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West Hampstead M&S opening

M&S opens and West Hampstead speaks

There’s always a bit of excitement when a major new shop or restaurant opens in the area. Some scoff at the fervour with which chains are welcomed. Others just scoff the food they sell.

Marks & Spencer’s food hall in West Hampstead Square will undoubtedly be a boon not just for those eventually living in the new development, but for everyone living that end of West Hampstead where there are only convenience stores (whether all three of those can survive remains to be seen.)

Followng our behind-the-scenes peek a couple of weeks ago, the shop opened on Wednesday at 10am – how did locals react?

The unofficial “we’re open” photo

And the official one

In case you’re wondering, the woman cutting the ribbon is Judith Parry who, according to the press release, is celebrating her 32nd anniversary working at M&S this year. “I’m at a point in my life now where I’ve settled into my current role as a sales advisor and look forward to the years to come at M&S Foodhall West Hampstead until I retire!”, she said.

Of course, the honeymoon was quickly over…

Spot the chicken Kiev.

Peek behind the scenes at West Hampstead’s newest supermarket

Yes, it’s not just any store opening, it’s an M&S Foodhall opening. Sorry.

No doubt some West Hampstead residents (especially those living south of the railway) are counting down the days until the shop opens on February 22nd at West Hampstead Square.

As part of its customer engagement, M&S and its contractors Wates offered a sneak preview of the new store to any interested parties.

Although the store was still in the final stages of construction, the equipment and fittings were already in place giving a good idea of what to expect. From what we could see it has a familiar M&S Foodhall look. No great surprise. The ceiling pipework and lighting is exposed, which fits in with the contemporary look of West Hampstead Square.

Wafting bread smells as your enter.

Wafting bread smells as you enter.

As you enter, to your left will be an in-store bakery next to a large flower and plant display.  Straight ahead are metres and metres of chiller cabinets for all those M&S fresh food and ready meals. Yes, including Chicken Kiev.  Down at the end is fruit and veg.

Spot the chicken Kiev.

Spot the Chicken Kiev.

Turning to the right at the end, coming back along the parallel aisle is a large wine section with dry goods opposite.

Past the wine and dry goods is be a paper and card section but – two surprises at the checkout – only SCOTs. No M&S has not got some strange new employment policy, it stands for Self-Check Out Tills.

There is an M&S collection point for online purchases, with a couple of tills for the less technical among us. The other surprise was the absence of a coffee counter at the moment. Nor is there the promised hot-food take away unit. That would have required an on site toilet, which proved too complicated to arrange. Not too complicated, apparently, is customer WiFi.

Great S.C.O.T.!

Great S.C.O.T.!

Given West Hampstead’s very poor experience of supermarket delivery vehicles (yes, we’re looking at you Tesco), everyone took a keen interest in the back of the unit, and we were surprised to see quite a small warehouse space, which suggests deliveries will need to be frequent.

Then a quick tour downstairs to see the space for the 55 new staff (20 of whom have been recruited locally). They will be led by the store manager, Kate Thomas.

It's a fridge Jim, but not as you know it

It’s a fridge Jim, but not as you know it

The store was due to open six months ago in August last year. Although those of us with long memories might recall that there was talk of M&S opening on this site twenty years ago. It’s been a long wait.

No caption necessary!

No caption necessary!

 

Mukesh at Peppercorns

An Insight into: Peppercorns

Health food store Peppercorns used to be located opposite the tube station, but when Ballymore began construction of West Hampstead Square, it had to move. Now it’s up by West End Green. We spoke to the owner Mukesh Patel, who has been there for 20 years.  He runs it with his brother Nilesh, who joined him in 2002.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

I had been working in the area since 1982, down on Belsize Road. I had a newsagents and nearby there was a health food store called Abundance, which sold natural foods. I thought it would nice to work in a business like that, that you really care about.

How did I end up at Peppercorns? It  was started in 1982 by the Steeles, a New Zealand couple. She was the first person in the UK to import Manuka honey and by the mid-90s they were expanding the wholesale side of the Manuka business. In 1996 they put their two health food shops up for sale; one in Hampstead and one in West Hampstead. I happened to be reading Dalton’s Weekly and saw this health food business for sale – in West Hampstead! It was local, I was interested so I came to check out the place – with my bank manager.

Mukesh at Peppercorns

Mukesh at Peppercorns

What is your first (fondest) memory of the area?

I can’t remember, it’s that long ago! I remember that Abundance sold muesli by the kilo [Ed – or lbs as was then], which I saw when I went in to buy my veggie lunch.

What’s surprised you about how West Hampstead had changed?

I remember passing down West End Lane and it was a bit run down. There was Atlanta and Jenny’s burgers where Nando’s now is. It was quite down-market, but it has really gentrified.

The arrival of the big chains does make it a bit like every other high street, a bit of a monoculture. The worrying thing is that it really makes it difficult for the independents to pay the rent.

Gail’s probably paid a bit over the market rate but other landlords see that and think they can raise the rents they charge. Independents can’t survive if they can’t afford to pay the rent.

What’s for lunch?

I buy my own ! We have loads of healthy, vegetarian takeaways.

If I don’t eat here I used to go to Dylan’s or sometimes to Bella Luna who do a very good pasta lunch special.

West Hampstead in three words?

Lively, friendly and increasingly health-conscious

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Colour Division closes after 42 years

West Hampstead became a little less colourful last week. Ironically, it was with handwritten note not something printed that Colour Division announced last week that it was closing.  It will be missed.

Colour Division makes a sad announcement

Colour Division makes a sad announcement

Colour Division was not just one of the longest standing business in the area (it was set up in the mid-70s, under Edward Heath’s government during the three-day week), it was also one of the most social businesses with a loyal customer base.

David Jacobs, who we all knew as Dave, explained that although he was really sad about having to close the business, “since it happened there has been a fantastic response from customers and suppliers”.  It was a tough decision for him to make, but it has been made a little easier “knowing that people really feel for you”.

When Colour Division celebrated its 40th anniversary, Dave was open about how the business was facing challenges. Colour Division had changed with the times: when it first opened, its customers were photocopying letterheads and fanzines (iD magazine was first printed here), but more recently it had moved heavily into digital printing, colour photographic prints and Linked-in portraits.

However, the world was changing faster than Colour Division could keep up with.  Dave looked into other options, including clients investing in the business and moving to a different location (he had at one stage thought about moving into the Sherriff Centre). But moving the equipment alone would have cost £20,000. To survive, the business needed an injection of capital, which the banks were reluctant to lend.

Dave and Steve in happier times back in 2014

Dave and Steve in happier times back in 2014

Other factors he cites are the tough parking enforcement regime and lack of pay & display bays, which he estimated cut revenue by 25% in recent years. And of course, like so many other traditional businesses, printing has been disrupted by online competitors. Vistaprint alone did $1.2 billion of business in the year to June 30th.

Rising rents didn’t help matters, although Dave was at pains to point out how supportive his landlord had been in trying to find a solution. Even so, annual rent of £30-40,000 plus business rates of £15,000 meant that Colour Division’s fixed costs were substantial for what is essentially a low-margin business.

What does the future hold? At the moment, Dave is dealing with the insolvency, not something he has experienced before! When things quieten down he plans to more photography and maybe do something with his nephew or brother (with whom he started the business). Both of them are in the printing business.

Whatever Dave decides, West Hampstead wishes him – and Steve and Debbie – all the best.  Without you West Hampstead will be, well, just a bit less Colourful.

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An insight into: Insight Opticians

One of the things that gives West Hampstead its character is the independent shops and local groups. We though we’d plan a series (and let’s see where this goes) asking them a few questions about their experiences of the neighbourhood.

Where better to start for an insight into West Hampstead than with Kiran Vyas. Kiran has just celebrated 30 years on West End Lane running Insight Opticians.

Kiran at Insight

Kiran at Insight Opticians

What brought you to West Hampstead?
Chance brought me to West Hampstead! Back in 1986, Julian Leveson, who had previously run the business passed away suddenly. Julian was from South Africa and his family didn’t know what to do with it. They asked a friend for suggestions, that friend happened to be a friend of mine, so he asked if I was interested in buying it.

At the time I had just qualified and was working at my brother’s practice down in Wimbledon, but was looking to open my own practice. I was living in Edgware (where I had relocated after being expelled from Uganda in 1972, and still live) and so having the option of my own optician’s practice closer to home was good timing.

There has been an opticians on this site since 1948. It was originally opened by Irving Shoot, who owned it until about 1965. He sold it to Daniel Martin, who moved to Canada. Daniel sold it to Stephen Isaacs, who made millions as For Eyes opticians. Julian bought it in about 1980. I then took it over and renamed it Insight Opticians.

What is your fondest memory of the area?
There are a number of shops I remember, but the one I miss most is the old apothecary, where the fruit shop is now. It was a quirky little shop with old wooden fittings run by an interesting old fellow called Arthur who was a herbalist as well as pharmacist. Unfortunately, he got robbed and was tied up; he sold up shortly afterwards.

Insight at 30

Insight Opticians – Happy 30th birthday!

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?
In some ways it is that the community feel that was there then is still here today. Since the arrival of the chain stores it is becoming a little more impersonal but change is inevitable – a necessary evil. The older population still retains this community feel. The challenge is to change the business in a way that encourages the new younger clients, but still retains the older clientele.

What was for lunch?
We are spoilt for choice! The neighbouring Banana Tree is always good, Lena’s up West End Lane is good and the fruit and vegetable shop is also good and is an inspiration to become healthy.

West Hampstead in three words?
Awesome, vibrant and friendly

Mamacita West End Lane

Adios to businesses on one block of West End Lane

The rapid rise of the West Hampstead Square towers is the most visible sign of change in the neighbourhood, but the retail landscape is changing fast too. Foxtons in, Mamacita and Social out, Holistic… no-one seems quite sure.

