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West Hampstead passengers top 20 million a year

As long-suffering commuters in (and through) West Hampstead are aware, it’s feels ever more crowded at our stations – especially the tube station. But do the numbers back up that perception? We crunched the numbers, and we were surprised at the results.

Passenger flows at West Hampstead’s three stations – the Underground, the Overground and Thameslink – are measured separately, but Oyster card data allows reasonably accurate tracking of people changing trains as well as those who enter and exit here and don’t change.

To better understand how tube passenger numbers have grown, we compared West Hampstead to neighbouring Kilburn, Finchley Road, and Swiss Cottage stations. Passenger numbers at these stations have been essentially flat over the past 10 years, but at West Hampstead they are up 50% from 7.5 million to 11 million entries/exits p.a. (a whopping 3.5 million extra passengers a year).

West Hampstead passenger numbers surge from 2010 onwards

West Hampstead passenger numbers surge from 2010 onwards

The growth spurt began in 2010, but what has driven it? Part of the rise is due to development here, which looks set to increase with more recent development in and around the stations. Just 100 additional residents commuting to work 48 weeks a year is 48,000 additional journeys. However, the real driver has been, the upgrade of and the extra passengers on, the Thameslink and especially the Overground.

Thameslink use has risen steadily from 2.2 million to 3.7 million over the past ten years, but it is the Overground that has seen the real growth. In 2006, there were 1.9 million entry/exits in 2006, dipping to just over 1 million with disruption of construction. This year, that is expected to surpass 5 million.

Longer trains and a more integrated network have pushed Overground numbers up

Longer trains and a more integrated network have pushed Overground numbers up

Add them all together and total passenger entry/exits for the three stations have risen from 10.7 million in 2007 to 19.6 million in 2016 (and should be more than 20 million by 2017). That’s a doubling in ten years.  That includes an increasing number of interchanges – the data here is not perfect, but we estimate there were about 250,000 in 2007, last year it was more than 1.5 million. West Hampstead it doesn’t  just feel more crowded – it really is!

Woo-hoo a new gate at the tube station. Actually it's a real improvement. What next?

Woo-hoo, an extra gate at the tube station. A real improvement. What next?

To cope with this growth, TFL is upgrading the Overground to expand the platforms and add step-free access. At the tube station it has  added and an extra gate – which will help when it’s finally working. But this is unlikely to be the silver bullet that solves the overcrowding, although it’s a sensible step in the right direction

Another major issue we face is the lack of step-free access at the tube station. Thameslink has it, and the new Overground station will have it. The tube station is the last piece of that particular puzzle. Last week TFL announced six stations were getting funding for step free access from a £200 million pot, but depressingly, this didn’t include West Hampstead.  One of those stations is Mill Hill East station, the least-used station on the Northern Line (with 1.3 Million entry/exits p.a.).  Doesn’t quite compute.

Can Govia get Thameslink service back on track?

Regular commuters on the Thameslink line have faced frustrating delays and cancellations since Govia took over the running of the line from First Capital Connect on September 14th.

Govia has released its performance figures and they bear out the public perception that the service has got worse: the Thameslink Public Performance Measure (PPM) for Period 7 (the period since Govia took over) was just 81.10% against a target of 87.36%. Commuters who berated First Capital Connect might like to know that in the same period in both the last two years, the PPM exceeded 90%. PPM is the industry standard performance measure and refers to the percentage of services that reach their final destination on time.

Thameslink Performance

The blue bars show this year’s performance against target (orange)

In the train operator’s latest stakeholder newsletter, CEO Charles Horton apologises and admits that his company was to blame for some of the shaky service. “Some of this disruption has been caused by external events which are very difficult for us to control, such as several fatalities. But there have also been delays caused by things which we in the rail industry manage.”

How is Govia planning to address these issues and get the service back on track (and disgruntled West Hampstead commuters to work  on time)?

Horton adds that a summit was held last week with the management team to discuss recent poor performance and put in place a plan “to improve performance urgently”. You can see the whole of the chief executive’s letter below.

