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liddell-road-site_ft

Liddell Road school to open with spare capacity

Liddell Road has a new name. After much careful thought and consideration it has been renamed, wait for it…, “Liddell Place”. Someone suggested an alternative, but for some reason Camden didn’t like it.

Where’s Liddell Road? It’s the former council-owned light industrial estate just off Maygrove Road that’s being redeveloped to house an infants school that will be part of Kilburn’s Kingsgate School, alongside a large residential tower block, some modern mansion blocks and some office space that will be privately developed. Was big news. You should have been there.

Anyway, work is underway on site, so time for an update.

The whole reason a new school… sorry, a new building for Kingsgate School, was needed was because of a projected dramatic shortage in primary places in this part of the borough. The new school was planned to opened in September 2016 with four-form entry. That’s 120 places.

Strange then that just a year later  (clearing the site had taken much longer than expected), the school is now to be a three-form entry with 90 kids starting instead of 120. Where did those 30 kids go?

Camden’s cabinet member for schools, Angela Mason, explained in a written response, “The proposed change is in response to our latest school place-planning data, which now suggests a slower growth in demand. If we left the admissions number at 120, the school would have to employ enough staff to cover these extra places. As school funding is linked to the actual number of pupils on roll, it would be a strain on the school’s budget if the places were not filled. This is why we’ve applied to the Schools Adjudicator to vary the arrangements for the September 2017 intake, though we expect demand to rise again in future years.”

Too few kids, too much money?

The development is taking place in two phases; first the school and second the housing and workspace. The school is on track to be finished in July 2017, ready for the new school year next September. The deadline for applying for reception and nursery places is 15th January.

Yellow = school, blue = housing and red = offices, workshops

Yellow = school, blue = housing and red = offices, workshops

However, Camden has been taking a long time to market the site for phase two. It is now due to be marketed next year.

It will be interesting to see what the asking price is. Camden refused to disclose the viability figures at the time of the planning application in 2014/15, but what we know is that Camden wanted to cover the £13.4 million cost of the new school and make a surplus of £1.9 million. Therefore if the site is sold for anything more than £15.3 million, Camden will receive more money than planned. Chances of the value of the land having gone up over two to three years?

Any additional surplus could have helped increase the amount of affordable housing in 156 West End Lane (the council justified the lack of affordable housing at Liddell Road by saying that 156 would get 50%, which it has). But Liddell Road won’t be put up for sale until after the 156 West End Lane planning decision is decided. So will additional surplus flow out of West Hampstead again?

Classrooms and construction

It may be simpler to build the school first and the residential units afterwards, but it does mean the entire construction period will be very long, and there’ll be enormous disruption for local residents, and of course for the schoolchildren on site. Construction of the second phase is anticipated to take 18 months.

Recent view of Liddell Rd. Image: West Hampstead NDF

Recent view of Liddell Rd. Image: West Hampstead NDF

Maygrove Road residents are very concerned about the impact the new school, flats and offices will have on parking in the area. They have already been affected by the adjacent Regal Homes development, called ‘The Residence’, which is now complete and occupied. Although that development is nominally ‘car-free’ , Monica Regli, chair of MILAM, the local residents association says, “We have noticed that parking has become significantly worse now that the new flats are built despite it being a “carless” development. We assume it’s because new residents are using cars to commute and parking on Maygrove outside of restricted hours. In fact, parking is becoming such an issue that a petition has been started”.  

Finally, five of the nine trees with preservation orders on the Liddell Road site were fatally damaged in Storm Katie last year.  This may be because they no longer had the shelter provided by the old buildings. Local residents have pressed Camden to replace them, after having been unclear, they have now said they will be replaced as part of the landscaping for the school playground.

We’ll keep you updated on Liddell Road’s progress and especially on how much the development rights are sold for next year.

Liddell Road vote

Liddell Road scheme given green light

Camden councillors voted tonight to give the go ahead to both the proposal to build the school and to build the housing and employment space that will help fund it.

The debate lasted just over an hour and a half and got rather tetchy at times. It brought home how complex the funding issues are and how hard it is to make decision, or criticize them when no figures are made public.

The first vote was whether or not to approve the school and all the committee voted in favour
The second vote was whether or not to approve the rest of the scheme. Cllr Flick Rea (LD) and Cllr Claire-Louise Leyland (Con) voted against, it looked from the webcast as if Jenny Headlam-Wells (Lab) abstained (WHL has contacted Cllr Headlam-Wells to clarify), and everyone else voted in favour so both applications were passed.

Liddell Road vote

We now get to see whether the numbers did indeed add up. There was some suggestion from the independent viability assessor that it was possible there would be more capital receipts from the scheme than originally anticipated. Should that happen, that money would go towards affordable housing, though this would not be on the Liddell Road site itself.

It was sad how little mention was made of the jobs and businesses that will have to leave the premises.

Liddell Road tower and workspace

Decision time: The Liddell Road refresher

It’s decision time tonight for Liddell Road, but what’s at stake and why has it been so controversial?

What’s the deal?

The council has an obligation to provide enough school places for local children and the projections are that some 400 places are needed in the West Hampstead area in the very near future.

Where to build this school?

The council decided that Liddell Road, a light industrial estate that it owns just off Maygrove Road, was the best site. The school would take up about half the site.

