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Two West Hampstead venues celebrate their first birthday

It’s been one year since One Bourbon changed hands and name from One Sixty. To celebrate, it held an anniversary event last week and had a small refurb. When I popped in this week on a regular night there was a distinct buzz. Since the rebrand, there has been a slight shift in emphasis to the drinks side with fifteen beers on offer and whisky bourbon galore.

One Bourbon has many more than one bourbon.

Food does remain a big part of the business and the chef has used the occasion to update the menu. Old favourites remain such as the buffalo wings (they are hot!) and the ribs, but new are ox-cheeks (both as tacos and nuggets) plus there are more vegetarian options with spicy lentil tacos and a veggie burger and some cheese dishes including grilled haloumi.

One Bourbon also has live music on Fridays – if you fancy a bit of blues and rock n’ roll.

One year for the Green Room

On September 29th, The Green Room on Fortune Green had its first anniversary. It’s a more homey operation than One Bourbon – more of a neighbourhood bar that has been building business over the past year.

The quirky Green Room vibe

To celebrate this milestone The Green Room held a party and ran a raffle to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Care (the anniversary fell on the Macmillan fundraising day) collecting a useful £800 for the cause. The bar has DJs on Sundays, live music and shows sports events as well.

The menu, which started with Sunday roasts (I feel it’s time for an update to the ‘Who has the best Sunday roast in West Hampstead?’ story) now includes burgers and other bar favourites (with quite a few sharing options) during the week. It also holds theme menu nights; recent cuisines include Cuban and Mexican.

Crime on the rise in West Hampstead

Is crime in West Hampstead on the rise, or are we just made more aware of it through social media? And through the rare but higher-profile crimes such as moped-based thefts or the recent acid attack. WHL met up with Sergeant Mark Townsend to discuss.

Certainly there is a sense that our relatively quiet part of north-west London has seen more crime of late, but do the statistics back that up? And what are the police doing about it?

Crime stats are available from the College of Policing website and are broken down by wards: Fortune Green, West Hampstead, plus parts of Swiss Cottage and Kilburn that make up ‘West Hampstead’. The numbers are a couple of months behind with the most recent figures being for June. Given that crime levels are generally relatively low, increases can be seasonal or statistically not significant, however, the data does suggest a rise in crime.

monthly Reported crime

As you can see from the chart, across the previous few months, monthly crime levels are actually fairly stable, with the exception of Kilburn, where crime is somewhat higher overall. However if you compare it with the same period last year it’s clearer that the trend is upwards. There is an average rise of 15% for the wards and a startling 50% jump in Fortune Green, confirming anecdotal (or tweetendotal) evidence that crime is on the up.

Crime 2016 vs 2017

Crime in Fortune Green up by 50%

Of course it’s important to know what types of crime are causing the increase. In Fortune Green, it’s largely a rise in burglaries and thefts from cars. From April to Jun 2016 (2Q) there were 31 burglaries in Fortune Green, but that had nearly doubled to 55 in 2017. Likewise from April to June  2016 there were 43 theft from cars, but in 2017 that rose to 78.

Fortune Green ward; breakdown of crimes

Fortune Green ward; breakdown of crimes

Here is a breakdown of which crimes make up the total. It is important to point out that West Hampstead is still relatively safe, but not as safe as it was. It is now about average for London, although still safer than Camden overall.

FG ward's relative position in the crime tables.

FG ward’s relative position in the crime tables.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These monthly stats are important because they alert the police to any hot spots and allow the Safer Neighbourhoods ward panels to decide crime priorities. Its is really important that you let the police know if you are victim of crime.

How can the police make our neighbourhood safer?

Sgt Mark Townsend has been at West Hampstead for two years and in the force for 13 years. He is in charge of three Safer Neighbourhood teams: Fortune Green, West Hampstead and Kilburn. Although the teams are separate, they do support for each other and coordinate on problems at the ward boundaries. West Hampstead and Fortune Green have two PCs each and one PCSO. Kilburn, with its higher crime rate, has four PCs and one PCSO. Alongside the Safer Neighbourhoods Teams there are response teams (these are the officers who respond to and investigate crimes) based at Kentish Town police station.

There are more changes in the pipeline as earlier this year Camden’s force merged with Islington. This merger is one of two pilots in London – the other is a merger of three east London boroughs. The aim is to turn what thirty London borough forces into 16 policing areas. Therefore further mergers are on the cards as are cuts to police numbers. Numbers are down already. In March 2010, there were 33,367 full-time officers in London. This had fallen to 31,782 in by March 2016 (both numbers include long-term absentees, currently about 1,000 officers).

With burglary and theft from cars on the rise, residents can play their part in making it harder for criminals. Sgt Townsend said that one of his biggest problems is people being lax with their own security. Car doors should always be locked (and anything valuable hidden out of sight), and mopeds should have a disk lock and be secured to the ground. All the oft-repeated advice about securing lower-ground floor flats and being careful not to leave communal doors open or letting in random people to communal flats without checking naturally apply too.

How to report a crime

If you are the victim of a crime, what’s the correct procedure? If it is urgent, call 999, but for less urgent matters call 101, which can take a minute or two to connect. If you are not sure on the level of urgency, Sgt Townsend said call 999 and they will direct your call as appropriate

If anyone wants to report something suspicious they can also call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 – or do it anonymously online, though this means you’ll have no follow up and the police can’t ask for more details. You can also report it directly the Safer Neighbourhoods teams where they can follow up.

Nevertheless, it is important to report a crime, and today the best way to do this is online, although there can be an urge to talk to a real person straight away. Four out of five crimes can now be reported online, even car collisions. The reasons to report all crime, apart from having it investigated, is that it then gets included in those crime stats, which themselves shape the police force’s priorities. Those priorities are updated on the police college site, and the Metropolitan Police pages for each ward’s Safer Neighbourhood Teams (Fortune Green , West Hampstead and Kilburn).

The Met’s site is still in beta, and could be more user-friendly, for example with photos of team members, which would make it more personable, though there are other attempts to modernise the service and make policing more visible. Kilburn Safer Neighbourhood team got smartphones about a year ago and have been tweeting more and more actively . Initially, Sgt Townsend said the team was unsure about this, but they have grown more comfortable with the idea and now eagerly report their successes and ward rounds. There are also Twitter account for Fortune Green and West Hampstead, but they are less achieve and specific than Kilburn, but with time should be more informative.

Safer Neighbourhood Panels

The crime stats are supposed to help the police together with the Safer Neighbourhood Panels (SNP)  decide what the crime priorities are for the area. Recently this has been drifting due to a change in personnel, however, earlier this year local activist Miles Seaman has taken over.  He has been working at reactivating the SNP by ensuring the the meetings are more regular and issues are raised in an orderly fashion. Confusingly, the police also ask for input about which crime priorities on the Safer Neighbourhoods website, but with only 4 votes last month it’s not very democratic.

What next?

So crime indeed has been on the rise in the area.  The question is what to do now?  Firstly, Sgt Townsend says please take personal responsibility, it is astonishing that the number of thefts that take place from unlocked cars. Given that we are facing continued cuts in police numbers this is all the more important. The Safer Neighbourhood Team numbers are safe.  For the moment.  But WHL thinks the police can also do their bit – they have been very slow to take up social media and their websites are – to say the least – clunky. A lot of local policing is know the faces of the bobbies (or PCSOs) on the beat but all we have are grey boxes, nor are their links to the email addresses or a phone number to contact the teams.

The Safer Neighbourhoods panel should hopefully be more pro-active under new chairmanship. Likewise we also haven’t seen much activity from our local councillors (or indeed from the local opposition), but we are happy to be corrected on this.

There is concern about releasing CCTV footage when crimes are committed. WHL has his wallet stolen in Costa coffee (doing an interview about crime, how’s that for irony) but Costa refused to release the footage even though the thief was caught on camera. Sgt Townsend thinks it is time to take a more sensible approach because the police don’t have the resources to follow up.

One example over the past year of everyone pulling together (including WHL) was on improving the Black Path and Billy Fury Way. Both paths had become overgrown and felt unsafe, this resulted in a few incidents. Last August WHL and a number of locals turned out to start cutting it back  and this galvanised Network Rail into action, thanks to help of the Police and local councillors. The overgrown foliage has been cut back, the lighting is improved, the path resurfaced and, that bit at least, is now a safer part of the neighbourhood.

And finally, here is some simple crime prevention advice from the Safer Neighbourhoods Team.  Stay safe West Hampstead.

Crime prevention

A newcomer’s view of the Jester Festival

The Jester Festival is such a central part of the West Hampstead year – and of the last 45 years – that it’s bit difficult to get an unbiased perspective. So this year WHL asked Irene, as newcomer to the area to take a fresh look. This is what she found…

I moved to the neighbourhood a year and a half ago, running away from the tourists of Camden Market and a hellish Northern/Central line commute. Having lived in four different countries during the previous six years, I had been longing to put down roots somewhere that felt like home. West Hampstead turned out to be that place and the Jester Festival represents everything I love about West Hampstead.

All the fun of the fair, Jester 2017 style

All the fun of the fair, Jester 2017 style

As I got to know and love the neighbourhood – my leafy street, the village atmosphere, the shops and cafés – I decided to find out more about the community by getting to know my neighbours and working to protect our little slice of London. The Jester Festival was the perfect opportunity to do so.

The sun was shining as I and a friend from south London approached Fortune Green on Sunday; before I could see it I could hear jazz in the distance. We arrived to find stalls lining the paths, kids running around, families enjoying their picnics and even couples dancing to the rhythm and blues. It was the perfect village fête, London-style, everyone seemed to be having a great time and in every stall there were friendly faces happy to chat; from local businesses trying to attract new customers to the neighbours’ associations gathering support.

Stand-out attraction, literally, was the climbing wall, a big hit among the younger ones. They didn’t seem to mind one bit when they slipped and were left swinging from their ropes. The political party stalls were pleasantly low-key and more focused on having fun than in campaigning. Especially popular was Labour’s raffle – the children jumped for joy every time they managed to win a box of chocolates.

My favorite stall ? Herbal Haven – I loved getting lost in a hundred colours and aromas, and bought as many plants as I could carry to replenish my small balcony garden.

Fabulous Foliage at Herbal Haven

Fabulous Foliage at Herbal Haven

As part of my WHL research I talked to a wide variety of residents, and everyone was equally welcoming. They told me how they enjoyed the unique family atmosphere of the festival, how many activities there were for the kids and how they enjoyed the fact that all their neighbours were there. Volunteers went on about what a fantastic opportunity the festival was to give back to the community, and the vendors mentioned that it didn’t even feel like work. I only heard one complaint – there weren’t enough toilets for everyone.

There was also time to learn more about some local hot topics. The Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF), a local voluntary organisation that works to influence planners and developers when making planning decisions in the area, explained its concerns about overcrowding at West Hampstead tube station and with the current development proposals on Gondar Gardens reservoir. These worries seemed to be shared by many of the neighbours, as they were collecting a lot of signatures.

Ravenous after all that chatting, we struggled to agree on what to eat. There was Indian, Greek, and French on offer – everything seemed equally delicious. Decisions, decisions. Finally, we went for the galettes (savoury buckwheat crêpes), gone in 60 seconds. After that it was off to the Lib Dems stall to try their famed cakes. They didn’t disappoint – the lemon drizzle and the fruity chocolate brownie, which we were told were the most popular, were absolutely mouth-watering (and waistline-busting).

Overall impression? With that galette on the grass, the smooth jazz in the air and the children running around felt very similar to happiness. And my friend, who had come from Stockwell to spend the day with me? She decided that she wanted to move to West Hampstead.

Great Get Together Weekend – Jo Cox would have been proud of West Hampstead

It was a hot weekend in West Hampstead but with the ‘Big Lunch/ Jo Cox Great Get Together there was some really cool stuff going on. On Saturday night it was cycle-powered outdoor cinema and on Sunday a number of Big Lunches in the ‘hood.

By popular demand the first outdoor screening of the summer, organised by the Friends of Fortune Green, was back to cycle-power. The film was ‘Arrival’, which overall proved a popular choice although the audience of over 325 either loved it (“it was best film I’ve seen in ages”) or didn’t (“what was that all about?”); but even those who didn’t quite get the film enjoyed that fantastic atmosphere. Normally, by the end of the film it’s sweaters and blankets but not this time as it was still 23 degrees at 11pm.

Outdoor film - a cool thing to do on a hot night.

Outdoor film – a cool thing to do on a hot night.

Before the film started MC Simon Inglis thanked FOFG for putting it on and electric pedals for the system, and wished a speedy recovery to Councillor Flick Rea, in the audience with her arm still in sling. He also asked for donations to help fund the film, and the audience responded generously giving £925; so next up the kids-friendly film on August 12th (date for your diaries).

After the late-night film screening it was a gentle start for the Big Lunches on Sunday. Down in the Iverson Road Space, Monica Regli from MILAM reported that “It was sweltering hot so we had to keep moving the tables but we had a really good turnout. She heaped praise on member Carlotta Fiocchi-Sassoon the main organiser, although “everyone chipped in (and a special thank you to Sidings)” Monica was especially pleased that there was a great community spirit, “you could hear everyone networking and swapping information. Just what the country needs right now – a really positive effect.”

Mingling on Iverson at the MILAM lunch.

Mingling on Iverson at the MILAM lunch.

Up in Fortune Green ward it was take your pick. Probably the award for best village fete atmosphere was the Ravenshaw event on Glastonbury Street – although with a street name like that you can’t but help have a great atmosphere. It was a really well planned , but their secret weapon was their paddling pools! Popular on a hot day with the kids … and eyed enviously by the adults.  Their raffle raised a tidy sum for a local charity and #Grenfelltower.

Jimmy the juggler kept the kids entertained

Jimmy the juggler kept the kids entertained

A short walk away Hillfield Residents Association had about 75 adults and kids turn for their Big Lunch. Co-organiser Sandie Evans said “I’ve met the nicest people – and how did I NOT know Neil and Amanda – they live practically opposite and we’ve both lived on the Street for over 15 years”! Hillfield’s secret weapon was resident Jimmy who just happened to be juggler and kept the kids entertained for hours, although thankfully for him given a brief break by the arrival of police horses.

Everyone loves a police horse!

Everyone loves a police horse!

For the cultural historians among you that old buffet staple potato salad is out (there was none), pasta salad came in second place but the winner by far was couscous salad – there was enough to resurface the M1. Hillfield’s raffle was for #troysmission, the West Hampstead toddler with cerebral palsy whose mum is seeking to raise £50,000 for a potentially life changing operation for him.

Couscous the new potato salad

Couscous – the new potato salad

And a short walk away from Hillfield, neighbours Gondar Gardens and Agamemnon, 65 of them, sat down under four massive gazebos (on a very hot day) for their lunch. Their secret weapon was magician, Tom Grubb, who kept the (admittedly by this stage slightly boozy) residents bamboozled.

Tom the Magician bamboozled the boozy residents of Gondar

Tom the Magician bamboozled the boozy residents of Gondar Gardens (although some were on the water!)

Chairman David Yass said “There was a very nice community feel – one of my neighbours said to me I’ve lived here 30 years and met someone who lives across the street who I had never talked to before – isn’t that wonderful.” WHL can’t really put it any better than that.

Cinema on Fortune Green – Arrival in West Hampstead

FilmonFortuneGreen_ft

This Saturday, the Friends of Fortune Green is putting on its first screening of the summer. The film will be Arrival it’s a science-fiction movie from last year that got generally pretty good reviews. it will make you think and feel, but I don’t want to give too much away.

Due to popular demand, the screening will be cycle-powered. So, West Hampstead we need your leg power. There will be a couple of kid-suitable bikes for the younger audience members. But not too young as it’s a PG-13.

Arrival

As we’re almost at the longest day, and it needs to be dark for anyone to see the screen, the film will start at about 9.15pm. However, as those of you who’ve been to previous Films on Fortune Green will know, you need to get there early to bag a good spot.

It is an obvious bring-a-picnic event but Fortune Green offers other options; the Green Room is offering a hotdog, tortillas and popcorn special (best to pre-order), Nautilus has fish n’ chips (obvs) or if it’s a curry you’re after there is Bombay Nights. Whatever you chose, please take your rubbish home with you and keep the Green clean!

This weekend is also the Big Lunch/Jo Cox Great Get Together, so the aim is not only to show a great movie but to bring West Hampstead together at what continues to be a febrile time. Come along, meet your neighbours, celebrate your neighbourhood.

How much does it cost? It’s free; but… this screening is more expensive than the last couple. It’s costing more than £2,000 (including £100 to Camden for use of the park). A good part of this cost is sponsored by local estate agent Benham & Reeves (thank you) but the Friends are having to dip into their reserves so – if you can afford a donation it will allow them to put on future films (and if you don’t they can’t)!

There is a second summer screening planned for August 12th. As it is during the summer holidays it will be more kid-friendly (and will start earlier), though the exact film is to be decided.

Tree of freedom marks one year of Nazanin’s imprisonment

One year ago, today, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was just a hassled mum trying to get to the airport with a toddler. It was the end of a two week trip to Tehran to visit her parents for Nowruz (Persian New Year). However, instead of returning to her normal life back here in West Hampstead, she was arrested at the airport by the Revolutionary Guard, had her passport seized and has spent the past year in prison separated from Gabriella, her daughter in Tehran and Richard, her husband in London.

After she was detained at the airport she was held in a prison in Kerman province, 1000 miles south of Tehran, including at least 46 days in solitary confinement. On 14 August she faced a secret trial and was convicted of being “one of the chief members of networks of adversary institutions, who — with the direction and support of foreign media and espionage services — has committed her criminal acts over the past few years”. She was sentenced for five years in prison and transferred to Tehran’s Evin jail. She appealed, but her sentence was confirmed in January.

