Posts

Getting down and dirty on Kilburn High Road

Amid all the grumbling about filth on West End Lane, it’s always worth casting an eye elsewhere to see whether we can learn from others. Or to put our own woes into perspective. Recently, there have been some despairing tweets about the clutter, litter and, general grime on Kilburn High Road (this includes responses from one of the local councillors). We went to take a closer look down the Camden side of the road.

We started up by the railway bridge near the junction with Maygrove Road. And it didn’t take long to see the first of many (illegal) A-boards. At this point I’m going to introduce the word “curtilage“. This means the defined area of a property’s land. Within your curtilage you can do what you want (within reason) – build a deck, put out goods or an A-board etc.. Beyond is the public highway and you cannot do what you want, whether it’s within reason or not.

If the public highway is narrow then it is particularly important to keep it clear for pedestrian flow, buggies, wheelchairs and so on. It is the council’s responsibility to enforce that it is kept clear.

A-board

Further down, more A-boards appearing and furniture for sale.

More A-boards

It gets worse along the really narrow stretch of pavement from 334 to 328 ; although most of the businesses have built out on their curtilage they then obstruct the remaining narrow pavement with A-boards and allow their chairs to spill off their land (and bins too). Adding to the confusion of where responsibility lies, this stretch is actually part of West Hampstead ward, not Kilburn.

Clutter

And they've even pinned an ad to the tree...

There is even an ad pinned to the tree…

A bit further on we come to the Hilal Food Centre.  It’s a popular store – I shop there too – but it still has to obey the same planning rules as everyone else. It has ‘allegedly’ spread way over it’s curtilage and keeps creeping forward across the public highway. Their gain at our loss.

Hilal2Next up is popular pizza joint Quartieri, which had tested the limit by putting out chairs on the pavement and an A-board. However, it was slapped down pretty quickly and with a reputation to keep has been playing by rules since then.

The Black Lion has been around for longer than most businesses on the High Road. It has a nice outdoor space at the side – on its own curtilage – but has recently started putting out chairs and tables on the public pavement. Without planning permission, apparently. The pavement here is wide enough to take it, but it still needs permission guys.

BlackLion

Next up, another pub. The Sir Colin Campbell has tables outside too, but – and here’s the important bit – these are on its own curtilage. And the A-boards are on it too. Cheers to the SCC for being a responsible business.

ColinCampbell

I have spared you yet more photos of fly tipping thus far – there was certainly plenty of it, but at this point we reached a particularly egregious case, some of which appeared to have come from the other side of the road. Why did the fly-tipper cross the road? Because enforcement is tougher on the Brent side.

Cllr John Duffy, a Labour Councillor in Brent, ensures that fly-tipping (and planning breaches) are dealt with and followed up. This doesn’t seem to happen as effectively on the Camden side of the road, although the local councillors tweet the tweet!

Fly-tip

Credit where it’s due

Camden can however take credit for the physical state of the pavements and for the state of the road. Any cycling readers will know that the northern end of Kilburn High Road is in a terrible state, with potholes big enough to cause an accident. But once you pass Quex Road, the surface improves and it’s fine from then on. The reason: in an effort to do some of that famed joined-up thinking, Camden is responsible for the road on the lower section below Willesden Lane and Brent for the upper section.  Camden has met its responsibilities, while the potholes suggest Brent has not.

Pothole number one (of many)

Pothole number one (of many)

And pothole number two.

And pothole number two.

The road surface is vastly better south of Quex Road

The road surface is vastly better south of Quex Road

There is a noticeable difference in the pavements too. On what I understand is the part Brent is responsible for, but in ‘Camden’, there clearly potential trip hazards. WHL checked with Camden on this as it sounds a bit odd and even they weren’t sure.

Clearly a trip hazard. Damages in case of injury would be a lot more than 10p!

Clearly a trip hazard. Damages in case of injury would be a lot more than 10p!

Kilburn High Road marks the boundary between Camden and Kilburn (with Westminster and Barnet also getting involved at the southern and northern ends) and somewhere that’s on the periphery for all councils is always likely to struggle to get the attention of borough heartlands. There are added complications that even within one borough, the road passes through multiple wards, but that shouldn’t have an impact on enforcement.

Aside from aesthetics, why should this be of such a concern? For a start there’s the ‘broken windows‘ theory (general deterioration leads to bigger problems), and certainly the deterioration of our streets has coincided with a rise in crime. And as if that wasn’t enough, living in a cleaner more pleasant environment is less stressful, which given that Camden has some of the highest rates of mental illness across the country – with almost 50,000 adults in Camden experiencing anxiety and depression (20% higher than national levels), would be one more reason to strive for cleaner streets and a decent public realm.

Finally, WHL has been getting flack from local Labour activists about the number of tweets on the state of our local streets (don’t worry we get flack from the Tories too, about different issues – so we must be doing something right). They have said we should mention the Clean Camden App, and this we are happy to do. Just done it. WHL is a regular user but there are some things it can’t do (e.g. report those broken flagstones, or bins left on the pavement). Nor have we heard from Camden about how effective it is. In a nutshell – to paraphrase a former Prime Minister; we need to not only be tough on grime, but tough on the causes of grime.

156 West End Lane proposal gets green light

156 West End Lane latest plans. Image via Design and Access Statement

156 West End Lane latest plans. Image via Design and Access Statement

After a lengthy debate in the council chamber on Thursday, the Labour-dominated planning committee voted 11-2 in favour of the proposed development of 156 West End Lane – the Travis Perkins building. The plan is for 164 residential units along with some retail, office and community space.

Four of our local councillors sit on the committee: Labour’s Phil Rosenberg and James Yarde from West Hampstead, and Richard Olszewski (Lab) and Flick Rea (LibDem) from Fortune Green. Flick had already stood down from the committee for this decision so that she could speak against it. The other three stated before the meeting that they were going in with “an open mind”.  In the end, Phil voted against, the other two in favour.

Camden’s planning department and the planning committee clearly have difficult decisions to make. However, when Camden is both judge and jury for applications on its own sites, as in this case, it is always hard to shake the belief that more transparency, more frankness and less spin would help get better outcomes. The full planning officer’s report is here (PDF, 15Mb download). The recommendation was to accept the proposal.

The meeting began with statements for and against the development and in a rare development, the three opposing speakers were given two minutes each rather than the five minutes collectively that is usually allowed. Yes, a whole extra minute to fight their corner!

First was Joseph Black of does-what-it-says-on-the-tin ‘Stop the Blocks’ campaign. Unfortunately, he ran out of time partly due to a technical problem with his presentation. Their objections covered a wide range of issues, from the height and mass of the buildings and resulting overshadowing, to the segregation of the development, to potential danger from the new access road. He was followed by Larry Trachtenberg, chair of the Crediton Hill residents association, who talked about the negative impact on the conservation area. Finally there was an employee from Travis Perkins who saw her job in jeopardy.

Cllr Flick Rea went next – as a councillor she is exempt from the two minute rule. She has extensive planning experience and knows West Hampstead very well. In a passionate speech she pointed out that there were more than 600 written objections to the plans, which is exceptionally high for any application. She objected to the proposed development’s impact on the conservation area, to its blockiness, to the possible danger from the access road and to the detrimental impact on the village atmosphere of West Hampstead. Finally, she got one of the few laughs of the evening by saying it ‘looks like one of the worst excesses of East Croydon town centre’. Commitee chair, Cllr Heather Johnson tried to cut off but, being made of sterner stuff, Flick managed to get her conclusion in.

These statements were followed by questions from councillors on different aspects of the proposal;

  • Jobs: The development will include 1093m2 of employment space (half affordable for start-up units and half normal office space) and 793m2 of retail space. Planning officers argued this would create 108 new jobs overall.
  • Design: Cllr Andrew Marshall raised concerns on the brick colour (and he’s right to worry).  Cllr Sue Vincent asked why the building height didn’t fall in line with the sloping land.
  • Density: Cllr Richard Cotton asked how this proposal compared to the London guidelines, and was told that at 788 habitable rooms/hectare it exceeded the 700/ha. guidelines, although this is commonly the case.
  • Overshadowing: Yes, councillors were told, the outdoor games area will be in shadow on summer afternoons, but not enough to breach any guidelines.
  • Vehicle access: The planning and transport officers argued there would be fewer entrances/exits than there are with the current builders’ yard and that it would be safe.
  • Impact on local transport: Cllr Rosenberg asked about the impact of additional users of local transport.  The officer said that the effect would be small, and they couldn’t allocate any money directly from the development to help.
  • Community space: The development will have a 63m2 room available to the community, “because there is a shortage in West Hampstead.” As our recent article showed there are nearly 30 other community spaces for hire in the area. The new room could work well but, the costs will have to be covered and these have not been specified.

