Last February, we reported on local resident Alan Grogan’s campaign to rid West End Lane of the large number of estate agents’ boards that were attached to many properties along the road. Many agents responded swiftly to our article and, within a couple of weeks, had voluntarily removed their boards from buildings. However, quite a few of the signs still remain up more than a year later.
This week, just as Foxtons added to the glut of estate agents on West End Lane, Alan got the news he’d been hoping for. Camden Council has submitted the Regulation 7 Application to ban all estate agents’ boards for the stretch of West End Lane between the tube station north to David’s Deli. This means that barring any major objections, the proposal should pass in the next few months.
Alan said that he is hoping the ban will come into effect “in time for the summer and we’ll have a very, very nice looking high street”.
Two of the signs still on West End Lane that would have to come down if Camden’s proposal is passed
It’s been a persistent rumour ever since the post office announced it was moving from its site on West End Lane to St James’ Church. Now it looks like the rumour is true. Estate agent Foxtons – it of the ubiquitous green and yellow Minis – has applied to the council for a change of use for the post office site so it can open there.
Those who argue that West Hampstead already has a lot of estate agents might find it hard to come up with strong objections – taking over an empty site is always going to be an easier sell to the council. Objectors would have to hope that Camden considers the claim that “the occupation of the unit by Foxtons would contribute to the vitality and viability of the town centre” is nonsense and that instead another estate agent on a street that already has about a dozen instead contributes to the creeping homogenisation of the town centre and adds very little to what is already a crowded market.
The supporting documentation for the application can be found here, and is the most interesting read. The full application is here. Consultation runs until September 9th. If consent is given, expect Foxton’s “modern, café-style, open environment” to be appearing on West End Lane very soon.
If you’ve been out and about in West Hampstead lately, you might have noticed a few changes. You may also remember our article on Alan Grogan’s petition a few weeks ago to officially rid West End Lane of estate agents’ boards. At the moment, the rule is that boards should come down 14 days after a property is let or sold, though in practice this rarely happens.
As a result of West Hampstead Life contacting agents about the article, many voluntarily removed all their boards from the high street. Cedar, Paramount, Dutch & Dutch, Parkheath and Vita were the first to comply, although a few Cedar boards still remain, including one from a whole other era of branding.
It’s not clear who is responsible for signs such as the one above Mamacita, which has disintegrated and can’t be easily traced to any agent. Perhaps one of the other agents might take it upon itself to do the kind thing and remove this board as well.
No change here…
The boards now most prominent on West End Lane are those of Greene & Co and Abacus, as well as a few from agents not based in West Hampstead.
Count the Abacus boards
James Altman, lettings manager at Abacus, today confirmed that he has ordered all Abacus boards to be removed from West End Lane. He expects this to be done by early next week.
Altman acknowledged that some of his boards had been up for some time (one has been in place so long it has its own anti-pigeon spikes). Abacus manages the buildings opposite its offices, and claims that the freeholders are fine with the boards being up, but says that the agency sees itself as part of the community and that if the community wants the signs down, then it is happy to comply.
David Pollock, managing director of Greene & Co, said that he “certainly won’t be objecting to the ruling” if it comes into effect, and would be happy to remove his boards from West End Lane if he was satisfied it would result in a “level playing field”.
It won’t be clear to everyone what a ‘level playing field’ means in this context. According to Greene’s website, it has no properties for sale or rent on this stretch of West End Lane at the moment yet there are boards up. Given the 14-day rule, one must assume that either these properties have just come off the market, or that a willingness to abide by the legislation works only when everyone follows suit.
However, surely it’s the company that keeps its boards up after others have removed theirs as a gesture of goodwill that is the one tilting this mysterious metaphorical playing field in its favour – especially if these boards also exceed the 14-day rule.
Indeed, Pollock admitted that he is “slightly cautious” about removing his boards, which he sees as a valuable marketing tool, while those of other agents are still up. Yet, most other agents have now removed their boards. Over to you Mr Pollock.
A few signs have come down – but too many remain
Meanwhile, Alan Grogan is pleased with how successful his campaign has been. His petition gathered the support of 181 local residents in just two weeks, and has been submitted to Camden’s planning department in support of the Regulation 7 application that would ban all boards from the street.
