Misty-eyed or hungry for change? West Hampstead speaks

Are West Hampstead locals “misty-eyed” about the past, or driving for progressive change?

Depends who you ask. A few months ago, the Neighbourhood Development Forum ran a survey1 to gauge people’s views on development in West Hampstead. It is interesting to see what common themes emerged, and where there were areas of discord. Interesting, and relevant, because it is responses to these surveys that will help inform the development plan that the Forum will draft.

First up, the tickbox questions (just the most interesting ones). Two answers stand out: the relative popularity of today’s mix of chains and independent shops (which shows a healthy streak of realism among whampers), and the fairly even split between housing, employment and shops when it comes to development priorities in the area. There seems to be an understanding of the need for housing, as long as it doesn’t involve high-rise.

Do you think West Hampstead has a “village feel”? Yes: 85%
No: 15%
Do you think West Hampstead has the right balance
of shops, restaurants and cafés?
Yes: 42%
No: 58%
Which are the most valuable on the high street? Independent shops: 56%
Chains: 1%
Both: 43%
Do you think that West Hampstead has the right balance
between old and new buildings?
Yes: 75%
No: 25%
What do you think should have the greatest priority
in developing our area?
Housing: 36%
Employment: 31%
Shops: 31%
Are you willing to accept more high-rise buildings to increase
the amount of housing in the area?
Yes: 25%
No: 75%

Why is housing such a big deal? The housing crisis is fairly well understood,but behind all the statistics are real people such as the person who wrote this in the survey:

I am renting. In the future I will likely move out of London as I can’t afford to buy here. Local and city-wide population is growing. More well designed mid-rises make sense! If you look at the area – it is dominated by beautiful mid-high density housing – the Edwardian mansion flats. Lets have our version of these now. That might be high rise but well done tower blocks, it might be something along the lines of modern mansion flats but on new pieces of land. There is a reasonable block on Kingdon road like this. New housing would not spoil the village atmosphere.

The qualitative research is also enlightening. There’s a lot of emphasis on preserving green space, but the reactions to housing are mixed with some dead against, some seeking infill, and others who argue that change is a good thing, even if that means high-rises. The divide is perhaps strongest between those who are against all development (which is like trying to stop the tide), and those who have a more realistic outlook to how development should proceed:

Organically in conjunction with local residents, but with an emphasis on progress and not a misty-eyed past.

Overall, responses to the six open-ended questions ranged from the insightful to the banal to the hilarious. And one person just wasn’t sure about anything at all. Some people listed the types of shops they wanted, others used the opportunity to rant at the council.

Someone very kindly said that they really liked what I did for the community, while someone else alluded to the “prejudices and hobby-horses of self-appointed busybodies and bloggers”, which I guess refers at least in part to me, though I’m not quite sure which prejudices I’m guilty of spreading.

I’ve included an edited selection of answers below to try and give you a sense of the issues raised. These aren’t all the responses, and even those that are included have sometimes been edited for brevity, clarity and to avoid too much repetition. Nor have I included answers that reference things that have since happened, such as the farmers’ market.

As always, your comments overall would be interesting to hear. I’ll be writing more in the next day or so about the progress of the NDF and the recent public meeting about it.

Q1. What would you like to see included in a Neighbourhood Development Plan for Fortune Green & West Hampstead?

