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What, where, when: Fordwych Residents Association

What exactly IS a residents association, and why might you want to become part of your local one? To kick off a round-up of all the local ones, James Earl introduces the Fordwych Residents Association, which he chairs.

“The Fordwych Residents Association (FRA) is a long-established and active group in the local area, representing the views of members and residents in its immediate area and the wider West Hampstead community.

The area covered by the FRA is essentially Fordwych Road and its adjoining streets. This means we cover a diverse area, from Maygrove Road and Kilburn in the south – up to Richborough Road and Cricklewood in the north.

The FRA normally has meetings every two to three months, which are open to anyone living or working in our area. Our next meeting is on Monday 4th March. We also have a Christmas event and organise social events, such as a party for the Diamond Jubilee last year.

The issues we cover include the ultra-local: such as pavements, litter and bins – to recycling, local planning applications and the policing of the area. We also work with a number of other West Hampstead groups, such as WHAT (West Hampstead Amenity & Transport) and were one of the first local groups to support the formation of a Neighbourhood Development Forum. We work closely with our neighbouring residents associations, our ward councillors, the Sidings Community Centre, Friends of Maygrove Peace Park and the Cricklewood Improvement Programme.

In terms of planning issues, we were heavily involved in discussing the plans for the 1 Mill Lane development (and the new green space behind it) – as well as the new developments on Maygrove Road.

For those wanting to know more, you can see our website: www.fordwych.org.uk and follow us on twitter @FordwychRA.

If you would like to join and/or be added to our mailing list, please email: ku.gr1569229107o.hcy1569229107wdrof1569229107@ofni1569229107.”

Democratic paradox south of the tube line

The local Neighbourhood Development Forum (which is now on Twitter by the way), held its latest meeting last week. I just perused the minutes and was intrigued by a paradox of democracy.

Walk with me.

The NDF has to determine the precise boundaries for its local plan. Ward boundaries are not necessarily the solution, but at the moment they’re the easiest option and the NDF covers West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. This means that, for example, Broadhurst Gardens is not covered because it’s in Swiss Cottage ward.

According to the minutes of September’s NDF meeting, WHGARA – the residents association for the streets between Lowfield Road, West End Lane, Hemstal and Sherriff Roads – has not yet decided whether to support the Forum, but would make its decision on October 9th. I have discussed before the psychological and physical divide felt by some, but not all, residents who live south of the tube line between them and the rest of West Hampstead.

NDF members said they thought it would be hard for WHGARA to express its views on the development of the area, particularly the Interchange, if they excluded themselves from the Forum; WHGARA’s representative said she “thought the Forum was pro-development and didn’t have much support in the south of the West Hampstead area.”

James Earl, the NDF chair, said that if WHGARA decided not to support the Forum, the southern boundary would probably move north to be the railway line.

This raises a couple of issues. First, I’d like to see the evidence of the support or lack of for the Forum in the WHGARA area. My unproven hunch is that most people have probably never heard of it, let alone have a view on it. Second, although I accept that residents assocations generally represent their area, they are not necessarily representative of an area, so to my mind it seems odd that if an RA chooses not to support an initiative, this automatically means that area is excluded.

But this is not the paradox.

Keep walking with me.

Later, the minutes explain that the October 22nd NDF meeting will be open to the public and run in conjunction with WHAT. “Members said it was important to invite and involve more people than ‘the usual suspects’. There was a desire for publicity to be at the new farmers’ market; in shops and local businesses; and at other public events. Suggestions for poster locations also included on trees; doctors’ surgeries; schools; nurseries; community centres; parks; and cafes.”

Excellent – I wholeheartedly approve, and you can be sure I’ll mention it on here too. Now we come to the paradox. You live in the WHGARA area, but have never heard of it- or it’s not your thing perhaps. You’re browing the cauliflowers at the farmers’ market when you notice a flyer for a public meeting about shaping the future of West Hampstead. This sounds more interesting. You toddle along, but then find all too quickly that it will have no bearing on your immediate streetscape because some people you don’t know have decided not to support it.

Moving beyond the usual suspects is surely the right thing to do – the process should be open to as many people as are interested. So why then, is something as important as the boundaries for the whole plan dependent on the powers that be at WHGARA? More bluntly: what sort of majority off what sort of turnout is needed at a WHGARA meeting to determine whether it’s a yay or a nay? Do leave a comment if you know the answer to this question.

I would urge the NDF to stick to its guns and use the two ward boundaries as the basis for the plan. Even though I don’t think it’s perfect, I remain unconvinved that the lack of support of a residents association (should that be the eventual outcome) is enough reason to shrink the size of the area.