At the time of her appeal the Kerman branch of the Revolutionary guard apparently added two extra charges; that her husband was spy (he isn’t, he is an accountant) and that she acted as head of recruitment for the BBC Farsi service. In fact she worked as a project assistant for BBC Media Action. She now works for the charitable arm of the Thompson-Reuters Foundation, which doesn’t operate in Iran (good interview with Monique Ville, the head on of the Thompson-Reuters Foundation on Radio 4 Today programme – link below).

Richard Ratcliffe adding another card for his wife to the tree on Fortune Green Photograph: Gareth Fuller PA

Richard Ratcliffe adding another card for his wife to the tree on Fortune Green Photograph: Gareth Fuller PA

To mark one year since the arrest, Richard, family and supporters organised an event in Fortune Green, her local park. On a beautiful Spring day. As well as marking one year imprisonment, this weekend had special resonance in Iran. Saturday was the 12th day after Nowruz when prisoners can have their sentences commuted. One prisoner was released on bail  on Saturday, but sadly not Nazanin.

The event involved tying ribbons round a tree on the Green with cards attached. On each card was the answer to the question – what would you do if you had one extra day of freedom? Some of the cards were read out; from Nazanin herself, from the families of other prisoners, from former prisoners, from family and others. It was very moving. You can’t miss the tree as it is festooned with ribbons and cards, which will stay up until Easter.

Reading out some of the answers to the question 'What would you do with a day of freedom?'

Reading out some of the answers to the question ‘What would you do with a day of freedom?’

Nazanin’s wish reads “My fondest dream has always been to arrive at our home. You ask me if I want to have a cup of tea, then make me one. I just sit back and watch you two play. This is the image I had most when in solitary confinement. How I wish I could watch you both dance in the middle of our sitting room to the Michael Jackson music – like when Gabriella was only tiny.”

One local, Maria Feeney, spoke of how she as been moved to start a ‘bale of peace’, some cloth she was given to her by the Village Haberdashery, with the idea that she will place it in local businesses for people to write or sew on “to raise our voices and bring the story back”. It is a apt artistic project as Nazinin loved finding fabrics for her daughter Gabriella. Expect to see it around West Hampstead, and when finished she hopes to exhibit it in Tehran.

After the readings some of the younger supporters went off with Richard to help the Friends of Fortune Green plant some day lillies for Nazanin, ready for her and Gabriella’s return. The event ended with Father Jonathan from Emmanuel Church, who came up after the Sunday service, to add a few words.

FullSizeRender

The event garnered good press coverage, it was on BBC London news last night, as well as Sky news and on the Radio 4 Today programme (scroll to 2:36).  Richard also appeared this morning on Good Morning Britain and the Victoria Derbyshire show. It appeared in the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph and is in the solidly supportively Ham & High this week. Watch out also for something on CNN, as chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, fellow British-Iranian, is doing a story on it.

When asked how he felt it went, Richard replied “I was really touched by the support. The longer we go on campaigning the more difficult it is to make it real, but what could be more real than being in our local park, where Nazanin came with Gabriella.  It is what she wants to come back to”.

Tulip as been active in her support of the cause, joining Richard last year in handing in a 50,000 signature petition to Downing Street. She and the family have been in contact with junior Foreign office minister, Tobias Ellwood, but so far Boris Johnson has refused to meet them. The Telegraph reported Amnesty International was criticising Boris for lack of action on the case.

If you haven’t already done so, you can sign the petition – it is just shy of 900,000 signatures.  This is also a good way to follow the campaign as Richard posts updates there, or for the twitterate among you, follow the campaign @freenazanin.

The sun shines on the Jester Festival (mostly)

Once again West Hampstead pulled off its successful local festival, the Jester Festival on Fortune Green. It started the same year that Britain joined Europe, so this year was the 44th. It was an eclectic mix of funfair, live music and stalls from a host of local groups.

All takes all sorts to make a Jester festival

All takes all sorts to make a Jester festival

If you wanted a glimpse of what Remain Britain looks like, then the Jester festival is in its own small way a good example. In some ways a typical British fete with balloons, cakes and jam for sale and a noisy traditional fun fair; but in other ways different. For example, the wide cross-section of locals and the most popular food choices – Greek filo pies (delicious), Indian curries and French crepes. However, not much sign of an out-of-touch West Hampstead elite; rather it was all, reassuringly, down to earth.

The local political party stalls, energised by recent activity, had a host of new faces. Local MP Tulip Siddiq visited the Festival on Saturday and promptly won in the Labour Party raffle, but any hint of it being anything other than free and fair were swiftly denied. The Lib Dems again boosted their coffers by selling sold more cakes and biscuits than one thought humanly possible. The Tories, bouyed by a long planned but well timed visit from Theresa May last week, were out in force.

All the fun of the fair

All the fun of the fair

The Jester remains a family-focused festival. Along with the funfair there were a whole host of other sponsored (i.e. free) activities for children; ranging from the spell-binding story telling tent, to the popular climbing wall and the entertaining circus school. Not forgetting the obligatory face painting. Additions this year were the mini-Olympics organised by Aston from Sidings Community Centre and trampolines at the fun fair, both went down a storm.

For adults, the Jester puts on a surprisingly good line up of music. Varying from the local Fortune Green choir via Jazz and Cajun, to Big Joe Lewis and his Blues band. Alas Saturday’s main band, local rockers Mr Meaner, were welcomed by a rain shower at the start of their performance and the audience melted. However, the shower didn’t last long, the sun returned, and they played with gusto. Overall the weather, which had threatened to be pretty mixed, turned out better than forecast – much to the relief of Jester organisers.

The view from the stage

The view from the stage

Other local groups at the Festival included the Neighbourhood Development Forum and – a safe distance away – Stop the Blocks. Lots of interest at both stalls, where the hot topic was redevelopment of 156 West End Lane.

The popular Jester Tester quizzes sold out, all 300 of them, boosting the coffers of the Friends of Fortune Green. Local community centres Sidings and WHCA were there, explaining their activities. WHAT, the local amenity group that has been at Jester pretty much since the beginning, was also present. Other groups included Hampstead School, promoting the school to potential parents and the WI, promoting its talks, workshops and social events.

All in all, West Hampstead’s social capital was given a useful boost at a confusing time nationally; and thousands of locals spent a pleasant couple of hours at a fun festival in our neighbourhood, meeting friends, supporting local groups and eating cake.

Big Lunch proves a big deal

It was national Big Lunch weekend recently, and there were a number held in upper West Hampstead (aka Fortune Green): Ravenshaw Street, Gondar Gardens, Ingham Road and Achilles Road. How did they turn out?

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

Ingham resident Susie Steiner, reported that “the great British weather wasn’t being very co-operative, especially early on, so the Ingham Road Big Lunch, scheduled for Fortune Green, turned out to be a wet lunch and Ingham Road residents repaired indoors for their get together. There was a brilliant turn-out, nevertheless, lots of food, toddlers and free-flowing fizz. Much credit to the organisational skills of Hannah Borthwick, who provided the Ingham pavlova”.

Said Pavlova. Photo via Susie Steiner

Said Pavlova. Photo via Susie Steiner

Spellbinding!

Spellbinding! Photo via David Yass

Starting slightly later, Gondar and Agamemnon Residents Association avoided the early rain and were able to stay outdoors. What kept them so well entertained on an overcast but fortunately dry Sunday afternoon in June?

“Aside from the usual Big Lunch necessities (home-cooked food brought to share, the opportunity to play football, cricket and mini-tennis in the middle of the road), the rabbit that GARA pulled out of the hat was… Tom the spellbinding magician who wowed children of all ages with his wonderful tricks” said Chair of GARA, David Yass.

Down at Ravenshaw Street “it was a great success despite the rain!” said organiser Georgina Thorburn, “we probably had 60-100 people coming and going throughout the afternoon. We also had a West Hampstead fire service bring one of their engines for the kids to view, mounted police offices (on horses) and an ice cream truck. There was also free face painting, arts and crafts for the kids and a raffle, which raised over £100 for Great Ormond Street hospital”.

Over in Achilles Road there were a whole host of activities over the day; “We had a fire engine and police horse visits, a Strike Pads demo, Zumba class, table tennis, kids’ doughnut-on-a-string eating challenge, face painting, bouncy slide, water balloon and spoon race (OK that one didn’t work too well!) but the subsequent water balloon fight was fun”, according to organiser Cecilia Yee.

Zumba on Achilles Road. Photo via Cecilia Yee

Zumba on Achilles Road. Photo via Cecilia Yee

Something that united them all was the delicious food that people brought to share. Nothing like a street party to bring out the great British Baker in all of us. Although, Gino’s Tiramisu on Achilles Road, took the biscuit so to speak, but as it would take a Zumba class to work off the calories, it was fortunate that Achilles Road had organised one.

Food glorious food! photo via Achilles Road

Food glorious food! Photo via Achilles Road team

Our local councillors Flick Rea, Lorna Russell as well as local MP Tulip Siddiq popped along, Tulip bringing baby Azalea. Also in a nice touch local touch, Achilles Road ran a fund-raising raffle on the day to raise money for new football goals at the nearby Fortune Green play centre. Ravenshaw also had a raffle, which raised £100 for Great Ormond Street hospital.

Final word to Janet Pedder, who helped organise the event on Achilles Road, but which applies to all of them. “It was just so fabulous to have the road free of cars and for the kids to be able to run, scoot and cycle the length of it with no fear or safety concerns. And we all met neighbours who we hadn’t made contact with before. It was such a happy and relaxed atmosphere”.

Film on Fortune Green: Easy right?

Photo via Eugene Regis

Photo via Eugene Regis

Watching a film is a great communal experience. Watching that film outdoors surrounded by your friends and neighbours is even better. But it doesn’t happen by accident. As well as taking on the role of editor of West Hampstead Life, I’m also involved with the Friends of Fortune Green (FoFG). This is the fifth year of FoFG’s outdoor film screenings, so here’s a behind-the-scenes peak at putting on the outdoor film screening of Brooklyn this Saturday (June 4th) at 9pm (doors ‘open’ around 7pm).

First decision: what film? This is the judgement of Paris. Whatever we choose some are happy, others not. But be aware, dear reader, there are several factors that limit the films we can choose. We can only start screening at sundown, which at this time of year it is c. 9pm. If the screening has to end by about 10.30pm that means the film can be about 90 minutes long. This first screening starts later (sundown in August is 8pm), so it is aimed at an older audience, but it still needs to be suitable. For example, I’d forgotten the language in the Blues Brothers (our September 2013 offering) was, well, rather blue. It prompted Javi (aged 8) to comment with a smile the next day, “it was a bit rude”. Recently we realised that  films are available for public screening more quickly than when we started back in 2012. You, the people, seem to like recent movies, as we get bigger audiences so more recent films are to the fore. Hence, Brooklyn

Photo via Eugene Regis

Photo via Eugene Regis

However, it’s not just a question of ‘putting on a DVD’. To show a film legally we need a public screening licence, which costs c. £300. We also need to hire equipment, a decent projector, a good sound system and a big enough screen. It’s not cheap, but working with the more community-minded suppliers the hire cost is c. £400. If we get the popular cycle-cinema guys back for the August screening (not promising) that will cost a bit more.

Get there early to get a good view! Photo via Peter Coles

Get there early to get a good view! Photo via Peter Coles

On top of that, we have to pay Camden £100 for putting on an event on the Green. Yes really. In all fairness it does take officer time to monitor events taking place in parks across Camden (and they are seeking to raise revenue). They also need to review our health and safety form – we have to submit one of those too. As well as that, we have to apply to Camden for a TENS (temporary events licence). It’s a cumbersome seven page on-line form to fill in. So in total around £800 to put each screening, which is why we are really grateful to the local businesses that sponsor them. Thank you Benham & Reeves! (FoFG do ask for donations at screenings, as this adds to the pot should the day come when we can’t get a sponsor and we have to self-fund and also to help fund other activities and events).

So that’s everything? Not quite. We have to publicise the films! This involves leafleting the houses in the surrounding streets with 500+ flyers , time-consuming but not too bad if you do with someone else, as well as putting up posters and sending out e-flyers. Leaflet, e-flyer and posters all need drafting and copying. On the film night we have to set up the (heavy) equipment, steward the event and at the end pack the equipment up again – in the dark. The stuff on the night is the bit most people see but it’s just final one of many steps.

Finally, not forgetting the great British weather. From about ten days in advance we keep a beady eye on the long range forecasts with anxiety levels rising and falling along with the barometer as we get closer to the date and the forecast changes. Latest update – anxiety levels have fallen since this morning’s forecast for Saturday night is OK! Might be a spot of rain early evening but on the whole it’s good and warm(ish). Phew. See you at Brooklyn in West Hampstead.

So there you are: how to put on a outdoor film screening. Not quite as simple it appears, but worth the effort.  It’s not just me, it’s a joint FOFG committee effort but if you would like to help at this or future screenings don’t be shy, speak to a steward on Saturday.

Air ambulance lands in NW6 twice in an hour

Thankfully we rarely see the London Air Ambulance hovering over West Hampstead, but this lunchtime the red helicopter landed first on Fortune Green, and then about an hour later in Kilburn Grange Park.

The red helicopter was back within the hour and looked as if it was trying to find a landing spot in Kilburn. It eventually set down in Kilburn Grange park and shortly afterwards a Kilburn resident tweeted a photo of ambulance crews.

Although one person had tweeted that there had been a stabbling, which was then picked up by a couple of other people, the cause of the commotion has not been confirmed. But here’s what Donks80 saw:

Later in the evening, the police were still in attendance:

Replacement trees planted on Fortune Green

Newly-planted limes opposite mature trees on the main avenue

Newly-planted limes face mature trees on the main avenue

If you’re a regular visitor to Fortune Green, you might have noticed the green has lost a few trees over the past months, some due to storm damage, some due to disease.

lime_tree_label2Yesterday, Camden contractors replaced some of the missing trees.

New lime trees have been planted along the main path heading towards the cemetery where several young trees have died.

Spring-flowering white cherry trees (Prunus Serrula) have been planted in the bed alongside Alfred Court to replace the diseased whitebeams. Over a period of time the plan is to replace all the whitebeams with cherries.

A Liquidambar tree has been planted in the bed opposite the Fortune Green Road entrance to replace the sycamore that was badly damaged in the St Jude’s storm.

The Friends of Fortune Green said “We look forward to watching them grow.” Keep an eye out next time you’re on the green and see if you can spot the new specimens.

If you’re interested in being involved with the upkeep of Fortune Green Open Space, keep an eye on the Friends of Fortune Green Events page – they’re always looking for volunteers.

Alfred_Court

Scooter showroom fails to comply in bike parking row

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motorcycles on the forecourt and road

Motorcycles on the forecourt and road

Open for Sunday trading against regulations

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

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

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

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

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

Img_1582_600

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

Camden relents on BBQs in local parks

minibbq

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

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

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

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

Local election 2014: The results

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

First up, West Hampstead

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

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

West Hampstead share

Fortune Green next

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

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

Fortune Green share

From the two marginals, to the two safer seats

Kilburn

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

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

Kilburn share

And finally… Swiss Cottage

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

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

Swiss Cottage share

Labour sweep Lib Dems out of West Hampstead

Labour_victory

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

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

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

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

Camden_count

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting for the Fortune Green recount

Waiting for the Fortune Green recount

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

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sweaty few hours for local Lib Dem councillors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnus Nielsen, UKIP

Hustings hoo-ha takes away from real issues

Monday night’s hustings for West Hampstead & Fortune Green wards in the local elections turned out to be popular. Some 150 people turned up to Emmanuel School hall to hear what 21 of the 26 candidates across the two wards had to say.

One of those candidates – UKIP’s Magnus Nielsen – took all the headlines the following morning after a peculiar answer to the question of low voter turnout where he mused that perhaps all the efforts made in the 19th century to extend the voter base might have been misguided.

The audience reaction – more laughs than gasps – tells you how little it resonated with voters. Yet, with one headline grabbing soundbite, the rest of the candidates’ efforts to discuss the issues that actually matter to local residents have been subsumed.

It was fairly clear that Nielsen was playing to the gallery with this and other bon mots throughout the evening. What West Hampstead voters – and quite possibly UKIP itself – might have found more disappointing was that Nielsen clearly hadn’t prepared a meaningful three minute pitch to voters unlike all the other candidates.

A lengthy intro about why someone with a Danish name was standing for UKIP means that half of his three minutes was about the war, and the other half consisted of a few digs at the EU.

There was nothing about West Hampstead, or even Camden and it rather felt as if it had been dreamt up at the last minute. Such a lack of respect for the audience and the electorate suggests that, despite the occasional bout of political hubris (“when I’m elected councillor”), the likelihood of Nielsen sitting in the council chamber for the next four years is even slimmer than it might have been at the start of the evening.

Traffic at heart of Fortune Green shisha bar and college’s future

When is traffic relevant and when is it not in determining planning applications? This is the question in Fortune Green where a shisha bar and a higher education college are both seeking planning permission, which may hinge on the council’s understanding of congestion levels.

Earlier this month, Camden contacted the The New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling (NSPC) to tell them its proposed move into the empty unit next to Tesco in the Sager building, is unlikely to receive permission because it will generate too much traffic. It is deemed “unacceptable in principle”.

Meanwhile, Monte Cristo – the shisha bar that is retrospectively applying for change-of-use permission for the premises at 56-58 Fortune Green Road – doesn’t mention traffic at all in its application.

Photo taken April 23rd by Eugene Regis

Photo taken April 23rd by Eugene Regis

No-one locally has objected to the NSPC’s application. The school went to considerable lengths to explain to local residents that its impact on traffic would be negligible and it has support from the local residents associations. The NSPC’s transport statement is here and the travel plan is included on page 14 of this document.