  • More parks and green space (e.g. pocket parks, access to the land with trees along the railway lines along the O2 Centre) or improving existing spaces. More employment space (to support the weekday economy). Small rise office/workshop/studios.
  • Education re: litter, manners and neighbourliness.
  • New buildings are a good thing, as they reflect the changing nature of the area. They need to be sympathetic and well designed though.
  • Ideally, plan for building more houses owned by co-operatives / Peabody [Peabody Trust] etc../ shared ownership / as well as standard private buyers.
  • More trees and grass.
  • Width restriction for large articulated lorries that use west end lane like a motorway.
  • Building in keeping in colour of visible materials. Buildings not to exceed current height in area. New buildings not to encroach on busy pavements that are narrow. Not to obscure light and pedestrian space near train stations. Not to increase density any MORE – turning the village into urban sprawl.
  • Better community facilities such as a hall for meetings that does not cost a lot.
  • Maintaining and improving the area as a good place to do business, improve quality of life for residents but also ensure the area plays its part in providing more housing for the borough and London as a whole. In particular this means a progressive approach to promoting good-quality developments (including ‘high rise’ buildings); a more mainstream high street with a better mix of shops, restaurants and other business space – accessible by car as well as public transport;
  • The provision of allotments – ideally on Gondar Gardens reservoir site.
  • More shops – mostly idependent but a Boots would be great.
  • Restictions on refurbishment of Victorian houses including the introduction of new basements, loft extensions and paving over front gardens. Prioritize the building of affordable housing on existing brownfield sites. Stopping people selling off their back gardens to developers. Retaining Gondar Gardens reservoir as a protected open space.
  • More flexible shortterm parking to allow small local shopkeepers to be more successful. Daytime parking restrictions affect shops but not restaurants whose main business is in the evenings. Traffic controls through West Hampstead to slow down traffic and to encourage them to consider pedestrians. (20mph?) More play facilities for over 5s. Better street cleaning. Our side streets are filthy and much of it comes from overflowing bins outside properties. (Enforcement?).
  • Reduction in street signage.
  • High quality modern design and architecture should be promoted but should be in sympathy with neighbouring buildings. The promotion of public transport and pedestrian movement is important.
  • A coherent plan for street trees.
  • Allow more people to convert their front gardens to driveways. Create more parking spaces. Develop underground car parks. Reduce the parking limitation zones. Make it easier for people to drive to our area to support our shops without fear of parking limits or fines.
  • A small pond.
  • A limit to the height of buildings. A higher proportion of social housing than is usually offered currently by developers. Linked Section 106 agreements which would contribute towards extra school places.
  • Space/units for small businesses and start-ups. there are no spaces like this anywhere this side of London. especially for people who want to create/make; carpenters, mechanics, crafts etc. building plans for housing around West Hampstead are too large. If you accommodate these people, where do you think they will park cars – even if its just for unloading/taxis, etc. west end lane will be grid-locked. school: another school on the c11 route is not a good idea. have any of you ever tried to get on a c11 when children need to get to school? bigger bus and more of them pls.
  • More youth clubs, or whatever the modern equivalent is.
  • Not sure.

Q2. What are the things you like about the area?

  • Good transport links. Proximity to central London
  • The location – and community feel.
  • The trees. The cafés (even though there isn’t one that is truly great). The green. How you can walk down the street at 9pm any night and it feels relaxed, with people sitting outside, it feels safe and it feels authentic… The sense that it could change and new, interesting, friendly shops/cafés/bars/art places or anything could open at anytime.
  • The openness with few high rise buildings, the safety, the numerous facilities for children.
  • Village feel, transport, not pretentious, good mix of people.
  • The traditional architecture.
  • I like the fact that there is a good balance between long, mid and short term locals and age groups. It provides a balanced feel to the area and maintains the village-y feel without it becoming too cliquey.
  • I like the village feel which is rapidly disappearing. It used to be an area of artisans and that feeling has gone.
  • The self-contained village feel – the wonderful local police – good community relations – huge effort made by existing residents to welcome new residents. The little bits of green space – the good rail connections. The family homes and the fact that families and young children still come to this area to make a home and keep it vibrant. Our good schools.
  • The transport facilities. The village feel of Mill Lane, independent shops, diversity of people in the area.
  • I love the feel of West Hampstead (apart from the West End Lane ‘parking lot’).
  • People used to be friendly and neighbours used to know one another. This has changed with property being rented and the resulting moving population.  West Hampstead still has a village atmosphere but, parking is a problem here. Travel is excellent with the new and attractive station.
  • It has a quieter feel, not busy like Kilburn.

Q3. What are the things you like about your street?

  • It’s a main road with continuous traffic and a bus route, frequently snarled up with jams so there is not much to like.
  • People are friendly and helpful.
  • The trees The mansion blocks – high density housing done well! The synagogue building (though I’ve never been inside – would like to). Its proximity to West End Lane, but relative quiet. The style of houses. Its safety – I can walk along it and feel safe mostly.
  • It is very quiet and I can nearly always find a parking space.
  • I don’t as I live on Fortune Green Road and it’s like a motorway for huge lorries. I suppose I love the large trees the most as they so beautiful.
  • The cemetery, Nautilus.
  • A lot of people I have known for 45 years +
  • It is changing for the better.
  • I like a) the attractive and symmetric architecture and the relative absence of front dormers; b) the lack of people parking in their front gardens.
  • In my humble opinion one of the most attractive streets in London – and I love that it is a street you would be hard pushed to find outside of the capital!
  • The people. I hate the narrow, old and tatty pavements. There should NOT be any trees on Weech Road. Fortune Green is moments away and provides ample trees. The pavements are too narrow. REMOVE the trees. They’re not wanted and not needed.
  • Having a park and a Tescos!