Most of the changes are happening on the strip of West End Lane bookended by Tesco and Sainsbury. Clothes shop Social closed its doors for the last time on Monday after 10 years.

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Next door to Social, hair salon Holistic has been told it may also have to close and find new premises. Hakki, the manager at Holistic, said that the landlord, who also owns Social’s premises, has a potential tenant interested in taking both units and turning them into one large double shop (the unconfirmed rumour is that this might be a chain bakery). However, Hakki hopes to hear in the next few weeks that the salon will be able to renew its lease and continue operating where it has been for 19 years, but this is yet to be confirmed.

Finally, Mamacita announced on Twitter that it was closing, after less than two years in West Hampstead. The owners have told West Hampstead Life that although they can’t reveal the identity of the new tenant, it should be another independent business.

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What would you like to see opening on West End Lane? Over to you in the comments below or on the forum.

Abi at Tori & Ben's Farm's prize-winning stall

Some locals have beef with market sign; others just like beef

Last Saturday, Tori & Ben’s Farm was awarded this year’s prize for “Customers’ Favourite Stall” at the West Hampstead Farmers’ Market. The stall sells lamb and Longhorn beef from their farm on the Derbyshire / Leicestershire borders.

Abi at Tori & Ben's Farm's prize-winning stall

Abi at Tori & Ben’s Farm’s prize-winning stall

The runner-up was last year’s winner, Brinkworth Dairy, which sells milk and cream at its stall, as well as takeaway coffee, to a steady queue of customers each week.

It’s good news for the stallholders, but latest statistics show that customer numbers have dropped since the market opened on the Thameslink forecourt in 2012. In its first year, the average footfall at the market was 3,558, but by 2014 the average had fallen to 2,477.

In an effort to boost customer numbers and raise awareness, London Farmers’ Markets, the organisation behind West Hampstead’s Saturday market, has applied to Camden for planning permission for its promotional banner to be placed between the trees on the Thameslink forecourt for a period of six months. There have so far been nine objections to this proposal, with some residents criticising the “unsightly” proposed banner, but Camden has received many more messages in support of the banner, 56 in total, including one from the West Hampstead NDF committee.

Cheryl Cohen, of London Farmers’ Markets, explains the need for a banner in the covering letter to the application, stating that it is “necessary to draw the farmers’ market to the attention of those who may not know that it exists,” in an area with a high turnover of residents. Why this method of advertising? From a survey carried out at the market, “47% of people said that they had found out about the market via the banner.”

Abi, who was manning Tori and Ben’s stall on Saturday, said that they had noticed a slight “six-month slump” in customer numbers, but that things seemed to be picking up again. She said it was still very much worth the trip to West Hampstead each week, due to the stall’s many loyal customers who return to buy their meat each Saturday.

What could explain the drop in footfall at the market? The shopping landscape of West Hampstead has changed since 2012. In the past twelve months, West End Lane has had new shops open selling fresh, good-quality produce. West Hampstead Fruit & Vegetables is always busy, and open late every evening. The Hampstead Butcher & Providore has a wide range of good-quality meat, Cook! sells freshly-cooked convenience food, and how could we forget the new Waitrose opening?

What do you think – are you loyal to the farmers’ market, an occasional customer, or do you use other shops or supermarkets? And do you support the organisers’ proposal for a banner to help restore customer footfall? Comment below or join the discussion on the Forum.

Natalie_no10_700

Small Business Saturday takes local business to Downing Street

Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday – a government-backed initiative set up to support small businesses of all kinds in the all-important run-up to Christmas.

Conveniently, this year, it falls on the same day as the West Hampstead Christmas Market, so December 6th will be the perfect day for festive shopping with some refreshments along the way – if you’re in need of inspiration, check out our gift guide.

One local shop that has embraced Small Business Saturday is Passionate About Vintage on Mill Lane. Owner Natalie Leon explained why she decided to take part.

NatalieLeon

“When I first heard of it I thought ‘What a lovely concept’, because it’s something I feel very passionate about – supporting independent local businesses is the way I shop and live” she said, adding that West Hampstead is the perfect place to get involved, “as we’re surrounded by independents here”.

Passionate About Vintage’s event will take place between 1-6pm tomorrow. Customers will be treated to mulled wine and mince pies while they browse the collection of vintage jewellery and handbags, which range from the 1920s to 1960s. Natalie is also offering a 10% discount on all purchases made in the shop on the day.

Natalie also sees the event as a way to celebrate her first Christmas in West Hampstead – the shop opened in July this year – and to thank her local customers and neighbouring businesses for their support. She’s also hoping that if the event is successful, that it will inspire other independent businesses in the area to take part next year.

Natalie’s dedication has paid off – Passionate About Vintage was selected as one of 100 “Small Business Saturday Champions” across the country, and today she was invited to an event at 10 Downing Street hosted by Business and Enterprise minister Matthew Hancock.

West End Lane Books is also taking part and was featured in The Huffington Post’s Small Business Saturday picks. Tomorrow they will be offering 20% off all Walker children’s books.

You can find out more about Small Business Saturday here.

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JoJoMamanBebe_socks_ft

Shop local: Twelve West Hampstead Christmas presents

Finished your Christmas shopping yet? If panic is starting to set in, fear not. West Hampstead Life has scoured the shops in the area to bring you these twelve hand-picked local presents. Instead of getting into fist-fights at Westfield, why not have a leisurely shopping trip without leaving the neighbourhood. And if you’re out and about on Saturday, there’ll be more gifts – and mulled wine – available at the West Hampstead Christmas Market.

1. Build A Robot kit, £14.99
West End Lane Books, 277 West End Lane

WELBooks_robots

For inquisitive children – or adults for that matter – this cool kit contains all you need to build your own wind-up robots and learn about them in the process. It’s unclear whether the robots can cook or clean up after the Christmas lunch though.

2. Craft beer selection, £14.99
Brooksby Wines, 278 West End Lane

Brooksby_craftbeer700

This selection of craft beers is great value and includes two chalice glasses in case you’re feeling fancy. While you’re there, Brooksby also sells a good range of champagne, wine and spirits for all your Christmas drinking requirements.

3. Gourmet hamper, prices vary
Sherriff Centre, St James Church, Sherriff Road

SherriffCentre700

The Sherriff Centre has plenty of delicious treats for your foodie friends and relatives. Either pick a custom-made selection or create your own hamper of artisan goods – post boxes and bubble wrap are available at the attached post office if you need to post your gift. Also look out for Moleskine notebooks and other covetable stationery, as well as a good range of children’s gifts including pencil sets, friendship bracelet making kits, notebooks, bookends and cute cushions.

4. Vintage brooch, £95
Passionate About Vintage, 66 Mill Lane

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Passionate About Vintage is a treasure trove of beautiful and unique gifts. This quirky gold-plated peas-in-a-pod brooch caught my eye. It’s a genuine Trifari piece from the 1960s and is bound to be a talking point. And on Small Business Saturday, the shop is offering a 10% discount.

5. Venison marrowbone cracker, £6.99
Nutts 4 Mutts, 108 Fortune Green Road

Nuts4Mutts_bone700

This cracker “for paws only” contains a satisfyingly chewy venison treat, as well as a silver hat and a joke (which your dog may or may not get). Nutts 4 Mutts, despite the name, also stocks a good range of treats for cats.

6. Silver strand bracelet, £79.95
North West 6, 122 West End Lane

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Delicate strands of silver beads catch the light in this pretty and fluid bracelet, made by Navajo craftspeople. North West 6, next to the tube station, has a big range of silver and amber jewellery and is well worth a browse.

7. Ms Marmite Lover’s Secret Tea Party book, £20
Order from West End Lane Books, or buy online from the publisher

MsMarmiteLover_book

Ms Marmite Lover‘s, (aka Kerstin Rodgers) legendary supperclubs at her house just down the road in Kilburn, have made her a star of the food world not just locally, but far beyond NW6. Who better to pick up tips from on hosting your own tea party? This would be a good gift for a baking or tea fan, with the bonus that you might get invited round in the new year…

8. Beanie hat, £16
Social, 184 West End Lane

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If there’s a hard to buy for, but fashion conscious man in your life, Social has some good ideas. There are wallets, scarves, shirts and jumpers, and these hats from Danish denim label Revolution.

9. Wine tasting vouchers, from £25
North London Wine School, Cotleigh Road

WineSchool

The North London Wine School is opening in West Hampstead in the new year, at the old library on Cotleigh Road. It will offer wine tasting courses for beginners or just for fun, as well as the more serious industry-recognised WSET qualifications. You can buy vouchers (with no expiry date) on the website.

10. Frog slipper socks, £10
JoJo Maman Bébé, 258 West End Lane

JoJoMamanBebe_socks

These slipper socks are perfect for keeping tiny feet warm and cosy – and with their anti-slip suede soles are perfect for first walkers. Available in sizes up to age 4-5 (Sadly, adult versions not available.)

11. Chocolate covered walnuts, £20
Cocoa Bijoux, Broadwell Parade, Broadhurst Gardens

CocoaBijoux

You can find all sorts of delights at Cocoa Bijoux, including these sophisticated French walnuts coated in chocolate. There are many less expensive items too. The shop carries a great range of chocolate, conserves and other gourmet products you won’t find in the supermarket.

12. Nutcracker, £27.99
James Nicholas, 166 West End Lane

Nutcracker

According to the shelf sticker, this is “the world’s best nutcracker”, and at that price you’d hope so. The shop staff kindly let me try it out, so I can vouch for its effectiveness at cracking an almond shell. It’s very solid and stylish, too.

Happy shopping! Let us know in the comments if you have any more local present-shopping tips.