Perhaps the most contentious issue is that of affordable housing. This was discussed, though some councillors seemed to have a shaky grasp of this key but undoubtedly complicated topic. Since April last year, Camden’s strategy has been for so-called “affordable housing” to be affordable-rented and not shared-ownership. Yet this application still includes ‘shared ownership’ units in order to meet the 50% affordable housing target that the council had set itself. How rich must you be to afford shared ownership? We explore this more in this related article.

After so much discussion – two hours, your slightly stiff-necked correspondent can confirm – the vote came and went in a matter of seconds. The result was not a surprise. Ten councillors in favour, including Yarde and Olszewski, and two against – Rosenberg and Cotton. Although local Tory activists were noisily opposed to the scheme, the two Conservative councillors on the committee, Cllr Marshall and Cllr Roger Freeman voted to approve the scheme. You can watch the whole glorious event unfold here or in the video embedded at the end of this article.

Vote on 156 West End Lane

Vote on 156 West End Lane. Cllrs Rosenberg, bottom left, and Cotton (2nd row right) voted against. Chair Heather Johnson (not pictured) voted in favour. 

Despite the lengthy debate, there was little mention of how to spend the community infrastructure levy (CIL) that the developers will pay in order to help West Hampstead cope with the impact of the development. There is a curious disconnect between the political push to impose yet another another development on West Hampstead, and the lack of any similar push to ensure there is masterplanning and spending of CIL to make day-to-day improvements so these developments can be absorbed successfully.

There was also little mention of the NDF, despite this being the first major development to be tested since the neighbourhood plan was approved. And the NDF was behind much of the push to improve the development, though the group still opposed the final version of the plan. Perhaps, the council could turn to the NDF to help with a significant role in masterplanning and that CIL spending.

Now we wait for the timetable for demolition and building, and yet more works traffic on West End Lane.

New light is shone on 156 West End Lane’s shadows

Camden has received new daylight and light impact studies for 156 West End Lane. ‘Hang on’, you’re thinking – didn’t it already have them?

Well, yes. But, no. But, yes. Daylight studies were originally submitted with the planning application last November for the building itself and another set on its impact on neighbouring properties, plus another set in December 2015. After the design was revised slightly in June there was yet another set. These were produced by the imaginatively named ‘Right to Light consultants’ on behalf of John Rowan and partners, advisors to A2Dominion.

The reports concluded that impact on daylighyt of the development was acceptable. However, local campaign group Stop the Blocks pointed out discrepancies in the light studies and the impact on buildings/windows that could affect the ‘right to light’ of neighbouring residents. The group asked Camden to request independent advisors to report and check. Another firm – Anstey Horne was commissioned to review the figures.

Anstey Horne made a few observations, including that the existing site is underdeveloped and has higher light levels than one would expect for an urban site; that the western side matches surrounding developments so its impact should be accepted ‘flexibly’ but this holds less true for the impact of the eastern building. Despite also wondering why there was no 3D study, which would have helped explain the impact, the conclusion was that the impact of the proposed development was acceptable.

People who work in the field say that Anstey Horne has a good reputation and has to provide unbiased and factually correct information – otherwise it would be liable to a lawsuit.

Want to know more about right to light? Read on…

In effect, the owner of a building with windows that have had natural daylight for 20 years or more is entitled to object to any building that would deprive him or her of that illumination. To objectively measure any loss of light, developers use two measures from BRE (Buildings Research Establishment) guidelines: the vertical sky component (VSC) and, as a backup, the average daylight factor (ADF).

If the VSC with the new development in place, is both less than 27% and less than 0.8 times its former value, the occupants of the existing building will notice the reduction in the amount of skylight”.

Likewise, the ADF “should be 5% for a well-lit daylight space but at a minimum 2% for a partly-lit daylight space”.

According to Right to Light, who did the original studies for 156, 93% of the 391 windows studied passed the VSC test. Of the 29 windows that failed, 11 were secondary windows (i.e. there was another window in the same room, so overall there was enough light. Of the 18 windows that were the sole windows to rooms facing the development, it depends what the room is used for as to how critical it is. Bedrooms have lower light requirements than living rooms or kitchens. Having guessed at the use of most rooms, where it was not clear, Right to Light maintains that most of these will meet the ADF requirement.

From a ‘right to light’ perspective, although there will be an impact, “It is therefore considered, that when applying the BRE Guidelines the proposed development will not have a material impact to the light amenity of this property”.

Stop the Blocks also raised concerns about the impact on the MUGA (sports pitch). The reports accept that there would be an impact but “we […] remain of the opinion that the proposed development creates an acceptable level of overshadowing on the adjacent MUGA space”.

Shadow analysis of the MUGA between 156 WEL and Crown Close play area

Shadow analysis of the MUGA between 156 WEL and Crown Close play area

Alice House decked by planning decision

Popular West Hampstead bar, The Alice House, has fallen foul of Camden’s planners who have refused retrospective planning permission for its outside decking. The Alice House bookends a run of outside seating spaces along that stretch of West End Lane, which includes One Bourbon and The Black Lion. Together, many locals feel they make an attractive ‘active frontage’ that brings life to West End Lane.

Decking appears to be within the frontage.

Decking in question, it appears to be within the frontage.

Cllr Flick Rea, who has long experience of planning issues in the area, was surprised at the decision, particularly when there have been so many other blatant breaches of planning policy elsewhere in our area. However, many other similiar decking areas have been in place for more than four years, which means they become automatically approved.

For example, The Petit Corée at 98 West End Lane has a raised platform that is more than four years old (pre-dating the existing business) and is therefore immune from prosecution. It also has a boundary fence that was lowered to below 1 metre, which is the maximum height allowed before permission is required. At the other end of West End Lane, Schnitzel has also had decking in place for more than four years and again no enforcement action was taken. Its fence is marginally higher than 1 metre, but it was not deemed expedient to pursue the matter. GBK, The Black Lion and Thunderbird (when it was La Smorfia) all applied for permission to retain or alter their outside decking areas and all were granted.

Hang on, you may be saying, the decking at The Alice House has been there for more than four years. True. There has been a decked space outside the building for many years, certainly before ULG, the current owners, took over the site back in 2008. However, it is the improvements made over the past couple of years that have caused the problem.

Alice and her problematic timber perimeter!

Alice and her problematic timber perimeter!

Originally, the decking was separated from the pavement by just a rope barrier. Then, when the decking needed some repair work, the company though it would be a good opportunity to replace the rope barrier with something more fixed and incorporate some built-in seating. This has proved popular with customers, but not with Camden. The Alice House saw these as minor changes to existing decking so it didn’t occur to the owners to seek planning permission.

However, when a local resident alerted Camden to a string of planning breaches on West End Lane, including The Alice House, the planners suggested that the bar submit a retrospective planning application, which it did. Only one person objected during the consultation, arguing that the decking made the pavement too narrow – specifically for two buggies to pass each other. It is true that the pavement is narrow at this spot, though no narrower than elsewhere along this stretch.

In fact, the precise boundaries of the public highway are not clear: the planning officer’s report states that the decking is on the public highway according to the Land Registry, but it actually seems to be within the line of the pavement along that stretch of West End Lane (as the photo below, taken from the application, shows), and ULG has a map from 1999 that implies the forecourt area is part of the property.

The decking appears to follow the line of the forecourt of the residential block to the north

The decking appears to follow the line of the forecourt of the residential block to the north

Camden’s objections to the decked area are that “by virtue of their siting on the public highway, [it] reduces the width and function of the pavement” and that “by reason of their size, siting and design, create a dominant and incongruous feature in a prominent corner location resulting in harm to the character and appearance of the host building”.

Camden has described the distinctive corner building as “an important site, identified as a positive contributor in the West End Lane Conservation Area”. In its more detailed report, it is the timber walls that appear to be the major issue:

“The [surrounding perimeter timber enclosures] form a solid boundary which, in terms of overall bulk, extent and materials, are considered to overwhelm the host property and streetscene and are not sympathetic to the general character of the Conservation Area. At 4.8 metres at its deepest point, it protrudes well beyond the front elevation and is perceived as an obtrusive, out of scale addition to the property. It is accepted that the decking in itself is similar to many others in the locality, it extends no further than adjoining boundary walls, and it adjoins to the north a series of front gardens enclosed by low walls and retail forecourts with decking. However the combination of both the raised decking and the surrounding wall-like enclosures form a bulky and overbearing structure and cumulatively cause harm to the streetscene, particularly at this prominent corner location.”

Camden proposed that the bar remove the planters (which are more than 1 metre high), and reduce both the height and depth of the decking, though offered no guarantees that this would result in permission being granted. Camden also wants to charge The Alice House a substantial sum, believed to run to thousands of pounds, as a table and chair fee, again claiming the decking is on the public highway. The Alice House in turn has proposed turning the clock back and reinstating the rope-barrier arrangement, which would have been automatically allowed under the four-year rule.

Should ULG have been aware of the planning regulations on this? Camden’s planning website lists common issues for which businesses need planning permission, which include change of use, shop fronts and canopies but nothing about decking.

The Alice House is at pains to point out that it is trying to work with Camden to resolve this, and as a long-standing business in the area it wants to do the best for West Hampstead. Its advisors have suggested that it appeals the decision, which it intends to do. It would seem that much hinges on whether the space is or is not part of the public highway.

And on Twitter, people have been voicing their support for The Alice House.

What do you think? Is The Alice House being made an example of compared to some other less popular and possibly more egregious flouting of planning guidelines? Or is it right that planners try and uphold their own policies wherever possible?

What will the redeveloped O2 carpark look like in ten years?

Anwer: “No idea”. But a Neighbourhood Development Forum/Camden Council growth area workshop held on Saturday began to think about it. A masterplan for this was one of the recommendations of the Neighbourhood Plan.

If you asked the 30 or so residents, councillors, Camden planners and others who turned out on a dull Saturday afternoon if the workshop was worth it, the answer would most likely be yes. It is easy to be cynical and it is clear that the process should have started earlier, but like it or not much of planning is governed by policies and ‘site allocations’, so having an input into those can pay dividends.

The first question to deal with is whether the growth area should have a masterplanning ‘strategy’, a ‘framework’ or ‘guidance’? Less a question of semantics, and more of pragmatism: there is a trade-off between them in terms of their degree of influence versus time taken to prepare. A strategy takes time but has more influence, guidance is quicker but has less weight.

David Morrissey from Camden’s urban regeneration and place team gave a really useful presentation of background information. The growth area is, according to the London plan, due to provide 800 new homes and 100 jobs; the Camden plan has similar but slightly higher targets of 1,000 homes and 7,000 m2 of business space (which would be more than 100 jobs).  Development at Ballymore (198 units) and potentially 156 West End ( 164 units), plus the student housing on Blackburn Road already takes us a long way towards meeting these targets.

Analysis of the existing area

Analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of West End Lane by the stations and down towards Blackburn Road

Camden’s population is forecast to grow from 241,000 to 261,000 from 2010 to 2030 (an 8% increase) which will need 16,000+ new homes. There five growth in Camden, the largest is round Kings Cross, within the five Camden need to develop at least 7,200 homes by 2030, although they project they estimate they will develop slightly more than that, at around 8,000.

More than 5,000 of the 16,000 homes are supposed to be ‘affordable’ and there was a good discussion on what this actually means. Apparently Barrett has stopped work on its nearby Kidderpore Green scheme because it isn’t making sales, so even expensive private housing doesn’t seem to be affordable!

As for other parameters, David talked about how transport was a key factor, but was convincing that Camden was at least considering this. The much debated school capacity is predicted to be broadly ok, although a crunch for secondary places could hit in the early 2020s. Health facility provision seems to be more uncertain due to changes in the NHS, which takes a less strategic approach than it did.

We then looked at the issue of density and the London plan matrix (link). Developments close to the tube station are ‘supposed’ to be up to 700 habitable rooms per hectare. Ballymore, Liddell Road and 156 West End Lane are all just above that, but the recently approved 317 Finchley Road (ten storeys) is over 900!

Within the growth area, there is scope for development along Blackburn Road (the Builders Depot site and the Accurist building) but the most significant remaining development site in the growth is the O2 centre car park. Between the two are the Audi and VW showrooms, sites not currently ‘allocated’ but within the growth area.

Groups around four tables then looked at options for the sites; improvements that could happen even if nothing was developed, development of ‘allocated sites’, development of those plus the car showrooms and finally the previous option with additional decking over the railway lines.

Let’s be clear – it will not be an easy site to develop, the O2 carpark will have to remain open for customers of Sainsbury’s and other users of the O2 centre and there are at least three landowners involved. But, development is not impossible either.

Discussing options

Discussing options

Each group came up with interesting suggestions and perspectives. The “zero development” group  suggested that a landscape architect/urban designer could be commissioned to develop a plan for between the West Hampstead stations, incorporating both big and small improvements, e.g., better planting on the platforms would be a small difference but one that affects the day-to-day experience of local residents. Improved access to the tube station(s) was a consistent theme, as was improving the pedestrian experience to the O2 as it was uninviting by Homebase and peters out into the O2 carpark.

The next group noted that the O2 offers only a “backdoor entrance” to West Hampstead, and suggested the whole site could be ‘greened’ up.  The third group suggested that including the car showrooms in the development would allow the path/open spaces to come down the middle. The final group was not convinced that the over-track decking would be viable.

Thoughtful discussions

Thoughtful discussions

Assuming development was to happen, the groups then discussed how it could be laid out, what density it might be, what facilities and open space it might have, etc. The groups came up with three options which could be explored/combined in future workshops: one central open space, a series of smaller linear open spaces, or raising the open space on a platform (with parking underneath). The development would probably be higher on the north side and lower on the south to allow more light and to relate better to the existing surrounding buildings.  Back-of-the-envelope calculations estimated it at about 4 hectares in total, with ‘mid-rise’ development giving plenty of scope for new housing and development.

There was huge amount to cover and in some ways the workshop only scratched the surface.  Yet it was a start, the comments were thoughtful, and having contact with Camden planners was also helpful (for them and us). There is also quite a lot of useful knowledge that came out in discussions. Getting people together and first explaining the parameters before allowing them to explore options does allow good ideas (and maybe some not so good ones) to float to the surface.  There were no developers at this stage, but when they do get involved at least there will be some embryonic ideas and suggestions to show, rather than a blank slate.  The next step is to summarise the ideas and comments.  The NDF will send out copies of all the presentations and a summary, which will be publicly available.

To find out how effective the session really was? Ask again in ten years.

Have your say on the future of West Hampstead

You can’t have failed to notice that a large amount of development is going on in the area of West Hampstead around the three stations.

Since it was set up in early 2012, the Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) has been lobbying for a ‘masterplan’ to be drawn up for the area – to set out how the area could be developed in future and how the needs of the area (particularly the increasing pressure on local infrastructure) are taken into account.

Camden Council has now agreed to work with the NDF to begin this work.

Good masterplanning creates better places and requires expertise in urban design, strategic planning, architecture, landscape architecture and community engagement.

The first step is a workshop (organised jointly by the NDF & Camden Council) on Saturday 12th November from 10am-4pm at Emmanuel School Hall on Mill Lane (includes a free lunch and tea/coffee). Everyone is welcome, so come and have your say.

What is your opinion? Have your say.

What is your opinion? Have your say.

We will be joined by Camden Council officers, local councillors, and planning professionals to assist in our work. Local residents with knowledge of planning/architectural issues are particularly welcome to advise and give their input on these issues.

The area has been classified as a ‘Growth Area’ by the Mayor of London – and while lots of development has already happened, more will come. The London Plan sets a target of a minimum of 800 new homes and 100 jobs between 2010 and 2031.

The area contains three main sites for development. The first (West Hampstead Square aka Ballymore) is due to be completed by the end of this year with 198 new homes. The second (156 West End Lane aka Travis Perkins site) is being sold by Camden Council to a developer and a re-consultation on the planning application is currently underway for a scheme with 164 new homes. The third remaining site is the 02 Centre car park, which is owned by the large property and development company, Land Securities.