Will this be enough to convince regular users of the service? One local rush-hour commuter said that although he accepted “occasional delays are inevitable,” there had “hardly been an incident-free day since Govia took over” – citing problems such as overcrowding on four-carriage trains, more frequent delays, and the odd cancellation due to “staff shortages”. Looks like Govia has some work to do to win over increasingly frustrated passengers.

In touch CEO letter 2014

Weeknight street food market targets commuters tired of Tesco

West Hampstead is getting a new street food market on weekday evenings, starting tomorrow September 1st. The market will be on the Thameslink forecourt (where the farmers market is) Monday to Friday evenings, timed to meet the home-time rush-hour crowd between 4pm and 8pm.

Alexandra Gee, who runs the West Hampstead Food & Flea market on Sundays, is also the driving force behind this new street food venture. Having been a West Hampstead commuter herself, she noticed that “I’m always tired and hungry after a long day at work, and end up going to Tesco for the same old pasta. I thought it would be great to be able to pick up something different and tasty on the way home.”

The plan is that each evening, between six and eight street food traders will pitch their stalls along the forecourt. According to Alexandra, a number of diverse traders have already signed up, serving food including wood-fired pizza, Indian street food, Malaysian, and West Indian barbecue. Market traders have been briefed to serve their wares in easily-portable containers for those planning to take food home to eat.

If you’re passing the market tomorrow, why not drop in to check out the selection of dinner options available – and let us know about your visit using the comments form below.

More noise as Network Rail to clear vegetation overnight

Residents near The Black Path, which runs along side the northern side of the Thameslink line, may find it’s not just the warm weather keeping them awake at night next week.

Network Rail is going to be removing vegetation along the track behind Sumatra Road and Ravenshaw Street between 11pm and 5.30am from Monday to Friday and the work will apparently involve the use of chainsaws, flail machines, chipping machines or handsaws – so it could get a bit noisy!

Thameslink_foliage

It’s not clear why the work all has to take place overnight or whether it requires five full nights of work. Perhaps one of our new West Hampstead councillors could look into this, and ensure National Rail does indeed have all the correct permits for this after-hours work.

Local residents were sent a circular alerting them to the potential disruption, and are advised to call the 24-hour national helpline on 08457 114141 if they have any concerns, though it seems unlikley that that’s going to stop any noise then and there.

Residents may find it’s a long week as some are also likely to be disturbed by the more extensive Overgound construction work taking place on Sunday night. The Ivory Coast vs Japan World Cup match, whicj kicks off at 2am Sunday morning, might have a disproportionately high number of viewers in NW6.

First Capital Connect loses Thameslink franchise

Amid all the election results flooding in from around the country, another bit of news could affect West Hampstead commuters at least as much.

First Capital Connect, owned by the First Group, has lost the Thameslink franchise to Govia, a joint venture between Go Ahead Group and Keolis. The new operator, which currently operates Southern trains, will take over both the Brighton to Bedford route from mid-September as well as the Great Northern route that First Capital Connect also operates. The new enlarged franchise – catchily titled Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) – is the UK’s largest in terms of passenger numbers, trains, revenue, and staff according to the BBC.

First Capital Connect was voted the worst train operating company by customers earlier this year, and First Group’s share price had already fallen in expectation of this franchise loss. The group still operates First Great Western – which has been badly affected this year by the flooding in the south-west – and First TransPenine Express.

The Thameslink route is, as you know, undergoing a major upgrade with new trains and a complete overhaul of London Bridge station. Assuming all goes to plan, Govia should benefit from this better service and will no doubt hope to see a leap up the customer satisfacton rankings.

West Hampstead handles 16 million passengers a year

No doubt boosted to some extent by the Olympics and by the broad surge in Overground use, West Hampstead stations saw a 17% growth in passengers last year.