Rather than build a new school, which under government rules would have to be a free school, it decided to expand Kingsgate School in Kilburn, which is the best part of a mile away on foot. The youngest children would attend the Liddell Road site, the older children would be taught at the Kingsgate site. Astonishingly, even now, the admissions point for the new expanded school has not been settled.

How to pay for it?

Like many councils, Camden has been hit very hard by budget cuts, so to pay for the school it’s decided to sell off the other half of the Liddell Road site for housing and office space. By selling this land to a developer, it would get enough money to build the school and have some left over to fund improvements to other schools in the borough.

Why has it been so controversial?

Jobs
The problems started more than a year ago when there was a big discrepancy between the number of jobs Camden stated would be lost from existing Liddell Road businesses and the number that the traders themselves came up with. The traders’ number was treble Camden’s number (250 vs 80), and Camden never published the results of its employment survey despite promising to do so.

Some traders also claimed that Camden was less than helpful in assisting them finding new premises, which was next to impossible anyway for those who wanted to stay local. Camden disputes this.

Consultation process
In the first consultation about the scheme, the number of respondents who were residents AND parents was incredibly low – in fact it appeared to be just two people. There were three high-level questions, and just two responses to each from this segment: one person was in favour of expanding Kingsgate, one didn’t know; one was in favour of the split school site, one was against; one was in favour of the redevelopment overall and one against. Had this consultation reached the right audience?

The tower block
In the run-up to the council elections in May 2014, Labour campaigned on more school places, which was popular, and won five of the six local seats from the Liberal Democrats. At this stage, the early plans for Liddell Road looked like this:

LiddellRoadplan_before

After the election, the plans looked like this:

Revised Liddell Road plan with 14-storey tower block

Yep, a 14-storey tower block had appeared. Residents weren’t keen, and many pointed out that this site falls outside the designated Growth Area, where people have come to accept that higher density housing will be permitted (for example, West Hampstead Square, which has a 12-storey building at its heart).

Camden’s argument was that it needed all the housing to pay for the school, and all the office space to create jobs (more jobs than existed on the site before if you take their numbers, fewer if you take the traders’).

That £6.7 million grant
Camden received a grant from central government of £6.7 million specifically for new schools. First it wasn’t going to spend this at Liddell Road, then it was, then it was going to spend some of it. The detail has always been unclear. Camden has also said from the outset that it wanted to make an additional £3 million from the project to invest in schools elsewhere in the borough.

Many locals felt that money made from the site should be invested in West Hampstead. The council countered that West Hampstead schools have received a lot of money in recent years that has come from outside West Hampstead. That £3m has since come down to £1.9 million because the council underestimated the cost of clearing the land.

Affordable housing
Initially there was to be no affordable housing in the development. Camden would normally say that 50% of a large development should be affordable, though that’s rarely achieved in practice. Camden argued that the provision of a school completely offset the need for any affordable housing.

In its final revision of the plan, the tower block dropped to 11 storeys, and four of the 106 flats were to be affordable (initally, 1 social, 3 intermediate, but in the final report all four will be social housing). How the economics had changed to accommodate these changes was never made clear.

Opponents have argued that the surplus from the site could be used to increase the affordable housing, the council has said that it would add only a few extra units and it would rather spend the money elsewhere. Councillors also made much of the fact that the site at 156 West End Lane (Travis Perkins) would be developed with 50% affordable housing, but opponents have argued that is impossible to judge the merits of one scheme based on a promise that the council may not be able to keep on another that hasn’t even come close to a planning application yet.

Other issues
There have been a raft of other issues that have caused concern: the siting of the tower, the decision over access roads, the challenges facing parents with siblings at both sites, that admissions point problem, etc.. Camden has responded to all these, except the latter, though not of course always to the satisfaction of locals.

What are the alternatives?

Camden Labour councillors in favour of the scheme, which appears to be all of them except for Fortune Green’s Lorna Russell, have argued very forcefully that the school is essential and at a time of constrained budgets this is the best way of paying for it. They also point out that no-one who has opposed the scheme has come up with a viable costed alternative.

Proposing a costed alternative is difficult when Camden refuses to release any of the financial information associated with the scheme. Indeed it published a heavily redacted report in response to an FOI request. The NDF tried to work out the costs itself, and although it was forced to make a lot of assumptions, it calculated that the council could make an additional £10 million from the site.

Will it pass tonight?

Labour dominates the development control committee (the formal name for the planning committee), which will vote on the plans tonight. It is hard to imagine that the applications won’t be approved as this is one of the flagship schemes in Camden’s Community Investment Programme – its attempt to continue to deliver quality services in the face of swingeing budget cuts.

Complicating matters, the scheme is spread across two separate planning applications, for reasons that have never been clear given that one is entirely contingent on the other – i.e., Camden can’t realistically pass the school and reject the housing.

Many of the groups objecting to the scheme have tried to argue for a delay in order that the detail of the scheme can be discussed more thoroughly and perhaps improved. Very few are arguing that the whole idea should be thrown out wholesale, instead the questions are around the exact implementation. The council, however, is arguing that the school must get approval as soon as possible because it needs to open for the 2016/17 school year.