While there are no plans for the third site at the moment, it’s clear something will happen here in the future and it won’t be a small development. There’s also the suggestion that the car park site could encompass Homebase and the neighbouring car showrooms. Such a development would also have an impact on Blackburn Road, which has a number of smaller development sites.

The Neighbourhood Plan (which was approved in a local referendum last year) sets out policy for the West Hampstead Growth Area (Policy 4) and also includes Recommendation C, which calls on Camden Council to draw up a masterplan for this area.

If you would like to know more (and/or be added to the NDF mailing list), please contact: moc.l1508469561iamg@1508469561daets1508469561pmaht1508469561sewpd1508469561n1508469561

You can find out more about the NDF on our website and follow our work on Twitter

Judgement day approaches for 156 West End Lane

The proposals for 156 West End Lane (aka Travis Perkins) roll on. Two(?), three(?) years after it was first announced, are we into the final stretch? The latest planning application has opened for comments and the deadline is 10th November.

To recap

The development is for 164 flats of which 79 are affordable (44 social rented and 35 shared ownership) and 85 are for private sale. Although less than half the flats are “affordable”, they are on average larger and thus 50% of the floorspace is deemed “affordable” (which is how the quota works). The proposal also includes 1,919m2 of employment space; 763m2 retail space, 500m2 of ‘start-up space, 63m2 of community space and 593m2 of office space.

156 West End Lane latest plans. Image via Design and Access Statement

156 West End Lane latest plans. Image via Design and Access Statement

There are copies of the latest summary of the proposals on Camden’s planning website and at the library, though the easiest way to read it is on developer’s A2Dominion website. Unfortunately, this latest summary focuses on the changes made to previous proposals, but doesn’t recap some basic issues. To understand the last round of plans, our July article may help.

Why a new proposal? The original application was submitted last November, but was put on hold because both Camden’s planning officer and the GLA (Greater London Authority) had concerns. Developer A2D has since tweaked (‘improved’) the plans and thus submitted a new application for consultation.

Three local groups have studied the application in depth. The Neighbourhood Development Forum and Stop the Blocks both oppose the proposal (click the links to read their submissions, although these relate to the original proposal. Doubtless they will comment again). WHAT, the third local amenity group, is becoming less active and has focussed its efforts on ensuring that affordable rents really are affordable (it seems they will be set at 40% of market rents). As you have may have read in the CNJ’s letter pages and on its own website, Stop the Blocks  is critical of the other two groups’ approach to the scheme.

More background information, as if wasn’t complicated enough already, is that the site is part of the West Hampstead ‘Growth Area’. This means that it is deemed capable of large scale development, primarily housing. However, the site is also adjacent to a conservation area, which any development is supposed to take into account.

How big is too big?

The single biggest issue with the proposed development is its scale. The original sales brochure for the site sums it up neatly: “The site offers the greatest potential for higher scaled development to the western frontage [West End Lane] and to the south towards the railway lines, with a transition in scale towards the more sensitive residential interface to the north [Lymington Road]”.

In other words, it’s a big plot of land that the agents felt could take a large building. It’s worth remembering that in a local survey a few years ago, the existing building was the second most unpopular in West Hampstead – a failed attempt by Camden in the 1970s to build an iconic building.

As it stands, the proposed building occupies the full frontage along West End Lane at six storeys (but the top one set back), reducing in height as it moves back from West End Lane along the railway tracks. Following the initial consultation, A2D has reduced the visual impact on West End Lane, arguing that the new design fits better with the adjacent Canterbury Mansions, although the corner tower in the final proposal looks a bit odd and is visually jarring.

A 3D view from a slightly earlier scheme as A2D haven't supplied a new one. Main difference is that east building is one storey lower.

A 3D view from a slightly earlier scheme as A2D hasn’t supplied a new one. Main difference is that east building is now one storey lower.

In the latest proposal, the developers have lowered the height of the east building by one storey to help reduce the impact from Crediton Hill and the conservation area. These are slight improvements from the first proposal, but at least one person with local experience of assessing these applications still feels the development is too ‘blocky’ along the railway tracks. Will the reduction by one floor be enough to appease the critics?

The new proposals (left) show the far eastern end is one-storey lower than the original plans (right)

The new proposals (left) show the far eastern end is one-storey lower than the original plans (right)

One way to judge whether the proposals are too dense is to benchmark the scheme against the London Plan’s guidelines. This considers the type of neighbourhood (West Hampstead qualifies as ‘urban’) and level of public transport (‘very good’). These criteria suggest a maximum density of 700 habitable rooms per hectare and up to 260 units per hectare. The current plans for 156 West End Lane have 786 habitable rooms and 288 units per hectare, suggesting that the development may be too dense.

Where did the sun go?

There is a “right to light” in planning law that often comes into play when tall buildings are being planned. In the earlier application, Stop the Blocks picked up on some discrepencies in the sunlight reports and were concerned that the outdoor games area would be overshadowed. Camden asked A2D to clarify: A2D’s consultants, John Rowan and Partners, maintain that sufficient light would still reach the buildings on Lymington Road after redevelopment. Different consultants ‘Right to Light’ Surveyors, asked specifically about the multi-use games area (MUGA), agree that although there would be increased shadows, the impact would be acceptable.

There is also an independent assessment by Anstey Horne which states both that “we consider that the overall level of adherence is good and where there are reductions beyond the BRE guidelines, the retained levels of daylight and sunlight are in-keeping for an urban setting“. And for the MUGA that “although there is some overshadowing in the afternoon by the proposed development, the MUGA area will meet/exceed the BRE guideline recommendations for sunlight availability“.

The jobs equation

Camden’s policies appear ambiguous on the issue of employment space. On the one hand the council wants to protect employment space and developments need to provide an equivalent amount of employment space to any that would be lost. On the other hand, the council wants to prioritise housing. As happened at Liddell Road, where the industrial estate was wiped out for a new school, flats and some office space, the idea of “equivalence” is vague. Camden does generally seem to be stricter with private developers (e.g., forcing the Iverson Tyres site to keep light industrial space, which has only now just been reclassified as office space after no tenants appeared), but more flexible when redeveloping its  own sites.

Currently there is 4,019m2 of employment space on site; the former council office space of 2,401m2 and retail showroom/builders merchants of 1,618m2. This will be replaced by 1,919m2 of employment space; 763m2 retail space, 500m2 of ‘start-up space, 63m2 community space and 593m2 office space.

Travis Perkins (TP), the existing employer on site, is arguing strongly that it should be allowed to remain. However, it is only a leaseholder from Camden, which has now given it notice, so it’s not clear on what legal grounds TP could insist on staying. TP also had the option to purchase the site and  redevelop it themselves, but chose not to.

There’s also some disagreement about what constitutes employment space. Camden argues that the Wickes showroom, the TP shop, and the old council offices all constitute employment space; TP wants to include the whole yard area, which would mean the current proposal falls short of maintaining the same employment space.

TP has pointed out that when it redeveloped its yard at Euston (which now has student housing on top) Camden insisted TP retained the same amount of employment space; but now Camden is redeveloping its own site it is allowing/arguing for more flexibility. Funny that.

The thorny affordable housing question

Camden required A2Dominion to ensure that 50% of the housing area was for ‘affordable’ units. We have discussed the issue of what “affordable” means before. From a developer’s perspective, A2D has to make the numbers add up. It has to pay Camden a reported £25 million for the site, build 50% affordable housing that is less profitable, and still make a normal development profit.

Overall, 79 of the 164 units are designated “affordable”: 44 social rented (at a to-be-confirmed 40% of market rent) and 35 shared ownership. Whether shared ownership truly constitutes affordable housing is another debate.

Different types of ownership proposed for 156 West End Lane (original plan)

Different types of ownership proposed for 156 West End Lane. Source: Design and Access Statement

What does it mean for West End Lane?

Sometimes, a focus on design and other issues can be at the expense of practicalities, for example the Sager building (Alfred Court) by Fortune Green was approved with an internal courtyard for commercial deliveries— but the entrance is too low for delivery trucks to enter. Yes really!

Deliveries could be an issue for 156 West End Lane too. The original plans claimed that the proposal met Department of Transport delivery criteria and would allow refuse collection and ‘small’ articulated lorries to back into the internal loading bay, but it seems tight. If, as with Alfred Court, it turns out to be impossible, then lorries would park on West End Lane and we’d have an escalation of the problems caused by Tesco lorries and more traffic chaos on West End Lane. No thank you.

