ok, maybe juts out too much; why white?
Hate: 18 poor; not in keeping; too modern for the street
Zero-carbon house on Ranulf Rd
Love: 25
No comment: 18 Nice, but how sustainable is the wood? Interesting
Hate: 24 ugly; took up too much road and pavement on a blind corner
Emmanuel School
Love: 35 Colour of bricks will stand test of time; needed regardless of appearance; well proportioned, well detailed; not bad; not love but it’s pretty good; very good; great design
No comment: 16 Not sure about purple bricks; brickwork rather dark; brickwork wrong, design ok; why were red bricks not used; great it’s extended but bad design
Hate: 51 Don’t like dismal grey brick; no red bricks; too near street; ugly; grey; frontage too far out, too high; out of character; disgusting brickwork; looks like architect’s office in Berlin; shame on you Camden; industrial building
Flats on Kingdon Rd
Love: 19
No comment: 17 Does not go with red brick
Hate: 57 Too high
New houses on Gondar Gardens
Love: 16 Ok here; quite nice look and good-sized windows; successful infill
No comment: 11Ok some issues with brick; wrong design does not match the surroundings
Hate: 64 looks like an industrial building not a home; ugly; too much grey
New house on Mill Lane
Love: 10
No comment: 8
Hate: 54 Awful; ugly; not in keeping; poor; urgh; terrible eyesore
Office conversion on Sumatra Rd
Love: 9
No comment: 18 Ok
Hate: 29 ugly; more trees; shockingly ugly and cheap looking
Ellerton Tower on Mill Lane
Love: 7 Classic Sydney Cook era architecture; looks like a giant snail but it is monumental; love it, from the inside top floor
No comment: 7 Don’t like it; monster ugly
Hate: 78 Hideous knock it down please; vile; demolish now!
Paved-over gardens
Love: 6 who cares; none of our business
No comment: 28 Ok; nice garden to sit in
Hate: 34 environmentally unsound; shame!; ok; bad for foundations; awful; nasty; too much run off
New building in Maygrove Rd
Love: 5 
No comment: 8 good functionality; very poor exterior design; low brick wall is security risk for residents
Hate: 33 needs trees; front looks life office building
Buldings on Maygrove Rd
Love: 2
No comment: 13 Ok
Hate: 32
Travis Perkins building
Love: 2
No comment: 8 Rather indifferent
Hate: 74 Demolish; horrible desing; height

Place plan published – actions for West Hampstead

West Hampstead will be a place where local communities experience real benefits from the opportunities that come with redevelopment and people feel that they have influenced and shaped how investment is made in the area. Support for local business will be a key part of enhancing the distinctive village character and more local jobs will contribute to a successful local economy. Local services, housing, open spaces and facilities will meet the needs of local communities as will the quality of experience that people have moving around the area. Cooperation with local people, voluntary sector organisations, developers, businesses and the council will make this happen.

This is the vision for West Hampstead, as laid out by the place plan finally published by Camden council. From this extract it feels a bit like “local shops for local people”, but this document really isn’t that parochial. It has been quite some time in the making, and I’ve reported on its progress over the past 12 months.

You can access the original, or view a version where I’ve ringed the passages that I think are particularly worth reading (also embedded below).

The idea of the Place Plan is to set some context for local development – of which much is planned over the next 5-10 years. It has no statutory power, but the council are supposed to take it into account when assessing planning applications, and budget allocation. It is very strongly informed by local residents – even by readers of this website (as it mentions on page 10) – and I can imagine that lobbying groups are likely to refer to it heavily when responding to proposed changes.

One of the underlying objectives is to make people feel (hopefully justifiably) that they have some input into what happens around them. In this regard, the Place Plan should dovetail with the Neighbourhood Development Plan.

To quote the report:

“This ‘placeshaping’ approach is about taking the opportunity to think and act strategically about how to address these needs in terms of investment decisions, service delivery and physical changes. Understanding local concerns and priorities is at the heart of this approach which is all the more important against a backdrop of reduced Council resources arising from reductions in central government funding.”

Although it has no legal bearing on anything at all, it does purport to enable locals to hold the council to account over the concrete measures that it says it will undertake (starting from page 46). It is also a dynamic document and action plans can (and hopefully will) be updated as the situation evolves.

The plan is broken down into five sections, and each has a series of objectives.

  1. Development. To secure real local benefit from development opportunities. Key objectives: Work with the community to develop more detailed area planning guidance; involve the local community (where possible) in identifying priorities for how developer contributions are used.
  2. Economy. To support a successful local economy with a thriving neighbourhood. Key objectives: protect and promote the village character of the area; support West End Lane and Mill Lane shops and businesses; meet the needs of the people who live, work and visit the area.
  3. Environment. To provide new open space and improve the local environment. Key objectives: provide new accessible open space to benefit the area; continue to improve open spaces, food growing, biodiversity and sustainability; maintain the valued quality and historic character of the area.
  4. Services. To deliver improved local services. Key objectives: continue to monitor the demand for school places and nursery provision; continue to support local voluntary sector organisations and investigate innovative delivery of services; negotiate with developers for ‘affordable’ provision of community space for local groups.
  5. Transport. To make it easier and more pleasant for people to move around the area. Key objective: Continue to improve how people move around and between the three stations.

Generally there’s not much that’s controversial here. I’ve been at two of the group consultation sessions and these were the main topics that emerged – naturally with different people placing different emphases on them. I know some people think the idea of West Hampstead as any sort of village is risible, but it’s certainly a focal point both for transport and shopping/entertainment (more of the latter than the former these days). I’m pleased to see such specific recognition of the challenges facing Mill Lane, and a statement of intent to work on improving the street without sacrificing its character.

Amid all the bullet points and action plans, there are a few interesting comments in the overall vision and background section. Despite generally high levels of satisfaction among residents the plan recognises that different segments of the local population do not necessarily interact. Is this unusual, and does it matter? I would argue no it’s not unusual, but yes, it does matter. It matters because if we take one cut – age – 20-34 year-olds account for roughly half West Hampstead’s population, yet barely figure when it comes to deliberating local issues.

Although younger people here may not be long-term residents (largely, anecdotally, because they can’t afford to stay rather than because they don’t want to), it would be a mistake to think they don’t care. They also, inevitably, have some different priorities and sometimes a more forward looking outlook. It is to the council’s credit that one of the reasons they have involved me in this placeshaping process is because it gave them access to the views of younger people.

Although not explicitly discussed in the Place Plan, there is also something of an affluence divide. I heard at a recent local event that some of West Hampstead less well-off residents sometimes feel that they don’t fit in at lots of these community activities. Meanwhile, I wonder how many people in the “young professional” category avail themselves of the services offered by, for example, Sidings Community Centre. Just a thought. I hope that everyone feels welcome to attend #whampevents.

Do have a read of the document. There was plenty of cynicism at the first meeting I attended about the real impact such an initiative could have. At least by setting out clear actions, the council is saying “judge us on progress”, even if you think that many of them are a little vague, with a focus on “identifying”, “facilitating”, “monitoring”, “supporting” and “exploring” rather than more concrete words like “investing”, “building”, “changing”, or “upgrading”.

West Hampstead Place Plan_annotated

Planning for the future of West Hampstead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coordinating West Hampstead planning?

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

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

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

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

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

West Hampstead place shaping workshop report

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

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

West Hampstead Shaping the Future Workshop Final Report

Place shaping meeting overview

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

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

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

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

187-199 West End Lane: what happens next

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

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

Lend me your ears: Shaping West Hampstead’s future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*You will never catch me wearing short trousers