The upshot therefore is that to meet its statutory requirements on school places, the council has to press ahead with the school now and as the school will be paid for only by the flats and office space, they must be approved too. In other words, the planning committee is a hostage to time. This begs the question as to why this is all so last minute. To quote from a planning officer in one of the early consultation documents,

For a number of years families in the North West of the borough have struggled to find a local reception class place and Camden’s school place planning indicates that there will continue to be a pressing need in this area in the future.

Camden may point out that their predecessors did nothing to act on this when they were in power. It’s a fair point, but Labour has controlled the Town Hall since 2010. Perhaps if planners had had more time, a more equitable solution might have been found rather than forcing one through that has run into quite so many problems with locals who are not, by and large, against the underlying idea of the scheme.

 

The meeting starts tonight at 7pm. Liddell Road is the fourth planning application on the agenda so they should get to it. There are people going speaking against it and it’s likely to take some time to discuss. You can go to the Town Hall and watch in person, or you can watch the webcast here.

Liddell Road from Maygrove Road

Guest post: NDF sums suggest £10 million missing from Liddell Road calculations

As West Hampstead Life reported a few weeks ago, Camden Council refused to disclose the finances related to the Liddell Road development [its scheme to develop the existing industrial estate, which it owns, in order to build a primary school there funded by the sale of housing and offices on the same site]. The council claims these numbers would let private developers know how the council values land, which would undermine it in future negotiations.

Leaving aside the fact that developers can employ armies of surveyors who are well versed in development economics to work such things out, the fact is that the inputs for development models such as rents, comparable sales prices, ‘allowable profit’ levels and building costs are widely available. The NDF therefore decided that in the absence of disclosure from Camden it was worth trying to do the sums itself. The results suggest that the council may make an additional £10 million from the development.

To help with its calculations, the NDF had advice from someone working in the property industry. Development economics are complicated and it is hard to imagine that all the councillors who sit on the planning committee – and thus who will vote on the scheme – have a perfect understanding of them. The general public certainly do not. To help the councillors, and as part of its legal obligations, the council does refer the scheme to an independent assessor. Members of the planning committee will see the assessor’s report before the committee meeting, though even here some financial figures are also redacted.

We would argue that in cases such as Liddell Road, where the council is both developer and approver as part of its Community Investment Programme, it is even more important that numbers are clear and transparent.

Lets do some maths

The actual calculations are relatively simple, and although we have had to make some assumptions, we feel that broadly we should be on the right lines. If Camden would like to correct us on any of these numbers, we would very much welcome their input.

Camden has explained that the sale of the flats and the office space will pay for the building of the school, and deliver a surplus. That surplus was originally £3 million but, in the final report to councillors, it’s been reduced to £1.9 million as the costs of clearing the land appear to be higher than anticipated.

To calculate how much money the council might make we need to work out

a) the value, to a developer, of the land with full planning permission for flats/offices
b) the costs of building the development + various other associated costs (including the developer’s profit margin)

This leaves a residual land value, which is the amount Camden can sell the land for to a developer and is what they will use to pay for the building of the school.

How much is Liddell Road worth to a developer?

The planning application is for two residential blocks and one office block. Lets take each in turn.

Housing
The application is for 106 flats (40 in a tower block and 66 in a mansion block) of which 4 are affordable. In total this is 10,247 sq m of floorspace and 319 habitable rooms. But what are they worth?

A good comparison is to look next door.

Adjacent to Liddell Road is 65 Maygrove Road (formerly Handrail House, now ‘The Residence’) which is currently being turned into 91 flats. These flats are already on the market with asking prices starting at £650,000 for one-bedroom flats and £780,000 for two-bedroom flats.

At those prices, the price per square metre is ~£7,500.

10,247 sq m x £7,500 = £76.9 million. To take account of the four affordable housing units, we’re rounding this down to £76 million.

Therefore, the estimated total sales value of the housing is £76 million

Office space
The application also seeks to build 3,727 sq m of office space. Based on comparable spaces in Queen’s Park and Camden we estimate an expected rental of £295/sq m.

The expected annual rental income from the office building would therefore be £1,097,000. According to commercial property estate agent Cushman & Wakefield, an office building like this could be sold for £20.5 million (based on a standard yield of 5.25%).

Total
Add together the £76 million for the housing and the £20.5 million for the office block and we get a gross development value of the site once developed of £96.5 million.

Deduct the costs

Now we need to look at the costs, which include construction costs, the developer’s profit and other costs.

Build costs
According to the BCIS (Build Cost Indexation Service) of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, an inner-London mid-height housing and office development costs about £2,750/sq m (including fees), though our research suggests this is on the high side for a development like Liddell Road.

Nevertheless, using this guide, the build cost of the 10,247 sq m of residential buildings is £28.2 million and the cost of building the 3,727 sq m of office space is £10.2 million.

To assess other building costs, we have drawn on data from bank BNP Paribas’ introduction to development economics seminar. Landscaping would cost about £1 million, infrastructure costs (roads, pipes) £5 million and a 15% contingency of £6.5 million would be normal.

Total construction costs = £50.9 million

The developer also has to make money and is allowed a 20% profit margin. For a scheme like this, we understand the margin is likely to be based on costs not sales, which gives us a figure of £10 million, but this varies from development to development and is subject to negotiation.

Two other costs can be deducted: financing and marketing costs. Interest rates are very low at the moment but at a rough estimate these would total £5 million. There are also marketing costs to sell the development (those swanky ads in the Evening Standard) generously estimated about at 5% of gross sales, so a further £5 million. Giving total ‘other’ costs of £20 million.