As we discovered with Tesco, once deliveries start, it is nigh impossible to change them, so it is really important that this addressed at the planning approval stage and not left to be finalised later. There is also the practicalities of vehicles crossing the pavement onto West End Lane.

A serious issue hanging over 156 West End Lane is the size of the retail units. The focus on TP and employment space has led to less scrutiny of what the new commercial space will actually be. One reason the current building is so unpopular is that it is ‘dead’ frontage on West End Lane. To be successful it needs to be ‘active’ frontage, but another large unit on the scale of Wickes would not be much better.

Dull frontage on West End Lane - new development can, and must - do better than this.

Dull frontage on West End Lane – new development can, and must – do better than this.

Of course, planning has little control over this; it can specify only that the space should be retail, it cannot dictate the size of the units. The latest plans propose a flexible retail space potentially up to 678m2. That’s supermarket size. Yet would replacing the current frontage, which is rather dull compared to the variety on the rest of West End Lane, with another uniform frontage be any improvement? Even the option of three retail units would still see three sizeable units, but this is perhaps the least worse option.

A2D has promised that as site owners, it will be a good neighbour. Yet it is probably in its financial interest to lease the retail space as one site. With three —soon to be four—supermarkets on West End Lane, does West Hampstead really need another one?

What is the impact on local amenity?

What even is “amenity”? In this case it’s both the useful facilities of a building and the impact on the “pleasantness” of an area. The proposed development will affect amenity in both good and bad ways.

Firstly, your personal taste will dictate whether you think the building itself will enhance the area. Few would argue that it is replacing an unloved building. But as we’ve seen, the impact on views and sunlight is more contentious.

The development will create a new public open space and improve the rundown Potteries path, both positive impacts. A2D is also building a new community room, though it is not clear who will bear the cost of managing it.

Finally, A2D will be required to pay CIL (the community infrastructure levy that replaces the old Section 106 money) although it is not clear exactly how much it will have to pay but the most likely scenario is that it will have to pay £250 per m2 on the 7,657m2 of market housing, which comes to £1.9 million (25% of which stays in the area) plus £25 per m2 of the commercial space. This would allow improvements to other local facilities though tracking how this money is spent is a whole other issue.

Conclusion

The plans for 156 West End Lane show, yet again, that the planning system doesn’t work effectively. London is desperately short of housing and this scheme provides both private and social housing. It is being put forward by a housing association (which is using private development profits to build more social housing). And all that seems to have got lost.

No wonder; go to Camden’s planning portal and there are now more than 400 relevant documents online for this one plan. It’s overwhelming and nigh on impossible to get a handle on them all. This is not to say that the proposals are bad, just that it’s extremely difficult to judge them in an objective way. In fact, the latest plans are an improvement on the original versions – the design is better and they are quite a bit lower. A cynic might wonder whether A2D chose to start off with the worst-case scenario and then be seen to reflect local feedback to end up with what it had in mind all along.

The situation is complicated further by the fact that the fate of this Camden-owned site will be judged by… Camden councillors. Camden’s planners do seem to have influence on the proposal – their reservations (along with those of the GLA), were why the scheme was put on ice last year. Nevertheless, there is an annoying – if understandable – lack of transparency on their discussions so we don’t know exactly what issues concerned them. Once the planning officer reaches his decision – which will be a recommendation to approve or not approve, the decision goes to a vote. Given Labour’s dominance in Camden, and this redevelopment helping fund the new council offices at Kings Cross, there seems little doubt that if the recommendation is to approve, the same verdict will follow.

There is one significant issue that could derail it. The issue of employment space that we set out above is being challenged by deep-pocketed Travis Perkins. It’s a technical planning issue, and not top of the list of local concerns, but it could still have an influence as a legal technicality.

West Hampstead is having to cope with a lot of new development, and 156 will add to that; but are we getting our fair share of the benefits? Camden’s other growth areas – which it needs to meet its housing targets – have had money spent on masterplanning, but West Hampstead has not. This means that there are a series of disjointed developments that lack coherence.

£3 million in the “Bank of West Hampstead” – but who’s managing it?

Camden has £3 million pounds to spend in the area thanks to the arcanely named “Section 106 money”. These are payments made by developers to the council and is allocated for spending in the following areas: community facilities, transport, highways, parks and open spaces, schools, apprenticeships and policy contributions. Yet, as Councillor Flick Rea eloquently stated at last week’s Area Action Group public meeting, neither she nor other local councillors have any idea how decisions are made on how this money is spent.

In an effort to shed some light on the matter, Rob Willis, Infrastructure and Growth Manager at Camden Council, came to the meeting. He handled himself reasonably well in the face of rather grumpy audience but he didn’t really have the answers. For example there was confusion between what was Fortune Green and West Hampstead, although it was agreed locally that the two wards should be seen as one area. Rob did say that the council wasn’t sitting on the money, sometimes it was waiting for matched funding and it wasn’t always clear when it would arrive.

Although even quite small developments can be forced to make s106 contributions but the bulk of the money comes from the big developments. Ballymore contributed £1.3 million, the student housing on Blackburn Road about £350,000, and the three recent developments on Iverson and Maygrove roads another £600,000, just to give some examples.

Time to spend some money on the interchange area?

Time to spend some money on the interchange area?  Pic: David Jacobs, Colour Division

Some spending has been allocated; £900,000 is going towards the Overground station, £500,000 has already been allocated to community facilities (£330,000 to Sidings, £75,000 to Kingsgate, £80,000 to WH community centre, £50,000 to Emmanuel Church and £50,000 to the Sherriff Centre). But there is no masterplan for spending the rest of the money or to provide a framework for linking developments. There is no ranking of potential beneficiary projects, little idea of how the decisions are made and scant scrutiny of how money is spent.

At the  meeting, several questions were raised:

  • There is about £250,000 unallocated money for community facilities. Could/should this be spent on the library? On the West End Lane loos under threat of closure?
  • The Iverson Road Open Space has been allocated £210,000 for improvement, but it recently had money spent on it. It’s tired and needs improvement but £210,000? Who made this decision?
  • Sumatra Road Open Space is getting £50,000 for improvement but, like Iverson, it had £50,000 spent on it only a few years ago.
  • Maygrove Peace Park, which is heavily used and surrounded by development, was promised £100,000 from the adjacent 65 Maygrove Road development, but that has somehow become just £59,000 and it won’t get it until 2019. (Again, Maygrove had £100,000 spent on it not that long agom which raises questions of maintenance).
  • There is more than £750,000 for highways and transport spending. Everyone agrees the streetscape round the interchange needs upgrading and it is an important part of the masterplanning – but will Camden consult West Hampstead residents on this?

From April 2015 this year CIL (the Community Infrastructure Levy) replaces the financial contributions of Section 106, and this money will be spent on projects identified by ward councillors. Some of these are the issues thrown up by the growth area. However, this isn’t linked with previous section 106 payments. Odd. Time for some joined up government?

First look at 156 West End Lane plans

Developer A2Dominion held two drop-in consultations this week, revealing its first plans for 156 West End Lane. The redbrick site, currently occupied by Travis Perkins, has been sold by the council as part of its Community Investment Programme to raise money.

A2Dominion 156 West End Lane _ preliminary plan

The plan is for a mixed-use development, with 202 dwellings spread across three blocks. At the moment, the developer is saying no building would exceed eight storeys. There would also be retail frontage on West End Lane, a small amount of commercial space, and improvements to the Potteries Path as well as some public green space within the site.

The existing buildings, yard and playground that form the site

The existing buildings, yard and playground that form the site

Although the developer has said it is committed to delivering 50% affordable housing on the site (as promised by Camden in light of the Liddell Road scheme), its website makes no such commitment and simply says that there would be both private and affordable housing.

The development is likely to be the first test of the Neighbourhood Development Plan. The plan is due to be voted on in a referendum on July 9th and assuming it is passed (no-one has yet launched a “No” campaign, so a rejection would be a surprise), then this site will be the first major development that must adhere to its guidelines.