Hampstead Butcher

A butcher arrives in West End Lane – finally

It’s a cry that has reverberated round the streets and social media networks of the area for years: “Why can’t West Hampstead have a butcher?” Now the (non-vegetarian, at least) residents of West Hampstead have reason to celebrate.

Beef ribs will be aged and matured on the premises (Photo: http://www.hampsteadbutcher.com/)

Beef ribs will be aged and matured on the premises (Photo: http://www.hampsteadbutcher.com/)

The Hampstead Butcher and Providore, a well-known fixture on Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead, has announced that it will open a second branch on West End Lane in October. The shop will be situated at the site next door to the Wet Fish Café, which is currently a greengrocer’s.

Like its Hampstead shop, the West End Lane branch will stock fresh cuts of meat as well as a range of prepared terrines, pies, pâtés and convenient “oven-ready choices”. Those who place importance on the provenance of the meat they buy will be pleased to hear about the company’s ethos, which promises “British, fresh, traceable, ethically-reared meat”. It will also sell wine, which may soften the blow of nearby Brooksby Wines closure.

Philip Matthews, owner of the business, said that West Hampstead was the logical choice of area to open a second shop: “It’s always been number one on our shortlist of London villages – many of our customers travel over from West Hampstead anyway, so the demand for quality meat is clearly there”. The business had investigated opening here a couple of years ago, but the deal fell through, much to the anguish of many locals.

Philip is keen for the business to engage with and become a part of the local community, with plans for wine and food tasting events in the future. He commented “Now it’s time for West Hampstead residents to uphold their end of the bargain and come in and shop with us”.

Let’s hope the carnivorous locals cries for a butcher translate into support for the new venture. The meat stalls at the farmers’ market are always busy, and with Waitrose soon to open just across from the new butcher as well, the demand for good quality meat may just about be sated soon.

 

 

grocer_1_cauli

Unexpected items in the bagging area: West Hampstead grocer mixes staples with rarities

Last Saturday, West Hampstead Fruit and Vegetables finally opened its doors. Local foodies had been excitedly awaiting its arrival, eager to get their 7 a day. There’s been a steady stream of customers since then, and tweets have been overwhelmingly positive. But is the range of produce more imaginative than the name above the door?

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The shop, opposite Tesco on West End Lane, is Mel and Aziz Ahsak’s second greengrocer’s in the area. The husband and wife team also own Swiss Cottage Grocers on Finchley Road. Why did they choose to branch out to West Hampstead? They offer a delivery service and Mel said “We noticed we have a lot of customers in West Hampstead”. She confirms that in the few days the shop has been open, business has been brisk. “People have welcomed us, and we’ve had some lovely comments.”

The shop is extremely well-stocked with an array of vibrant and colourful produce, from everyday basics like potatoes and carrots to exotic fruit (fancy a fejoia or a yellow pithaya?) and fancypants heirloom tomatoes. There are also other groceries such as eggs, nuts and herbs.

Quiz: How many fruits can you name?

Quiz: How many fruits can you name?

Mel says that, where possible, produce is sourced from the UK, so expect to find apples from Kent and UK-grown mushrooms, as well as other local fruit and vegetable varieties in season. She and her team taste the produce themselves each day to make sure they’re happy to have it on sale – there’s even a small kitchen in the basement for cooking vegetable samples.

Do Mel and Aziz feel threatened by the nearby Tesco and Sainsbury’s? Mel is confident that their business is ready for the challenge. She points out that their opening hours are comparable (they’re open every day from 8am until 10pm) and that pricing is competitive. In addition to this, there’s a much wider variety of fresh produce than you’ll find at the supermarket, and it’s possible to buy the exact amount you need, rather than large packets that go to waste in the fridge.

All the mushrooms

All the mushrooms

If you’re confused about how to cook with the different varieties of produce – I counted seven different types of aubergine – the knowledgeable staff are on hand to help. Manager Artur Topolewski is a trained chef and can help pick out the most suitable specimens for whatever you’re cooking. A far cry from “unexpected item in the bagging area”.

If West Hampstead Fruit and Vegetables can continue as it’s started, we can see it being a big success on West End Lane.

OK, here are some of the answers...

OK, here are some of the answers…

HartLova4

Loaves with heart at Hart & Lova

HartLova4

Andrea Hartlova gets out of bed at 3.30 each morning to cycle from her home in Islington to her new bakery Hart & Lova in Kilburn, such is her passion for her craft.

Together with master baker Nicolas Juaneda, she produces bread, pastries and cakes and serves Monmouth coffee from the attractively bright and airy Belsize Road shop and café, which opened earlier this week.

Andrea has an impressive baking CV. Having trained as a pastry chef at patisseries in her native Czech Republic, she moved to the UK 11 years ago, and worked at bakeries such as Euphorium in Islington. For the past couple of years she has baked cakes in rented premises in King’s Cross, and supplied her wares to outlets including Harvey Nichols.

HartLova1

Her ultimate goal, however, was always to open her own bakery; she just needed the perfect location. She believes she has found this in Belsize Road, as she wanted her business to be at the heart of a small community with regular customers – not an anonymous high street shop “where you never see the same customer twice”. Belsize Road already boasts some popular businesses: Ekin, Cocoa Exchange, The Priory Tavern and Little Bay all draw regular customers.

Andrea says she already feels part of a close-knit community. The process of renovating the shop – previously an empty unit that had once been a video shop – took six months of hard work, as the building was in a bad state of repair and needed rewiring and decorating. In that time she got to know many neighbours, who would regularly pop in to check on her progress.

Now the wait is over, and the residents of Kilburn and South Hampstead no longer have to go to West End Lane or Maida Vale for freshly baked bread and pastries. Hart & Lova looks set to be a great addition to the shops on Belsize Road and should do well, whether customers are after a coffee for the morning commute, a loaf of bread at the weekend, or a cake for a special occasion.

Judging by the delicious samples West Hampstead Life tried at the launch event this week, Hart & Lova should be around for some time to come.

Izabela Szypulska, café assistant, serves a croissant

Izabela Szypulska, café assistant, serves a croissant

 

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Dear Mr Goodwin – tidy your Tesco

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

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

Dear Mr Goodwin,

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

Photo via @arobertwebb

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

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

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

Little Waitrose; big lorries?

Ever since the licence application was spotted in the window of Pizza Express late last month, West Hampstead (at least on Twitter) has been abuzz with the news that Waitrose is planning to move to the neighbourhood. But what impact will another supermarket have in terms of noise and traffic, and will the fabric of the existing building be changed?

Locals’ reactions to the arrival of Waitrose have been mixed. Some have decried the appearance of yet another chain (although it’s not clear which independents are left to be wiped out), others are happy to see what is perceived as a better quality supermarket arrive, and there is a group concerned less with the corporatisation of West End Lane and more with the impact on traffic from deliveries.

This week, Waitrose submitted a slew of planning applications, which address noise, delivery and building alteration issues.

@WHampstead If it is to go ahead, it would indeed be a Little Waitrose. Thanks.
— Waitrose (@waitrose) September 12, 2013

There’s the first – it will be a Little Waitrose – the chain’s relatively new small-format version. This seems likely to be the mysterious fourth 2013 opening referred to in this Waitrose press release.

Secondly, there will be no on-site parking, which had been another concern for some. The full planning application has the relevant section.

The application proposals are for some minor alterations, a roof mounted plant room to house internal plant equipment, and new signage. The shopfront would have a powder coated aluminium fascia panel and new automatic sliding doors.

The existing shopfront will be retained, including the columns which provide an attractive frontage to West End Lane. Minor alterations are proposed in order to reflect the rebranding of the premises as Little Waitrose. Overall, the works are considered to preserve and enhance the appearance and
character of the Conservation Area.

The design approach for the remainder of the site has been to limit the number of external alterations to the building. Waitrose have worked hard to design a plant system which can be accommodated internally within the building and therefore avoid the need to provide air condenser units or other plant equipment externally. The proposed small roof mounted extension to the rear pitched roof and the louvre arrangement to the side of the building will only be visible from the side (West Cottages) elevation and will respect the character and proportions of the building.

Vehicle deliveries
Given the chaos (and ill-feeling) caused by Tesco delivery lorries, which block traffic on West End Lane, it’s not surprising that Waitrose’s delivery schedule will come under very close scrutiny.

Its submissions on the topic are reassuringly detailed, but I shall endeavour to summarise for you here:

Waitrose is suggesting that deliveries could take place using the pay & display bays either side of the fire station forecourt outside of the 8am-6.30pm pay & display hours. Naturally, it would need to ensure access to those bays outside of those hours, so is proposing loading bay restrictions for 6am-8am ad 6.30pm-8.30pm Monday to Sunday. If we look at Waitrose’s own analysis of how those bays are used now at those times, we see that occupancy rates in the mornings are: 66% at the weekends, and 84% Monday-Friday. In the evening period, the bays are occupied 100% of the time. Making them loading bays – even during this short period – will therefore have an impact on local parking.

Normally, the shop would be serviced by one 14.5m long articulated lorry arriving at 6am, It would need up to an hour to unload stock and reload empty cages.At particularly busy times of the year, such as Christmas, a second articulated lorry delivery may be required between 6.30pm and 7.30pm.

All sounds reasonable so far I guess. There is a caveat here though. This Waitrose lorry wouldn’t actually be the only delivery the shop would receive. “Ancillary servicing” would include:

  • Lenhams (crisp boxes) 12m rigid lorry – three to four times per week
  • Bunzl (cardboard) 12m rigid lorry – once a week
  • Newspapers – small van daily
  • Bread supplier – small van daily
  • Waste (food and general) – four to five times per week

Waitrose argues that it dictates when these deliveries occur, and notes that all servicing activities carried out at its Highbury Corner branch are completed by 7am every day. Whether that is viable for West Hampstead will be up for debate.