Total construction costs of £50.9 million + other costs of £20 million gives a grand cost total of £70.9 million.

What does this leave?

If gross sales = £96.5 million and total costs = £70.9 million, this leaves a gross residual land value of £25.6 million. This is what the council might expect a developer to pay for the land and what will fund the school

Normally, councils try to capture some of this uplift and get developers to include extra affordable housing and section 106 agreements for community facilities. The situation here is slightly more complicated, but in simple terms, the equivalent payments as set out in the planning report seem to total less than £200,000 (not all are costed, so precision is difficult), which is extremely low for a development of this size. As of April, when the new Community Infrastructure Levy comes into play, a private developer would be expected to pay £2.6 million on a housing/office development like this.

This £25.6 million (£25.4 if you want to strip out £200,000 for section 106-type payments) is supposed to finance the new school on Liddell Road and leave a £1.9 million pound surplus to be invested in schools elsewhere.

What does it cost to build a school?

Camden has said it will cost £13.4 million to build the school and has acknowledged that some of that will come from the £6.7 million central government grant the council received, though have not publically said how much.

According to the BCIS, the cost of building a new primary school of more than 2,000 sq m in inner London is £1,866/sq m. This is in line with the National School delivery cost benchmarking report of June 2014, which gives a figure of £2,170/sq m.

Going with the more expensive figure would give a cost for the school, which is 2,392 sq m, of £5.2 million. It is not clear therefore, how Camden has come up with a cost of £13.4 million – more than 2.5 times the national average.

Money left over?

Even if the school does cost £13.4 million and the council decides not to use any of the £6.7 million allocated for new school places here, our calculations suggest that there would be a further £12 million left over. Deduct the £1.9 million surplus that the council states it wants to make to fund other improvements to schools in the boroughs, and there’s still £10.1 million unaccounted for.

The property expert we spoke too clarified that his view “is given as a personal opinion on the market but is not an official valuation. That said if a full valuation was commissioned from a valuation surveyor, I am sure the view would not differ and in fact they might even come up with a higher site price’.”

The NDF would very much welcome Camden pointing out anywhere where our assumptions are wrong. Clearly the build costs and the sales costs have the biggest impact on the overall numbers, so it would be very interesting to know if Camden’s figures differ significantly from the benchmarks that we have used.

thumbsdown

Locals objecting in numbers to Liddell Road plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It also states,

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

Read the full TfL response.

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

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

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

NDF Response to Liddell Road Consultation by WHampstead

School sign

Confusion over Liddell Road school admissions point

The school due to open at Liddell Road in 2016 (assuming Camden councillors vote in favour of the council-led scheme), is an extension of Kingsgate School rather than a separate school. We’ve discussed the reasons for this before. But what does this mean for the admissions point of the new split-site school?

Over the past two years, council officers have consistently indicated, according to NDF Chair James Earl, that they would like an admissions point equidistant from the two school sites. Indeed, this is what the consultation document stated in 2013.

Kingsgate school admissions policy

Logical? Yes.

Possible? Possibly not.

The fact that this problem has come to light so late in the day is yet another cause for concern in a proposal that continues to vex many locals on the grounds of building height, lack of affordable housing, and intransparent costings.

Admissions points matter because it is from these that the calculations are made regarding applications for the school. There are no catchment areas as such but admissions are based, after criteria such as a sibling already at the school, on distance from the child’s home to the admissions point measured in a straight line.

Right now, the admissions point for Kingsgate School is Kingsgate School. So far so normal. But with the extension being so far away – the best part of a mile as the child walks if not as the crow files – is that still the right place for it?

LiddellRoadwalk

An alternative would be to move the admissions point to Liddell Road. This might seem just as strange as keeping it at Kingsgate. Splitting the admissions point by age is believed to be unworkable. The most obvious options would either be to have two admissions points – one at each school – or one point inbetween the two sites. Yet according to the council, both these options could be subject to legal challenge. It seems strange that this fundamental problem is coming to light now rather than when the consultation for the school was launched more than a year ago.

Where does this leave parents wondering whether they will or won’t have a good chance of geting their child into Kingsgate School? As part of a wider consultation on school admissions (that unfortunately seems to have dropped off Camden’s revamped website), the council is asking people for their views on three options:

a) Keep the admissions point at Kingsgate
b) Move the admissions point to Liddell Road
c) Any other options that local people would like to propose

The inclusion of c) suggests that the whole proposal has been ill thought through.

A split-site school in Greenwich operates with two admissions points, with the point nearest to the child’s home used as the determining distance-based factor. However unlike the Liddell Road scheme, both Greenwich sites operate as full primary schools rather than having younger children on one site and older children on the other. Again, given the admissions problem, perhaps this setup should have been given more consideration by Camden?

Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_32

Blackout: Council redacts Liddell Road viability report

Camden council claims that it cannot reveal the costings and valuations behind its proposal for Liddell Road “in accordance with the legal advice we have received.”

This led to a farcical response to a Freedom of Information request made by former Conservative council candidate Andrew Parkinson. Andrew had asked to see the Liddell Road viability report, which many locals are keen to look at in order to understand how the council has come up with a scheme that involves an 11-storey tower block, a mere 4% affordable housing and a sizeable surplus.

Copyright issues on FOI responses are a bit confusing, so to be on the safe side, I’ve only published the appendices of the report. Appendix A is the Financial Appraisal and Appendix B is the Cost Plan.

Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_20 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_21 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_22 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_23 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_24 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_25 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_26 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_27 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_28 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_29 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_30 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_31 Liddell Road - Financial Viability Report - Redacted COPY-2_Page_32

All the numbers in the report – both in the body and the appendices have been redacted.

Andrew Parkinson said, “I personally don’t think its acceptable for the Council to entirely redact the figures in the report.”

James Earl, chairman of the Neighbourhood Development Forum, said:

“We welcome the publication of the Viability Report, which we believe should have been published with all the other documents relating to the planning application. However, the decision to redact every figure in the report is ridiculous and is an insult to the local community. This is not a private development – it is a scheme proposed by Camden Council which involves public land and public money. Local residents have a right to know about the financial position on which the proposed development is based.”

From the outset, Camden has been reluctant to show its workings. Promises to publish its survey on Liddell Road employment numbers evaporated over time, despite the council’s figures differing substantially from those cited by the businesses on the estate who were being forced to relocate.

Stephen Nathan, QC, chairman of local residents’ association WHGARA, said of the redacted report “This is absurd. Camden keep on forgetting that they are acting as a statutory planning authority.”

This latest move will do little to persuade sceptical locals that West Hampstead is getting the best deal here. A recent survey by the Neighbourhood Development Forum revealed that the broad concept for the land is popular, but the details – specifically the tall tower block and the lack of affordable housing – are far more contentious.

Liddell-Road-tower-block-from-Maygrove-Peace-Park_cropped

Only 13% of locals support Liddell Road tower

The West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum has been running a survey since the start of November to gauge locals’ reactions to the council’s proposals for Liddell Road.

In total, there were 128 responses, and the full results will be published on Monday; however West Hampstead Life has been given an exclusive preview of some of the findings.

Do you support the 11-storey tower block? Yes 13% No 87%
 

is 4% affordable housing too little (80%,), too much (7%), about right (13%)
 

Overall do you support Camden's Liddell Road proposal Yes 27% No 73%
 

James Earl, chairman of the NDF, said “The NDF will submit the results of the survey to Camden Council as part of its response to the planning application”.

Liddell Road from Maygrove Road

School, 106 flats and workspace: Liddell Road planning application is in

Liddell Road from Maygrove Road

The Liddell Road mansion block from Maygrove Road

The council’s controversial plan to build a school, flats and employment space on the Liddell Road industrial estate took a step forward on Friday when the planning applications were submitted. Yes, applications plural.

Although all the documentation that accompanies the applications is presented as a coherent set of documents, the applications themselves are split into Phase 1 (the school) and Phase 2 (the residential and employment). Given that the school is contingent on the apartments being built and sold, this seems strange. One thought is that that council expects it might run into some problems with the residential part of the plan – which is what locals have objected to most – but doesn’t want to jeopardize the start date of the school.

The final applications are to build 106 residential units, of which four are designated “affordable“: three intermediate and one social housing for a wheelchair user. These will be split across an 11-storey tower block of 40 flats and a 5-storey “mansion block” fronting Maygrove Road of 66 flats. The school will be a two-storey infant school that is an extension of Kingsgate Primary School in Kilburn, and will house 420 pupils. The employment space is a 5-storey managed workspace falling under class B1.

B1 building use is use for all or any of the following purposes:
(a) as an office other than a use within class A2 (financial and professional services),
(b) for research and development of products or processes, or
(c) for any industrial process, being a use which can be carried out in any residential area without detriment to the amenity of that area by reason of noise, vibration, smell, fumes, smoke, soot, ash, dust or grit.

Liddell Road mansion block

Liddell Road mansion block

There are a lot of documents to wade through if you want to get an overview of the scheme. As always, the Desgin & Access statement is the best place to start, but it runs to 246 pages. The appendix of views will be of particular interest to many locals. You can access all the documents from Camden’s planning website, but West Hampstead Life has merged all 246 pages together, which you can download here (large PDF file).

Locals have objected to the scale of the residential development, specifically the height of the tower block (which at an earlier consultation stage was going to be 14 storeys), and the lack of affordable housing (which was initially zero), when the council is expecting to make a £3m surplus from the development and has received a further £6.7m central government grant for schools.

There is one section of the document that many will find especially galling. After setting out a perfectly valid case for the low affordable housing quota (by Camden’s own standards, there should be ~50% affordable housing), the developers (remenber, that’s the council) then try to pass blame onto campaigners who wanted a lower tower block.

Splutter

The precise number of flats intended for the site has always been fluid. At one point it was 120, at another 100, at another, 105. We’ve now ended up with 106. Amid all the documentation, WHL has yet to unearth the viability calculations that explain precisely how the affordable housing quota has been determined. Apparently the housing market can be thanked for this sudden largesse although quite what role it has played is of course unclear. Many will also be irked by the implication above that the council would love to have had more affordable housing if it wasn’t for those pesky locals demanding a lower tower, given that the council’s original plans had no such units until locals started clamouring for them despite a bullish housing market at the time the plans were first drawn up. There are no doubt some who would like to know how many affordable units would be possible if 14-storeys had been retained in order that people could make an informed trade-off.