It’s worth remembering that the same residents kicked up a stink at the proposal to open a private primary school in the same building because of the traffic impact. Camden rejected that proposal on precisely those grounds. Residents are, however clearly convinced by the NSPC’s arguments despite being inherently nervous about the impact of any new use on that site (a site that has been empty since the building was completed a few years ago).

No such luck for Monte Cristo. Locals have objected in force to its application. Some objections relate specifically to the shisha smoking, but the majority refer to the parking and traffic situation that has arisen since it started trading.

Unlike the NSPC, Monte Cristo’s application has no travel assessment; its document states that these are “not essential” for the scale of the business. Instead, it says that “a high proportion of customers, thought to be about 75%, live within one mile of the premises”, and that the staff “arrive mainly by public transport”.

This may be the case, but it hasn’t stopped many complaints from local residents, mostly with concerns about the extra traffic and parked vehicles the café attracts. Comments close tomorrow, May 2nd with a decision expected June 6th.

Here are four extracts from objections already submitted to Camden:

“Since the opening, traffic problems in the area have boomed, largely because guests of Monte Cristo park with impunity on the pavements, driveways and other areas on a narrow bend in a major artery.”

“There is an increase in disruption, noise and pollution from customers, who predominantly drive to the shisha bar. The cars are parking on both sides of the road on double yellow lines on a regular basis causing congestion.”

“Currently, users of the cafe are parking dangerously on both sides of the road, causing poor visibility to road users and damaging the pavements in the process.”

“The people have now taken to parking outside on both sides of the road. That means traffic jams as the buses try to get down the road and the cars have to wait to let them through.”

There are many other objections, including general noise and the open charcoal burner on Burrard Road. The full application details, and objections are here.

Professor Emmy van Deurzen, director of the NSPC, said that it would be “a terrible blow” to her organisation if permission were to be refused, as they have already invested considerable time and money into preparing for the move.

Alex McDougall, planning officer for Camden, said that the NSPC would need to present a more robust travel plan. The council had been due to decide this week, but has granted them a two week extension to gather and demonstrate local support. Professor van Deurzen is now preparing further documentation, and is appealing to local people to show their support by writing to Alex McDougall at Camden’s planning department (ku.vo1511408746g.ned1511408746mac@l1511408746laguo1511408746DcM.x1511408746elA1511408746), quoting the following reference details: 2014/1403/P – Unit 5, 63 Fortune Green Road, NW6 1DR.

If the NSPC’s proposal, which has resident support and improves the diversity of employment in the area, is rejected on traffic grounds, it will be interesting to see whether Camden gives the go ahead to Monte Cristo in the face of considerable opposition – or asks it too for a more detailed explanation of how it plans to address the parking and traffic issues it seems to be causing.

Psychotherapy school heading to Fortune Green?

The New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling (NSPC), a small psychotherapy college, is planning to move into one of the vacant units at 53 Fortune Green Road – also known as The Sager Building and Alfred Court.

It has nearly come to a 15-year rental agreement for the vacant unit adjacent to Tesco at Alfred Court, and is now at the stage of applying for a change of use to D1 – the planning category assigned to colleges. At the moment the unit is classified for retail use.

The Alfred Court unit (currently unoccupied)

The unit (currently unoccupied)

Another educational establishment, the Abercorn private school, applied to move to these premises but its proposal was rejected last year by Camden Council amid many local residents’ objections. Most objections were related to transport issues: the school would have occupied a larger part of the premises than the 3,000 square feet the NSPC is seeking to use.

Jimmy Baker, Chair of the Joan Court Residents Association (Joan Court is the half of the building directly above Tesco and the proposed new school) said that his group is supportive of the NSPC’s application, with no major concerns: “As far as the application is going I don’t know of any major objection and personally I think it would be great for the area.”

The NSPC held a public meeting at the end of last month to meet local residents, answer questions, and address any concerns. Professor Emmy van Deurzen, founder and director of the school, believes it was a success. “It went very well – we feel very supported by the residents of Alfred Court and Joan Court”. Some residents from the nearby Greek Streets, she said, expressed concerns about parking, but she hopes that she was able to allay their fears as the vast majority of staff and students will use public transport or cycle.

She also pre-empted other potential concerns that local residents may have, such as the issue of noise. As the college teaches only postgraduate students, and many courses are taught online, she does not anticipate any problems.

James Earl, Chair of the Neighbourhood Development Forum, said “The NDF has been working with the NSPC on its proposal to move into Alfred Court. The NDF supports the location of this sort of business in the area and welcomes the willingness of the NSPC to engage with the NDF and other local groups on its plans.”

Professor van Deurzen describes West Hampstead as “the perfect location for our business”. She and her husband (and the college’s co-founder), Professor Digby Tantam, live in Cleve Road, and feel very embedded in the community.

She is hoping that local residents will welcome the school and that the NSPC can give something back to the community in the form of a low-cost counselling service. She points out that it is bringing higher education and new jobs to the neighbourhood, and that staff and students will use and support other local businesses. The school also plans to offer the neighbourhood a public lecture programme.

The NSPC was founded in 1996 by the two psychotherapy university professors. Since 2010, it has been based in Belsize Road, but has been given notice to leave its current premises as the building is being converted into flats.

For the time being, the NSPC’s offices are still in the Belsize Road building, but students are currently being taught on a temporary basis at Swiss Cottage Library.

As well as the NSPC, which delivers masters and doctoral degrees in psychology, psychotherapy and coaching jointly with Middlesex University, the two directors also run a psychotherapy and counselling practice called Dilemma Consultancy.

The NSPC is awaiting the outcome of Camden’s decision to allow the change of use and van Deurzen is “optimistic” that this will be granted. Camden’s final decision is expected on April 29th and assuming it’s given the green light, building work will begin to turn the empty building into what she describes as a “boutique institution for higher education”. If everything goes to plan, the college should open for the start of the September term.

Tom eats late at Yuzu

I’ve foolishly neglected Fortune Green when eating out recently. On my list are Bombay Nights (any excuse to eat more curry), and the renowned Nautilus for some good old fish and chips. Last week though, a late-evening pit-stop at Yuzu proved an interesting choice on the eve of the new F1 season (this doesn’t really work as the race was in Australia, not Japan, but never mind..)

Synopsis? I sense a really fine restaurant, but perhaps I didn’t see the very best of it on this occasion – not that it wasn’t enjoyable.

Arriving after 10pm, the place was packed and buzzing, and service was excellent throughout. I note a “your recent requests” section on the website, showing people’s customisation of orders – nice work

My salmon teriyaki was delightful. How pleasing it is when salmon is just-done, pink in the middle, delicate and flavoursome. I was happy with the portion size of my mixed, crunchy, stir-fried vegetables, though the soy sauce had a slight bitter edge of which I wasn’t sure was deliberate? Of extras, I thought I was ordering a side of cooked greens, but in fact this was a salad – more obvious on the website menu where it is described as such. This was a large portion by default, which made for a rather pricey side dish, but with the nice touch of warmed cherry tomatoes, all was gobbled up.

Salmon

Salmon

Bream was declared all gone a few minutes after ordering, but sea bass replaced this in a subtle dish with red chilli, a citrus dressing and soy sauce, and which like everything else was elegantly presented.

Sea bass

Sea bass

An Argentinian Shiraz turned out to be a Shiraz / Malbec blend, and whilst having a decent finish and stiff tannins was perhaps a touch light, surprisingly. Not that I was making any effort to match grape and grub anyway; sometimes (OK, often) I’ll go for a heavy red when something else would be far more apt, I’m such a simpleton when gasping for a drink.

Glancing round, the various sashimi plates looked really impressive, and I’d certainly like to try more in general at Yuzu. It’s clearly popular with locals, and the staff were warm and enthusiastic, but in a nicely reserved way.

Please rest assured that my worrying phase of sharing desserts has passed for now; though in this instance I skipped pudding anyway. Actually, some might say that’s even more worrying!

Angela Griffin’s “edgy” West Hampstead

Actress and local resident Angela Griffin was interviewed for the Metro’s “My London” feature, published last Friday. Asked where she would set the denouement of her (hypothetical) novel, the one-time Coronation Street star singled out West Hampstead as somewhere with “a little bit of edge”.

NovelinWhamp

Her location of choice: Hampstead Cemetery in Fortune Green. It’s certainly an atmospheric location and has already got my mind racing with possible lurid soap-style plots and intrigue.

We may be edgy, but I do like a happy ending – epitomised here by Angela’s tweet to @WHampstead on the matter:

Recycle your Christmas tree in West Hampstead

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

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

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

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

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

Here's one I threw away earlier

Here’s one I threw away earlier

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

West Hampstead buildings on award shortlist

Emmanuel School is by far the most controversial local building to be shortlisted in the Camden Design Awards. This council sponsored celebration of high quality design seeks to reward schemes that:

  • are inclusive, sustainable and fit for purpose
  • demonstrate high quality in design, materials and construction
  • respond sensitively to their context and reinforce a sense of place
  • enrich the lives of those who live and work in and around them.

There are eight categories of which five have local entries including the Thameslink station. The inclusion of Emmanuel School’s new building will raise a few eyebrows though. The school has come in for criticism from locals for its choice of grey rather than red brick. Not only is it shortlisted in the Camden Community Designs category, but it’s also got into the People’s Choice award shortlist. I suspect it won’t win.

Category: Don’t Move – Improve
Best householder conversion, alteration or extension – large or small
Canfield Gardens
Scenario Architecture

An analysis of our client’s patterns of use exposed and astonishing fact: 90% of the owners time was spent in only 10% of the available space- the dark lower ground floor dining area. The new design is based on a bold architectural decision of opening and thus losing floor area on the ground floor. The previously unused living areas of the ground floor are now connected in a unified space, providing designated and interconnected zones for the different everyday activities and allowing all available space to be used.

The design scheme makes it possible to provide adequate ambient and direct natural light to all, previously dark, living spaces making them attractive for the allocated activities. A feature wall at the lower ground floor was designed to provide spatial continuity between kitchen dining and living areas. It consists of an entrance space, with shoe storage, a sitting/ gathering space and a fireplace with integrated sitting area. On the bedroom level a bespoke en-suite bathroom combines digital production techniques with traditional manually applied finish. The form was CNC cut and assembled on site. It was then finished with an application of traditional Moroccan plaster achieving a single surface element.

 
 

More detail: 1; 2; 3; 4

Category: Designing for Growth
Best non-residential scheme – new or improved
West Hampstead Thameslink Station
Landolt + Brown

West Hampstead Thameslink Station has seen major changes through both the Thameslink Programme and the Access for All Programme with longer platforms to accommodate 12 car trains, a new passenger footbridge giving step-free access to each platform, and reducing the major pinchpoint created by the old footbridge and entrance/ exit.

The station also benefitted from a brand new ticket office on the opposite side of the station to the old cramped facility incorporating a new gateline, automatic ticket machines and a small retail unit and giving passengers fully covered access to the platforms.

The railway embankment leading to the new station was built-up to widen the pavement from 1.5m to 12m. Incorporating the existing lime trees into this new public space and allowing the station to be seen from West End Lane, were also central to the new station design. The glazed brick wall, designed to reflect the changing colours of the lime trees above, brightens the approach to the station and draws people towards it. The space has become a wellused local meeting place and the venue for West Hampstead’s weekly farmer’s market, as well as giving some relief to the narrow and congested pedestrian environment along West End Lane.

 

Category: Breathing Spaces
Best new or upgraded street, park, garden, cemetery, play area etc.
Kilburn Grange Park playcentre and adventure playground
Erect Architecture

The site of the Kilburn Grange Park adventure playground is the remainder of a Victorian Arboretum within an existing park. Its theme is playing in and around trees.

The playcentre provides internal as well as covered external play space. It is also a short breaks centre for special educational needs children facilitating overnight stays. The building is a timber frame, timber clad building. Its undulating biodiversity roof is a natural extension of the landscape, which dominates the scheme. Large roof overhangs frame the landscape. The timber structure is exposed. The main internal play space is a “tree room” dominated by a tree column from which the primary structure branches off. Natural light filters between the beams to create an atmosphere of being under a tree canopy.

The playpark consists of new topographies, landscapes and site-specific climbing structures. Different scales, speeds, uses, types of inhabitation and play as well as materialities and moods are carefully arranged. Children can experience different seasons or even just hours of the day.

The dense adventure structure plays with the characters of the trees. It tells tree stories. The structure is complex with small-scale spaces of varied materials. A series of recycled doors quotes domesticity but also allows for routes through to perpetually change and spaces to expand and contract. Different degrees of secrecy oppose vantage points into the park.

These spaces of different qualities create a rich experience and invite the imagination.

 

Renovation of Fortune Green
Friends of Fortune Green with Penny Brenan and BBUK

We think the scheme should be entered for a design award because we have significantly improved Fortune Green, for a pretty low budget. We have updated what was a very tired open space and intergrated with the surrounding area in a modern, design concious but also more ecological way. We have also worked with the Parks Department and are, perhaps, coming up with a new model of how to improve other areas and parks in the borough. On top of all that we think the scheme is looking good and we would be pleased to be recognised by Camden with a design award, either for improving the park and also for the community involvement – or both!

 
 

Category: Camden Community Designs
Scheme which has had the most positive impact on the local community
Emmanuel School
Hawkins\Brown

The existing Emmanuel Church of England Primary School was operating out of cramped Victorian buildings and temporary classrooms. The decision to expand to 1FE meant acquiring a new site across the road and the construction of a new school building to house years 2–6.

The project being submitted for the Camden Design Awards is the initial new build phase. The project includes the new building and associated play learning facilities. The Public Open Space immediately behind the school was also given an overhaul as part of the project, with new play equipment and landscaping, led by bid landscape working with Hawkins\Brown.

The early years unit will remain in the existing buildings, which are currently being refurbished as phase 2 of the works, and is due to complete shortly.

The architecture of the new Emmanuel School building was shaped by the community that surrounds it. The multiple constraints and influences of a sensitive conservation area, a confined urban site, an ambitious client and an enthusiastic user group have resulted in the design of a state of the art learning environment for the young children in the area.

The school is stacked vertically with teaching spaces located above the partially buried school hall. The playground includes a vibrant amphitheatre, multi-use games area and three external play decks, all of which maximise the potential of a very compact, sloping site on a residential street. The school was designed from the inside – out with generous windows playfully arranged to frame views of the surrounding area, and create light and airy classrooms for the children.

The building services have been designed to create a sustainable, and energy efficient environment. The roofline is articulated by four natural ventilation chimneys, which provide fresh air to the classrooms but prevent traffic noise from disrupting lessons. A ground source heat pump provides the heating and cooling for the building, and solar panels on the metal roof help to reduce the carbon footprint.

 

More images: 1

Category: People’s Choice
Shortlisted from 10 entries across all other categories
Emmanuel School
Hawkins\Brown
See above

Category: Quality for Life
New or improved, private or social – includes housing-led schemes
No local entries

Category: Enhancing Context
New or refurbished building which best enhances a conservation area and/or listed building
No local entries

Category: The Heritage Award
Rewarding exemplar schemes of alteration, conversion, refurbishment, or simply the sensitive repair, of historic buildings and sites.
No local entries

Dear Mr Goodwin – tidy your Tesco

There’s a new manager at Fortune Green Tesco Express – a Mr Goodwin.

Mark Stonebanks, chair of the Friends of Fortune Green, bumped into him. In light of last week’s Twitter conversation between Robert Webb and a few other locals about the state of that particular branch, Mark took his e-mail address and then sent him this rather good letter with a set of accompanying photos, of which I’ve only included a handful:

Dear Mr Goodwin,

As promised I’m dropping you a quick email about the terrible impression that leaving cages and packaging outside the store has on the area. I am chair of the Friends of Fortune Green which has significantly improved the Green over the past five years and we seek to continue to improve the area. Before I comment on the cages and rubbish I thought I would share with you a link to a recent twitter discussion on the Fortune Green store (it was referenced in a local newsletter that goes out to over 1,000 local people and on a twitter feed with more than 8,000 followers).

Photo via @arobertwebb

Locals are sick and tired of the poor look of this store. Both inside and out, e.g. the cages and rubbish. When the building was getting planning permission we were told in the original transport assessment for the development (in which the store is situated) written by Colin Buchanan and partners (August 2003) which clearly states in point 4.

At such a size of development, adequate facilities have been provided on-site for refuse collection and servicing of the proposed commercial units.

Do the photos below look like there is adequate on-site refuse collection? Leaving your rubbish outside the store for much of the day is not a solution, creates a terrible impression and blocks your valuable window space. Not only is it ugly it doesn’t even make sense for Tesco.

In a way the twitter discussion (i.e not enough stock) and the photos (too much delivery waste) are opposite problems, if you increase the stock you create more waste. But I’m sure you can find a solution. Can you impress on your managers that this is terrible brand imaging for Tesco (as the twitter discussion shows). The business is being run too ‘hot’ and Tesco externalise costs (leaving your rubbish outside) at the expense of the local area and residents. This is also a problem for the West End Lane store (I have more photos). No other retailer on West End Lane does this and it is unacceptable.

It seems to me that an option is that Tesco needs to increase the size of its storerooms, which might be at the cost of short term profit but will pay off in the long term. The Neighbourhood Development Forum, of which I am part, has been surveying local residents about what they like and dislike about West Hampstead. There are many likes (it is a nice area) but litter and rubbish was top of the dislikes – Tesco is a prime culprit (see below).

Yours sincerely,

Mark Stonebanks
Chair, Friends of Fortune Green
Treasurer, West Hampstead NDF

This is just a random selection of photos taken over the past few month.