In an interesting aside, the company points out that “whilst the Council has advised that they would be minded to support the use of the parking bays as a loading bay between 7am and 8pm in principle, it is clear that Waitrose only require the loading bay to be operational for four hours per day (two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening)”

If Camden did give up these two bays it would expect Waitrose to compensate it for loss of income for two years; however, given the extent to which local businesses are clamouring for more visitor parking in West Hampstead, retaining the bays seems like it would bring far more benefit to the local economy at large. It’s surprising that Camden isn’t therefore towing a harder line on this, but reassuring that Waitrose seems minded to save the bays anyway, although it still wants those four hours a day for loading. (of course with no on-site parking, these bays would also be its nearest parking spots)

Impact on traffic
That particular stretch of road is a little tight, especially with the traffic island in the way. Waitrose therefore looked at whether buses can pass each other on West End Lane while there’s a delivery lorry parked in one of the bays. The answer appears to be yes, although it does look a little tight. Still, tight is better than stuck.

The analysis shows that the bus isable to satisfactorily manoeuvre through the Zebra crossing and past a parked Waitrose lorry without affecting the crossing or encroaching the opposing traffic lane. The diagram below is a bit hard to see, but shows a pink lorry parked outside Pizza Express and a blue northbound bus moving past it while a southbound bus travels in the other lane. It’s a tight squeeze as you can see.

There are pages more on the delivery system for those who want to get into the detail (see Appendix A).

Noise
One of the reasons Tesco delivers during the day is because local residents objected to the idea of nighttime deliveries. Noise assessments are therefore interesting. The detail here is hard to understand for the layman (me), but the main message seems to be that although the noise from deliveries would exceed accepted levels, the ambient noise at that location already exceeds accepted levels and the additional impact of Waitrose deliveries would in fact be negligible (they argue less than is actually perceptible). In other words, West End Lane is noisy at 6.30am already, and residents won’t notice the difference.

Whether this takes into account the difference between ambient noise and the sudden jolting noise of a metal cage being wheeled off a lorry isn’t clear to me.

Opening hours
Waitrose is asking for permission to open at 7am each morning (an hour
earlier than those premises are currently permitted to open). Clearly it wants to capture the rush hour pedestrians flowing down from Mill Lane and Fortune Green towards the West Hampstead stations.

Proposed floor plan (click for larger version)

One small caveat to all this – I heard from a reliable source that the leaseholder of the building also lives in one of the flats above Pizza Express. The leaseholder has to give consent for a change of use, as I understand it, so this may not all be quite as clear cut as we imagine.

Waitrose coming to West Hampstead

It’s been the most persistent rumour in West Hampstead since I’ve been running this website… Pizza Express is closing and Marks & Spencer is moving in. It had such traction that I wrote to Pizza Express a few years ago to see if it was closing down. I was reassured that this was one of its more profitable branches and no closure was imminent.

How times have changed.

There is a small sign up next to the door that announces in a rather oblique way that Waitrose, not Marks & Spencer, is applying for an alcohol licence. The licence application can’t yet be viewed online.

According to a local resident, James Leslie, the staff at Pizza Express have confirmed that Waitrose will be taking over the premises in the next three to six months. Surveyors have also apparently put a mirophone on the roof to measure the current sound levels. Could this be in advance of planning nighttime deliveries?

The application signs were also on nearby lamp posts and railings yesterday, but were removed last night.

This would give us four metro-format supermarkets, with another one set to open in West Hampstead Square. Ballymore had namedropped Waitrose, as well as Marks & Spencer, and the less well-known “grocer to the royals” Partridges. M&S would now seem to be the prime candidate for that location.

Waitrose is expanding fairly rapidly. According to its website, “This year we have set our sights on opening up to ten new supermarkets and ten new ‘little Waitrose’ convenience shops.”

Reaction on Twitter was fairly predictable:

@WHampstead Great news. My quality of life has just gone up a notch.
— Marc Fink (@martifink) August 24, 2013

@WHampstead there go my savings.
— Joshua Green (@JoshuaCGreen) August 24, 2013

@WHampstead Best. News. All. Week.
— Philip Hewlett (@PhilipHewlett) August 24, 2013

@WHampstead Yay, fingers and toes crossed!

Want a butcher? Why don’t you pay for it?

Picasso’s – West Hampstead’s short-lived and misnamed pizzeria – is rumoured to be becoming another pizzeria. If true, probably a bad idea.

Whenever a retail or restaurant unit becomes available, the clamour begins as everyone says what they’d like to see move in. No-one ever says “West Hampstead really needs another pizza place” but without fail, hordes will ask why we can’t have a butcher. Clearly, walking to Waitrose, which has a very good butcher’s counter, or waiting until Saturday for the (admittedly expensive) farmers’ market stalls, isn’t an option for these people.

I would love a butcher to open here, but I’m also realistic about its chances of survival. It is a pretty hard business to run these days: competition from the supermarkets, the requirement for fresh stock and sizeable and expensive-to-run refrigeration space and the fact that, for all the baying of West Hampstead would-be customers, a lot of people still baulk at the idea of paying indepdendent-retailer prices for their meat.

Hampstead Butcher & Providore, which has premises on Rosslyn Hill, was looking to move to West Hampstead a couple of years ago, but then pulled out quite late in the day. It wouldn’t say why, but one has to assume that the deal didn’t make financial sense. No great surprise.

Where do you buy most of your meat?

I’d happily buy from a local butcher, but would I buy into a local butcher? Would I invest in it as a business? No. I don’t believe there are enough people locally who would shop there regularly enough to make it a viable operation. Sure, it would be popular on Saturdays, and if it was smart enough to operate like a traiteur and stay open until 8pm, then it might do well with the commuters, but sadly I don’t think that would be enough to keep it going long term.

Want to prove me wrong?

I came across this article the other day, which sums this up rather neatly.

The narrative would usually go that big supermarkets are destroying the variety we all apparently love in our local high street, with many independent retailers going to the wall as a result. It always struck me as odd that if so many people supported local retailers, how they could be in such financial strife. There was clearly a disconnect between the numbers supporting them verbally and those supporting them financially.

Exactly. Enter crowdfunding – the capital-raising tool du jour, beloved of everyone from Amanda Palmer to Ubuntu. The idea is simple, a business venture asks the general public for money. If it reaches the target then it can proceed with its idea. If not enough people pledge money, then nothing happens and no-one’s any the worse off.

Community Sourced Capital, based in Seattle, is seeing whether this idea could work to help local retailers; although there’s a twist – these are interest-free loans rather than donations.

[It] asks people to lend money in $50 chunks, up to a maximum of $250 per project, with each project able to borrow up to $50,000. These funds are then made available to borrowers at zero interest, with repayments made according to income levels.

Once members have had their loan repaid, they can either withdraw their funds, or invest them into another project. The founders of CSC want it to be more akin to lending money between friends rather than the more traditional commercial model, and as such each loan is simple and un-complicated.

The notion is that is an interest-free leg up for an existing local business, rather than a considered investment with a return. Does this mean lenders are more willing to take a gamble? Less interested in scrutinising the balance sheet and business plan?

CSC doesn’t say what happens if the business goes bankrupt. With small sums of money at stake for each investor it’s possible that the loan is simply written off.

What do you think? Would you lend someone up to £250 to get a butcher’s off the ground?

WestHampsteadGrowthAreamap

Whampforum: The people speak

On May 21st, more than 30 locals gathered to discuss a range of issues along with James Earl, chair of the Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF), Cllr Flick Rea, and me. Parking, development, shops; all came under scrutiny. The topics are ones we are used to hearing about but the audience wasn’t the usual suspects. This was #whampforum and pretty much everyone was under 45, with a healthy smattering still in their 20s.

Some comments on the website before the event captured a view I hear too frequently among some of West Hampstead’s older and longer-standing citizens: young people aren’t invested in the area emotionally or financially because they don’t own property, so why would they care.

Apart from the staggering prejudice against long-term renters, either from the council or in the private sector, it also misses an important point: there are twice as many people in West Hampstead under 40 as over 40, and 5,000 more in the 20-40 age-group. Are they consigned to live according to the attitudes of their elders (and, the implication always seems to be, betters). Or perhaps the very fact that many of these people can’t afford to buy property here is something we might want to think about. Do we want West Hampstead to be perpetually occupied by the old and rich and the young and transient? Maybe we do, but we will then be beset by the same issues we have today and the age-divide will remain.

Perhaps the single most interesting question we asked at the forum was how many people saw themselves still living in the area in five years’ time. A majority of hands went up. Maybe this population isn’t so transient after all. Of course, many in the room were themselves younger home owners – I wouldn’t deny that this has an impact on engagement, but it’s naive to think it’s the sole driver.

The meeting was lively, and I think (hope) most people had the chance to speak if they wanted to. There were business owners, a property developer, the inevitable politicos and plenty of ordinary residents who were interested to hear more about local developments and to find out how they could have some input without having to sit through the interminable (and at times depressing) local meetings that seem to be the norm in any community.

We touched on three big topics: amenities and transport, business mix, and housing, development and architecture. I’ve tried to summarise the key points below as well as discussing how to feed your thoughts and ideas to the decision makers. At the bottom of the page is a factsheet.

Amenities and Transport
Camden’s policy of car-free developments struck many as odd, unrealistic, and potentially adding to  traffic problems as car-owners tried to find somewhere to park. About a third of the audience owned cars already, more than I would have expected. Car clubs were popular, though people said there weren’t enough car club cars in the area and not enough different types of vehicles.

People commented on the street clutter, the rubbish that accumulated on the streets, especially from local businesses, the seemingly bizarre phasing of the traffic lights, delivery lorries and even the location of the bus stop by the post office.

Schools also came onto the agenda, with the idea of a free primary school being mooted (there are also murmurings about launching a free secondary school in the neighbourhood).