In its comments on the site, the NDP says,

Any redevelopment of this site needs to provide a mixed-use development, satisfying or making an appropriate contribution to the following needs:

  • Housing, including a significant amount of affordable homes and 3 or 4 bedroom homes (see Policy 1).
  • Offices for small, micro and start-up businesses – including the possibility of serviced offices and studio space.
  • Flexible commercial and retail space that can be used for a range of employment uses.
  • Retail space on the ground floor along West End Lane, which is fitting of the character of the Town Centre (see Policy 13) and set back from the pavement.
  • The design of any new building will need to reflect the design of neighbouring buildings and the neighbouring Conservation Area (see Policies 2 & 3), including use of red brick.
  • The site shall provide an improved design relationship to the adjoining Canterbury Mansions and West End Green Conservation Area, to protect and enhance the character and appearance of the area. Therefore, the height of any new development should ensure the overall design and transition in massing achieves an appropriate relationship with neighbouring properties – and it can be demonstrated that no harm is caused to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area, its setting.
  • The provision of new green/open space to address the deficiencies outlined in the CCS.
  • The provision of space for a community meeting room for local groups and businesses.
  • Improvements to the neighbouring Potteries Path to provide a safe route for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • The investigation of opportunities for a pedestrian bridge over the railway line to the O2 Centre car park.

The ground floor of the site is currently occupied by the builders’ merchant, Travis Perkins (TP). The company has been based in the area for many years, is a significant local employer, and is keen to remain on the site. Protection for land in viable existing employment use is given in this Plan (see Policy 12) and also the CCS (CS8 & DP13).

Travis Perkins, which at one time was thought to be interested in bidding for the site itself, has sent letters to locals in an attempt to bring people on side with its campaign to retain a presence on the site. The letter argues that that it provides jobs to around 30 people and it wants to be “designed into the scheme”, retaining a presence on the site albeit in a new format, with homes alongside and above.

[update] A2Dominion has contacted WHL to tell us that, although it was not mentioned in the original plans, there is provision for a community space of approximately 60 square metres. This now appears below
Site plan
[/update]

Lymington Road residents, whose houses back onto the site, will be by far the most affected by any redevelopment of the site.

Lymington Road back gardens

The plan sites the highest parts of the buildings as far away from Lymington Road as it can, but there can be no denying that the impact will be marked – not least during the construction phase. The site does lie in the designated Growth Area, which more or less means that some substantial residential development will be granted permission here. The devil will be in the detail.

156 West End Lane building typology

In the images published so far by the developer, perhaps the most surprising ones are the projected views. Two in particular give a sense of the scale of the project:

View from Crediton Hill

View from Crediton Hill

View from Iverson Road

View from Iverson Road

A2Dominion’s ambitious timeframe has this going to Camden’s planning committee for a vote next February with construction starting in early 2017. However, these are early days and sketches at this stage can have little relation to the submittted plans.

The developer certainly needs to be much clearer about the extent of affordable housing it expects to deliver, but if this is the 50% that Camden has promised for the site, then local residents would have to expect a reasonably dense development in order to make the project financially viable. Three blocks peaking at eight storeys may not be a bad outcome, but if this scheme delivers less than 50% affordable then don’t be surprised if the developers increase the massing or height to meet that target.

You can have your say on the initial proposals here: http://www.156westendlane.co.uk/have-your-say.

“Vote Yes”: Neighbourhood Plan referendum campaign gets started

It’s now more than three years since we started work on the Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan. It’s been through eight drafts and numerous rounds of consultation.

The Plan successfully passed its independent examination in January – an important step. The examiner recommended a number of changes to the Plan, which have now been agreed between the Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) and Camden Council, as the local planning authority. The final version of Neighbourhood Plan has now been published and can be seen here.

The last stage of the process is a referendum on whether to adopt the Plan. All those on the electoral register in the area covered by the Plan, which is the two wards of West Hampstead and Fortune Green, will be able to vote. The referendum date has now been set for Thursday 9th July and the NDF committee is starting work on planning for the referendum campaign.

We’ve already agreed the designs for our referendum publicity, which you can see below. Thanks to our local graphic designer, Purni Gupta, for her work on this.

NDF_Referendum_poster

We’re now looking for help with the ‘Yes’ campaign, so if you would like to be involved in any way, please let us know.

We’re also looking for sponsorship for events and the cost of the campaign. If you are a business or individual who would like to help out financially, please get in touch!

We plan to hold several events in the run up to the campaign, including the next NDF meeting on Tuesday 12th May; a workshop on how to promote the Plan on Saturday 30th May; and a launch event to start the campaign (early June, date tbc). If you would like to be kept up to date about our work, please ask to be added to our mailing list. Our various contact details are below.

NDF_Referendum_sticker

Thanks to everyone for your support so far; we do hope you can join us in campaigning for a YES vote on 9th July!

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

moc.l1508469561iamg@1508469561daets1508469561pmaht1508469561sewpd1508469561n1508469561
www.ndpwesthampstead.org.uk
@WHampsteadNDF

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

Only one hurdle left for Neighbourhood Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Plan map

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

 

Scooter showroom fails to comply in bike parking row

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motorcycles on the forecourt and road

Motorcycles on the forecourt and road

Open for Sunday trading against regulations

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

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

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

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

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

Img_1582_600

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

West Hampstead’s Neighbourhood Plan enters final phase

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happens next?

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

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

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

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

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

Neighbourhood Plan_final draft cover

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.

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

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.

Gondar Gardens – the third appeal

The never-ending Gondar Gardens planning saga is taking its next turn.

Linden Wates, the developer, has submitted an appeal against Camden’s refusal of its revised frontage scheme for the reservoir site. This scheme is for 28 flats/houses. It was recommended for acceptance by Camden’s planning officers but refused by councillors at the planning committee on grounds of poor design. This is after the previous, similar, proposal was rejected on appeal by the Planning Inspector. Linden Wates has another proposal that it does have permission for, but which it seems reluctant to pursue at the moment.

This latest appeal will be decided by a Planning Inspector – this time on the basis of written evidence rather than at hearing. The developer, Camden, The Gondar & Agamemnon Residents Associatin (GARA) and Sarre Road residents will each submit written evidence and comments.

GARA will argue that proper application of Camden’s policies would result in the site remaining undisturbed, with open views into and across the site from the street and from neighbouring properties. However, it recognises “with deep regret”, that the loss of open space, disruption to the site, and the height and bulk of the frontage scheme have been accepted by previous planning inspectors.

GARA argues that the proposed conditions of the plan are not yet sufficient to protect and enhance our environment in the event of the planning application being accepted; and will insist on changes that will minimise construction impact, and ensure the remaining land is properly protected with residents involved in its management.

Individuals may also comment to the Inspector, quoting case ref APP/X5210/A/14/2218052 online or by e-mail to ku.vo1508469561g.isg1508469561.snip1508469561@slae1508469561ppa1508469561 or on paper (3 copies required) to The Planning Inspectorate, Room 3/19 Eagle, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Temple Quay, Bristol BS1 6PN. The deadline for comments to the inspector is 17th June 2014.

Brondesbury eruv requires West Hampstead poles

The Brondesbury Park Synagogue has put in a planning application to erect pairs of high poles connected by nylon fishing wire in West Hamsptead and Kilburn as part of a proposal to demarcate a Brondesbury “eruv”.

An eruv is the name commonly given to an demarcated area within which Orthodox Jews are permitted to do some things on the Shabbat that they otherwise would not be. Most pertinently, and generally at the heart of calls from the community to set up an eruv, it allows people with limited mobility – either due to infirmity/disability or due to having young children – to leave the house. Wheelchairs and buggies are otherwise not allowed to be used, nor can medicine such as insulin be transported and used outside the home.

The poles are largely unobtrusive, though they do inevitably stand out more in some places than others. They are typically 5.5 metres high where they have to span a road, so lorries can still pass under; those that act as pedestrian gateways are typically lower at 3 metres. This proposal has to span the Kilburn High Road near Kilburn High Road station, Mill Lane, Minster Road, West End Lane at the Iverson Road junction as well as various other points in the area. The planning application can be viewed on Camden’s website.

The planning application lets you play a “Spot the difference” game with before and after photos of each site, which shows that

Minster_Road

Minster Road (arrows added)

West End Lane poles

Poles spanning West End Lane (green by the wall, red by the building)

The topic came up a couple of years ago when there was a proposal for a Camden eruv, which would also have included West Hampstead. This Brondesbury eruv was itself mooted as far back as 2010. To non Jews, it can seem an astonishingly arcane concept, and eruvs don’t have universal support even among Jews. One of the things that some people find strange about an eruv is that it has to be physically demarcated. This can be (and largely is) done using existing walls or boundaries but where that is not possible, then tall poles are usually erected with wire strung between them. These are required for fairly complicated reasons relating to the separation of different realms and each set of poles and wires physically represents a doorway.