Grill your councillors on local issues

Every few months, each ward in Camden holds the sexily-titled “Area Action Group”. It’s hard to imagine a less-suitable title. I think we should borrow from the Americans here and use the more appealing “Town Hall meeting” idea… but I digress.

The AAGs are a chance to catch up on the latest issues in the area. Next week, this includes the rubbish/fly-tipping problem that you’re all so worked up about. Gary Borg – one of Camden’s street environment officers – will be present.

The evenings are hosted by the local councillors but they are explicitly not allowed to be party political (although that doesn’t stop one or two of the more boistrous councillors from making a few choice comments from the safety of the audience from time to time). They often invite officials from other public bodies to come and be interrogated by feisty residents. Turnout varies, but 80 people would be a rough average.

Don’t dismiss these meetings as not for you, at least not without coming to one first. They can be quite revealing and offer a chance to ask questions that often otherwise aren’t asked. I’m not going to pretend they are a laugh-a-minute and, as regular readers of this website, you are already up to speed with much of what’s going on locally.

But… but, my friends…

Once in a while it does no harm to see who the people are who represent you locally; and it does no harm to see the residents who are most vocal in such meetings and whether or not they broadly articulate your views. Then you can decide whether you’re in the Russell Brand or Robert Webb camp (I walked past Robert Webb on Tuesday night, he was heading to the tube station in quite a hurry – running late for his Hampstead Theatre production I wondered?).

I must also give credit to Keith Moffitt, the councillor who normally chairs the meetings. He does a good job of keeping the agenda moving along and not letting ranters get overly ranty (this can be a challenge).

Keith Moffitt, West Hampstead councillor

West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards hold a combined meeting. The next one is on November 13th – the day before #whampgather (still sold out, sorry). They are held at the synagogue community hall on Dennington Park Road, just off West End Lane. Wear warm clothes.

Here’s the agenda:

7pm Opportunity to meet ward councillors informally over tea/coffee

7.30pm Start of meeting and introductions

  • Transport for London – 139 bus route and other issues
  • Refuse collection and street cleansing – new service launched
  • Thames Water – Cllr Moffitt to give verbal update on feedback to date
  • Neighbourhood Planning Forum update
  • Any other business

See you there?

Hey Jude, you weren’t too bad

After days of bleak warnings from the Met Office, clearly determined to exorcise the ghosts of 1987, all of London was braced for a big storm in the early hours of Monday.

The night before was very quiet

Weather in West Hampstead currently eerily calm; if only there was a handy saying to describe such circumstances…
— James Coatsworth (@j_coatsworth) October 27, 2013

Like many people I woke up to strong wind and some lashing rain around 5am. I was up before 7 (stupid early morning conference calls), and although it was definitely very windy out there was no sign of the sort of debris on the street that would have followed the 80mph winds of the forecast.

via @freyathefriday

As locals prepared for a commute already hindered thanks to both London Overground and First Capital Connect preemptively cancelling all services, the first reports began to trickle in of trees down and minor damage. Overall, it seems that we escaped relatively lightly – Belsize Park, Primrose Hill, and Swiss Cottage all seemed to be worse off than West Hampstead.

That’s not to say that the storm of St Jude passed without any incident:

via Tetramesh

One thing was clear – this was no weather for an untethered gazebo (‘cos we’re all leaving them lying around).

via Tetramesh

Although the tube lines had started off running a full service, the heaviest winds came after the first trains. One by one, almost every line fell victim to obstructions on the tracks on their outer reaches.

Piccadilly Line via TfL
Tree on First Capital Connect power line, via @FirstCC

Trees were falling closer to home too. On the Lymington estate, Blake Connolly got lucky when this tree fell away from his flat rather than towards it. Amazingly, it didn’t do any major damage to the other building.

via Blake Connolly

It turned out to be a good thing tree surgeons were on standby, as this casualty on Loveridge Road would find out.

via Christine

There were no reports on the contentious trees on the Ballymore building site at West Hampstead Square. Conspiracy theorists would have been all over any sudden “blown over” trees!

Camden must have done a good job on Sunday to try and hoover up all the rubbish that has been strewn over the area in recent weeks. I only saw one photo of litter debris tossed around by the wind – and to be honest, given recent events, the wind could have been an innocent party here.

via Eugene Regis

The only business on West End Lane that took a beating was the Bridge Cafe. Plenty of you spotted and snapped the collapsed sign.

via Adam Phillips
via Meg Hart
via Eugene Regis

Fortune Green was the worst hit area of West Hampstead. Susan Smith almost got hit by a falling branch as she stopped to capture the fallen foliage by Alfred Court.

via Susan Smith
via Craig Blackhurst

Further down Fortune Green Road a tree had fallen into the road.

via Emma-Jane Tritton

Local councillor Keith Moffitt went to investigate and was promptly caught in a hailstorm.

via Keith Moffitt

The cemetery, at the top of Fortune Green Road, has been closed all day after falling trees blocked the entrance.

via James Taylor

At the opposite end of West Hampstead, Abbey Road was partially blocked by another downed tree.

via Anne Moutadjer

via Deborah Blausten

It wasn’t just roads that were affected of coure. The Black Path required some negotiation.

via Penny Liechti

By this stage, later risers were wondering what the fuss was all about with blue skies overhead. Twitter split into the “OMG a tree is down” camp, and the “This storm is rubbish” camp. The latter group perhaps not realising that a more dramatic storm would probably mean more damage not just to trees and walls and cars, but to people and their homes.

Kilburn didn’t escape unscathed of course. This tree came down in Birchington Road.

via Simon Ashman

There was a limbo exercise on Langtry Road

via Kieran

And Aldi on the Kilburn High Road needs to reasssess how it fixes its signage.

via Kilburn Herald

Two of the most impressive felled trees in the area were over in NW3

King Henry’s Road in #swisscottage a bit of a no-go… #whampstorm #ukstorm London pic.twitter.com/p8pTy6vMiJ
— Kate (@LuluLovesLondon) October 28, 2013

Massive tree toppled across Croft Way. Have alerted Camden emergency services. #stjudestorm pic.twitter.com/CHYjXzUw6Q
— Giovanni Spinella (@GioSpinella) October 28, 2013

By the end of the day, most of the damage had been assessed and it didn’t seem too horrendous.

Neighbour’s fence has been blown down. *awaits tweet from neighbour saying my fence has blown down*
— Andy P (@andypeters10) October 28, 2013

There’s still no Overground or Thameslink as of Monday night. But, the good people of West Hampstead will soldier on – whatever tragedies befall them:

Housemate left kitchen window open (idiot!) and the wind has blown my cafetiere onto the floor & smashed it #ukstorm #firstworldproblems
— Davies (@daviesinthecity) October 28, 2013

Some 12 hours after the sun rose over a windswept whamp, we were treated to a much calmer but no less dramatic sunset.

via James Taylor

Camden says no to school on Fortune Green

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

Abercorn School in Alfred Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Is Abercorn School hedging its bets?

It’s been several months since Abercorn School announced it was interested in moving into the vacant ground-floor unit at Alfred Court – a formal application has been submitted, but is this just a backup plan?

The private school based in St John’s Wood was looking for somewhere to expand and seemed to think that this site, in the modern bulding that overlooks Fortune Green, would be a viable option. Initial resident feedback wasn’t overwhelmingly positive.

No formal plans were submitted and people began to wonder whether the idea had been quietly shelved. Then, in late July an application was submitted. You can view the whole document here.

Architects’ impression from across the road

Residents have objected in no uncertain terms. Traffic is the big problem and the lengthy transport assessment document that forms part of the application has done nothing to ease locals’ concerns. I’ve added some of the main statistics and a few quotes from residents at the end of this piece.

But is all this (understandable) wailing and gnashing of teeth necessary. A letter from the High Mistress Andrea Greystoke sent to parents in early July, and kindly forwarded to West Hampstead Life, says

I promised to keep you updated on the expansion issue. We are still waiting on lawyers, planners, etc. but I can tell you that we do hope some time in the next 12 months to move our Wyndham Place pupils (Years 4-8) to magnificent premises on Portland Place. The larger space in that building will enable us to give a much enhanced offering to our older pupils. The exact timing is still uncertain—watch this space!! As you are aware this street is much closer to our existing premises than our previous option, and I hope when we do move, it will prove a seamless transition.

Are we meant to infer from this that Fortune Green, which is surely the “previous option”, is now no more than a backup plan or a temporary solution should there be problems with the Portland Place site? I am waiting to hear back from the school on this. It’s also possible that since that letter was sent out the Portland Place site has fallen through so they have had to press ahead with Fortune Green. Either way, something doesn’t quite add up.

Talking of not adding up… here are some of the details on the transport situation. If you are a local resident and want to object then there’s plenty to get your teeth into.

“Due to the transport strategy, local residents on and off the site will not experience any adverse effects as predicted traffic flows will still be well within capacity of the current site access.”

Local residents disagree. Here are just three comments sent to Camden:

As a long term resident I have seen traffic and specifically parking problems exacerbate since the Council approved the whole Sager development. Ingham road is used as a parking/drop off place for Tesco customers, gym attendees and the nursery school. Buses already cannot pass each other due to the unmonitored parking.

As a local Resident I am very concerned about the drop off and pick up points from School Buses and Cars. This road is already busy at Mornings and evenings. I have read the proposed transport section and just do not believe that people will not use their cars causing chaos on Fortune green road and the adjacent roads

We are already experiencing enormous congestion and parking problems from the users of the Gym on Fortune Green Road as also people who park to shop at the Tesco store on Fortune Green Road. Not only is parking difficult through out the day but jams are caused by the volume of parking on Fortune Green Road and deliveries by Tesco lorries. A school will add still further with the inevitable large numbers of drop off and collections by parents, minibuses and buses. There is simply no capacity for this in an already very congested environment.

You get the idea.

The transport assessment goes into inordinate detail about the “pick-up/drop-off strategy”, which involves parents driving into the basement car park and number plate recogntiion technology alerting school staff as to which child they have to go and meet (the youngest children are 8, not 5). Hard to imagine that, despite the Bat Cave approach, most parents won’t just drop their kids off as near as they can to the front door rather than go through all that palaver.

The school’s masterplan is that most of the kids would be bussed from its other site in Abercorn Place in St John’s Wood. The theory is that most children live around there, so they can get to the Abercorn Place site as usual and then be ferried up to Fortune Green. That’s assuming that parents would prefer this, which no doubt means an earlier start, than doing the school run themselves. However, this still means three buses in the morning and three in the afternoon. The transport strategy claims that

A school bus would only stop for the minimum time required to pick up or drop off pupils who are accompanied at all times by a teacher on the bus. There is no need for a school bus to wait here.

Such punctuality would be astounding.

One reader who used to live near Abercorn Place snapped a photo of one of the buses waiting at 3.30pm outside Abercorn school. “Abercorn Place is a very wide road, and relatively traffic free, yet still the bus causes problems. It is a regular occurrence seeing these buses in these stops, and there for a significant period of time, 25 mins+”

Not driving but waiting

There’s also a strange assumption that all kids coming by public bus would take the 328, but how many actually live near the 328 bus route? Some do, most don’t. This map (click to enlarge) shows at postcode level (not address level) where existing pupils live. You can decide for yourself whether it’s optimistic to suggest that all the kids living where the blue stars are will faithfully take the school bus every day.

The transport survey is phenomenally detailed, especially if you get into the appendices. However, one group of local residents have retaliated with a pretty detailed assessment of their own that focuses (rather cleverly) less on the issues of traffic congestion and more on the emotive topic of child safety.

If you want to express your view to Camden on this, all the details are here.

Film on Fortune Green: We’re on a mission from God

Yes! Sanity prevailed. The people spoke (well, 186 of them did) and the overwhelming winner in the vote for August 31st’s Film on Fortune Green is The Blues Brothers.

This classic musical comedy from 1980 stars Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi and was directed by John Landis. It features cameos from some of America’s musical legends – most famously Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and James Brown. It also has one of the best (and longest) car chase sequences of all time and spawned a thousand tribute bands, imitators and wannabes.

It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.

The film starts at 7.45pm, and will once again be bike-powered (volunteers are very welcome indeed), but come earlier to grab a good spot and bring a picnic. It is a 15 certificate, though that’s really for a few swear words (always in context, of course) rather than anything more disturbing for younger kids. It’s really a glorified cartoon – and brilliant for it.

These film nights are getting more and more popular and this one should be even better. Bring your dark glasses and thin black ties and lets get our whampblues on.

Jake and Elwood Blues – They’re on a mission from God
Rapt audience for Back to the Future in June

Russell jumps; Mike is pushed

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

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

Russell Eagling with fellow councillor Flick Rea at Gondar Gardens

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

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

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

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

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

Russell jumped but Mike Katz was most definitely pushed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juggling tennis and the Jester Festival

Another year, another Jester Festival on Fortune Green. This weekend, West Hampstead’s answer to the village fête, clashes with Wimbledon finals. Still, the forecast is set fair, so tennis fans can plan to come before the matches start, and the rest of you can come later. Perfect.

If you needed any more incentive to come along then on the Sunday you can call by the West Hampstead Life stall and say hello to me and some of my guest correspondents. We’re also going to be running a Twitter clinic for those of you who aren’t quite sure what Twitter is, why you should join, or how to set it up. And we’ve got a few other things up our sleeve! We’ve got a stall near the heart of the event so no excuse!

More details on the website, but the programme is below.

Saturday

On the stage

  • 12.00 Open Festival with DJ Earl
  • 12.30 Karate
  • 12.50 Bollywood
  • 1.15 Fortune Green choir
  • 2.10 Gillian Winn: West Hampstead School of Dance
  • 2.30 Mayor of Camden
  • 2.45 Guilfoyle Dance – Irish dancers
  • 3.00 Amy McBye
  • 3.30 Feel the Beat Street Dancers
  • 4.30 Mr Meaner
  • 6.00 Close

Other events

  • Kids Tent: Storytelling and Art Projects 1.00-5.00
  • Circus Skills 12.30-4.30
  • West Hampstead Community Centre: Open Sports 1.00-5.00
  • Face Painting at Chelsea Square stall 12.00-6.00
  • Puppet time with Curly Ru Puppets 1.00-4.00
  • Magician & Balloon artist 1.30-4.30
  • Dalek 1.00-5.30

Raffle: £100 Grand Prize donated by Parkheath. Other prizes donated by Bake-a-Boo, Curled Leaf, Holistic Hair & Beauty, Londis, Mill Lane Barber, Nando’s, Nautilus, Pizza Express, Tiffin Tin, The Village Haberdashery

Silent auction: Outbid your neighbour on goodies donated from local businesses: Achilea Flowers, Alice House, Bernadetta Beauty Clinic, Mill Lane Bistro, Monsters of Art, Movers & Shapers, The Private Space, Tip Toe Nails by Claire, Vini Vivi, West Hampstead Physio, Wet Fish Cafe

Fill out the festival survey for a chance to win a Tiffin Tin Voucher
See the festival programme for a free glass of wine with Sunday lunch at the Alliance Mill Lane

Sunday

On the stage

  • 12.00 DJ Earl
  • 12.30 Sabrina Bronwyn
  • 1.30 Tanya Christina
  • 2.30 Praise Chapel Choir
  • 3.30 Rosie Belly Dancers
  • 3.45 Raffle Draw
  • 4.00 Dan Raz
  • 5.00 Ta Mère
  • 6.00 Close

Other events

  • Kids Tent: Storytelling, Puppet show, and Art Projects 1.00-5.00
  • Climbing Wall 1.00-6.00
  • Caricature and Portrait Workshop 1.00-5.00
  • West Hampstead Community Centre: Open Sports 1.00-5.00
  • Face Painting at Chelsea Square stall 12.00-6.00
  • Magician & Balloon artist 1.30-4:30
  • WHAT Walk: West Hampstead Village Walk, begins at West Hampstead station

‘ello ‘ello What’s going on here?

The saga of the local police stations has dragged on a while but we do at last have some clarity now that the Local Policing Model has been finalised. It came into effect last week.

There’s been much publicity over the closure of Hampstead police station but less clarity over what was happening this side of the Finchley Road.

The answer is that West Hampstead police station (that’s the one on Fortune Green Road) will remain open as a deployment centre and the police horses will be staying.

The much-talked about “contact points” for our area will be at the police station (this is a change from what was expected) and at the Safer Neighbourhoods Base on West End Lane opposite the junction with Broadhurst Gardens. They will be open Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 7-8pm and Saturday afternoons from 2-3pm. These hours will be the same for all contact centres across London apparently! These contact points are “for non-urgent face-to-face contact, where the public can meet their local police at regular known times.” We should feel pretty special to have two contact points so close together. Across Camden, there are only three others – one of which is at the Swiss Cottage SNT base near the tube station.

Camden will have two (yes, just two) full-time front counters: Kentish Town police station will be open 24 hours a day, while Holborn will be open 8am-8pm weekdays and 10am-6pm on Saturday. Crimefighting takes a rest on Sunday. Over the border in Brent, Kilburn police station (that’s the one in Queen’s Park) will have a full-time front counter and Walm Lane in Willesden Green will be a contact point.

Back to Camden – the borough has been divided into three “neighbourhoods”: North, Central and South. Big neighbourhoods.Each Neighbourhood will also have an “appointment car”, with 30 slots available every day of the week. It’s not clear how these will work.

The three “neighbourhoods” of Camden

In terms of police numbers, each neighbourhood is headed by an inspector. In our case (we’re “North”) that’s Nikki Babb. West Hampstead & Fortune Green wards will share a sergeant, as they have for some time. Right now, that’s Ian Hutton. Then each ward has a dedicated PC and PCSO. There are an additional five teams of seven officers, each lead by one sergeant, who will be deployed across the seven wards that comprise the North “neighbourhood”.