Q4. What things would like to protect in your area?

  • Parks and open spaces. Independent shops. Employment.small businesses
  • Trees. A few years ago new trees were planted. Unfortunately they were the wrong type and some have now been replaced others have disappeared and the spaced filled with a concrete slab.
  • The independent shops/cafés/bars that are left… The trees / the green. Cafés and bars that allow people to sit on the street. The public transport.
  • Trees, fewer pointless duplicate lampposts.
  • Architecture and the property frontage, stopping estate agents signs, extend conservation areas. Improve and maintain green spaces including West End Green and Kilburn Grange.
  • Green spaces, such as they are.
  • The 2 red old BT phone boxes by fortune green and have them freshly painted.
  • The look and feel of the streets. Not allowing houses to lose their original design integrity.
  • Change is part of growth and development. Parks and open spaces should be protected.
  • More police.
  • I’m happy for some development but a more open discussion about the costs and benefits.
  • The tree lined roads. No more housing.
  • The park and all nearby beautiful architecture. Replace the cheap shoddy lamps with traditional lighting fitting for the Hampstead area, Repair/replace all pavements. This is not trivial. It makes walking for the elderly more dangerous. It also makes it dangerous for walking with babies in a pushchair. The uneven surfaces cause people to trip and hurt themselves.
  • Views. There are too many big trees. I’d like to see them pruned more strongly, and more often. I’m talking both Council street trees and huge trees at the bottoms of virtually all adjoining gardens in Parsifal Road. (It’s a problem now we’re in the West End Green conservation area.). And light, again the trees’ fault. I’d pass a law saying no tree branch should ever obscure the light from a street lamp.
  • Not sure.

Q5. How do you think the area should develop in the future?

  • It would be good if the area could be developed to encourage settling rather than transience by strengthening the sense of community, identity and belonging. There will always be movement but the loss of family homes in favour of studios/bedsits, cafés/ low quality food outlets replacing shops selling quality products is turning the area into a dormitory town with a clone high street.
  • West Hampstead is great, but shows its heritage. It needs to develop infrastructure and shops/restaurants: – a couple more pubs (better quality than the current dives) – why not a Wetherspoons? – decent sit-down ociali/thai restaurants – a proper fish and chip shop more central than Nautilus.
  • More houses / flats (not just for buy to let). I am renting. In the future I will likely move out of London as I can’t afford to buy here. Local and city-wide population is growing. More well designed midrises make sense! If you look at the area – it is dominated by beautiful mid-high density housing – the Edwardian mansion flats. Lets have our version of these now. That might be high rise but well done tower blocks, it might be something along the lines of modern mansion flats but on new pieces of land. There is a reasonable block on Kingdon road like this. New housing would not spoil the village atmosphere.
  • It should be more cycling friendly.
  • I think there should be a focus on developing small businesses within the area, both so that the immediate community is better served and feels less need to go outside of the area and also so that people from other areas are encouraged to visit and spend their money. Currently parking is a problem for visitors though and any removal of resident’s parking to facilitate visitor parking would be unwelcome as it would cause issues for the residents.
  • Tricky, it feels fairly dense already.
  • I think the area should look to develop and preserve its past and not rush into putting in more and more dwellings in every spare space. I’m not unaware of the problems of housing generally. However, if we increase dwellings and developments in the future, I believe we are building in social problems for the future.
  • A big notice board in the high street to keep everyone up to date.
  • Stop cramming thousands around the station. Have a thought for quality of life and safely of those using station.
  • It should evolve from the present with the emphasis on small scale housing renewal.
  • Better use needs to be made of the commercial areas we have in the area – parts of Fortune Green, Mill Lane and Broadhurst Gardens are having a difficult time sustaining local businesses.
  • Mixed developments including housing, shops, bars and public spaces. Better interchange between stations.
  • Very very slowly and not at all until all the isuess with schoosls, water, transport, cars, noise, power and healthcare have been resolved with the council.
  • Stop too many expensive private housing projects, introduce rent controls for private landlords, stop the selling off of the few remaining council owned properties and make the location accessible to ordinary people – we are being overwhelmed by rich people from the City who have no commitment to the area or social services.
  • There should be sensitive development to ensure that intensification of accommodation does not exacerbate problems with rubbish, parking and noise. The existing style of building should be maintained.
  • Give more prominence to the needs of children and young people who are not well provided for.
  • Organically in conjunction with local residents, but with an emphasis on progress and not a misty-eyed past.
  • I don’t think West Hampstead should be a museum. It has to make a contribution towards providing additonal housing but the focus should be on affordable housing not on piedàterres for the rich. I would like something about improving the traffic flow through the areas around the West Hampstead stations and would support a major development there provided the quality was appropriate.
  • I think we need to put housing on the agenda as it is only if more housing is built that prices will come down relatively and young people will have a chance to get their feet on the housing ladder.
  • The interchange area should be a gateway to the area that we could be proud of. That area provides an opportunity for high quality, high density housing which could take West Hampstead as a whole up a level. Planners should be relaxed about the possible amalgamation of retail units to attract more A1 multiples.
  • Yes, new housing but not so high to overwhelm present buildings. More space for short term parking for shops and more space for pedestrians. Awareness on how much sign/street furniture there is in the main streets.
  • Put railings in front of the West Hampstead Thameslink, People come off the train mobile in hand and walk straight out in front of cars and cyclist.
  • Less crime (robberies).
  • More emphasis on people’s gardens, some are left trashy.
  • Less cars – the pollution, dirt and smell from them is very off-putting and very un-villagey.
  • The area, especially along the high street has started to look run down over the past 4 years. Investment needs to be concentrated into reviving the high streets of West End Lane and Mill lane and creating a vibrant community for shopping, socialising and relaxing.