Liddell Road tower block from Maygrove Peace Park

Liddell Road tower block from Maygrove Peace Park

In response to the objection that such a low affordable housing quota runs contrary to Camden’s own policies on vibrant mixed communities, councillors are keen to say that the development of 156 West End Lane will deliver 50% affordable housing. It’s a bold promise they may find difficult to keep, and it is unclear how West Hampstead residents are expected to judge one application on the basis of another development, especially when the latter is not even on the drawing board after Camden “deselected” the developer last month.

Residents have also objected to the siting of the tower block at the eastern end of the site, where it most overshadows the Sidings Estate and Maygrove Peace Park. Newly-formed residents association MILAM has challenged this several times but the architects and the council have decided to retain it in the east. Their argument can be found in its extensive Q&A document. There will also be a new main access road into the development, although the existing access road will be retained.

Consultation on the applications has been extended to take account of the Christmas holidays, so anyone who wants to comment on the application has “at least” until January 30th to do so. The Neighbourhood Development Forum, whose draft plan is quoted many times in the application documents, is also running a survey to try and get as comprehensive a view as possible on locals’ thoughts. You can fill in the survey here.

Given Camden Labour’s overwhelming majority on the council, it is hard to see how this plan would be refused by the development control committee when it comes to a vote. There could still be some tweaks here and there of course, but it is a stark example of the problem in the planning system when councils are both developer and ajudicator of the same proposal.

Liddell Road tower and workspace looking east

Liddell Road tower and workspace looking east

Liddell Road mansion block from Maygrove Road artist impression

Artist’s impression of Liddell Road mansion block from Maygrove Road

Liddell Road development masterplan

Liddell Road development overview

Liddell Road colour scheme

The Liddell Road brickwork will be mostly red

View of Liddell Road from Black Path

View of Liddell Road development from the Black Path

The surprisingly large 156 Wes End Lane site

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

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

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

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

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

Darryl-Jenkins_ft

West Hampstead’s housing bubble: Deflating not bursting

If the bubble were a balloon then it hasn’t so much burst as been untied and blown around the room deflating and losing all forward momentum and energy over the last few weeks.

All of the industry heavy-weights and recent press coverage are reporting falls in asking prices and buyer demand across London; West Hampstead is no different. Rightmove has reported asking prices in London now at a virtual standstill for June and July, although it says prices are up 14% year on year. Sequence reports a month on month fall in June of 14% for new applicants whilst a Hometrack survey of Estate Agents in July tells us that house price growth in London has slowed ‘dramatically’ and is the weakest in 18 months with agents finding it “hard to push prices in the face of weakened demand”.

The Hometrack findings seem alarmist and in my opinion, simply mark the end to ‘open day frenzy’, ghost gazumping (being forced to raise your offer due to the increasing market alone) and ‘sealed bids’, which is no bad thing. It feels like the market has stopped off at the service station whilst affordability and common sense catch up.

There is no doubt however that demand has fallen significantly over the last 2 months and the question most buyers and sellers are now asking themselves is whether this is a seasonal blip or a longer term trend. The reasons for the slowdown in demand have been well documented and speculated about over the last few months; stricter lending affordability stress testing for mortgage applications introduced from the MMR, the spectre and inevitability of rising interest rates, the strong pound making London property less attractive to overseas buyers, next years’ election getting closer, press speculation over the ‘London bubble’ and strategic rhetoric from Mark Carney. All of these factors have combined to alter buyer sentiment to a ‘wait and see’ view rather than the bun fight that epitomised recent months.

There is, however, one overriding factor driving the London market and that is the supply of property and land compared to the increasing population and long-term demand, which must mean that prices will continue to rise over the long term although hopefully in a more controlled and steady way. We are anticipating a quiet summer with little or no growth in asking prices followed by a return to a more normal market in September.

In an earlier Property News this year I wondered what tools Mr Carney had available to him other than interest rates to control the UK housing market. We now have our answer and they have been very effective and imaginative tools. If we have successfully avoided the ‘boom and bust’ of previous attempts it looks like the UK housing market could be in very good hands. All we need now is to sort out the planning system.

On a separate note, I noticed that soon after the last Property News ‘Build high or fiddle while Rome burns’ Camden Council has announced plans for a 14-storey tower block at the Liddell Road site. I was surprised at the amount of objection to this proposal. A much needed development that provides a school and one- and two-bed flats close to transport links at no cost to the taxpayer seems like a good idea for West Hampstead. Surely, it is only with the increase in supply of new homes that we can hope to make London affordable for future generations of key workers? Light industrial sites close to railways make ideal sites to build high with the least impact on surrounding conservation areas or green belt land further out.

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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View from the park

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

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

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

View from the park

View from Maygrove Peace Park looking east

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liddell Road plan_July 2014_ft

Bluffers Guide to Liddell Road

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

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

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

Who owns the land?
Camden council.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Item 9 Appendix E Primary School Places Planning Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

Item 9 Appendix E Primary School Places Planning Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phil_Rosenberg_council

Liddell Road raised in council meeting

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

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

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

The surprisingly large 156 Wes End Lane site

Affordable housing for 156 West End Lane

The surprisingly large 156 West End Lane site

The surprisingly large 156 West End Lane site

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

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

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

50 percent tweet

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

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

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

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

Revised Liddell Road plan with 14-storey tower block

Revised Liddell Road plan with 14-storey tower block

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

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

TravisPerkins

Still empty above the ground floor

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

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

What’s “affordable”?

Affordable housing should:

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

Three types of affordable housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it mean on the ground?

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

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

Further reading

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

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

Liddell Road plan_July 2014_ft

Camden plans 14-storey tower block for Liddell Road

Liddell Road plan_July 2014

The redevelopment of Liddell Road is a cornerstone of Camden’s plans for West Hampstead. The site is presently occupied by a dwindling number of businesses. Dwindling because Camden, which owns the land, has already begun to terminate their leases and they are trying to find alternative premises.

Liddell Road is slated to be the site for a new local authority primary school opening in September 2016. Technically, this is an expansion of Kingsgate School – although it’s very much a satellite expansion as the two sites are almost a mile apart.

To pay for this school, cash-strapped Camden is planning to build residential flats for private sale on the site alongside an office block. The original plan has been revised and the bulk of the 105 flats will be in a 14-storey high building as well as lower-rise units. That’s higher than the tallest Ballymore block at West Hampstead Square. There is also criticism that Camden has been awarded £6m in central government funding for school building and plans to make a £3m profit from the development, but all that money is to be spent elsewhere rather than some (or all) of it being used to enable some affordable housing in the Liddell Road scheme.

Camden’s quota for affordable housing in any private development is 50% of floorspace. This is rarely met in reality, but many will find it hard to swallow that a development led by the council itself has absolutely no affordable housing whatsoever. It should put more pressure on the development of 156 West End Lane to deliver at or even over quota if West Hampstead is to remain an even slightly mixed community and not become a neighbourhood dominated by two-bed flats of affluent young professionals.

The original proposals was for commercial space for around 130 jobs, which has been raised to 160. This is now being mooted as flexible office space for fast growing small busineses.

School places
The West Hampstead International School – a campaign for an enormous primary/secondary free school – would like the Liddell Road site for its school, and a new free school called Kilburn Grange free school already has Department for Education approval.

It plans to move into the former College of North West London on Priory Park Road in Kilburn once the Marylebone Boys free school, which opens there this September, moves to its permanent home in Paddington a year later. It will offer 420 places, which is precisely the number of primary places locally that are needed. Interestingly, both its consultation meetings are being held in Kingsgate Community Centre, the Camden side of Kilburn, and firmly within the catchment of any expanded Kingsgate School.

Would this mean that the Kingsgate expansion school is still needed? Would it mean that the primary school component of the West Hampstead International School was still needed? To move from too few primary places to too many – and all at the cost of the tallest tower block in West Hampstead – would seem perverse.

Find out more
There are meetings about this (of course). Next week there are public drop-in events
Tuesday July 15th
9am-12pm Sidings Community Centre, 150 Brassey Road
1pm-4pm West Hampstead Community Centre, 17 Dornfell Street
6.30pm-8.30pm Sidings Community Centre
Wednesday 16 July
5pm-8pm West Hampstead library.

The big meeting though is on July 22nd from 7-9pm when there’s a “Devlopment Management Forum” at Sidings Community Centre. If you’re interested in this – for, against, or want to know more – this is the place to come. For more info on the proposal, Camden has a dedicated page.

Dr Clare Craig submits the free school application to the DfE

Schools: What the parties say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Clare Craig submits the free school application to the DfE

Dr Clare Craig submits the free school application to the DfE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where might a secondary school go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

WestHampsteadInternationalSchool_ClareCraig

Free school group targets Liddell Road

The free school campaign is making waves again. Make that free schools. Plural. Having struggled to get much traction in the latter half of 2013, the NW6 Free School group has re-emerged with a new name, a shiny website and a mildly controversial claim that Liddell Road would be the ideal site for its schools – a primary and secondary.

A school on Liddell Road? Doesn’t that sound vaguely familiar?

At the moment, Camden is planning to build its own state primary school on the Liddell Road industrial estate. It’s an extension to Kingsgate School and would house kids from 3-7 (the existing Kingsgate site would house the 7-11 year-olds).

To pay for this, the council plans to sell off the rest of the land at Liddell Road for 120 flats and some commercial space. Despite broad acceptance of the need for more primary places, there have been many objections to this overall proposal and to the way in which the decision has been made.

Dr Clare Craig, the public face of the free schools campaign, argues that the site should be used to house its schools instead of Camden’s. Originally, the free school campaign wanted a secondary school only. The plan to include a primary school as well began before Christmas. Dr Craig: “We realised that the Department for Education want to see that free school groups are addressing the needs of their whole community and we would be failing to do that if we didn’t have a primary offer too.”

The campaign, now operating under its new name of “The West Hampstead International School”, has also brought its schedule nearer with an ambition to open in 2015 rather than 2016 as originally proposed. This would mean opening a year ahead of Camden’s own proposal.

The school(s) would have a two-form primary school entry and a six-form secondary entry. To get government backing, the Department for Eduction apparently likes to see evidence that there’s twice as much interest in a new school as places. This means the campaigners need 120 signatures from parents of children starting reception in each of the first two years, and more than 300 for those starting Year 7 in those years. In other words, around 850 parents have to sign up. As of the start of this week, the campaign had more than 200, although apparently not all of the right age.