West Hampstead: Smarter than the average neighbourhood

I’ve already done some analysis of the census results locally, but it’s interesting to see them presented in an easy-to-digest form. Camden produces ward profiles, and although West Hampstead covers more than the West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards, this is a good starting point.

What these profiles also give us are the changes from 2001 (see this article from Tim Harford on how hard it can be to dig up government data).

Demographically, the two wards are very similar although West Hampstead is (slightly) better qualified, with 61% of adults holding a degree, compared to 58% in Fortune Green.

The profile documents are below, but here are the other stand-out stats:

The 60-74 year age group saw the largest increase in both wards from 2001 (from 3% to 9% in West Hampstead and 3% to 10% in Fortune Green.

The percentage of residents that were born in the UK decreased from 64% in 2001 to 57% in 2011 in both wards. The percentage of people born in EU countries (including the most recent accession countries) other than the UK and Ireland increased from 6% in 2001 to 11% in West Hampstead and 12% in Fortune Green in 2011.

Just under a quarter of Fortune Green and West Hampstead households met two or more of the ONS’ deprivation conditions in 2011, lower than Camden’s average of 29%. Deprivation conditions are when any household member is unemployed or long-term sick; no household member has at least a level 2 education and none are full-time students; any household member has long-term health problem or rates their health as bad or very bad; household is overcrowded, shared, or lacks central heating.

Car ownership fell in both wards (which could be seen as a measure of falling wealth, or rising dependence on public transport): 54% of households in Fortune Green had no access to a car or van in 2011 compared to 46% in 2001. In West Hampstead, 59% of  households didnt have access to a vehicle, up from 53% in 2001.

Ward Profile West Hampstead 2011 by WHampstead

Ward Profile Fortune Green 2011 by WHampstead

Back to the Future on Fortune Green

This Saturday, the Friends of Fortune Green will pick up where they left off last summer with the first outdoor film screening of the year. Powered by bike (not DeLorean).

If you didn’t come to these last year, they were a great success. The premise is simple: a large screen is put up on Fortune Green and everyone bring a picnic, settles out on the grass from about 6.30 in the evening and then as the sun sets the film starts. With people cycling on fixed bikes to generate the power. Volunteers are needed to do a bit of the cycling (10 minute spells are fine) and a few bikes are also needed. Please contact FoFG if you can lend a bike for the evening.

The first film this year is 1980s cult classic Back to the Future with Michael “never gets older” J Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Sure, you’ve seen it before, but films like this always merit watching again.

The forecast is reasonably good for the week, so the FoFG are optimistic that it will go ahead. The film is PG, and it’s free thanks to sponsorship from Benham & Reeves estate agents.

The one lesson from last year: bring some bug spray.

See you there.

Up with the larks in Fortune Green

On Saturday May 4th, there’s a “Dawn Chorus” walk in and around Fortune Green. It’s limited to 15 places and booking is essential.

Venue: Starting from the middle of Fortune Green (at the crossroad of paths) and moving into Hampstead Cemetery. After the walk, join us for breakfast at a nearby house (optional).

Leader: Dave Lawrence, formerly of Camden’s Conservation Department.

Equipment: A pair of binoculars would be helpful, but is not essential. Warm clothing is essential!

Booking: To book a place on the walk please email moc.l1511408746iamg@1511408746neerg1511408746enutr1511408746of1511408746 (or if you don’t have email please drop a note in to 3 Ajax Road). Also let us know if you would also like to join us for breakfast.

Profile: Flick Rea “It’s payback time”

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

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

Flick Rea & Mr Monster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frothy coffee on Fortune Green?

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

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

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

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

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

Neighbourhood plan: consultation time

Regular readers will have followed the progress of the Neighbourhood Development Forum; while even sporadic readers may have spotted the signs that have gone up around the area about the consultation stage the NDF is in now. I thought I’d let NDF Chair James Earl tell you more about it so you can get involved and make sure your views are counted.

“The Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) was established in January 2012 in response to the government’s Localism Act. This gives communities the power to draw up Plans for their area and to outline how the area should develop in future. It’s a very new concept and it’s pretty much untried and untested, but with a positive outlook it’s hoped drawing up a plan for our area will have benefits.

As some people know, the part of West Hampstead around the stations is classified as a ‘Growth Area’ in the London Plan. The stated aim is that this area should provide a minimum of 800 new homes and 100 new jobs between 2010-2031. Obviously, this will bring big changes to the area and have a large effect on it. A Neighbourhood Plan can’t change these figures, but can try to be more specific about where the homes are located and what other measures are needed in the area to accommodate this growth. It’s also important to note that the Plan can’t call for less development, and also has to fit in with the existing policies in the national, London and Camden plans.

To find out what people living and working in the area want from Fortune Green & West Hampstead in the future, we spent part of last year seeking views. Some of you may have seen our stall at the Jester Festival – which had pictures of local buildings and asked people what they thought of them – and/or filled out our survey. The results of this – along with lots of other information about the NDF – are on our website: www.ndpwesthampstead.org.uk.

In order to have the legal authority to write a plan, we have to apply to Camden Council to recognise the Forum and the Area we cover. The Council is consulting on our application and comments have to be made by 15th March. You can find details about the consultation here.

To demonstrate to the Council that we have wide support, we are urging as many people as possible to respond. All you have to do is email ku.vo1511408746g.ned1511408746mac@f1511408746dl1511408746 to say you support the application and the area we cover (see map).

If our application is approved by the Council, we will be able to write a Plan. Once it’s finalised there has to be a further period of consultation, it has to be submitted to a planning inspector and then – finally – there is a referendum of all those living in the area. If a majority of those voting approve the Plan, it becomes a statutory planning document for the area.

The Forum welcomes anyone living or working in the area to get involved with our work and come to our meetings. You don’t have to have any expertise in planning issues – just a view about the area and what it should look like in future.

If you want to get in touch you can email: moc.l1511408746iamg@1511408746daets1511408746pmaht1511408746sewpd1511408746n1511408746 or follow us on twitter: @WHampsteadNDF.”

Police station closure moves closer

As was widely expected – and reported in these pages back in November – West Hampstead police station is indeed set for closure.

This week, the draft consultation document was released that outlines which of London’s police stations will be shut. The document originates from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. This body runs the “estate” of the Met, i.e., the bricks and mortar.

The Estate Strategy (2012-2016) is “To deliver a more efficient and higher quality estate which meets the operational needs of the MPS and is significantly lower in cost to run.” The actual numbers are a 32 percent drop from £205 million in March this year to £140 million by April 2016. You’ll recall that the total cut to the Met’s budget is £500 million, so this £65 million is a relatively small part of that.

In “financial and space terms” (ie, “this means”) the Met will need to:

  • Enhance the opportunities for members of the public to meet with the police providing suitable access facilities in buildings that are already within the estate or local civic facilities, whilst also raising the profile of public facing properties through consistent standards of signage and corporate ‘look and feel’. [Yeeush. This is the “coffee shop police counters” bit]
  • Reduce the running costs of the MOPAC estate to £140m each year by 2015/16 – a 30% reduction on 2012 costs. [This is the “sell off the buildings” bit]
  • Reduce the amount of space occupied by 300,000 sq m by 2015/16. [see above]
  • Provide up to 950 modern cells, reducing the cost of the custody estate, and providing suitable facilities to support the reduction in the time it takes for a detainee being taken into custody to be processed. [This is the “centralise detention” bit]
  • To reduce the amount of residential accommodation owned by MOPAC to no more than 200 units whilst working with Residential Providers to provide affordable accommodation to officers and staff close to where they work. [This is the “force police officers to spend more time finding affordable accommodation” bit]

I’ve already discussed some of the broad principles here, but the core of the strategy as it relates to police stations is:

The Commissioner and the Mayor have committed to providing one 24 hour police station in each Borough and to not shutting any police station until there is a suitable alternative provision where the public can meet the police.

Camden’s 24hr station will be Holborn, Brent’s will be Wembley. Camden will also keep Kentish Town station open, although it will shift from being a 24hr station to a daytime station. West Hampstead, Albany Street and Hampstead stations will all close. Quite where the “suitable alternative provision” will be is not clear, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

It is debatable whether the closure of the front counter will have a major impact on most people. It’s not as if police officers are sitting at their desks waiting for someone to call 999 so they can jump in a car and hurtle to the scene of the crime. The impact of the larger cuts is likely to come more in the allocation of police resources across the regular officers, safer neighbourhood teams, and PCSOs rather than to the buildings.

We’re not in Dock Green any more

Skinny latte and a search warrant please
Back to those contact points. For those times when someone does want to walk into a police station, where will they go? Much of the press has gone big on the “coffeeshop coppers” angle, but are the police really going to use Starbucks and Costa as temporary front counters? Here’s what the consultation document says:

Many public sector organisations are now exploring opportunities to share the publicly owned/occupied estate. This not only reduces costs but creates a more engaging and vibrant use of facilities – it creates a more friendly face. 

Last time I looked, Starbucks in particular was not a “public sector organisation”. The document continues:

The MPS has recognised the need to enable the public to contact the police through a variety of different channels… The MPS describe this as ‘The Public Access Promise’. Since 2008, there has been a 20% reduction in crime reporting at front counters and a 32% increase in internet and email reporting. The Commissioner, for example, has committed that all victims of crime will be visited by a police officer if they wish rather than having to visit a police station – this benefits victims but also has a consequential effect on the need for police estate.

There’s no doubt that a Dixon of Dock Green style bobby waiting behind a front desk is both antiquated and probably largely (though not necessarily entirely) redundant. If Caroline Pigeon is right and one in four rapes are reported at front desks, then it would be interesting to know why that is so high. Surely, whatever the reason someone goes to a police station (voluntarily) they should have the right to a private room to explain their situation. That’s hard to find in a Costa, or outside a Sainsbury’s.

Not that the report appears to rule out completely working with the private sector (my emphasis):

As part of this estate strategy, MOPAC will further develop our relationships with other public sector bodies as well as private and third sector organisations specifically to find routes for the public to access the police in areas where they could access many other services.

Where might these places realistically be for us? The library is an obvious option. Perhaps the churches – St James’s is certainly looking to expand its role in the community. The foyer of the O2 centre is a regular spot for the Safer Neighbourhood roadshows, but could that replace a front counter?

The Public Access Strategy, which is being developed by the MPS, has highlighted that a number of front counters are underused. Once the strategy has been approved, following consultation initiatives, and the list finalised, those front counters will be replaced through the provision of ‘Contact Points’. The Contact Points will be in existing MPS and shared public buildings.

The pertinent question is then whether “shared public buildings” mean buildings owned by the public sector (libraries, sports centres) or buildings open to the public (shopping malls, cinemas etc.).

What I can’t understand is why Camden is apparently ruling out using the Safer Neighbourhood Base on West End Lane as a contact point? It’s an existing MPS building, it only needs to be manned whenever another contact point would be manned and the cost of making it accessible to the public would surely be fairly small – officers would have more resources on hand to deal with basic queries, there’s more privacy for members of the public, and even if a flat white was beyond officers’ ability I’m sure they could manage a milky Nescafé.

Will no-one think of the horses?
West Hampstead police station also houses some of the Met’s horses. It sounds as if their fate has yet to be decided:

The primary focus for the estate strategy is for the welfare of the animals and their proximity to where they are likely to be deployed. A review of this portfolio will be undertaken to assess the suitability of each property and location with the aim, if possible, to rationalise the number of buildings. Key Target: Opportunities will be considered for rationalising space into modern efficient facilities – delivering running cost savings of £0.5m each year.  

That’s from a total budget of £2.4m. Police horses are used at large events of course, so proximity to Wembley might help keep the horses here – perhaps we’ll get more. Having lost the Kings Troop last year, it would be a shame to lose the police horses too, for no other reason than the character they add. And the opportunity for photos like this one taken by Adam Wilson last May.

“Shocking images in West Hampstead as horse
eats policewoman’s head as she withdraws cash”

Royal status for Fortune Green?

Fortune Green is on the up. QEII status beckons. Which could mean some funding and additional planning protection. The Friends of Fortune Green are excited.

Phase one of the major improvements to the green took place two years ago: resurfacing paths, expanding the dog-free area, improving the entrance by the bus stop and new planting. Phase two will include excavating the remains of a WW2 air raid shelter (in the quadrant near the playground) and returfing that area, adding new noticeboards, creating a small children’s landscaped area and a running/exercise trail starting at the green, winding through the surrounding streets and finishing back on the Green. These improvements will involve fencing off part of the park over the winter.

All this has led Camden to nominate Fortune Green as a “QEII field”, all part of the Jubilee celebrations. Fields in Trust (formerly the National Playing Fields Association), a charity dedicated to protecting and improving outdoor space for sport, play and recreation, has set up the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge to add protection to community recreational facilities.

Consultation is imminent, but naturally the FoFG are strongly in favour.

School to move in to Alfred Court?

Abercorn School is a three-site private school based in St John’s Wood and Marylebone that takes children from 2 1/2 to 13. Each site takes a different age group.

Now, the school is seeking to open a school for 7-13 year-olds in the vacant unit of Alfred Court (also known locally as the Sager Building) on Fortune Green Road. It’s always been an oddity that this unit hasn’t been sold, but I don’t think many people would have predicted a school to try and move in.

Alfred Court from across Fortune Green
Photo via CZWG architects

The school would need to apply for a change of use from Camden and it’s likely that residents in the area will have questions about the implications for traffic, parking, and noise.

The High Mistress (which sounds more a title you’d find at Hogwarts rather than Grange Hill) Andrea Greystoke has already been in touch with the Neighbourhood Development Forum, and there will be a public exhibition on the site on December 17th and 18th that locals will be able to attend.

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.

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

Residents’ weekend parking in Fortune Green?

Earlier in the summer, Camden held a consultation about parking in the borough, specifically around the Controlled Parking Zones (CPZs). The findings have been published, so what changes should we expect in West Hampstead and neighbouring areas?

The scope of the consultation was to “gauge opinion on issues relating to the size, days and hours of control of controlled parking zones (CPZs) as well as on the maximum hours of stay in pay and display bays.” It was not a consultation exercise asking for views about specific proposed changes, which will be dealt separately, it was more to test the water.

First up, size. Most respondents generally thought the CPZs were the right size so there are no plans to review this further.

Residents in zone CA-P, which covers a large part of West Hampstead and Fortune Green, generally believed the weekday hours were too short and there was some interest in extending/introducing Saturday and Sunday controls, particularly in CA-P(c) )(the north-western reaches of Fortune Green

Opinion was equally split on whether the existing pay and display arrangements were suitable borough-wide. Camden’s conclusion is that there is scope to look at specific arrangements in some areas with a view to simplifying arrangements, such as changing bays with a 3-hour maximum stay to 2 or 4 hours).

Any changes to parking arrangements in Fortune Green would not happen until 2013/14.

Neighbourhood Plan gets nearer

There was a great turnout last Monday for the West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum meeting, chaired by WHAT. There were slides, there were speeches, there was a bit of heckling – but was there any fruitful outcome?

This was a chance for the NDF to present its progress to the public, and for the public to get a better understanding from not just the NDF but also Camden and Urban Design London, a training and networking organisation, about what all this might mean. There was plenty of time for questions, and plenty of questions were asked!

I’m not going to recap the genesis of the NDF, as I’ve covered it at length before. The group has spent the past few months trying to find out what locals think about the area, and how they’d like to see it develop. It is perhaps worth reiterating that the resulting plans from NDFs cannot be anti-development per se.

There has been a survey into people’s views on architecture in the area, and a much more involved survey of locals’ thoughts, which is worth looking at to get a sense of the mood of the population.

All these findings, together with issues highlighted at meetings such as this one, will go into the draft plan. James Earl, chairman, wouldn’t be drawn on when that first plan might be ready – but we’re talking months rather than weeks down the track. Even then, there are plenty of hurdles to jump through, not least a referendum in which everyone living in the affected area can vote. A majority is needed for the plan to become a proper planning document.

The presentation from Urban Design London‘s Paul Lavelle was, for me, the most interesting of the night (it’s at the end of this article). Paul explained how NDPs could work. They are very new and although there are many plans being drafted throughout the country, none has yet come to fruition. He showed a few case studies of those that were relatively advanced to demonstrate their variety in scope. Some plans are effectively mini local plans, that cover everything a council would consider. Others are single-issue plans designed with one objective in mind.

It will be interesting to see where the scope of the West Hampstead & Fortune Green plan ends up. The major issues that people raise are the interchange area between the three stations (the streetscape, the development plans, and the physical interchange of people), and the preservation of West Hampstead’s “village feel”, along with the desire for more green spaces. Architecture also looms large in people’s consciousness. So, the plan could decide to focus very heavily on architecture and far less on service provision, for example. Perhaps at its heart this idea comes down to whether it’s a plan focusing on issues, or on sites. Or, ambitiously, both.

The final speaker was Virginia Berridge, chair of WHAT, who made a couple of excellent points. The first was that the plan had to look ahead – this is a plan that may well not be ready in time to tackle the immediate wave of development proposals for the area. She pointed out that demographic projections suggested that the area would see an increase in the proportion of over-65s and in the number of parents with teenage children. Ensuring that these groups were adequately catered for could, therefore, be a key part of a plan. This might take the form of guiding how Section 106 money (the money developers pay to the council to help offset the cost of more residents) was spent – e.g., on sheltered housing or youth centres.

Virginia also raised the question of whether West Hampstead wanted to be a “posh suburb” or a “mixed community”, and that the answer to this question might also guide the direction the plan took.