Map of the whole eruv (click for larger version)

Map of the whole eruv (click for larger version)

Map_WH

The detail in West Hampstead & Kilburn

It is the construction of these poles and wires that tends to bring the issue to the attention of the wider community as, in the UK at least, this requires the support of the local council. Jewish communities always pay for any work required but, unsurprisingly, non-Jewish residents can find it rather odd to have wire that has absolutely no significance for them strung up in their streets. If you’re not a religious person, then it’s really just street furniture. Eruv supporters will tend to argue that the poles and wires are very unobtrusive.

You can read a lot more about eruvs on Wikipedia, more than you probably want to know – such as that even with an eruv, you can’t open an umbrella on the Shabbat or that there appears to be a long-running debate as to whether the entire island of Manhattan is an eruv. It is precisely those sort of peculiar laws that distance orthodox followers of any religion from the mainstream – whether religous or secular.

Not all Jews automatically support the creation of an eruv. For liberal Jews it’s meaningless as they do not abide by Orthodox laws. Some also argue that it might be time to question the underlying principle. A letter sent to the Camden New Journal by a non-Orthodox Jewish resident of Hampstead suggests campaigning “for these Sabbath laws to be more flexible and take people’s individual needs into account. I would also point out that when these laws were instituted neither insulin nor wheelchairs existed.” Nor are the details of how they are created unanimously agreed on. According to the BBC, “The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) – which includes synagogues in north-west London – has claimed that there are “serious halachic (Jewish law) problems” with the North West London eruv that make it invalid.”

The planning documents are all large files, but we’ve taken the pages that refer to the West Hampstead & Kilburn locations and merged them into one document, which you can view here (or look at below if your browser supports it).

Brondesbury Eruv – the West Hampstead and Kilburn locations by WHampstead

Basement excavations top CRASH agenda

If you can’t afford to buy a bigger flat or house, what’s the next best option? To extend. If you live in a ground floor flat, then you can either go out into the garden, or down into the ground. Or both. Basement excavations are proving an incredibly popular way of gaining floorspace, but on some streets there are so many (and they are so large), that neighbours are growing increasingly concerned. On Canfield Gardens, there will be six basements in a row of nine houses if the latest one gets planning permission.

South Hampstead looks lovely from up high - but the issues lurk down below

South Hampstead looks lovely from up high – but the issues lurk down below

This will be the main topic of discussion at Tuesday night’s AGM of CRASH. CRASH is the slightly strange acronym chosen for the local residents association in South Hampstead – the conservation area between Belsize Road, Finchley Road, Broadhurst Gardens and West End Lane.

CRASH used to be moderately active up until a couple of years ago. Residents associations (bodies that the council formally recognises as representing a group of streets) often wax and wane depending on the enthusiasm and energy of their leadership. CRASH had very much waned.

Peter Symonds, chair of CRASH today, became involved when his then neigbhour – French rugby legend Thomas Castaignède – sought to excavate a basement. As a result, Symonds has since become something of an expert on basement excavations and their implications.

Aside from the impact they might have on water tables, building foundations, and the underlying geology of the area, basement excavations can also cause misery for neighbours both adjacent to and above the flat in question. Symonds points out that while the owner of the flat usually has to move out during the works, this is a cost they factor into the decision. Flats above don’t have any choice in the matter, and yet a basement excavation can go on for months, or even years.

The issue is a problem across this part of Camden. Crediton Hill Residents Association chair Larry Trachtenberg, recently suggested a moratorium on all such plans until more research into their impact had been conducted.

Frances Wheat, Camden’s head of Devleopment Control, will be speaking at CRASH’s AGM along with the relevant planing area team manager Bethany Arbery. The talk is entitled “Planning: What it’s all about and how you can get involved”, but expect the Q&A part to focus pretty heavily on that thorny basement issue.

Symonds has breathed new life into CRASH, but is very keen to get new members – not just for their £5 annual subscription, but so the group can be more representative. CRASH covers an unusually large area for a residents group, which means there are many issues besides basements that arise.

If you live in those streets and are even remotely interested in issues that affect the area, then why not sign up – it’s only a fiver! – and why not come along on Tuesday night to the Crossfield Centre on Fairhazel Gardens (roughly opposite The Arches wine bar) from 7pm. If you’re a property owner, then CRASH can help you navigate Camden planning and the conservation area restrictions, and if you’re a tenant, then you might find some good contacts for other problems such as parking, litter, overhanging foliage etc. etc.

You can read more about CRASH on its much improved website.

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

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

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

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

Photo taken April 23rd by Eugene Regis

Photo taken April 23rd by Eugene Regis

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

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

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

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

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

Here are four extracts from objections already submitted to Camden:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex McDougall, planning officer for Camden, said that the NSPC would need to present a more robust travel plan. The council had been due to decide this week, but has granted them a two week extension to gather and demonstrate local support. Professor van Deurzen is now preparing further documentation, and is appealing to local people to show their support by writing to Alex McDougall at Camden’s planning department (ku.vo1508469561g.ned1508469561mac@l1508469561laguo1508469561DcM.x1508469561elA1508469561), quoting the following reference details: 2014/1403/P – Unit 5, 63 Fortune Green Road, NW6 1DR.

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

“No change please”, say The Railway’s regulars

Yesterday afternoon, drinkers at The Railway gathered to show their support for the campaign to turn it into a community pub and upstairs venue rather than see the upper floors converted into office space and self-contained flats.

Railway_protest

Many of the regulars seemed unsure of what exactly the planned changes to the building entailed and what they would mean for the pub. However, one thing was clear as the group assembled for a photograph outside: they all love their local and don’t want to see it closed or changed.

John Brennan, who grew up in Kilburn and is a long-term West Hampstead resident, said “If the pub closes, where is the community going to go? It’s the only pub in West Hampstead with a real community spirit.”

Cathy Laing, 42, also grew up in the area and says she remembers when The Railway had sawdust on the floor. She said “I feel safe, as a woman, coming in here on my own – sometimes I just come in for a cup of tea. It gets so busy at the weekend and when there’s a big match on – why make it smaller? It would be a health hazard.”

Although Camden has already passed the planning application for this, the application to vary the licence is still out for consultation until April 23rd and can be viewed here. This would the last chance to object, although it’s hard to see what grounds there would be to object to the licensing as the hours are the same.

Could The Railway become a community pub?

Last week, Camden approved plans to convert the upper floors of The Railway pub into six flats, and to reduce the size of the pub’s floorspace by converting the raised seating area into a cycle storage facility for residents. One Railway employee has other ideas.

The Railway

The original planning application from the owners – the Spirit Pub Company – snuck in over the Christmas period and no-one objected. The pub will need to close for 18 weeks during the first phase of construction work. The facade of the building will be largely unchanged, with the developers promising to reverse some of the clumsier changes of recent years, such as the blocked up windows. All the documents can be viewed here.

The Railway, as many of you will know, has a proud musical heritage, although no mention is made of this in the planning documents. Right above the pub is an open space that was Klooks Kleek – a legendary club of the 1960s that has hosted some of the biggest names in pop & rock, including Hendrix and Clapton. After Klooks Kleek closed, the downstairs became the Moonlight Club, another successful club where bands such as Joy Division, the Stone Roses and U2, in their first ever gig outside Ireland, all played.

This first floor space will be converted into office space, with the living space above being turned into self-contained flats. It is unclear whether the pub will remain in its current guise or be turned into a gastro pub.

But what if…

Francesca Dumas, who works behind the bar at The Railway, is, for want a of a finer word, distraught. Although the venue space hasn’t been used since the mid 1990s it hasn’t been used for anything else and Francesca would like to return it to its former glory. She has a bold plan to try and raise the funds to buy the whole building. Whether the Spirit Pub Company would be willing to sell is a whole other question. There’s substantial profit to be made from the residential units as well as from the pub itself and the building of course is in a prime location in West Hampstead.

Francesca’s idea is to turn the building into a community pub – retaining the ground floor much as it is with the same style of pub, bringing the venue back into use upstairs and using the upper floors as a mix of accommodation and perhaps even a museum to commemorate the musical heritage. She admits these plans are at an early stage.