And there’s the paradox. Democracy should be about opening up decision making to the people, but it’s also pragmatically about electing decision-makers and abiding by their rules. Yet at this hyperlocal scale, the two seem to have the potential to clash.

You can stop walking now.

Driving’s hard enough, says CRASH

Back in October last year, Camden asked locals what they thought of some changes to our streets. The most controversial was the provision of “cycle permeability“. In other words, allowing cyclists to pedal the wrong way up one-way streets. Not all one-way streets were included; some, such as Broadhurst Gardens, were considered unsuitable. But many of the quieter residential streets, especially around the Gardens area of South Hampstead were part of the plans.

There were 76 replies to the consultation [pdf], 21 positive, 37 netural and 18 objections. Camden made a couple of tweaks to the plans, but otherwise decided to go ahead. Fairhazel Gardens has had such a system in place for more than 10 years, so one assumes that both the council and cycling lobby groups have sufficient data to make meaningful recommendations. Indeed, looking at a map of pedestrian and cyclist accidents in London from 2000-2010, there wasn’t a single reported bike accident (or pedestrian accident) on Fairhazel Gardens during that period.

Fairhazel Gardens has had contraflow cycling for years

However, South Hampstead Residents’ Association (appropriately, in this case, named CRASH) is not happy. At this late stage, it is appealing for people to write to Camden expressing their horror at this scheme. Their argument is that it is unsafe for cyclists and other road users (the scheme was initially proposed [pdf] by Camden Cyclists). Crash’s argument includes this gem of a debating point (original emphasis):

“You will not only have to keep an eye on your rear mirror and side mirror for cyclists on your left, as usual, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, look forwards and in your right hand mirror for a cyclist on your right”

Imagine having to look forward when driving!

In other words, drivers would have to behave as they would on a normal road – checking both side mirrors and their rear-view mirror, as well as keeping an eye on the road ahead. Or as they have been doing on one-way stretches of Fairhazel Gardens for many years already.

Is there a safety risk? Well, cars should be driving slowly anyway on these residential streets. It’s also up to cyclists to ride responsibly and err on the side of caution (and use lights when it’s dark). But to my mind it doesn’t seem to be beyond the wit of man to accommdate such a thing, even if drivers do occasionally have to look in the direction they’re going.

Hampstead Cricket Club to become temporary school

When I gatecrashed the Crediton Hill Residents Association meeting a few weeks ago, it wasn’t just to see how many of the celebs who live on West Hampstead’s poshest road I could spot. It was also a great opportunity to catch up on the proposal to turn part of the cricket club land into a temporary school – temporary being two years. The proposal went before Camden’s Development Control committee last Thursday and was narrowly passed.

The background
South Hampstead High School, a private girls school in Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead, is undergoing an enormous refurbishment/rebuilding program. It had initially hoped that the school could function around these works, but it became increasingly clear this was not viable, so an alternative was needed.

The school is run by an organisation called The Girls’ Day School Trust, which conveniently owns the cricket club land in Lymington Road. So, the proposal is to relocate the majority of the school to the cricket club for two years while work is carried out. Despite owning the land, this isn’t something the school can do without planning permission as it’s a change of use and requires the present day squash courts to be knocked down (and then rebuilt afterwards). All the details are in the document below (the tick marks show the most important pages).

South Hampstead High School Design Access Statement (annotated)
Crediton Hill voices concern
The idea has been discussed for some months now but, although public meetings have been held, judging by the mood at the residents association meeting (held in the bar in the cricket club itself) some local residents remain sceptical. The primary concern is traffic and parking, noise is a secondary concern, and for actor, local resident, and keen cricketer Greg Wise, the risk of girls invading the cricket pitch itself.

The deputation from the school and developers handled the discussion rather well I though – if a little caught on the back foot initially. They argued that today, some 80% of their 500 pupils walk or cycle to school, and that they are working very hard to explain to parents that driving their child to the new site is a bad idea. Maresfield Gardens is about a 10 minute walk away from the sports ground, and depending where you live a child’s new route to school might involve walking down the less than user-friendly Finchley Road. It’s hard to believe that some parents – especially of younger children – won’t be tempted at least initially to run their kids down rather than have them walk further along a busy road. Of course, the reverse also holds true and perhaps some kids will now live nearer and that will make life easier for them.

There is simply no parking along Lymington Road, so a little bit of coordination with Camden council could see revenues from parking tickets soar!