With that the floor was open. I won’t attempt to capture all the questions / statements that came up. Many of them were issues that have been voiced before and won’t be resolved by a plan like this. Perhaps the most predictable, and understandable, reaction was from those who questioned whether such a plan would have any impact whatsoever. “Wouldn’t Camden just carry on doing what it wanted”, was the gist of a few people’s arguments. Certainly, some of those who’ve been around the block a few times are somewhat cynical about what this plan could achieve.

James took the angle that it was better to be positive and try and have some influence than just sit back and say that everything was Camden’s fault. Not surprisngly, the councillors present (most of the WH and FG councillors seemed to be there), agreed. Flick Rea even saying that this if we didn’t take this step now we might look back in 10 years time and wonder why on earth we didn’t as West Hamsptead changed irrevocably around us.

Sue Measures, who runs Sidings Community Centre, and who’s certainly been involved in enough of these initiatives to be cynical, also argued passionately that this was an opportunity to build a “shared social vision”. I forget now whether it was Sue at a later point, or someone else, who said that we should “protect what made people come here in the first place”, which seems to me a good sentiment that does not have to be at odds with the inevitable intensification that the area is undergoing.

The issue of the borders came up (raised partly by me), notably the southern border, which is the contentious one. To briefly recap: the NDF is proposing that the southern West Hampstead ward boundary should be the southern boundary of the plan area. WHGARA, the residents assocation for the streets south of the tube line and west of West End Lane, which are within West Hampstead ward, has been saying that its members will have to vote on whether they want to be included or not. This vote was supposed to take place earlier this month, but didn’t. I had originally understood that Camden strongly encouraged NDFs to bring the residents associations on board. At the meeting however, the representative from Camden planning told us that the borders were up to residents to decide. So, it’s not entirely clear to me why a residents association gets to decide on this, unless it can genuinely claim to represent a majority of households within its area.

James pointed out, when he wasn’t being heckled, that no two people he’d spoken to could agree on where the southern boundary of the plan should lie. I can well believe that. My view is that the members of the forum should forget the ward boundaries, which do change over time, and simply agree on what to them seems a logical boundary based on the input they’ve received from all relevant groups. For me, the ward boundary is peculiarly arbitrary – based I assume on balancing ward populations rather than on any sense of where people identify with or any particular planning considerations.

The southern border of West Hampstead ward

In what became a slightly farcical attempt to gauge the mood of the room, we were first asked whether we felt that this area south-west of the tube lines was part of West Hampstead – overwhelmingly people thought it was – and then whether we thought it should be part of the local plan – a slightly smaller majority thought it should be.

Given that the interchange is perhaps the number one planning issue in the area it seems perverse for the area of the plan to be centred so far north. Those living immediately to the south (yes, that includes me), will be at least if not more affected by changes here as the good people of Fortune Green. We already know that the “area for intensification” is not “West Hampstead” as we tend to think of it, but specifically the land along the railway lines. This area has, to be blunt, been sacrificed by Camden to preserve the red brick houses and land to the north. Not that people living outside the plan area are disenfranchised in terms of having their say when planning applications are made that would still affect them, but they would not be given a vote in the referendum on the plan. 

What now? The NDF will press ahead with the application to Camden to recognise the Forum and the area (with an agreed boundary), and then start drafting the plan. Hopefully, to echo several voices in the room last week, quibbles over boundaries do not delay the overall process.

West Hampstead & Fortune Green Neighbourhood Development Forum presentation

Retail oddity in Fortune Green

Those damn supermarkets crowding out the little guys. Am I right? Well, that’s the received wisdom and it’s held true on West End Lane where the arrival of Tesco and then Sainsbury’s killed off Best One (literally as that was where Sainsbury’s moved into), Atlanta Food & Wine, and one of the newsagents.

So, it’s more than a little strange that Best One is making a comeback. No more than 100 yards from Tesco on Fortune Green Road.

The scooter garage on the corner of Burrard Road, which closed recently, could become a new mini-mart if Camden approves its 6am-midnight alcohol licence.

The original Best One before Sainsbury’s moved in

Stand By Me on Fortune Green

Short notice, yes, but I just got confirmation that the second Friends of Fortune Green outdoor film screening will happen this Saturday evening. It’s Stand By Me.

If you came along to Breaking Away earlier in the summer you’ll know how this works. Basically, the film is powered by bicycle. Now, Breaking Away is a film ABOUT cycling, which probably inspired people. Stand By Me isn’t (although I do seem to recall a couple of scenes on bikes?), but people still need to be willing to do a 5-10 minute stint on a bike. It all worked fine last time, and there’s no obligation at all to get on your bike and ride.

The film, if you don’t know it, is a 1980s coming-of-age classic, starrring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix and Corey Feldman (Richard Dreyfus and Kiefer Sutherland are also in it). It’s based on a Stephen King novel and was directed by Rob Reiner. So, basically, it’s a good film. If you’ve already seen it you’ll know it’s well worth watching again and if you haven’t then now’s the perfect time to rectify that.

The screening starts at sundown – which is 7pm, though if you want a good spot I’d get there quite a bit earlier as the bikes do slightly limit the viewing angle. Last time there must have been at least 200 people there, so hopefully there’s a similar turnout this time – and hopefully it’s too cold for the mosquitoes that plagued us all. Bring a picnic blanket, bring a picnic (Nautilus should be open for a sustaining fish & chips takeaway), and bring some friends.

The event is free, but FoFG will be asking for donations to help cover similar future events, so be nice and give a little something for this great community event.

Large crowd for Fortune Green film

As the sun went down on Tuesday, a crowd began to assemble on Fortune Green. The screen was slightly smaller than some had anticipated; the bikes that would be used to power the equipment blocked the wider viewing angle; there were a couple of technical hitches and everyone was bitten to shreds by mosquitoes.

And it was great.

Photo via @chipstoph

This felt like a real community event. People brought picnic rugs and bottles of wine, volunteers got on the bikes to ride for as long as they could; there was free popcorn courtesy of the Mayor of London’s Showtime funding; and the film was the charming Oscar-winning 1979 coming-of-age cycling film Breaking Away.

The Friends of Fortune Green, who put on the event, are already making plans for a second screening – most likely at the end of September. Keep your eyes peeled.

Love Parks; Love Fortune Green

This week is Love Parks week. Fortune Green is getting involved with a raft of events. 

Monday 6 to 8pm: Evening drawing class – come after work and do some drawing on the Green, with an informal glass of wine! Class led by Andrea the artist

Tuesday 1:30pm for one hour: Health walk -a gentle walk in a relaxed and friendly environment.

Tuesday from sundown: Outdoor film – on our third attempt we will be showing ‘Breaking Away’.

Thursday morning: Photography class on the Green -a little walk round the Green taking photographs on and of it, led by local photography teacher Peter Coles.

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

Free outdoor film back on

Back in May, the Friends of Fortune Green planned an outside film screening on the green. For free! It rained. Obviously.But as the weather seems to be improving, the screening has been rescheduled for this Tuesday July 24th and has now received a small grant from City Hall as part of the Mayor’s Showtime scheme.

And now you can unleash your inner Bradley Wiggins (he’s from Kilburn y’know), because this screening will be bike-powered. If you can lend a bike (and ideally your legs) on the night then please e-mail moc.l1511408746iamg@1511408746neerg1511408746enutr1511408746of1511408746

Each shift on the bike will be about 20 minutes, but you can be inspired by the choice of film. Breaking Away is a 1979 classic film starring Dennis Quaid. I’m not going to recap the plot here, come and watch the film dammit. But I will tell you that the film won the 1979 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and nominations for Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Picture. It’s also number 8 on the American Film Institute’s 2006 list of America’s 100 most inspiring movies (which is actually a pretty good list of films worth watching).

The film will start at around 9.30pm on Fortune Green, but I’d suggest turning up from about 8.30pm with a picnic.

Lib Dems take a battering in West Hampstead

London Elects released the results of the mayoral and assembly elections by ward yesterday. A bit of number crunching later and here are the percentage of votes and change from 2008 for the four local Camden wards (West Hampstead, Fortune Green, Kilburn and Swiss Cottage).

What can we deduce from the data? Well, nothing that we didn’t know already in the sense that the Lib Dems (who have six local councillors – three each in Fortune Green and West Hampstead) took a hammering as they did across the city and across the country.

It is reasonable to take the London-wide assembly member vote as the fairest reflection of party support as it is relatively devoid of the personality politics that beset both the mayoral race and the Barnet & Camden constituency race.

The Lib Dems polled better locally than they did across the city as a whole, taking 10.8% of the vote compared to 6.8% across London. However, if we look at the drop from 2008, the picture is very different. Across London in 2008 the party polled 11.4%, while locally it managed 17.8%. So the percentage point drop locally from 2008 to 2012 was 7 percentage points (or 60.6%), while the percentage point drop London-wide from 2008 to 2012 was 4.6 percentage points (or 59.6%). So even where the Lib Dems are relatively strong, their support was actually worse in this election. This is not surprising, after all it is Lib Dem voters who will feel most aggrieved at their party’s record in coalition.

In most other regards, the local voting patterns were not so different from those across the city: Boris was more popular than his party, while Ken was less popular despite being from this part of London.

The next council elections are still two years away, and the longer-standing Lib Dem councillors in Fortune Green and West Hampstead may feel that their personal stock will still be high enough to secure their seats even if the party continues to struggle nationally at the ballot box. Whether all three seats in both wards will stay yellow, however, must surely be in some doubt.

Gondar Gardens saved again

At last week’s Development Control committee meeting, councillors voted 7-2 against the proposed development by Linden Homes and Wates Development of the Gondar Gardens reservoir site up in Fortune Green.

The reservoir site at sunrise (photo via GARA)

This is the second time Camden has turned down a plan from these developers to build flats and houses on this disused but much loved plot of land. The first proposal, for “Teletubby” style semi-submerged dwellings, is in the appeal process (due to be heard next week) and Linden Wates will presumably appeal this latest decision too.

There seemed to be some confusion as to why Camden planning officers were recommending that permission be granted, while acknowledging in their report that the plans were not always in keeping with planning policy. That, combined with an impassioned speech by Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea (who chose to remove herself from the DC for this vote so she could speak against it) and the articulate statement of a 13 year-old boy called Benjamin seemed to sway councillors.

Cllr Rea invoked images of bucolic destruction in her statement: “Imagine the diggers destroying grassland, sending valuable wildlife scurrying or slithering off into the undergrowth. Two years of construction will drive away birds and bats and probably kill off the slow worms.”

Benjamin meanwhile focused on the legacy that Camden would be leaving if councillors approved the proposals. “This is like children going into a toy shop knowing they can’t have anything. You are the parents. If you give in now, they’ll be back for more. When did one lonesome toy ever satisfy a child?”

Councillors ultimately deemed that the scheme was of little architectural merit and not in keeping with the area, while the issue of public access to the remaining open space was unclear.

For the Gondar and Agamemnon Residents Association, this was another significant victory in what has been a long-running campaign to preserve the reservoir site, which is home to slow worms and other species rarely found in built-up areas.

Loading…Webcast Available Here : <a href=”http://www.camden.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/56645/start_time/7787000″>http://www.camden.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/56645/start_time/7787000</a>

More Sundance, less raindance

On Friday May 18th, the Friends of Fortune Green are going to do something I think sounds great. An outside film screening on the green. For free!

STOP PRESS: Unfortunately, due to the high chance of rain, this event has been postponed until June 22nd or 23rd

This is a great example of the sort of community event West Hampstead needs more of – something with broad appeal, irrespective of age or income.

It’s Olympic year (I expect some of you knew this), so the FoFG have opted for a film with a sporting bent. Breaking Away is a 1979 classic film starring Dennis Quaid. I’m not going to recap the plot here, come and watch the film dammit. But I will tell you that the film won the 1979 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and nominations for Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Picture. It’s also number 8 on the American Film Institute’s 2006 list of America’s 100 most inspiring movies (which is actually a pretty good list of films worth watching).

The screening will start about 8pm, and there’ll be popcorn for sale courtesy of The Kitchen Table to raise funds for the community group. You may also want to bring a picnic (and maybe a blanket unless the weather picks up).

Those of you on Twitter, keep an eye out for the hashtag #whampfilm for updates. We’re hoping for upwards of 200 people on the night, so should be a great event.

First meeting for West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Plan

Under the Localism Act, communities can form a Neighbourhood Development Plan. Given the extent of potential development in West Hampstead, James Earl from Fordwych Residents Association has proposed that we form one. The first meeting to get the ball rolling on this took place on January 25th. James forwarded me the minutes.

1. Welcome & Introductions:
James thanked everyone for coming & thanked the Sidings Community Centre for hosting the first meeting of the Forum.

2. Election of interim chair:
James was elected with no objections; there were no other candidates.

3. Membership, future elections & constitution:
It was agreed to keep the Forum as inclusive as possible. Anyone living or working in the area should be able to attend meetings and contribute to the Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP).

James said a future meeting would elect a chair, vice-chair, secretary & treasurer. There was a discussion about sharing or revolving posts and the Forum not being hierarchical, but it was agreed that permanent officers would be needed to lead the work of the Forum.

As part of the requirements set down for NDPs any group drawing up a plan needs a constitution. A group in Kentish Town has already drawn up a document for their group. James said he would draft a constitution for the next meeting & circulate to those interested beforehand.

4. Introduction to Neighbourhood Development Plans:
James outlined the basic idea behind NDPs, which are set out in the Localism Act, which comes into force in April 2012. A number of points were raised:

  • It was pointed that it was a resident led process, not a council-led or top down process.
  • Any NDP needs to fit in with the Camden Council Local Development Framework (LDF) & the Mayor of London’s London Plan (LP).
  • An NDP can’t propose less development – but can set out where future development should be located.
  • Residents can list things they don’t want – eg very high buildings.
  • There was concern that an NDP wouldn’t carry much weight & would not affect new developments.
  • An NDP is a chance to be more locally focussed than the LDF.
  • An NDP could link in with the Camden Council ‘Place Shaping Plan’ for WH & the Area Action forums.
  • If we don’t draw up a plan, someone else (eg a developer) could.
  • The area around the railway stations marked as an area of intensification in the LP can’t be overturned.
  • The NDP could be an opportunity for developers to give more back to the community – there were complaints that the current Section 106 agreements are a closed process.
  • The NDP will not stop current developments but will be able to shape future developments.
  • The NDP needs to be a forward thinking document that considers infrastructure too – such as transport, schools, health services etc.
  • The Forum has the chance to create a positive document that has a strong and lasting effect on our area.
  • The Forum can usefully bring together people and RAs from different parts of the local area and give residents a stronger and unified voice.

5. Camden Council workshop – 24th January:
Those who attended said there were both positive and negative voices about NDPs – there is a need to be realistic about what a NDP can achieve. People should go into the process with their eyes open.

When NDPs come into force they will have a formal role in the planning process and can be referred to when commenting on/objecting to planning applications. The Council are keen for Forums to work with them and engage in a dialogue. Forums need to be clear about what they want to achieve and be aware of the other changes to the planning system. The Council will have to approve the proposed NDP area; there can’t be overlapping plans. The Plan will need to be approved in a referendum, so will need to attract wide support.

It was pointed out that NDPs were originally designed for villages wanting more development.

There is a surprising amount of land in our area that could be developed in the future – although new developments can also take place when existing buildings are knocked down.

6. Issues to be covered by the Plan:
James set out a range of different issues that could be covered by the NDP. As well as future development, it could include – traffic/street issues; businesses; green space; community facilities; local services etc.

Residents are keen to focus on the ‘village feel’ of the area and in particular the shops & businesses on West End Lane & Mill Lane.

The Forum will need to identify the priorities for the area and its residents/businesses.

It was suggested that the Forum could look at recent development in the area and what does & doesn’t work.

It was agreed to ask a Camden Council planning officer to a future meeting to ask questions.

7. Area to be covered by the Plan:
James said the original proposal for the area used the current ward boundaries for Fortune Green and West Hampstead. In the East, this is Finchley Road; in the North, the northern boundary of Camden Council; in West, Cricklewood Broadway/Shoot-up Hill/Kllburn High Road; & in the South, part railway line, part streets in South Hampstead.

There was a discussion about excluding Cricklewood/Kilburn areas, in case they wanted to come up with their own NDP for the high streets.

In the NW, some of the streets might want to tie in with Barnet.

It was suggested consulting with CRASH on the southern boundary.

There was a suggestion to keep the Plan focussed on the area around the interchange, as this is the area affected by big developments. Others felt it would be more useful to bring the wider community together, and people living away from the interchange area were affected by it.

On a show of hands, a clear majority agreed to proceed by including the full area covered by the two wards.

8. Proposed timescale:
James said that because of the number of developments being proposed in the area, it was best to get on with the Plan as soon as possible. He said he thought it was realistic to have the Plan drawn up within the next year, with a referendum in spring 2013. Those present agreed that it would be wise to move quickly and start work on the Plan sooner rather than later.

9. Funding:
The Forum will need money to pay for meeting venues, printing, administration etc. There might also be a need to employ professional help with the plan. There is no money at present and no money from the Council. It was suggested local RAs could each contribute £50 to get the Forum going. S106 funding could be sought from the current developments. Local businesses could be asked to contribute.

10. Other issues:
There is a Camden Council West Hampstead Place Shaping workshop on February 8th. Those attending can report back to the next Forum meeting. [Ed: my report on that workshop]

There was a call to continue to oppose the current proposed developments in the area; if they are rejected, the sites could be covered by the Plan when it comes into force.

11. Future meetings:
James said he would like to have monthly meetings to help get the Forum and the process established.

The next meeting will look to agree on the area & constitution – plus initial work on the Plan.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday 28th February at 7.30pm – venue tbc.

Are new Gondar Gardens plan a-go-go?

The Gondar Gardens reservoir is back on the planning agenda. Here’s the story so far. Gondar Gardens is a large patch of green land that sits over a disused Victorian reservoir.