Transport numbers

The tube station handled 9.7 million passengers (defined as entrances + exits); the Overground station 3.7 million and Thameslink 2.8 million. Passenger numbers were up from the previous year at all three stations, although Thameslink grew only fractionally at just 1.4% compared to a whopping 27.5 % increase at the Overground.

All these numbers – especially for the Thameslink station – shouldn’t be taken as pinpoint accurate. A 50-page report explains the complex methodology used to come up with these estimates.

Athough the two overground stations are assigned to a “station group”, the numbers can’t accurately give an idea of how many people change between the stations.

As West Hampstead grows, with car free developments at West Hampstead Square, Iverson Road, and eventually 156 West End Lane and the O2 car park, there must be questions about how long the tube station can continue without major development. The Overground station will be rebuilt next year, which should increase capacity, but surely eventually TfL will have to look at turning the footbridge between Blackburn Road and Broadhurst Gardens into a separate access point for the tube station.

This should help reduce scenes like this from January

Overall, West Hampstead overground was London’s 58th busiest surface rail station – up from 73rd in 2011/12. West Hampstead Thameslink actually dropped a couple of places to 79th, while West Hampstead tube station is London’s 74th busiest. To put this in some context, there are 62 tube stations in zone 1.

Original data: surface rail; underground

New Thameslink trains unveiled

As part of the major upgrade to the Thameslink service, West Hampstead commuters can look forward to a fleet of state-of-the-art new trains and a more frequent, “tube-like” service. Just not quite yet. The new trains are scheduled to start coming into service in 2016, and will be gradually phased in over the following two years. But then Thameslink passengers are used to waiting.

The First Capital Connect project team, including engineering project manager Mans Alam and communications manager Roger Perkins, were at the station ticket office yesterday to talk to passengers about the developments, with a 2-metre cutaway model and video of the new trains.

Thameslink model

More services

  • There will be more regular trains at rush hour; over the 3-hour morning peak there will be a 40% increase in the number of train services calling at West Hampstead.
  • Some longer, 12-carriage trains will be in service, significantly increasing capacity.

New trains

Standard class carriage interior. (Photo courtesy of FCC)

Standard class carriage interior. (Picture courtesy of FCC)

  • The increased frequency of the service needs new trains to match. Carriages have been specially designed for ease and speed of boarding and disembarking, with wider doors and more spacious interiors.
  • Seating has been redesigned. Gone are the unpopular 3-seat configurations; instead there are two-seaters throughout. Space has been optimised for different passenger needs such as luggage, space for wheelchairs and buggies, and a baby changing area, and there is more standing room.
  • Trains are greener; FCC claims they are “up to 50% more energy efficient”.
Improved luggage space (Picture courtesy of FCC)

Improved luggage space (Picture courtesy of FCC)

Expansion of Thameslink network

The Thameslink network will expand in 2018, linking up with other routes such as the Great Northern (East Coast Main Line) routes to Cambridge and Peterborough, and the route to Sevenoaks via Elephant & Castle.

The new train, face on. Fancy a day trip to Peterborough? (Picture courtesy of FCC)

The face on view of the new trains. Fancy a day trip to Peterborough? (Picture courtesy of FCC)

If you missed the roadshow, you can see the video for yourself, including details of the expanded network.

There’s also a great selection of photos on the IanVisits blog.

West Hampstead buildings on award shortlist

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

More detail: 1; 2; 3; 4

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

More images: 1

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

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

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

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

Two more Thameslink trains an hour off-peak

It’s felt like a long time coming, but from December 8th First Capital Connect will be running more trains from West Hampstead Thameslink. Specifically, weekday off-peak and Saturday services will increase frequency by 50%.

These two extra trains an hour in each direction are Bedford to Brighton (including Gatwick Airport) trains that didn’t use to stop at West Hampstead, but now will. Until now, very few trains from West Hampstead had gone to the end of the line off-peak.

There will also be twice as many trains to and from Gatwick on Sundays as services to and from Bedford are extended beyond East Croydon to Three Bridges.

Police trying to identify man hit by train in West Hampstead

Unapologetically re-publishing a press release here from British Transport police. Please read and think whether you know, or may have seen this man in West Hampstead that evening.