Aside from the traffic, noise is understandably a concern – one resident who works from home, clearly envisages two years of high-pitched screaming ahead of her. The school argued that while, of course, some noise was inevitable at breaktimes and as pupils arrive and leave, the girl at South Hampstead were generally a well-behaved lot and there were so many school activities organized at lunchtimes that they weren’t generally running around the place. Lunch would be held in the large room in the cricket club.

The deputy head also explained that not all the children would be on the site at any one time – most sixth formers and approximately a fifth of the other pupils would be at the Maresfield Gardens site as some lessons will stay there (I think largely for science, so no bunsen burners to burn down the portacabins… temporary modular accommodation. Equally, she was sure that the girls would respect the wicket and although they couldn’t be stopped from walking over the outfield of a lunchtime [here she adopted a slightly steely gaze and politely reminded Mr Wise that the school owned the land], many of the girls were keen on sports and would quite understand.

Some residents were keen to pin the school’s deputation down on exactly how many children, teachers, and other staff would be on site at any one time, but given that the existing site will still be operational, this number seemed hard to come by but around 400 seemed to be the broad consensus.

Over to Camden
On the surface, this might have looked like a fairly simple decision. A school needs land, whether its private or state-owned. The school owns the land, and visually it is not an eyesore. In fact, it turned out to be a rather contentious application. The planning officer’s report, which recommends apprival is below.

Camden Report on SHHS Hampstead CC Application – annotated
There were strong objections here from residents of Alvanley Gardens and from West Hampstead ward councillor Keith Moffitt (who does not sit on the Development Control committee). The objections boil down to three topics: increased risk of flooding, noise and traffic. The flooding issue is hard to understand without diving into the details, but given that hard surface tennis courts are going to be built on I’m certainly not sure what the additional impact is meant to be – it would be different if the units were being built on grass or open land.

Cllr Marshall made the point that it’s hard to consider noise at school breaktimes as a serious planning consideration in an urban area, especially when one factors in that this is weekdays, working hours, and term times only. The planning officer pointed out that noise is a legitimate planning consideration, but far more so for a restaurant open in the evenings than for a school active only during weekdays. Cllr Freeman suggested that it was a sad indictment of our times when the innocent noise of schoolchildren is deemed offensive.

Traffic was unsurprisingly by far the most legitimate consideration. There was some disagreement about the impact on traffic, with the school arguing that it is putting in place all sorts of measures to mitigate the impact on traffic – and from the meeting I went to on this, I believe they really are doing this. At the same time, it’s “a stretch” as Cllr Marshall put it, to believe that parents are going to drop their kids at the Maresfield site and let them walk down.

For Cllr Simpson and others, the traffic plan currently in place was simply too vague. There was a high degree of scepticism that any attempts to dissuade parents from dropping their kids off could be enforced; concern about the girls crossing the Finchley Road; and general worry about a main east/west road being cluttered up with cars at peak morning times. My personal view on this is that the school should be given the benefit of the doubt but that the situation should be very carefully monitored and if traffic and short-term parking levels become unaccpetably high, then further action should be taken.

There was a broader point that the Girls Day School Trust is a wealthy organisation, so although it’s clear that trying to combine the work on the Maresfield site with the running of the school would add substantially to the time taken for the build, and thus the cost, this shouldn’t mean that local residents have to suffer for two years as a result of saving money. I suppose a counter argument is that the pupils deserve a reasonably quiet educational environment with minimal disruption, especially those in exam years – and that is independent of their parents’ ability to afford a private education.

There was also some confusion about the number of pupils on site at any given time. The vote was taken as to whether to grant planning permission conditional on a limit of 500 pupils (which is the size of the school, so not going to be breached, and who’s going to count anyway) and, more importantly, a much stronger travel plan to be submitted ahead of work starting on the site.

On that basis, the decision was approved by six vote to five.
Councillors in favor: Hayward, Apak, Freeman, Marshall, Braithwaite, Nuti.
Councillors against: Simpson, Gimson, Rea, Risso-Gill, Sanders.

The whole webcast of the discussion is available below:

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Planning for the future of West Hampstead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talent seeking

Richard snapped this earlier… if you want in to this Lymington Road residents association event, the contact details are at the bottom of the poster (click for large version). Frankly I’m upset that I haven’t been asked to be a judge. This must be what Cheryl Cole feels like.

Meeting on 187-199 development

If you’re interested or affected by the development of the 187-199 West End Lane site (for background, I suggest reading this), then you might want to go along to the meeting on Monday night. The relatively newly formed West Hampstead Gardens Residents Association (with its ‘rhymes with Viagra’ moniker of WHGARA) is certainly going to be represented if this flyer is anything to go by.