The land is owned by Linden Homes and Wates, who submitted plans to build a series of homes on the site in what was generally described as “Teletubbies style”. These semi-subterranean homes were deemed to be out of keeping with the area, and the threat to local biodiversity – most notably the local slow worm population – was enough to see the plan rejected after a vociferous campaign.

The developers are appealing the decision, but one would assume that they’re not especially confident of winning as they have invested in an entirely new and completely different plan for the site, which they were exhibiting at the library last Wednesday.The new plan take up much less of the site and instead just front onto the west side of Gondar Gardens road.

The previous plans took up the space marked by the inner red rectangle

There would be 19 private homes and 9 affordable housing units. To keep the environmentalists happy, the development goes big on managing the remaining open space (which is far greater under this proposal than the previous one), and once complete the land would be handed over to a trust with covenants restricting any future development.

Architecturally, the designs so far apparently try to reflect the neighbouring buildings but in a modern style.

At the exhibition there was some debate as to whether this had been successful yet – the current design being very boxy and angular compared to the bay windows and pitched roofs of the houses around. The developer suggested that the design was a work in progress. At least, unlike some other developments locally, this one would not rise above existing buildings.

On Wedensday December 14th, there is a Camden Development Management Forum at the synagogue hall on Dennington Park Road. This is a chance for the public to hear more about the proposals and ask questions. Registration will be at 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start and the meeting shouldn’t last more than two hours. This is not a formal consultation meeting as no plans have yet been submitted.

The exhibition boards are visible below, or you can download them from www.gondargardens.co.uk.

At the West Hampstead and Fortune Green Area Action group meeting a couple of days earlier, Fortune Green councillor Russell Eagling seemed to imply that this development was much more in keeping with the sort of thing the council would look favourably on. It is also worth noting that these units would not count towards the 800 new homes required under the intensification plan that emanates from City Hall – that is focused entirely on the land around the three railways lines.
Gondar Gardens exhibition boards

Parking and planning dominate December’s AAG

The turnout for this week’s West Hampstead & Fortune Green Area Action Group was higher than usual, with parking, planning, and local business on the agenda.

For those of you not familiar with the AAGs, they are an opportunity to meet local councillors, hear about the latest developments in the area, and for the public to share their views and ask questions.

Parking changes in Camden
The council is reviewing its parking policies. We had a quick rundown of changes over the past few years: fewer parking tickets, no clamping, allowing taxis to park on yellow lines for ATM access.

The borough is introducing cashless parking via mobile phones (meters will still accept coins), and is reviewing how its permit system will work with auto-renewal systems, e-permits and simplifying the visitor permit system with half-hour visitor permits being abolished. It was also made clear that the parking zones won’t be extended as that encourages short journeys and more parking pressure around stations.

Parking turned out to be an issue that people got quite exercised by. There was a question about all the proposed housing developments and the impact on parking in the area. All new developments are encouraged to be car free and residents will not be allowed to apply for permits on nearby streets. The view was expressed that new residents would find a way around the rules. There was also a suggestion that if there was basement parking in new developments it could then be used as public parking during the day.

There was grumbling about changes to visitor permit system and the common complaint councils face up and down the country: that they are “using motorists as cash cows”.

Parking wardens came in for flak for being too picky over permits. The representative from Camden explained that the appeals process will look at such issues. The masses weren’t impressed and the view was expressed that the permits were too complicated yet there was no process by which the public could look at getting them changed.

The parking review will also look at the details for each controlled parking zone, including on Fortune Green Road where parking for the 24hr gym is causing some local residents a degree of angst.

Planning
Next up, James Earl from the Fordwych Residents Association explained the concept of the Neighbourhood Development Plan, which you can read more about here. One local development was being displayed at the meeting – Handrail House on Maygrove Road is likely to be turned into flats. The developer is throwing money at local community centre Sidings, including astroturfing the pitch, in order to ease any objections. If plans are cleared by April then the developer will avoid the Crossrail levy that all larger residential developments in London will have to pay.

I asked whether there was any way in which we could get the Mayor’s London plan to enlarge the area designated for intensification (800 homes over the next few years) so that all the homes wouldn’t have to be clustered so tightly along the railway lines. Almost certainly a futile notion, but local councillor Flick Rea suggested that if there was ever a time to lobby politicians it was in the run up to an election and we were about to prepare for another Ken v Boris battle (and lets remember Ken lives locally so would at least be au fait with the particularities of the area). This would not be about reducing the number of new homes in West Hampstead, just spreading them out a little more. Developers themselves might not be so keen, under current planning frameworks, it’s much harder for councils to reject developments that flank railways.

Flick also mentioned that it was possible that the council offices on West End Lane (better known as the Wickes/Travis Perkins building), which are also destined to be flats, could end up as being entirely affordable housing as part of a deal with a (hypothetical) developer. So much for integrated housing projects.

Someone asked what our councillors’ own view was about the future of West Hampstead; I think suggesting that there was too much of a “our hands are tied” attitude. Councillor Keith Moffitt said that they had a clear vision, which was to preserve the villagey feel of the area, while recognising the need for new homes. One can imagine that this will translate into planners insisting that some of the larger developments lop a couple of floors off their proposals, or tone down any architectural oddities, but that any wholesale rejection of housing developments is unlikely.

I bumped into James later in the week and asked if there had been a good response after the meeting in terms of helping set up a steering group for the NDP – and it seemed like there had been. This will be a lengthy process though, and is very much going to focus on the developments that aren’t even on the table yet rather than those already under discussion.

There was a brief discussion on the new proposals for Gondar Gardens, which I’ve tackled in a separate blog. Questions were also raised as to whether there really was a need for new housing in the area, and weren’t there already too many houses on the market (the idea was firmly rebuffed by the estate agent contingent who said demand outstripped supply at the moment). And someone asked whether ownership of new flats could be restricted to Londoners or “people who need them”. You can imagine the answer.

Councillor Gillian Risso-Gill spoke briefly about the fledgling West Hampstead Business Forum and introduced David Matthews from Dutch & Dutch estate agents who has offered to chair the group. It will be interesting to see what comes out of that in the coming months.

The meeting concluded with short presentations / plugs for the financially challenged West Hampstead Community Association by Geoff Berridge, and for the financially more secure Sidings Community Centre by Sue Measures. Both run all manner of classes, so do check them out.

There were two off-agenda items that came up in final questions. The first concerned the cycle permeability scheme (allowing two-way cycle traffic on many of our one-way streets), which some locals think is a recipe for disaster. The consultation period for this has passed, but the councillors suggested that comments even now might well be considered.

The second was an impassioned plea regarding Netherwood Day Centre. This specialist Alzheimers unit just off the Kilburn High Road is teetering on the precipice again after an initial stay of execution following a high profile campaign involving local celebrities such as Ricky Gervais.

And that was that

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.

Safer in your Neighbourhood

Want to meet your local coppers? The Fortune Green and West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood teams are holding a public meeting the evening of Wednesday September 21st in the synagogue hall on Dennington Park Rd. Why not go along and say hi (they’re a friendly bunch) and find out the latest on how they’re helping the community. I don’t think you’re expected to stay for two and a half hours!

Boundary review: securing H&K for Labour?

[this article has been updated several times]

The Boundary Commission’s inital proposals to change electoral constituencies were published a day in advance it seemed by political blogger Guido Fawkes. Today they are online on the Commission’s own website.

There are a lot of changes across London, including to our own Hampstead & Kilburn constituency. If you recall, the seat was won by Labour’s Glenda Jackson in 2010 by a whisker from Conservative Chris Philp, and Lib Deb Ed Fordham wasn’t much further behind. H&K was the closest three-way seat in the country.

Inevitably, therefore, any changes to the constituency are likely to affect the next election. There was talk earlier in the year that the seat would lose its Brent ward, and pick up two of the Westminster North wards, which would swing it clearly in favour of the Tories.

However, the commission’s review suggests something entirely different.

We would keep Kilburn and Queens Park in Brent, but add Gospel Oak, Kentish Town and Highgate that were part of Frank Dobson’s Holborn & St Pancras constituency. This means losing some wards. Oddest of all, Fortune Green would become the only Camden ward in the otherwise Barnet-dominated seat of Finchley & Golders Green. Belsize meanwhile becomes part of a new Camden & Regents Park constituency with four north-eastern Westminster wards and the rest of Camden.

Context
Lets remember first of all that these are just proposals. Why are they happening? The government asked the commission to reduce the number of constituencies in England by 29 to 502, and every constituency had to have a population between 72,810 and 80,473. This is a major change to preview boundary reviews. These sought to try and balance the number of voters in each seat, but it was not a legal imperative. At the moment in England, electorate numbers per seat range from 55,000 to 111,000.

The proposals are up for discussion as the Commission’s report explains at great lengths. If you want to attend a public meeting about it, then there are two for our whole region (North-West London) will be held at Brent Town Hall in Wembley on Thursday October 20th and Friday October 21st

Implications
What does this mean for the constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn? It’s almost impossible to tell, but it’s definitely not great news for Chris Philp, who is surely looking for a safer seat than one that keeps two Brent wards and loses Belsize.

Gospel Oak – home of Alastair Campbell – seems to be fairly strong Labour; Highgate elected two Labour and one Green councillor last time around – so not immediately obvious that it would be an easy task for a Tory candidate to win over voters there; Kentish Town meanwhile appears resolutely Labour.

In other words, the changes would seem to suit Labour more than any other party at least in H&K. Glenda has announced she won’t run again, so if the proposals are adopted will this be seen as a moderately safe seat for someone to snap up? Fiona Millar – Campbell’s wife and free school advocate Toby Young’s worst nightmare – has said she won’t stand. But we’re almost certainly still two to three years out from the next election.

Indeed, changes elsewhere in the country could leave high profile Labour MPs without a seat and H&K might be one to move to. Most notably Ed Balls and Hilary Benn may have to decide who stays and who goes as their West Yorkshire constituencies are redrawn around them. Closer to home, London MP Tessa Jowell’s seat of Dulwich & West Norwood could be split into three constituencies if the proposals are implemented,

For other parts of Camden, the picture is very different. Frank Dobson’s safe Holborn & St Pancras looks much more marginal as Camden & Regents Park as it picks up Belsize and some Westminster wards and loses Highgate (which returns to the fold of the old Hampstead & Highgate constitutency that Glenda represented for so long before H&K). This might explain this tweet from Labour councillor and former Mayor of Camden, Jonathan Simpson: “The review is a bit bonkers, can’t let this happen”.

And what about Fortune Green? Well, the seat it’s joining changed hands from Labour to Conservative at the last election, and could be fairly close again. In the council votes, the Tory candidates were just ahead of their Labour rivals, but both were well behind the Lib Dems. Oddly, therefore, Fortune Green’s 7,000 voters could still have some impact in the vote, but to be the only ward from Camden in a seat dominated by Barnet does feel strange (if you look at how far south-west Fortune Green ward covers – right down to Maygrove Rd – this feels strange. Don’t expect too many canvassers down there)

I’ve left in the info on how to have your say in the abridged version of the document below, which has details for most West Hampstead Life readers I think.
Abridged Boundary Commission Proposals Sep132011

West Hampstead / Fortune Green Area Action Group

The rain and perhaps Andy Murray on Centre Court meant a slightly below-par turnout for last Monday’s West Hampstead and Fortune Green Area Action Group meeting. On the plus side, when Cllr Keith Moffitt asked whether anyone was attending because they’d read about it on Twitter a few hands actually went up.

The evening kicked off with a presentation from Camden council’s Principal placeshaping officer, Kate Goodman. Kate talked about the Community Investment Programme, which is Camden’s scheme to turn physical assets into cash – i.e., to sell council-owned land and buildings. The focus is obviously on those facilities that are underused or with very high runningh costs. Sixty sites have been identified across the borough, but only two are in the West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. 156 West End Lane is the large red brick building that includes the District Housing office and Travis Perkins. It has been identified as a possible site for disposal, with housing units the likely end use, although there will be a push to at least retain a ground floor retail presence. The second site is Liddell Road, the light industrial estate between Maygrove Rd and the trainline, which has been mooted as a possible site for the new primary school being discussed for this part of London. An initial report was submitted to the council in December 2010 and the second report will be in July this year.

During the Q&A the audience was reminded – although clearly some weren’t aware at all – that West Hampstead has been identified as an area for intensification in the London plan. The car park between Homebase and Sainsburys has been earmarked as an ideal site for more housing, including affordable housing. A couple of people accepted that even if there was not a lot we as residents could do about some of the development plans, it was important to be better informed about them. Obviously the council can’t track all potential private developments, but there was an agreement to provide a clearer map overview of public plans at least for the next session.

There was also some grumbling that the Thameslink station wasn’t delivering on its promises in terms of an attractive eco-friendly building. It’s true that for “cost reasons”, some of the specifications for the building were changed by Network Rail after the consultation. Cllr Keith Moffitt pointed out that although Network Rail had conducted a very good consultation “A good consultation doesn’t equal a great outcome”. With regard to some of the bigger projects, and the more general intensification, he also pointed out that these projects could take years to amount to anything, especially in today’s constrained funding environment.

West Hampstead is one of Camden’s nine “place shaping” areas, and thus has a Place Plan, which aims to get developers to fit in with the local area. I’m going to a meeting next week about this so will have more details about that then. In the meantime, you can read much more about this initiative here.

Retail
The next item on the agenda was the ever-popular topic of retail. Cllr Gillian Risso-Gill has been investing time on this issue, and ran through some of the changes on West End Lane since the last meeting, which blog readers will be familiar with and mostly boil down to more cafés/hairdressers/kebab shops.

She told us that Caffè Nero had to do battle with Costa for the Atlanta site that the blue coffee chain won. She suggested that delis were closing as a direct result of Tesco, although I find this hard to believe in all cases, as the stock is usually very different. More plausible to me is a relative fall in customers’ disposable income through inflation and economic uncertainty, so less willingness to buy high-end/high-price gourmet items, exacerbated perhaps by the convenience of supermarkets.

Gillian explained why cafés such as Nero no longer needed change-of-use permission to turn a shop into a café. Elsewhere in the country, it has been successfully argued in court that cafés where no food is cooked are essentially shops. You can argue the blatant nonsense of this all you want – it’s now been established in case law and is therefore difficult to overturn. In trying to spin a positive story, Gillian said that at least there was never an empty shop on West End Lane, which is more true since Ladudu tool over the long empty Glo site.

The conversation then turned to Mill Lane. While West End Lane homogenises, Mill Lane seems to be deteriorating as shops such as the Kitchen Stores close, and the general state of many other units is far from appealing.

Following the success of the Christmas market, Gillian is now thinking of setting up an Autumn market as well as repeating the Christmas edition, but needs helpers.

After this ‘state of the union’ address, the questions flowed. There were complaints about rents with one man saying it was now £45,000 for a shop on West End Lane – equivalent to Brent Cross (he said). There were also comments about parking (better parking would encourage more shoppers), delivery vehicles (WHAT is apparently looking into this), lobbying central government for a separate coffee shop classification, and restricting rent rises for smaller shops. Cllr Flick Rea pointed out that central governments of all hues tended to see development as inherently a good thing, and that offering objectors the right to appeal decisions might help (although at a much bigger scale you could imagine this causing some projects to never get off the ground). She also pointed out that the restaurant category A3 had in fact been split into two sub-categories, but it hadn’t made any difference.

The main outcome of the wailing and gnashing of teeth seemed to be that if we could find a way to increase footfall in Mill Lane, then that would be a Good Thing. I’ve suggested separately that having some sort of banner on the railings outside Emmanuel School pointing people to the shops further down might help, as might a rebranding of the retail section of the street focusing on its quirky more artisan shops. Finally, if an organization such as Empty Shops could find ways to tackle the empty or underused shops, that might breathe some life into it. There was much excitement as before about the idea of a regular market, but finding space for it is proving tough – traders want a hard tarmac surface for starters.

Libraries
Then we moved on to the libraries – I think I’ve linked to enough stories about this that most of you should know what’s going on. In a nutshell, West Hampstead library won’t close but will see its hours cut – as will all other libraries. Camden will, however, cease provision of library services at Belsize, Hampstead and Chalk Farm libraries and their future remains uncertain.

Conversation
Finally, there was a brief presentation of Camden’s newest online venture We Are Camden. This externally funded online service is being billed as a way to carry on the sorts of conversations that residents have at these local meetings. It’s in its infancy and during the first phase the idea is that it’s a way for Camden to talk to residents. Phase 2, which sounds much more valuable, will enable groups such as residents associations to set up their own presence.