The major lobbying group for all these topics is WHAT (West Hampstead Amenities & Transport). It has a good track record of working with the various bodies responsible for many of these topics, especially transport. You can find out more about them at whatnw6.org.uk. Don’t be put off by the relatively basic website, this group is very active and lobbies effectively. You may not agree with its policies on everything, but it is a great starting point for finding out more about transport issues.

Business mix
The issue of whether charity shops are a good or bad thing for the high street and the local economy came up. The perennially thorny topic of Tesco came up though for this audience, even though there was general support for independent shops and restaurants, the convenience of metro format supermarkets generally overcame the idea of corporate behemoths invading the high street. We discussed the challenge of finding out who landlords are in some units, and how this makes it hard to develop the “pop-up shop” culture when units sit empty.

There was a feeling that “destination” shops would do well, and the challenge faced by Mill Lane in attracting people to walk along was discussed. Yet again, people proposed better signage for Mill Lane shops and the idea of having a street festival there was mooted. These are ideas that Mill Lane traders have had themselves, but the group seems to find it hard to come together and act as one group. The council, however, is always going to be more responsive if it’s dealing with a collective body than with one or two individual traders. The onus here is on the traders.

Most people understood that the council had no control over what types of shops or restaurants moved into spaces already designated for that use. We explained that it was only when a business applied for a change of use or a chance of licence that it was possible to object. This is a planning topic with lots of grey areas, however. Cafés that don’t cook anything on the premises (microwaves and panini grills don’t count) can take retail premises, for example, without a change of use. There is also a push by central government to make it easy to convert shops and offices into residential units, although Camden is one of the boroughs exempt from this.

(from the BBC) “At the same time, a two-year freeze is also being introduced on the need for planning applications for temporary change of use for a range of High Street premises, including hairdressers, banks, bars, cafes, post offices, takeaways, libraries and cinemas. This would allow units not exceeding 150 sq m to spring up at short notice and trade for a limited period as long as long as they meet the criteria of being either shops, restaurants, business offices and financial or professional services. Multiple changes will be permitted within the two-year period but retailers will need to notify councils what they intend to use the building for, and for how long, in advance of setting up.”

There wasn’t much discussion of the business-to-business economy, although with plans to develop the Liddell Road industrial site, this may become more of an issue. The questions here are about local employment, a change in the local weekday economy, and general business mix of the area.

This remains an area where the biggest impact locals can have is by voting with their wallets. If there are shops and businesses you like, then use them. If you want to object to a licence or change of use application, then it’s good to be familiar with Camden’s “town centre” plans and guidelines (see the factsheet for details of Camden’s Core Strategy).

Housing, development and architecture
The cost of property was clearly an issue for many who wanted to stay here. We explained about the affordable housing quota that developers are obliged to meet in any new development, and how more often than not they are able to prove that meeting the quota would render the whole development unprofitable. There are complicated rules about how much money they then have to pay so that affordable housing can be built in lower-cost locations by Camden.

People expressed an interest in shared housing schemes. I don’t know a lot about these – though there are some in the area (Fairhazel Gardens has one). This is more popular in North America, but there’s no reason why it can’t work here.

There seemed to be a sense that with property prices rising so quickly at the moment, the area was at risk of becoming even more homogeneous in terms of the social mix, with pockets of social housing becoming less and less integrated. The housing conversation also took us back to the issues of schools and other services, such as GP surgeries. With so much housing planned in the area by City Hall (West Hampstead is designated an “area for intensification”), people were concerned to know whether service provision would keep pace.

Health centres are typically less of a problem locally, and very few people in the room had had any issues finding medical treatment when they needed it. Schools are a different proposition, requiring much more investment either from the public sector or private providers. Of course, the demand for schools depends on the existing and proposed housing stock – a dearth of affordable family houses would mean relatively low demand for additional school places.

There’s not a lot you can do about house prices of course, but housing is a topic where your political vote has an impact at both the borough, city and national level. If this is an issue of concern then make sure you read the housing policies of various parties next time you’re heading to the ballot box. Camden council elections are next year, and the political leaning of the council does have an impact on housing policy. The NDF is also concerned with housing, so providing input into its policies as they are finalised would be a good way of shaping the direction of the area – more on this in the next section.

There’s clearly a large overlap between housing and development but also a clear difference of opinion between age groups over the scale and type of development in the area. When prompted by Flick, there was an agreement that the views from the area looking up to Hampstead were part of West Hampstead’s character but there was also broad consensus that it wasn’t the height and scale of new developments that mattered, it was design and planning. We discussed the O2 car park, which we all assume will be built over at some point, and the view was that a large-scale, fairly high-rise development here would be ok, as long as the area was well planned, attractively landscaped, and it wasn’t a “high density at any cost” proposal. People didn’t want to feel hemmed in, but accepted that it was possible to have high(er) rise living in an area like West Hampstead.

Modern buildings in the area, such a the Thameslink station, the Mill Apartments and even the more controversial Emmanuel school were generally seen as good buildings.

We also explained about the ever-mysterious “Section 106” money that gets discussed a lot. In a nutshell, it’s money that developers pay to allow the council to offset the cost of the influx of new residents, as well as to contribute to amenity in the area. The detail gets very confusing and there’s a very strong push at the moment for much more transparency over how it is allocated, where exactly it is spent, and who makes the decisions. To add to the confusion, many of the things funded by Section 106 will, from next year, be funded instead by the Community Infrastructure Levy. The affordable housing offset payments, however, will still be paid for by Section 106 agreements so you’ll still be hearing about it.

Engaging with the West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Plan is by far the best way to influence these matters. I have talked about it many times on this site already, but as the Plan starts to move into the final stages (and we’re talking months here, not weeks), there will be more information about specific policies. You can contact James directly (moc.l1505879677iamg@1505879677daets1505879677pmaht1505879677sewpd1505879677n1505879677) with any specific thoughts; a PDF of the latest draft of the plan is available here (this is very much a draft) so do have a read. Look out for NDF stalls around West Hampstead over the coming weekends. Stop by and give your feedback in person. 

Remember that underpinning the very idea of these local development forums is the rule that they cannot be “anti-development”. They are about shaping what happens, not standing in its way, so they are by definition not a NIMBY-organisation.

* * *

One of the reasons I convened this meeting is that the main contributors to the NDP thus far have been the usual suspects. They are well-meaning and in many cases the same issues arise, however priorities do vary between different segments of the population and it’s important that the silent majority have their say. Rest assured that by coming to the meeting, you have already helped shape some of the thinking around these topics. Nevertheless, it will do no harm to reinforce that feedback in person at the stalls, or via e-mail and those of you that couldn’t make it should also feel free to get involved. As well as street stalls, there will also be “street walks”, one of which I might even lead myself!

For me, it was important that this meeting wasn’t just a talking shop but that it had some impact. Hopefully you will see some of the views expressed here filtering into the Plan, but also into council thinking. They also help me when I am asked in formal and informal interactions with council officers and councillors what “younger people” think.

We may well hold another, more focused meeting later in the year on one or two specific topics and will probably have one to discuss the final NDP policies before they are set in stone. They will of course be heavily trailered on the site and on Twitter. In the meantime, thank you to everyone who came and to the Alice House for hosting.

Factsheet

You can also download the factsheet here.

Rash of closures on West End Lane

[original post May 10th 3.30pm]
[updated May 12th 10.30pm]
[updated May 15th 3.30pm]

If the retail landscape hadn’t changed enough with the knocking down of the strip of shops opposite the post office, this week’s seen four units close on West End Lane. Before we all get too depressed, it’s worth noting that four places have also opened this week in West Hampstead.

Blue Daisy’s retrenchment to the safety of yummy mummyville in Hampstead has been mooted for some time. When it came time to renegotiate the lease on its West End Lane branch, it decided enough was enough. Has the arrival of JoJoMamanBebe up the road had anything to do with it? Seems like this town ain’t big enough for the two of them.

Talking of competition, the sushi explosion that’s occurred in West Hampstead over the past year or two was bound to do some damage somewhere. The venerable Sushi Gen didn’t last long once the sushi wars began, but Me Love Sushi is the latest to fall victim to sushi overload. It tweeted that it had sold up to the owners of Cafe Rouge although from correspondence with the Tragus Group, which is Cafe Rouge’s parent company and also owns previous incumbent Strada, we know that in fact it owned the site anyway and Me Love Sushi was a leaseholder. Tragus is now looking for a new leaseholder so it’s unlikely to be one of Tragus’s own brands. In the meantime, Me Love Sushi fans can still get their fix (or their delivery) from the Swiss Cottage branch.

Another saturated market around here is pizza, so it wasn’t a great surprise to hear that Picasso’s has shut up shop – with the bailiffs called in to the premises. Although reviews of the food had largely been good, it always seemed to be quiet and may have strugged to establish itself over perennial favourites Lupa, Sarracino and even Domino’s.

Finally, and more out-of-the-blue, was the closure of ShakeTastic. The tiny milkshake bar never seem rammed (and was never open early enough for a hangover-curing morning juice), and although the staff were always lovely I was never convinced it fitted in here. The poster that’s gone up in the window suggests it might return, but in the meantime the West Hampstead branch is relocating to Pinner(!).

In more positive retail news, Minkies finally opened its tiny outlet by the Overground station to much acclaim. The well-liked Kensal Rise business had had us waiting for a year – the staff blamed TfL and Camden bureaucracy for much of the delay. Its position sets it on a collision course with Starbucks and Costa but with nowhere much for people to queue, I suspect it will maintain a very steady passing trade without setting the world on fire. It’s also well placed not just for commuters at the interchange but the two large estate agents opposite.

This very afternoon the sweet shop next to West End Lane cars re-opened too. Probably had to wait until ShakeTastic closed so as not to exceed the sugar quota for that stretch of road.