There’s a protest on Monday at 5pm, although it’s not quite clear what is being protested. Already on Twitter there’s been some talk that the pub is going to close permanently, which is not the case.

Use your phone to comment on local issues

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

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

Commonplace_map

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

commonplacephone

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

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

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

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

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

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

NDFmeetingaudience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your comments here feed directly into the consultation process

Your comments here feed directly into the consultation process

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

Last chance to speak up on local plan

The West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Plan is almost ready (it’s only the second such plan in London to reach this stage). The final draft is out for consultation now (i.e., the team wants your comments), then there’ll be a final revision before it goes first to Camden council for approval and then to a referendum later in the year.

If you want to read the whole draft, you can – it’s available here [pdf]. What I thought would be useful however, would be to look just at its six objectives and add a little bit of context.

The draft is ambitious in scope – perhaps too ambitious. Alongside the objectives are 17 policies and various recommendations. At times, the latter can read more like a wishlist than a planning document. These are the sections that might struggle to deliver as they lack any statutory teeth. The plan is most robust on how developments should be considered, both within and beyond the “growth area” around the stations. The plan sets out policies for development of the area between 2014 and 2031.

There’s also a public meeting next Monday, January 27th where the draft will be discussed and this would be a good opportunity to have your say and give feedback. It’s more or less your last chance before simply voting yes or no in the referendum. The deadline for feedback is February 28th.

WHNDF_Jan27

The vision

“Development in Fortune Green and West Hampstead will allow for a mixed, vibrant and successful local community. The Area has a distinct and widely appreciated village character with a variety of amenities and excellent transport links. This Plan seeks to retain and protect these positive features, while allowing for new housing, new jobs and sustainable growth in the years ahead.”

Yes, that “village feel” crops up again. Some mock it, some believe in it. It depends a bit where you live and how much you engage with the area. No-one’s pretending that West Hampstead is Ambridge, but there is a sense that the winding West End Lane and the friendly atmosphere does lend something of a village feel to the area, especially with West End Green at the end.

 

NDF_Map_Boundaries

The area covered by the plan encompasses Fortune Green and West Hampstead wards

The plan cannot, legally, be anti-development, so its role is to help shape development. The idea is that these plans -and there are many springing up around the country – form part of planning policy for the council. They should mean that locals can exercise more power. This has yet to be tested as none are fully operational yet.

Objectives

1. Housing – “Development in Fortune Green & West Hampstead will provide a range of housing and housing types, including social and affordable housing, as well as housing suitable for families, old people and young people. The West Hampstead Growth Area will be the focus for new development and will provide new housing and accompanying additional infrastructure. Development outside the Growth Area will be on a smaller scale.”

Editor’s comment: fairly straightforward, though note that this seeks to concentrate the vast majority of development to the south of the area rather than making any suggestion of spreading the burden. This is partly because there’s more land available there, and the plan must dovetail with the London Plan, which has already identified that as the growth area.

2. Design & Character – “Development will be of high-quality design and will need to fit in with the existing styles of the Area, large parts of which are covered by Conservation Areas. The height of new buildings shall fit in with the rooflines of existing buildings in their immediate vicinity. In all development there shall be a presumption in favour of preserving the distinct character and appearance of the Area, as well as the views across it.”

Editor’s comment: The issue of building height has always been contentious, with some residents wanting an absolute height limit imposed, others being more relaxed about it, and planners warning that such limits would be virtually impossible to enforce in practice. Therefore more reference is made to relative rooflines. Although the plan is not explicitly against modern architecture, the wording of the objective would suggest it is unlikely to be encouraged in many areas. It would be a shame if this precluded some more interesting designs being brought forward.

3. Transport – “Development will enhance the provision of public transport in the Area. West Hampstead’s three rail stations, and the areas around them, shall be the focus of improvements. Making better provision for pedestrian and cyclist movement through the Area – particularly around the West Hampstead Interchange – is a key priority.”

Editor’s comment: It’s interesting that the plan suggests active improvements to transport, which is typically considered a strength of the area. Today’s strength does risk becoming tomorrow’s weakness in the sense that the rapid population growth precisely around the stations could lead to quite severe pedestrian (and thus traffic) congestion. It’s good to see robust policies in this area.

4. Public & Community Facilities – “Development will contribute to public and community facilities in the Area and bring improvements to meet the needs of the growing population. Local services and community facilities – including schools, nurseries, health centres, libraries, community centres and youth facilities – are all highly important in delivering a sustainable community.”

Editor’s comment: Some of these areas (schools) are contentious, others (health centres), slightly less so. The plan recognises the changing nature of the way the NHS is both delivered and used, which means that traditional equations of people per GP may no longer be relevant. Schooling for both primary and secondary ages has been a hot topic and there is a plan policy for a new secondary school in the area by 2031 to accommodate demand. Overall though, this objective and related policies are “keep what we’ve got and give us more”.

5. Economy – “Development will promote and support a successful local economy, with thriving town and neighbourhood centres. Development shall protect and support existing jobs and employment sites – as well as providing new jobs and attracting new businesses to the Area. Such development shall also provide flexible space, particularly for small and micro-businesses.”

Editor’s comment: This is a particularly interesting topic given the differences between the various commercial zones covered by the plan and the heavy focus on housing over employment in the London Plan. To quote at length from paragraph F2 of the draft:

The Camden Core Strategy (Policy CS8) seeks to promote a successful and inclusive economy in the borough. It aims to “safeguard existing employment sites” and provide “a mix of employment facilities and types”. It also highlights the fact that Camden has a large proportion of small businesses, 75% of which employ less than five people. However, it notes (8.20) “there is a lack of high quality premises suitable for small business, particularly those less than 100 sq m”. It adds: “we will seek the provision of innovative new employment floor space in developments that will provide a range of facilities including: flexible occupancy terms, flexible layouts, studios, workshops, networking, socialising and meeting space that will meet the needs of a range of business types and sizes”. The West Hampstead Place Plan says “a mix of employment space is important to the local economy and employment opportunities” and there is “a desire for small businesses to be able to stay in the area” and a need to “develop space…affordable to their needs”. This Plan expresses concern that commercial sites in Area are being replaced with residential developments, causing damage to the local economy, reducing employment opportunities and restricting economic growth. The provision of new jobs in the Area is important to local community, the local service sector and existing businesses; it is important that the Area does not become a “commuter town” for those working in central London and the City.

The NDP’s policies match these, as they should, and it’s hoped that this gives the communit more ammunition when dealing with developers and the council itself when it comes to preserving a mixed economy. There seems to be a misguided belief that the area’s high number of freelancers/homeworkers can single-handedly keep the daytime economy alive. Almost every West Hampstead trader will tell you that simply isn’t the case. The area needs daytime workers not just daytime residents.

6. Natural Environment – “Development will protect and enhance existing green/open space and the local environment. Development shall also provide new green/open public space. Development shall promote bio-diversity and nature conservation, and allow for the planting of new trees.”

Editor’s comment: It’s hard to find anyone who argues that the minimal green space in West Hampstead shouldn’t at least be preserved, and preferably extended. The NDP is encouraging green spaces and corridors that can work within an urban context; again it’s up to planners and developers to deliver.

NDF_Map_GreenSpaces

The green spaces of West Hampstead

We’ll look in more detail at the various sections of the plan once it is finalised. In the meantime, if there’s anything about it you like, don’t like, vehemently object to… then now is the time to speak.

West Hampstead grows: Development review of the year

“Why did no-one try and fight it?”

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

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

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

The remnants of Cafe Bon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

163 Iverson Road looking east

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

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

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

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

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

156West End Lane has enormous potential

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

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

Other planning news

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

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


View Developments in West Hampstead in a larger map

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

Gondar Gardens: The beginning of the end?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gondar Gardens: 140 years of history

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

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

100 years pass…

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

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

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

2013 Revised ‘frontage’ scheme submitted.

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

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

Liddell Road: Show your workings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do the local councillors want to see happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Core Strategy document continues:

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

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

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

Camden – please show your workings.

Camden responds to Liddell Road criticism

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

Here are his thoughts on the matter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cllr Theo Blackwell

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

Liddell Road – how the night unfolded

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

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

Cllr Phil Jones

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

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

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

Let me take you back.

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

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

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

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