West Hampstead & Fortune Green Area Forum report

Monday night saw the latest area forum for the combined wards of West Hampstead and Fortune Green. Maygrove Road resident Matt went along to find out more:
About 75 people braved a chilly February evening to attend this month’s area forum. Through some geographical anomaly Maygrove Road counts as Fortune Green, so this was a good opportunity for me to meet my councillors and find a little about what’s going on in the local area.
Keith Moffitt introduced five of the six councillors for the two wards (Gillian Risso-Gill is on holiday in Antarctica!) before handing the floor to Theo Blackwell, council cabinet member for resources (i.e., Finance), for the first 45 minutes or so.
Theo’s brief cannot be an easy one in the current climate. His role was to outline where and how Camden would need to cut services in order to balance the books. Whilst the figures are sobering, Theo was keen to point out Camden had historically provided “over and above” what is required by law. This will hopefully mean that, even after the cuts, we get more from our council than some of our neighbours.
Theo first explained where the money comes from. I was surprised to learn only 11% of Camden’s income comes from council tax, with a massive 70% coming from central government in one form or another. It’s this central funding that’s being heavily cut in the coming years. Over three years there is a budget gap of £80-100 million. To put that in perspective, this could be plugged by a rise in council tax – a rise of 35%.
This is obviously not going to happen, so the alternative is spending cuts. Camden thinks efficiency savings can cover about half of the deficit. This includes around 1,000 council jobs, which puts a bit more of a human face on the word ‘efficiency’. A few more pennies can be raised by increased fees. Motorists have already been bled pretty dry, but things such as planning applications for large houses or removal of washing machines will start to cost a little more.
It’s at this point when the cuts will really start to bite, and this was where the attendees started to make their voices heard. There was some good debate on the balance between preventative and reactive services: cut £10,000 on home visits to the elderly and you might spend £20,000 on extra A&E admissions.
The take home point was that Camden is consulting on the spending cuts and it’s important to contribute to the debate. The older age demographic at the meeting made me wonder if younger adults will lose out in this debate. Age Concern reps spoke several times at the meeting and are clearly well-organised at getting their points across. Do the 20- and 30-somethings have anything similar? Anyway, if you have some views, get on the website.
The £80-100m is just the spending gap for Camden’s operating costs. Capital spending is a bit of a car crash too. Camden lost out to the tune of £200m with the scrapping of Building Schools for the Future (BSF) funding for new schools projects. Whilst Camden owns about £3.4bn of property, most of this is housing stock. The Council is reviewing how some property assets can be utilised to release funds for new capital schemes.
We then heard a little about what Keith Moffitt calls the ‘jigsaw’. This is a range of building and infrastructure projects around Mill Lane and Emmanuel School. Much of this was over my head (coming from the other side of the ward), but what was clear is just how complicated these interconnected projects are. Problems with one affect all the others, so it’s important that our councillors take an overview of the whole area, particularly as it seems that a different council officer is responsible for each individual project.
Next, a planning officer gave a presentation on the Blackburn Road development. In short, nine floors, residential accommodation for 347 students (University of Westminster), and six business units (probably workshops). Much was made of the safeguards for the area (such as no car-parking for the students), but many were worried about the impact of construction works on an already congested road that is a vital thoroughfare for pedestrians down to the O2. The developer is paying c£500,000 in “Section 106 monies” (which will be spent by the council on offsetting the impact of the development), but the student accommodation will bring in nothing in council tax revenue. However, perhaps it will provide a useful shot in the arm to the shops on West End Lane. As long as the students don’t overcrowd the Lower Ground Bar…
Flick Rea then talked about the library consultation, which had launched earlier in the day. Camden is looking for £2 million in savings, which means either closing libraries, or reducing opening hours across the board by up to 50%. Flick felt the consultation was unimaginative and did not even consider things such as library sharing across boroughs (Kilburn library for example sits on the boundary of Camden, Brent and Westminster boroughs). There was widespread horror that the council had paid a private contractor £25,000 to draw up a simple consultation document. I’d have done it myself for £10k!
Finally we heard from the chair of Friends of Fortune Green. Since the Sager building (think Tesco Express and Gym Group) went up, the residents have got together to make sure their voice is heard, but also to improve their local community. Some modest National Lottery grants, together with some free labour from Community Payback has meant that lots of painting and planting has been happening on the green. They are currently looking at improving the play areas to keep things interesting for the over-5s. Bravo.
Whether the council listens to us on all the current consultations remains to be seen. But it is at least consulting on lots of things at the moment. Please do make your views known, if only so that we can have a good moan on Twitter if we’re all ignored!

West Hampstead & Fortune Green area action group

On a cold Monday evening, Liberal Democrat councillor Keith Moffitt (West Hampstead) kicked off the first combined area action group meeting. This is the successor to the local area forums. All six of the local councillors were present (all Lib Dems).

The audience – around 80 people, the vast majority being older members of the community – settled down as Keith mentioned that they had publicised the event on Twitter and on the two local blogs. He asked if anyone except me had come because they had seen it promoted online. No-one had.

A man behind me said sotto voce “Twitter is one of the most ridiculous pointless things I’ve ever heard of”. I wondered whether he’d ever even seen it. Keith introduced me, which I wasn’t quite expecting, but I sensed only mild curiosity rather than active interest.

There was a really quick rundown of projects funded by the £10,000 per ward improvement fund (inevitably that isn’t being offered again). These included two new benches (Agememnon Rd/Ulysses Rd and top of Fortune Green Rd); a “give-and take” event at Emmanuel School in March; new dog/litter bins and hanging baskets on Mill Lane.

One project – improvements to the paved area around the library – has yet to happen, but it is still being planned. A plan to use Mill Lane Bridge as a community art project had to be shelved due to health & safety concerns apparently.

Thameslink station
The session kicked off with a team from the Thameslink programme bringing us up to speed on the developments at West Hampstead Thameslink station. They had a powerpoint presentation that no-one could read, which was ill-thought out. The headline news is that the platforms will be ready for the longer 12-carriage trains by December 2011, but the new trains won’t be fully installed until 2015.

The plans for the station on Iverson Road have had to be adapted to bring it within budget. The changes are largely in materials although it’s clear that the initial plans were on the ambitious side. The station is also due for completion in December 2011.

As you all know, the pavement is being substantially widened on the north side of Iverson Road. The existing embankment is being built up and paved, and this should alleviate some of the congestion between the stations.

The design of the wall running from West End Lane to the station has been adjusted – and will now be a flat wall rather than with “profiled bricks”. There’s been an invisible change to some water flow issue and the zinc roof is becoming aluminium, so will look different from above but not from ground level (makes you wonder why they went for zinc in the first place).

Finally, the sedum roof (i.e. the one covered in greenery) is being replaced by a separate larger area of grass at ground level.

All the construction materials will now be delivered trackside and not by road, so there shouldn’t be road congestion. The timetable is also designed to ensure that work takes place on weekdays during working hours.

There were plenty of audience questions, and rather a lot of talking at cross-purposes. Someone pointed out that with all the street clutter outside Starbucks, Costa etc., this was still a pinch point. Keith explained there would be a sizeable project in 2011 to widen West End Lane pavements, and that tackling this issue would be part of the January phase of that (the plan is for work to be done up the west side of WEL and then back down the east side. Expect more traffic disruption for most of next year then).

There was another question about how a car club has procured more spaces than it had apparently bid for, which went unanswered, and one woman appeared disproportionately angry that the pavement had been widened on both side of the street without consultation. Keith said he thought this might just have been a lack of clarity on the diagrams, to which she replied rather ominously, “Lets hope for your sake it is”.

There was a more measured question about lighting. Network Rail explained that there will be strip downlighting all along the wall between West End Lane and the station, and the footbridge will also be lit. This should minimize glare for residents, while ensuring enough light for safety.

The existing station on the north side of the bridge will close, and there will be ticket barriers under a weatherproof shelter there that will be manned (or left open). There will also be ticket machines.

Strangely, despite the longer platforms, there is no provision for extra platform signage. Given the frequent platform changes and running delays on the service, the information boards are of course very useful, but clearly they won’t be visible from further along. Roger Perkins, the communications manager for the Thameslink Programme, said he would look into this and that there may be some other sources of funding available. It seems crazy to extend platforms and not think about extra signage.

Roger then explained the service improvements. As was announced last week (and mentioned on my weekly round-up) the Thameslink programme survived the spending review but the completion date has been pushed back from 2016 to 2018. This drew inevitable groans.

The new trains won’t appear until 2015 (although there will be a few longer trains in service from the end of 2011 using leased carriages) but even then very few if any will stop at West Hampstead. Priority for the extra capacity will go to the fast commuter trains from Bedford that are fast from St Albans. Most of the trains that stop at West Hampstead head down to the Wimbledoon loop, where many of the stations can’t be extended.

It began to dawn on everyone that we’re enduring quite a lot of disruption for not much immediate benefit. Eventually of course, more longer trains will be rolled out and services that do not go down to Wimbledon will use them. The major benefit to locals will be that there will be new routes opening up beyond the Bedford-Brighton/Sutton services, but these routes are yet to be decided.

Roger also said that 5,000 seats had already been added to rush hour trains – but again, not necessarily to services stopping at West Hampstead.

Appropriately, Keith now announced that we were now running 20 minutes late.

Policing
Seargeant Dave Timms of the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood Team spoke very briefly and wanted some input/feedback on how best the SNTs might be deployed. As he explained, they were suffering from funding restrictions like everyone else so they are very open to hearing how the public would like them to operate and whether the current organisation (where they are strictly ward-based) was appropriate. You can contact the team here.

Shopping
New West Hampstead councillor Gillian Risso-Gill then discussed the issue of shops on West End Lane and Mill Lane. This is a emotive issue, as we know from the response to the “Changing Streetscape” blog from August.

She argued that West End Lane was faring relatively well in the aftermath of the recession, with very few units remaining empty for long. Glo of course being an exception and Mill Lane showing a more mixed picture. She argued that Tesco can live alongside independent shops and helps increase footfall. This met with a mixed reaction from the crowd.

Apparently, no-one other than Sainsbury’s had expressed any interest in the Best-One site. She also said that Penguin – the vintage boutique opposite the Overground station – is closing due to retirement rather than for financial reasons.

The main thrust of her talk was that we should look at other avenues for smaller retailers, such as markets. There was notable vocal support for a farmers market, although the issue of where it would be is tricky. The Christmas market, which is very clearly a retail opportunity and not a ‘festival’, will be on West End Green, but this is probably not big enough for a full-scale farmers market.

Someone asked what happened to the market that used to be at the O2 car park, which has moved to Eton Avenue (perhaps not realising that the car park solution was in fact temporary and the market was originally in Swiss Cottage).

A woman who works at West End Lane Books argued that the lack of parking was a big problem and stopped people from coming to West End Lane. This wasn’t especially well received by the councillors. Surely, if we’re trying to get local people to local shops then they can walk or use buses? It’s very hard to see much being done to increase parking in the area.

A more sophisticated issue is that of rates and rents and planning use. One local businessman said he knew of two chain restaurants that were actively looking to move into the area, but wouldn’t say which.

He also said he’d heard a rumour that M&S was going to take the Pizza Express site. This is an extension of the rumour a while back that Sainsbury’s was going to take that site, which a Pizza Express spokesperson categorically refuted when I put it to them earlier in the year. I am not convinced that site would work for M&S, but we shall see.

“Multiples” (as chains are called in the business) do of course bring footfall, but they can also afford to pay top whack in terms of rents, which raises the baseline level on the street, squeezing out smaller players. The audience member cited examples where rents had rocketed from £28,000 to £43,000 with change of use and suggested that the planning department could do more to control these changes of use.

Someone suggested whether Camden could turn a unit into a sort of permanent pop-up shop, allowing rotating use of the space. The idea was well received, but Keith pointed out that the council doesn’t own any units on West End Lane. Whether they could enquire/put pressure on landlords of empty units when they are available remains to be seen.

Not surprisingly, the issue of Tesco (and soon Sainsbury’s) delivery lorries came up. Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea explained that the Tesco on her patch had been expected to use a delivery point at the back of the building but it turned out the lorries couldn’t access this service area because it was too low. She is looking at getting a delivery bay built into the street as there is room there.

The West End Lane Tesco remains a problem as the company sees the constant parking fines as simply part of the cost of doing business.

A man from Fawley Road asked what he admitted was a NIMBY question about where Sainsbury’s delivery lorries would park. Flick said that she hoped it would be possible to have a conversation with Sainsbury’s about this, as they were more socially amenable than Tesco.

Budget cuts
The final topic of the evening was the budget cuts in Camden. By the time you read this, these will have been debated in the council chamber, and at this stage the programme of cuts is light on detail. Keith pointed out before the discussion started that legally this couldn’t be a party-political discussion as it is funded by the council*.

Given that much of this was hypothetical I shall keep this section short and wait until the budget plans have been approved for a longer discussion of how cuts will affect West Hampstead.

The nub of the issue is that Camden needs to cut £80 to £100 million of its budget, which is approximately 10%. Councils of course have statutory commitments and discretionary roles. Camden historically has been a council that has prided itself on going the extra mile but inevitably some of these discretionary services would have to be cut or provided by the voluntary or private sectors.

Keith also pointed out that there would be job cuts: 1,000 positions would go although many would happen through early retirement or posts not being filled rather than redundancies. However, plenty of jobs are on the line.

Libraries are one service that always receives a lot of publicity. It seems inevitable that some Camden libraries will close. Keith seemed reasonably confident that West Hampstead would not be one of them. However, whether it can remain in its current state is not clear. It is expensive to run (behind me a voice whispered authoritatively that it costs £290,000 a year to run WH library of which half is staff costs).

There was some confusion as to whether the mobile library service had already been cut or not. A tweet the following day from Camden suggested that it hadn’t been cancelled just yet and Alan Templeton from the Camden Public Libraries User Group (CPLUG) seemed to think that nothing had been definitively decided. However, he also believed that council officers had already decided which libraries were for the chop, suggesting Belsize, Chalk Farm and Highgate as the most likely casualties. He argued that no library was safe however, and locals should definitely adopt a “use it or lose it” attitude.

Other conversations discussed community centres and children’s services/play services. Keith mentioned the rebuilding/expansion of Emmanuel School, which has been discussed at length already. The issue of whether the possible new primary school on Liddell Road is the best location was also mentioned but not discussed.

And that was that. Not everyone had stayed to the end, and most scarpered off into the dark cold night as soon as the meeting was brought to a close. Surprisingly, no-one asked anything about the proposed student accommodation, although Keith mentioned it and there was a handout about it.

*unlike the conversation after the meeting drew to a close.

WANTED: Eager football players

Yesterday I tweeted about Hampstead 7evens, a local seven-a-side football organisation based in Fortune Green. West Hampstead local Thom Hoffman was trying to get a team together and then faster than a Gareth Bale strike into the bottom right corner/Theo Walcott run down the line* people were replying left right and centre expressing an interest.

Then, Thom had an idea and asked if I’d post it, so I am:

“Hi, as there is a lot of football interest I propose an official kickabout. I think it would be a good idea to have a big footy match on Fortune Green next Saturday 13th November K/O 12 noon. Loads of people seem interested, and I’d love to play a bit more locally. There could be enough for a few 7-aside teams in the future; or just enough people interested that we can have kickabout tweetups once in a while. I realise Saturday mornings aren’t great for everyone but it has to be sometime…”

Where: Fortune Green Park
When: Saturday 13th November, midday
Bring: Trainers and shinpads!
Email: thom.hoffman (at) ymail.com if interested or tweet @thomhoffman

*delete according to your north London football predilections

Alfred Court

Some progress on finding out what is happening with the commercial space at Alfred Court on Fortune Green Road. I just spoke to one of the agents who couldn’t reveal details yet as deals have not been finalised.

What he could tell me, however, is that there is planning permission for retail, restaurant, and gym use (A1, A3 and D2 if you’re a planning geek). And that there is a clear recognition that there is not the footfall to attract big mainstream chains. The aim is to “create something special,” and it sounds like there may be a collection of different outlets rather than, say, one big retailer.

It’s going to be 3–4 weeks before the first transactions are completed, at which time I should find out exactly what is moving in.

So, no definite news, but an indication of the direction things are taking.

Newcommers [sic]

A few new faces on West End Lane, and a continuing mystery in Fortune Green.

Alexis the bakery up the north end of West End Lane has shut. To be replaced by… a bakery. But a bright orange bakery, if that makes any difference. There’s a Dylan’s already in Willesden (170 Church Rd), so presumably orange is a tried and tested formula. The West Hampstead one hasn’t opened yet, so no review but here’s a picture of it in all its orangeness.

(by the way, the pharmacy next door looks like it’s closing down – it’s not, it’s just being refitted).

Further down towards the tube station, the unit that was X10 computers (a strange den of chipboards, cables and the owner’s aphorisms, which acted as some sort of test as to your worthiness as a customer) closed a few weeks ago. It has reopened as Matrix. Nice to see the “x” theme being carried through there. This one has nothing to do with motherboards and hard drives and everything to do with nails and extensions [CORRECTION: it appears to be just a hair salon, not a nail bar]. Perhaps it will make up for the nail bar that closed earlier in the year on Broadhurst Gardens.

Regular readers will remember the Photo of the Week from Digest No.2. Here it is again to refresh your memories.

Of course, they couldn’t possibly leave such a huge billboard up with such a bad typo on it, so the board has been changed.

To this. Oh dear.

The friendly girls who work in that teeny-tiny branch of Goldschmidt & Howland next door gave me a wry smile when I asked about it. It’s going to be redone again apparently.

I was actually in their really very small space to try and solve the burning issue of the day: what is the retail space going to be in the very development advertised above. Rumours (some started by @bubela‘s local shopkeepers again) have been pinging around, and as G&H are selling the flats I thought they might know. They don’t. They did try and find out though and I spoke to Sam from their Hampstead sales office who explained that they weren’t responsible for the non-residential units and he couldn’t say for sure what would be there. The consensus in the office was that a gym/health club was pretty much a given. There was also talk that there might be some sort of mother/baby centre (whatever exactly that might be), and a shop. But what the shop was no-one seemed sure. Fear not, I’m still on the case and if I find anything out I shall let you know – and if you hear anything then do pass it on.

For what it’s worth, my hunch would be that something like a Spar is the most likley. I would be surprised if a Waitrose/M&S would move there as it lacks the footfall they need. Would Tesco’s really open somewhere quite so close to its Express store on West End Lane? And would Sainsbury’s open a Local quite so close to a Tesco Express? My money is on a Spar or another of the franchise operations, which can be half-way decent when they are in ok areas.

Finally, there’s the unit on West End Lane next to Starbucks that was Prime internet café and DVD/video rental. It’s been closed for a while and is being refitted at the moment. Place your bets for what will move in there. My guess is that it might stay empty for a little while. But I’ll try and find out when I get the chance.