Away from West End Lane, there’s a new tea-shop on Mill lane called Curled Leaf that I’ve yet to get to and Spice Tree (which used to be Babur Empire) also opened on Mill Lane. Meanwhile, Tiger Stores – the Danish Muji if you can countenance such a thing – has opened in the O2.

What does all this mean for the retail landscape? It seems that established businesses are generally faring ok – most of the recent closures have been of more recent arrivals (the business above, Pita, Chez Chantal), though of course there are exceptions (LoveFood, Walnut). It’s hard to get a foothold in the area I guess. Lena’s is one of the few newish businesses that’s really thrived – largely because it’s a unique offering for West Hampstead. A lesson there.

If you’re interested in learning more about the evolution of West Hampstead, then put the 21st May in your diaries. I’m holding an open forum aimed at the younger population for people to share their views on what they love and hate about the area and what they can do about it. There’ll be more details on this v.soon.

[photos via @misshkwilson]

Is Wagamama highlight of new O2 tenants?

As the O2 centre’s refurbishments draw to a close, there’s been much excitement about who’ll be moving into the space alongside the existing tenants.

This week, thanks to someone pointing me in the direction of this brochure, we got to find out some of the answers.

Noodle purveyors Wagamama, pizza & pasta restaurant Rossopomodoro, Danish furniture retailer BoConcept, and Tiger Stores – which sort of defies classification (see below) – are all moving in.

They will join hamburger joint Byron, which already has signs up, and Paperchase and Oliver Bonas, which have already opened. Of the others, only BoConcept is being trailered on the shopping centre’s website.

According to Nash Bond, which is letting the units on behalf of the centre’s owner Land Securities, there are two units still available. One large unit on the first floor (£190,000 annual rent) and one smaller one on the ground floor (£75,000 annual rent) tucked round the corner by the road to and from the car park.

£75,000 a year for this unit

The existing operations you know and (at least in the case of Camden councillor Tulip Siddiq and Nando’s) clearly love are all staying put although Sparkle Bar & Lounge will be no more – it was always a pop-up.

Yo! Sushi has already moved out of its unit to take up space between the escalators and the lift. Its existing restaurant spot will be occupied by Wagamama. Rossopomodoro will take the place of Sparkle (formerly Zuccato) and Byron is taking the designated burger spot of the Fine Burger Co.

The three anchor tenants are Sainsbury, Virgin Active, and Vue cinemas. It would be interesting to know how Habitat feels about BoConcept’s arrival, although furniture shops do tend to cluster together. One also wonders about Zizzi and Rossopomodoro sitting so close together, and lets not forget there’s a small Pizza Express just down the road too.

Is this a good thing for us? I would argue yes. I don’t think any of these operations are putting any plucky independents at risk. The O2 has always had chain tenants as you’d expect, and they compete with each other more than with anything further afield (and even less with businesses in the heart of West Hampstead). The attempt at an infographic that’s meant to lure retailers in talks about Swiss Cottage but makes no mention of West Hampstead, which is a bit surprising given that the centre clearly pulls people in from the West End Lane area.

Click for full-size

Whether some of the other noodle options on Finchley Road, especially Oriental Star, might find Wagamama too hot to handle remains to be seen. Credit should also go to Land Securities for trying to make innovative use of the empty space as and when it came up, with various pop-up ideas, especially in what used to be Zuccato.

Here’s where everyone’s going to end up

Which brings us back to Tiger.

Reaction to Tiger Stores moving to the O2 Centre

Storified by West Hampstead· Sat, Jan 05 2013 09:41:53

The "Tiger" moving into the old Walkabout at the O2 is in fact NOT a bar but a retailer selling, er, stuff http://www.tigerstores.co.uk/West Hampstead
@WHampstead Tiger is brilliant and you will not say a word against it.Nathan Hamer
@WHampstead the shop Tiger is brilliant. My friend gets fab stuff from the one in Harrow ;)Ruth
@WHampstead It’s actually got some rather handy stuff in. Kind of like Muji.Ruth
@WHampstead @njhamer I’ve heard good things too! Do we know when it opens?Paramount Properties
@WHampstead @njhamer fabulous, because there is a ‘build your own straw’ kit I want to get my hands on… whatever that actually is!Paramount Properties
@WHampstead @njhamer perhaps even some type of #whampchallenge… they have balloon modelling kits too, you see.Paramount Properties
@WHampstead I see. I’ve been to the one in Hammersmith, has some quite good/useful stuff.Jane Ennis
christ – i’ve unleashed some sort of Tiger Stores fan club outrage with that mild description. Thank god I didn’t say "pointless"West Hampstead
@WHampstead they sell some of the most pointless useless crap you could ever want.Lizzie
@WHampstead I guess that space is doomed to mediocrityPatrick Hurley
Further research seems to suggest that it’s a poundshop for the middle classes (Bearnaise Sauce for £1, 24 Danish flag stickers for £1)West Hampstead
@WHampstead Bearnaise Sauce for £1…? Stay well clear of it…!TheCrystalShip
@WHampstead really? Just what we don’t need!!Rach
@WHampstead I like ‘THIS IS A WEBSITE NOT A WEBSHOP’. Alright, alright, I wasn’t going to buy your crap anyway.Fiona Barrows
@WHampstead I want to take stickers saying ‘THIS ITEM IS FOR SALE’. Just in case people get confused and need to know how a shop works.Fiona Barrows
@WHampstead I would order them online but IT IS NOT A WEBSHOP.Fiona Barrows
@WHampstead bored housewives might like the look of this… http://pic.twitter.com/abi5fZKFHeather
@rach_1511 @WHampstead I was laughing at my desk so had to explain to my colleague. Sent her the link. She genuinely likes some of the stuffFiona Barrows
@fbarrows @whampstead but its not a web shop&some of things she likes might not be available!How ridiculous.I really can wait til it opens!Rach
@WHampstead They sell Tiger cornflakes and you can then make the box into a puppet theatre. JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED.Fiona Barrows
@WHampstead But do they sell actual tigers?Davies
@WHampstead I can afford 329 things in there or one thing from Habitat next door. It’s a bizarre (bazaar, if you will) shopping experienceLewis Hill
@WHampstead @daviesinthecity I honestly think that shop looks brilliant and I will be visiting at my earliest convenience.nicky j
@WHampstead They do socks for £1 each. Something odd there.Phil Lunn
@WHampstead I own a harmonica purchased at the Tiger in Hammersmith. It doesn’t sound very good, but I’m 90% sure that’s my fault.Sam Wong
and on a similar theme:
@WHampstead poundland has a sale on, presumably to entice those people who thought a quid was a bit steep…Jen

Keep it in the neighbourhood: The benefits of buying local

Many of us generally, if not obsessively, like to shop at local independent places if we can. Often we can’t, or convenience (or price) dictates we go elsewhere. We may simply not care.

However, a study in the US has actually quantified the economic benefits to a neighbourhood of giving your trade to the locals rather than the chains. The principle may not be too surprising, but the data is definitely interesting.

A group called Civic Economics has been crunching the numbers for 10 US towns and cities over a decade. These are generally significantly larger urban areas than West Hampstead mind you. Nevertheless, the findings are always more or less the same: money spent at independent outlets is more likely to stay local than that spent at a chain.

In Louisville, Kentucky, researchers found independent stores recirculate 55.2% of revenues compared to 13.6% for big retailers. In other words they put four times as much back into the local area, relatively speaking. This is not the same as saying they recirculate four times the amount of money, but it does imply that the more consumers choose to shop local, the greater the benefit for the local economy. Studying restaurants revealed similar, though less dramatic, findings. In Louisville, independent restaurants put just over twice as much of their revenue back into the local economy as the chains. I note from Wikipedia that Louisville is the headquarters of both Papa John’s and the world’s largest fast food company by units, Yum! Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell!

Louisville’s answer to West End Lane Books

(Louisville’s Independent Business Alliance (a co-sponsor of the study) cites a bunch of reasons for spending local. Number one is “To keep it weird”, and the organisation’s website is in fact keeplouisvilleweird.com)

Across the 10 cities studied, spending at local businesses generated on average 3.7 times more local economic benefit than spending at chains. Naturally, money staying in the local economy fuels that economy.

“The extra dollars in the local economy produce more jobs for residents, extra tax revenues for local governments, more investment in commercial and residential districts, and enhanced support for local nonprofits. In short, these businesses create better places.” Louisville study

The study is not without holes – it’s sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, which has an agenda to promote local retailers. It doesn’t look at very many chain operators (Barnes & Noble, Target, Home Depot and Office Max are the only four), and it’s the same ones in each city. Nor does it look at the price differential between chains and independents. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting guide to the value of shopping local.

Perhaps the best stat to come out of the Louisville study is that a market shift of just 10% from chains to independents would, based on these numbers in this city, generate an additional $416 million for the local economy off total retail sales of $10 billion. Whether that’s enough to get Papa John’s and Pizza Hut employees to buy independent pizza anytime soon remains to be seen!

Are West Hampstead entrepreneurs being short-changed?

Is Camden council doing enough to help new businesses in West Hampstead? Local Lib Dem councillor Gillian Risso-Gill thinks not, and had a hefty swipe at the council in a letter to the Ham & High this week to say just that:

“Empty retail and business units have been allowed to stay empty for years, enquiries are rebuffed, premises are not marketed and then put up for auction.”

I have heard stories like this from local businesses – indeed there was one last month that happened on Twitter:

Cllr Risso-Gill also writes: “There is a woeful lack of available business premises in the area and units and sites are still being allowed to change from commercial to residential use.” This is also true, although one prominent example, Handrail House on Maygrove Road, has apparently been empty for some time as the landlord simply can’t find businesses to occupy it. From a residents’ perspective, it is important to remember that the local economy is not just about shops and restaurants, but business services and (light) industry too. What are the conditions they need to operate profitably?