If the campaign fail to get enough signatories by the start of May, the 2015 opening date will be impossible to meet and they will revert to 2016, given them more time to collect support. Even now, opening two schools within 18 months with no site allocated and no buildings up seems like an extremely tall order.

It’s hard to imagine Camden, which owns the Liddell Road site, deciding to reverse its decision and allow a free school to open there, even if the campaign could muster the support it needs.

Dr Craig has said that the group is looking at two other sites, which are privately owned. Apparently, she is not allowed to reveal where the sites are until after negotiations. There are not many options in the area though – there’s always idle chatter about using 156 West End Lane (Travis Perkins) for schooling, but there are practical difficulties and it seems unlikely it would be redeveloped in time anyway. The other options might be down Blackburn Road.

Free school agnostics might see the primary school option as a way of removing the problem of a split-site Kingsgate school. But are there enough of them with children of exactly right age? To give some context, the 2011 census counted 3,279 children aged 0-15 in West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. No wonder then that, while the free school is choosing to have “most of our admissions” based on a fairly tight catchment area, there will also be places “allocated by lottery” for anyone living within two miles.

The group is holding a series of public meetings to explain more about its proposals. The next one is Monday Feb 10th in the synagogue community hall. The other two in West Hampstead are on March 1st and March 11th.

Liddell Road sign

One afternoon on Liddell Road

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

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

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

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

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

“C11?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark McKenna, Dynergy

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

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

Vicki Culverhouse, Curtain Concepts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liddell Road sign

Liddell Road: Show your workings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do the local councillors want to see happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Core Strategy document continues:

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

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

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

Camden – please show your workings.

TheoBlackwell

Camden responds to Liddell Road criticism

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

Here are his thoughts on the matter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cllr Theo Blackwell

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

PhilJones

Liddell Road – how the night unfolded

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

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

Cllr Phil Jones
LiddellRoadplan

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

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

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

Let me take you back.

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

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

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

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

done the maths?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LiddellRoadwalk

Kingsgate school expands… a mile away

While debate rages on whether we need a new secondary school in the area, younger children are almost certainly getting a “new school”. Why the quote marks? Well, it’s not technically a new school, because that would add to the bureaucratic hoops – it’s going to be an extension to Kingsgate School, only it probably won’t be anywhere near Kingsgate’s existing premises.

The plan has been floating around for some time – Camden agreed to the idea in July 2012 – but this week we moved into the consultation phase. This might seem like a no-brainer. Population projections predict demand; Kingsgate – deemed to be outstanding by OFSTED – is already bursting at the seams, so lets build a new school.

Kingsgate has two classes for each year group (60 children). The expansion will allow it to double that to 120 children. They’ll be split across the sites by age. The new site will teach 360 kids aged 4-7, and provide nursery places for 52 children aged 3-4. The existing Kingsgate site will teach the 8-11 year olds

Where?
Camden has identified Liddell Road as its preferred site for a new school. Where’s that, you ask. It’s the light industrial estate just off Maygrove Road that you may have walked past but have almost certainly never walked into unless you work in one of the businesses there.

LiddellRoadwalk

How’s it funded?
Here’s the bit that’s going to cause more challenges. To fund the school, the council also needs to build 100 homes on the site. Yep. 100 more homes coming to West Hampstead. The local businesses that are already there? They’ll have to move out. There’ll be some “employment space” as part of the development, but as we’ve seen with Handrail House on Maygrove Road, it’s not always easy to lure in office-based businesses to the area.

LiddellRoadplan

Confusingly, in what seems like a Kafkaesque move, there will be two consultations and two separate proposals. The first, running now, is for the school. The second will come next year and will be for the rest of the development. But the two are inextricably linked, so it’s hard to imagine that if the school is given the go-ahead that the rest of the development wouldn’t be a done deal.

There are lots of questions that need to be addressed: Will the developments around the new school will be right for the area? What’s the catchment area of the new dual-site school to be? Will the housing be affordable to ordinary people, or will it be sold off to investors as looks to be happening at West Hampstead Square? Will the employment space be designated as office only, or will workshops and studios be allowed in (for which there does appear to be some demand)? How will parents with children at both sites manage? Will it increase traffic?

An integrated plan would surely make more sense and then residents could discuss how the whole thing might work. I don’t get the sense that too many people object to the idea of a new primary school, nor especially to the location, but there are a lot of other considerations if this is to be a successful development.

Assuming the Neighbourhood Development Plan is ratified in the referendum next year, this will be the first major development over which it will have some influence. It will be an interesting test case as this development touches on housing, the local economy, public services, green spaces and transport. If Camden rides roughshod over NDP policies, it will serve notice to any developer that “Localism” is merely a sop to the community rather than something with statutory teeth.

What’s the timeframe?
The school consultation runs from now to October 15th. The results will be presented as part of a business case report to Camden cabinet in December. The separate consultation on the design for the redevelopment of Liddell Road will take place in 2014 as part of the planning application process assuming the school is approved.

In early 2015, the school will consult on any changes to its admissions policy in January and February, with the policy being determined in April 15. Businesses will have left the site (vacant possession) and the works will start, running through to the summer of 2016. The new school would open at the start of the 2016/17 school year.

To respond to the consultation, and find out a bit more information, head to Camden’s dedicated webpage or download the leaflet.