British Transport Police (BTP) detectives are appealing for the public’s help to identify a man who was struck by a train at West Hampstead earlier this week.

BTP officers were called to the station on Tuesday, 28 May following a report that a man had been struck by a London St Pancras to Derby train service at the station.

Metropolitan Police officers also attended the incident, which was reported to BTP at 9.40pm and is currently being treated as non-suspicious. Sadly the man was pronounced dead at the scene by medics from London Ambulance Service.

Detective Constable Terry Hancocks, of BTP, said: “Investigators have carried out extensive enquiries into identifying the man, but unfortunately have so far been unable to do so.

“Forensic analysis is currently ongoing however police are keen to hear from anyone who believes they may know this man or who has any information about the incident.

“This man is someone’s son and he may also be a brother, father or an uncle. It is imperative that we identify him as soon as possible, and help bring closure to his family.”

The man is described as white and in his fifties. He was wearing a Barbour jacket, Blue Harbour size 38 jeans and Karrimor size 12 trainers. He had a bald head, clean shaved and was wearing glasses.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact British Transport Police on 0800 40 50 40 quoting background reference B8/LNA of 30/05/2013. Information can also be passed to the independent charity Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.

WHAT’s happening at Thameslink?

People have been asking what’s happening on platform 1 on the Thameslink station – the answer is a waiting room. But there are more things going on at the award-winning station that may not be as visible.

Local campaign group WHAT regularly meets with First Capital Connect and has all the latest updates:

  • The new shelter on platform 1 will have a space for staff so they can answer customer queries speedily and be more in touch with the passengers.
  • There will also be a retail outlet on platform 1.
  • Oyster cards will soon be on sale at the station.
  • FCC trains will stop using London Bridge station for some years after 2014. FCC expects that West Hampstead will become a major interchange for their passengers, transferring to the Jubilee line.
  • WHAT has pressed for better information from station staff when things go wrong. They have also asked that staff be fully briefed about alternative travel options and which tube lines are closed at weekends.
  • WHAT would also like to see an art market on the station forecourt, and apparently FCC have been  receptive
  • Finally, WHAT is pressing for FCC to be included in Camden’s annual transport meeting, which will take place next month.
Here’s what the waiting room will (sort of) look like

The Thameslink station: Love it or loathe it

When the new West Hampstead Thameslink station opened in December last year, the broad consensus seemed to be positive.

Photo: Peter Cook

The “modest yet thoughtfully designed” (according to Architecture Today) modern glass structure made a statement but there weren’t too many objections, despite the plans having been scaled down from something more interesting due to budget constraints. It also was more or less on time – and the site constraints had given rise to some construction challenges (again, the Architecture Today article has a lot more detail). Here’s a timelapse video of the project.

Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone came along to the opening, and said a few words.

The large open boulevard along Iverson Road also seemed like a refreshing change although it was predictable that the green tiling wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste.

Fast forward a couple of months, with the northern entrance now open again so people aren’t missing their trains because they can’t leave the house one minute earlier, and murmurs of dissent are appearing on Twitter. Last week there was a brief flurry of messages on the topic.

Personally, I quite like the station building, but there is an undeniable mismatch between the station and the footbridge that leads to the platforms. This, as most of you will know, was in place long before the station building work began – they were sadly not an integrated design and it shows. What’s your view? Is this a landmark building West Hampstead should be proud of, or a harbinger of the architectural doom that lies ahead in the next wave of development in the area. Or do you simply not care?

Progress at Thameslink station

We’re geting nearer to the completion of the new West Hampstead Thameslink station on Iverson Road, and this morning I was sent some photos of the work so far by Roger Perkins, Thameslink Programme and King’s Cross Communications Manager for First Capital Connect, which I thought I’d share with you.

For more information on how station access will work over the next few months, please see my earlier blog.