Gillian Risso-Gill at the opening of the first Farmers’ Market

Many of you will be aware that Rock Mens’ Salon has moved from its premises in the death-row strip of shops from 187-199 West End Lane. John, the owner, was able to move fast and take the Broadhurst Gardens site that had been the Millennium Café. Yet he was also able to strike a deal with Network Rail, which still owns those premises, and open the new coffee shop Wired thereby taking advantage of the empty space. Yet, the car hire premises next door remain empty and the leases on all the units there expire in the spring. It is far from clear that building work on that site will start then however, so will the sites remain empty? Cllr Risso-Gill again:

I have asked the council for help to secure temporary tenants in the retail units currently being vacated on the 187-199 West End Lane site, to prevent the area becoming blighted prior to development, but resources are not available.

Of course, Camden’s resources are stretched under the current budgetary regime, yet there is an argument that lack of attention here is depriving the council of revenue from business rates. Lib Dem Risso-Gill finishes her letter with a direct attack on the Labour-led council:

We have a Labour administration that cannot be bothered to manage its assets to generate income and… takes the easy option of mothballing and then selling off every available site [while] the local business community and entrepreneurial spirit that could boost the local economy and create jobs, is being neglected.

Camden’s finance chief Cllr Theo Blackwell responded on Twitter:

What do you think? Should this be a priority at a time when public services are being cut back? Is the money that would come from renting out small premises sufficient to justify the extra cost?

Mill Lane must get creative to attract visitors

There’s a new momentum on Mill Lane. This motley collection of independent shops has tried before to unite behind some self-promotion but these efforts have largely come to nothing. Now, the West Hampstead street that’s often seen as West End Lane’s poor relation has some impetus behind it thanks partly to the arrival of Monsters of Art and the youthful enthusiasm of co-owner Abby Wells.

Several of the businesses on Mill Lane held a preliminary meeting this month to discuss how to boost the street’s profile. Since then, Abby has met with Kate Goodman from Camden Council (Kate ran the place shaping initiative that many of you will remember from earlier in the year), and more of the businesses have piled in with ideas.

What’s the problem?
Mill Lane has a few related challenges to overcome: it suffers from relatively low footfall; the popular businesses are spread out along the street so there’s no focal point; it has one of the highest vacancy rates in the borough (18% in June 2010); and many people, especially those new to the area or passing through, simply don’t know that there are shops down there. Glance down the road from Fortune Green Road and you would be forgiven for thinking it was a predominantly residential street. Yet, as the star prize at whampgather proved, there are enough businesses on the street to create an amazing hamper of goodies. From The Tiffin Tin to The Alliance, Mill Lane has plenty of gems.

Isn’t this the council’s job?
Camden’s West Hampstead placeshaping document, published earlier this year, recognises the pressures facing Mill Lane and sets out ways in which the council could help. It explains that the council cannot fund direct business support, and that its role now is to act “as an enabler to small businesses through signposting them to national and regional growth support organisations.” This also includes pointing retailers to information and providing support to trader groups.

There are some specific actions in the placeshaping plan that refer to Mill Lane.

  • Facilitate engagement with local landowners and landlords to consider how the private sector can help to support a thriving shopping area and reduce the vacancy rate in Mill Lane.
  • Investigate opportunities to carry out further public realm improvement works to the northern part of the town centre and Mill Lane.
  • Lobby TfL to include Mill Lane neighbourhood centre shops on the Legible London signs, to help increase footfall to the area.

This may sound a bit like throwing a life jacket into the ocean, but it’s better than nothing and if it helps the businesses coalesce into one group that can form a consensus on what would most benefit the area then that alone is a big step in the right direction.

The relatively new West Hampstead Business Association could have a role here. However, a separate Mill Lane group that collaborated with the WHBA might be more effective than the WHBA acting as an umbrella group for all local businesses, given the different needs of West End Lane and Mill Lane.

The latest draft of the Neighbourhood Development plan also singles out Mill Lane as in need of its own section. Specifically, it suggests the following six policies should be applied to developments in Mill Lane:

  • A presumption in favour of preserving the look of shop-fronts.
  • A presumption in favour of rejecting proposals to convert retail space into residential use.
  • Encourage a more diverse range of shops and businesses.
  • Improve pavements, signage and traffic calming; remove street clutter.
  • Co-ordinate the developments on the north side of Mill Lane where they back onto properties on
  • Hillfield Road.
  • An urgent need to level the pavements on the north side of Mill Lane.

All this tell us that the problems of Mill Lane are widely recognised. But at a time of limited (read: non-existent) public resources to help tackle them, the onus falls on the existing businesses to overcome these obstacles. Which brings us back to the latest wave of energy washing over the street.

At the November meeting there was broad agreement that public awareness of Mill Lane’s offering was too low, and that the lack of a cohesive feel to the retail units hindered the appeal of the street as a shopping destination. Beyond that, the more ambitious challenge was to do something economically viable with the empty shops

Raising awareness
The immediate solution proposed was to get the council to implement better signage (which would partly fall under the Legible London signage action above), at the West End Lane end of Mill Lane, on West End Green, and outside West Hampstead tube station. Since that meeting, Kate Goodman has said that extra signage to the north of West End Lane will be installed, but played down the idea that there’d be tube station signage too.

The idea of preparing a small brochure to hand out has also been raised, although it’s not clear who would fund this. Camden have broadly supported this idea though, and may be able to help with some of the distribution logistics. Prod from Mill Lane Barbers, whose enthusiasm is also hard to beat, has suggested a caricature poster capturing the essence of the Lane and the businesses on it as well.

One idea that’s likely to prove popular is a late-night Christmas shopping event. It may even be possible to get some footprints laid on the pavement to draw people in from West End Green. Those businesses at the West Hampstead Christmas Market on December 8th could also help promote the street more generally, and there’s talk of having a board at the market showing the press coverage that some of them have received over the past couple of years.

One Lane
The shops also saw that Christmas would be a good opportunity to work on the look and feel of Mill Lane and try and make it a more unified shopping district. Something as simple as having the same Christmas lights in as many of the shops as possible could achieve this – these could be officially switched on at the Christmas shopping event.

An idea that I particularly like is that businesses up and down Mill Lane ‘donate’ parts of their property, (e.g., a back door, shutter, or any outdoor area), to professional artists who will then jointly produce a piece of street art. This concept has worked brilliantly in Middlesex Street E1. It has the potential both to improve the look of Mill Lane and attract visitors.

Breathing life into empty premises
Maximising the use of the empty (or almost empty) shops on the street with pop-up projects (galleries, retail space etc.) was a popular idea. This would help animate Mill Lane, and provide more of a continuous stretch of retail operations along the street. One idea was to collaborate with artists who might rent units for a short period for gallery and/or workshop space. Kate Goodman was in favour of the pop-up shop idea, and apparently there are nine empty shops on Mill Lane that could possibly by used. She is going to find out who owns/manages these properties and forward on their details – a good example of where the council can support these initiatives.

Both the pop-up idea and the street art idea certainly tie in with my own belief that Mill Lane would be well served by becoming an explicit artisan/art quarter. In the immediate term, the local business owners recognised that coordinating so many things popping up is a lot of work and perhaps would be too time consuming for them to tackle (after all they do still have their own businesses to run). A stop-gap measure would be to use the shop fronts as art installations, or hang something in empty shop windows.

Mill Lane needs a bit of love, so why not have a wander along there this weekend and refresh your memory as to what’s available. From carpets to cupcakes, you might be surprised at the shops and services you find.

Retail oddity in Fortune Green

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

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

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

The original Best One before Sainsbury’s moved in

All change by West End Green

The stretch of West End Lane from Nando’s to Walnut is set to see big changes over the next couple of months.

As many of you will have read on Twitter, or (heaven forbid) seen with your own actual eyes, Walnut has closed. The ethically minded restaurant has been a fixture on the corner for just over 10 years, but came up for rent back in June (at just under £2,300 a month if you’re interested). Feng Sushi – also known for its ethical stance – will be moving in this June. Indeed work has already started on what will be the chain’s eighth outlet.

£18 for the 22-piece selection box

There’s much more detail on the design of the 50-cover restaurant here. Feng Sushi expressed an interest in West Hampstead a long time ago, so may feel a bit miffed that in the meantime, the area has become sushi capital of NW London. Alongside MeLoveSushi on West End Lane, there’s also newly opened Sushi Kou on Fortune Green, competing head-on with the well-established Yuzu. There are two newish sushi places on Finchley Road, and the longer-standing outlets Sushi Gen (with an ominous For Lease sign outside), Atari-ya on Fairfax Road (for my money the best of the local options), and Yo! Sushi in the O2 centre.

If the rumours that Karahi Master has closed are correct, hot on the heels of Bon Express shutting down, then are we finally relinquishing the mighty kebab for the healthier sashimi?

Still, if you’re missing your meat fix, rejoice. Apparently some of you haven’t yet caught up with the news that a butchers is coming to town. Since I started this whole blog/Twitter thing back in 2009, this has probably been the single biggest moan of locals: “Why can’t we have a butchers”. The fact that such places have to make a profit in what is a tough market has largely washed over you. So, I don’t want to hear a single person complain that Hampstead Butcher & Providore is too expensive. The high-end butchers already operates on Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead, and has done so for a couple of years now. The only way that a butcher is likely to survive in a high rent area like West End Lane is going to be to target the higher end of the market, and differentiate itself from the supermarkets.

£54 for this “Meat for a week” selection

Hampstead Butcher & Providore (I assume it’s not changing its name for us) will be at 260 West End Lane, where the Chinese medical centre has been (next to Domino’s).