According to Alan, Camden has confirmed that no estate agents have formally objected to the proposed application. Planning officer John Sheehy will submit the request in the coming weeks, and expects a decision about two to three months after this. Hopefully by then, the agents will have all voluntarily removed their signs; nevertheless, regulation would ensure they don’t creep back – and alert agents from outside the area that West End Lane should be a board-free street.
The whole process seems rather tortuous, but it’s one that Alan – and Camden – expect to pay off. In the short term, however, it seems that most local agents agree that it’s in everyone’s interests to tidy up West End Lane.
True to its word, Cedar Estates – the agent with the most boards on West End Lane – has been removing them today. Four other estate agents as of writing (Paramount, Vita, Parkheath and Dutch & Dutch) have also pledged to remove their boards. If you want to ensure none of them creep back, and that other agents are forced to follow suit, sign the petition. Camden council needs your signatures in order to apply for the ban. Once West End Lane is resolved, we may be able to tackle other streets.
West Hampstead resident Alan Grogan is a big fan of West End Lane. The only thing he doesn’t like is the large number of estate agents’ boards that he feels are a blight on the otherwise attractive street.
In conjunction with Camden council, he’s launching a petition to ban all agents boards from the road. One of the biggest offenders, Cedar Estates, has already told West Hampstead Life that it will pre-emptively comply by the end of next week.
Estate agents have to remove boards no more than 14 days after the advertised property has been let or sold. In reality they are often left for months or even years. In fact, some have been there so long they are rotting away with just the frame left attached to the buildings.
Oliver Kent of Vita Properties, whose name you may not know but whose face you’ll certainly recognise, even said that “our policy is to leave them up as long as possible” for the visibility and marketing.
This property on West End Lane was let two months ago
Alan found that many locals agreed that West End Lane, and other roads in the area, should be board-free. He lodged a complaint with Camden Council, and asked them to put in place a “Regulation 7 Direction” for West End Lane. This would forbid estate agents from putting up any advertising boards.
He didn’t hear back from Camden at first, but in the meantime the council had conducted its own survey and reached the same conclusion. The environment team at Camden is therefore applying for a Regulation 7 order to cover West End Lane from the tube station up to David’s Deli and Feng Sushi.
David Matthews, from Dutch & Dutch, confirmed that he had received a letter from Camden explaining this. “Dutch & Dutch are fully behind the campaign”, he said. He also agreed it was “in everyone’s interest, including estate agents, to tidy up the area.”
Many different agents’ boards are in evidence on West End Lane, but one in particular seems very well represented.
Perhaps surprisingly, Darren Yanover, managing director of Cedar Estates, said that he also agrees with the ban on boards, saying it will make the high street “look more attractive”. He has pledged to pre-emptively remove all Cedar Estates boards from West End Lane next week. He said “We want to be the first agents to remove all boards and lead by example.”
Regulation 7 orders already exist for many other streets in the borough (see Camden’s full list here), but agents are not always aware of the restrictions. No signs are allowed in Broadhurst Gardens, for example, but a rather large V-shaped board appeared above No. 184 recently. David Iny, director at Grovelands Investments, confirmed that he did not know about the restrictions and would ensure the board was taken down. He was as good as his word, and the sign has now been removed.
Vita’s Oliver Kent admitted that from a business point of view, it would be “disappointing” if the ban came in, as it remains the “cheapest and most effective form of marketing”. However, he agreed that the street would benefit from being board-free and said that Vita would comply with the regulation were it to be brought in.
Although the agents we spoke to seem broadly in favour of the move and happy to comply, it does seem that regulatory compulsion is needed. Cedar’s Darren Yanover summed it up, saying that a blanket ban would “create a level playing field”, as it would apply equally to all agents.
Sign the petition
What happens now? Camden’s letter to Alan Grogan included the following:
“We have decided that we will apply to the Secretary of State [for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson] for further controls on the street which will allow us to make it board-free.
When we write to the Secretary of State we will need to explain why we are seeking to introduce these additional controls. We will refer to survey results, numbers of enforcement complaints received, impact on visual appearance etc.”
Therefore Alan is appealing for the support of the public to gather as many signatures as possible in support of the West End Lane board ban by February 18th. You can find, and sign, the petition here.