Thameslink station photos

All change please: Thameslink’s next phase

Lots of you will have noticed that the new Thameslink station on Iverson Road is nearing completion. So, I thought it would be worth clarifying what’s going to happen over the next few months as the station transitions from the northern to the southern entrance. Handily, Thameslink have produced a useful guide to just this.

On November 14th, the existing station closes temporarily as work begins on a new ticket gate. This means passengers will have to enter the station by the side of the new station in Iverson Road. This will coincide with the work site hoardings along Iverson Road being pushed back to create a much wider pavement, although not yet to the full width we’ll see when the project is complete.

The new entrance will lead on to the new footbridge, although the old footbridge will stay open to allow people to change between platforms 2/3 and 4, but the stairs from platform 1 will be closed because the work for the new ticket gate enclosure will straddle the top of that staircase. The lifts on the new footbridge won’t be working until the new station building is complete in December.

Closing the existing entrance will mean today’s ticket office will be separated from the station. However, there will be two ticket machines at the Iverson Road entrance and staff will be available during normal ticket office hours with portable machines to sell people the full range of tickets.

On December 12th, the new station on Iverson Road will open, along with the public area in front of the station. Ticket office staff will relocate to the new building and the old ticket office will close. When the station is manned, passengers will pass through ticket gates inside the new building to reach the footbridge.

In mid-January the new ticket barriers will open above platform 1, and the original entrance will re-open. So, the station will have two permanent entrances and exits, and work will be complete. There will be a new ticket machine at the existing entrance and two machines at the new station building.

The ticket office hours will remain the same as today – 0615-1930 Mon-Fri; 0645-2000 Saturday and 0740-1715 Sunday. Outside these hours, people will access the platforms via the night entrance alongside the building, which will also be the temporary entrance from November 14th to December 12th.

There will be two touch-in/touch-out Oyster card readers at the Iverson Road night entrance, as well as Oyster readers on the new permanent ticket gates inside the station and at the existing entrance once the ticket gate enclosure there is complete.

For more information, visit the Thameslink programme page.

Get snapping for Thameslink

We’re only a few months away from the new Thameslink station opening on Iverson Road. To mark the occasion, Network Rail is running a photography competition. The winning photographs will be reproduced and displayed at the station for all to see.

The theme – not incredibly original, one has to say – is “Connections”. Photographers can interpret the theme as they see fit, with entries falling into two categories, under 16 and open.

Tim Galvani, Network Rail project manager, said: “Passengers are really going to benefit from the opening of the new station and will get the chance to see the picture gallery on the back of the new Iverson Road wall. It’s a great space that will be seen by everyone that travels to and through the station.”

To enter, fill in this form. You can either send digital copies of your photos on a disk or USB stick or e-mail them, together with the entry form to ku.oc1506093932.liar1506093932krowt1506093932en@kn1506093932ilsem1506093932aht1506093932. Closing date for entries is 30th October 2011.

Iverson Road pavement works

You’ll have noticed that Network Rail’s works on Iverson Road are progressing well. What you may not have yet realised is quite how big an impact the pavement widening is going to have.

I’d seen the plans and noticed the extra space, but if you walk a few yards along and peer over the fence you can see just how wide it will be. Everything right up to the far wall will be pavement. It’s going to be 3-4 times as wide again as the existing pavement. This picture taken from up against the current fence line doesn’t really do it justice.

This whole space – which will be owned by Network Rail – will (at least outside of rush hour) become a rather pleasant open area, almost like a mini town square. It should vastly improve the whole environment at the junction (good news for Ladudu opening across the road on West End Lane).

It is also now possible to see just how big the new cut corner is going to be – again hard to capture on camera, but worth noticing next time you walk past from the tube direction. All the space you see will be pavement. This section is owned by Camden, but hopefully the whole unified area can be used for hosting small events (Christmas market, carol singing, community stalls), and preferably not as a hangout for chuggers.

This should be a very positive change to West Hampstead’s streetscape as well as improving the pedestrian flows between the stations. Hurrah.

Read more on the various roadworks on West End Lane.

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.