If you fancy a chop with your chop, then step next door. 258 West End Lane is becoming a new salon. Because that’s what we really need in the area. Marco Aldany is a new name for me, but then I’m not really a salon kinda guy. It appears to be a Spanish chain of hairdressers. I can’t tell you much more about it, but I can show you a picture of what the front will look like if it gets past the planners, and tell you that the glass will be armour-plated. Should you be thinking of driving a car into it or anything.

Throw in the changes to The Lion – which has been learning the hard way about the power of Twitter – and the northern end of West Hampstead will have a very different feel to it by the end of the year.

 

A market for West Hampstead

I got a very exciting e-mail yesterday from Cllr Gillian Risso-Gill announcing that an agreement has been reached with First Capital Connect for the West Hampstead Business Forum to hold a Saturday market on the widenened pavement area by the new Thameslink station on Iverson Road.

The site is not big enough for a full, accredited, commercial farmers market, which I know a lot of you are keen on. However, in order to try and maximise trade, the organisers are keen to know what locals would actually want. This will help them determine whether the focus will be on food, or antiques, or crafts, or something else.

An early poll on Twitter yesterday suggested food was by far the most popular, although there was a significant vote for crafts/antiques/flea market. Perhaps different weeks could be different markets?

The hope is that a pilot market could be arranged in the next 5-6 weeks.

If you are interested in having a stall, I suggest you contact Gillian at ku.vo1505879677g.ned1505879677mac@l1505879677liG-o1505879677ssiR.1505879677naill1505879677iG1505879677 in the first instance. If you’d like to have your say on the type of market you’d like to see, then please leave a comment below. I’ve already noted comments via Twitter so please don’t vote again!

New deli on Kilburn High Road

A couple of people had alerted me to the opening of Belvedere Traditional, so roving reporter Kate popped in to see what the fuss was about:

“The gentrification of Kilburn High Road has officially begun with the opening of an artisan delicatessen opposite Sainsbury’s Local [north end of Kilburn]. Belvedere Traditional sells organic and homemade food, including a comprehensive selection of cured meats, dairy products, preserved fruit and vegetables, pickles and jam, and fresh bread. Polish delicacies are the other order of the day along with fresh pasta, a small selection of fruit and veg, and the usual high-end dried goods. The owner is looking to expand the range on offer and suggestions are welcome: a request for humous was met with ‘maybe in the future’.

There is also a small café area on a mezzanine floor where customers can enjoy a quick brew and sandwich or one of the freshly baked pastries on offer. Prices are higher than the average KHR deli but lower than they’d be on West End Lane – and it’s open 7 days a week.”

Opening right opposite Sainsbury’s could be foolish or inspired – I look forward to checking out some Polish pickles next time I’m down that end of Kilburn.

West Hampstead / Fortune Green Area Action Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sainsbury’s Local gets West Hampstead over excited

As everyone knows, because the sign is so brightly lit that aircraft are now using it as a navigation device, a new Sainsbury’s Local opened on West End Lane on Friday where Best One used to be.

It’s fair to say that this caused a fair amount of Twitter traffic. The story unfolds below

Congratulations to Richard, who took the first photo from inside the store

[let me know if you like this format of showing tweets/telling stories]

West Hampstead Christmas shopping

Given that it’s now December and it’s snowing, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to do a quick round-up of the best places for Christmas shopping in West Hampstead.

Since Dizar sadly closed, North West 6 on the corner of West End Lane and Blackburn Road is the only full-on gift shop on the street with a suitable collection of small bits and pieces, including jewellery, mugs, and Secret Santa sort of presents.

West End Lane Books should do a roaring trade this month – and don’t be shy of asking the staff for advice too. The bookshop even has a Christmas Shopping Day on December 9th when everything is 15% off from 9am-9pm  and there’s mulled wine and mince pies available in the evening *drool.

The Kitchener is fast becoming something of a local favourite. It is now rammed full of great things – not just basic kitchenware, but festive treats, spices, a good selection of cards and of course everything for the chef in your life. Want Christmas tree-shaped brownies? Get the moulds there.

If your loved ones are more into eating food than making it then you’re in luck. Peppercorns, LoveFood and Gustoso on West End Lane all sell foodie gifts. You can also order your Christmas meat and turkey from The Kitchen Stores on Mill Lane, and pick up chocolate, Christmas puddings and mince pies while you’re there.

For something more alternative and just a smidge further afield, why not go to Ms Marmite Lover’s Underground Farmers’ Market this Sunday afternoon , where there’ll be artisan wrapping paper, home-made liqueurs, cheese, sausages and Christmas puddings. Seriously, what’s not to like? You do have to buy £5 tickets in advance, and that will reveal the location – but it’s not too far away!

Of course the charity shops are a great source of gifts and cards, and heaven knows there are enough of them on West End Lane. Oxfam is probably the best for new (as opposed to second-hand) gifts. There are also Card Aid outlets at the Hampstead community centre and at the Hampstead Theatre in Swiss Cottage when open.

If you like your Christmas just a little bit retro then you have to go along to tea-room extraordinaire bake-a-boo on Sunday from 2pm-6pm for its “Walking in a Vintage Wonderland” event. There’ll be vintage clothing, jewellery, flowers, nostalgic gifts, one off pieces made from vintage fabrics and of course edible gifts.

While you’re on Mill Lane, check out some of the art for sale in Thou Art in Hampstead – it doesn’t just frame pictures, it also sells them.

Thinking about decorating the house? Christmas trees are available from Homebase and the Hampstead Garden Centre on Iverson Road. Any why not pop along to Achillea Flowers on Mill Lane for a winter wreath. Homebase (don’t turn your nose up) does cheap and perfectly decent decorations – that is if you don’t feel the need to go over to Habitat in the O2 centre for this year’s colours.

Don’t do all your Christmas shopping too early though – you’ll miss the main event on Saturday 11th. The West End Lane Christmas market on West End Green promises to be excellent and I can reveal that stallholders include Zana Boutique, The Pink Petshop, Fortune Green Interiors, Achillea Flowers, bake a boo, Kitchen Table, Mill Lane Garden project, Rooms Above and Chocolo. There will also be stalls from independent local craftspeople selling jewellery, bags, tea towels, stained glass, cards, and knitwear. There may still be room for a couple more if anyone’s interested? Contact moc.l1505879677iamg@1505879677tekra1505879677msamx1505879677daets1505879677pmaht1505879677sew1505879677 for more.

Local businesses in West Hampstead are also offering various discounts and promotions on the day, including West End Lane Books, Chez Chantal, David’s Deli, Walnut, Insight Opticians, Mill Lane Barbers, Holistic Hair and Beauty, Robert Brennan Fitness, The Alliance, Mill Lane Vets and Hair by Red.

So, whatever you want to buy this festive season why not buy locally where possible. Check out the local business directory for all the shops in the area, and LoveCamden for special offers.

Buying local might be a pound or so more than ordering online but it’s a lot more fun, you know it will arrive on time and you’ll be supporting local businesses at the end of what has been a very difficult year.

West Hampstead & Fortune Green area action group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West End Lane’s changing streetscape

Ten days or so ago, it was brought to my attention that Best One – the mini-market on the corner of Fawley Road and West End Lane – was covered in memos from Sainsbury’s regarding an impending licence application.

I posted this on Twitter and got a few tweeted groans in reply, along with a more interesting response from local councillor @KeithMoffitt who said “Understand Sainsbury’s interested in Best One site but nothing finalised yet, so licensing notice odd.”

Yesterday, I noticed that the licence application had now been registered at Camden and is online.

Posting this elicited far more reaction, with the usual comments about the destruction of the character of West End Lane, the replacement of independent shops with chains, and the swamping of the neighbourhood with supermarkets. I think it is debatable whether replacing a franchised mini-market with a large-brand mini-market is particularly a bad thing, although it does serve to homogenise further the high street.

A broader issue is whether large chains can (and do) pay over market rates for rents and leases, thereby raising the market level and squeezing out existing independents as well as making it almost impossible for start-ups. I also think it’s worth looking at what we do have in West Hampstead.

I am building a directory of all the shops, restaurants, consumer services in the area and was astonished that I could tally more than 50 places that served food without venturing beyond the traditional borders of West Hampstead into Swiss Cottage or Kilburn. Yes, some of these are national chains (only four restaurants: GBK, Nandos, Pizza Express and Strada), especially in the take-away market, where some are franchises just like Best One) but the vast majority are independent.

We also – as everyone knows – have an amazing number of estate agents and a lot of charity shops. We don’t have very many ordinary independent shops – but we do have some, such as the electrical shop, the bookshop, the greengrocers and others, especially those tucked away along Mill Lane.

I’m not in the militant camp that thinks we should boycott chains, or who won’t shop in Tescos. When possible, yes, I do try and support local businesses but like most people I am also beholden to cost and convenience.

My request from this blog is simple: by all means berate the homogenisation of West End Lane, and by all means let your local councillors know your views on the matter (although remember that at the most basic level there’s little they can do to prevent individual shops from moving into existing retail units), but above all if you do believe in maintaining some independent shops in West Hampstead then please use them from time to time.

I know some of you don’t see the problem and are quite happy to see more chains move in as long as they’re selling things you want to buy. I also know that a lot of you do already make efforts to shop at independents where possible. But if you’re someone who always buys books from Amazon, why not – once in a while – buy or order a book from West End Lane Books; forsake Homebase for the electrical shop, the Iverson Road nursery or The Kitchener; or escape the congested fruit & veg aisle in Tescos and walk a minute up the road to the greengrocers. Not necessarily every day, but some days. Even if costs you a few pence more (and stop press folks: the chains in fact are not always cheaper), think of it as a small investment back into your community.

Comments welcome of course

Newcommers [sic]

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

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

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

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

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

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

To this. Oh dear.

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

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

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

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