Q6. Where should new development in the area be located?

  • Wherever there is space. Its a pity that one-fifth of West Hampstead ward is currently a car park (O2 Centre). Maybe development could be built over the railway lines so they are all underground!
  • The area around the stations should be tidied up and redeveloped with commercial units. The triangular area between the railway lines should be conservatively redeveloped.
  • I don’t know if i’m honest, i’m not a town planner / have access to all the data. Depends what the new development is too but: Possibly… by the transport hubs. In South Hampstead as walking up to the tube seems less busy than down West End Lane. The overground there is dead, but its a great line. Wherever there is land that is not being loved. Not just new – how about using properties that are empty? There are a lot of them. Iverson road? Back of Homebase?
  • There are patches of poorly maintained housing, especially in Sumatra Road that could be redeveloped in an appealing way.
  • In Cricklewood!
  • I don’t know where or if any new development should be permitted.
  • Around the train tracks and on Blackburn Road perhaps, but I really don’t know where they will find the space for new development…
  • In car park of O2 centre or possibly in Barnet where they have more space.
  • Where there is poorly used space such as along Maygrove Road.
  • The areas around the railway lines are obviously underutilized and should be the focus of sensible development. The whole of Blackburn road could be better utilized with a redevelopment incorporating both residential and commercial facilities. I don’t think there should be too many restrictions in terms of redevelopment. The example of the new Emmanuel school and residential development on Fortune Green are good examples of what can be achieved on existing sites.
  • It shouldn’t. Unless rundown properties need to be pulled down. You have to be realistic when the best thing is no more major development otherwise the area becomes soulless and loses appeal.
  • That manky area near the station.
  • Somewhere in London that has the space and infrastructure.
  • Renovation and conversion of old buildings should be prioritised instead of new build. One exception is that I would love to see the Sagar Building [Alfred Court on Fortune Green] demolished as it has ruined everyone’s view and looks like a prison. It could be replaced with an attractive building that was in tune with the surroundings.
  • I think encouragement, possibly financial, could be given to home-owners under-occupying their own property to release part of their homes for letting/conversion.
  • The reservoir is the last remaining undeveloped green site and would be an ideal place for open space for children but has sat empty for years. There was a small play area there in the early 80s which was closed down. If agreement is given to residential development there then the planning gain needs to be better open space facilities for local people. Please no more gated communities.
  • The development area should be constrained to the interchange.
  • High quality architecture should be welcomed all over the area.
  • Spaced evenly – everywhere. Society develops. That’s life!
  • Not sure.

1There were 180 responses from people spread across the area, with a slight bias to the northern half. Some basic demographic questions helped assess how representative the sample was, and it turned out to be moderately in line with the data from the 2001 census 2001, although with a strong bias towards responses from owner-occupiers, older people and long-term residents, who probably are largely the same group.

Each dot marks approximate address of a respondent.
The border is that of West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards