Abbey Area regeneration stutters forward

Last week, Camden council voted on the latest set of plans for the Abbey Area regeneration (that’s the council development around the Abbey Road/Belsize Road junction. James King, who’ll be standing for the Lib Dems in that ward in next year’s local elections, went along and has reported back. There is also extensive documentation for this on Camden’s planning portal.

The ‘Abbey Area’ development was on the agenda of Camden Council’s planning committee. Not for the first time. Planning approval was first granted 18 months ago for the council’s own scheme to redevelop the buildings. Given that these ideas have been under discussion for six years, you might have thought the council would have worked up a well-thought out plan, commanding community support.

It didn’t turn out like that. Although the re-modelled scheme was voted through by a handful of councillors, others on the committee abstained, having exposed a number of weaknesses.

More of that later, but first of all, a brief overview of the development, which involves three phases:
Phase 1 – Demolition of the Belsize Road car park which also houses several businesses; construction of a 14-storey tower at the junction with private flats, a small supermarket space on the ground floor and an ‘energy centre’ in the basement. This will be attached to a six storey housing development with further private housing and new council properties. Shops and commercial office space will be provided on the ground floor.

This is what is now the car park
looking north-west along Abbey Road

Phase 2 – Construction of a health centre space at the base of Casterbridge tower and a new community centre at the base of Snowman tower . This new building will also include a covered courtyard connecting the two tower blocks.

Phase 3 – Demolition of the Emminster and Hinstock council housing blocks, the Abbey Community Centre, Belsize Priory Health Centre, shops and the Lillie Langtry pub. A new 6-7 storey housing block will be built around Belsize Road and Abbey Road, with shops opening out onto a ‘central urban realm space’. 15 ‘mews style’ houses will run alongside the back of Priory Terrace.

The application discussed at the meeting included detailed proposals for Phase 1 only, and sought fresh ‘outline’ permission for Phases 2 and 3. There are many question marks associated with the development, including the increased height of the tower building, the disappointingly low number of shared ownership flats, and uncertainty for tenants and businesses in the buildings earmarked for demolition. But the planning committee focused particularly on the loss of trees and open space.

Although the papers didn’t make this very clear, the development identified 44 trees for the chop. This looked like lazy design, and Lib Dem Cllr Flick Rea led the charge in forcing the council to concede that they will do further analysis and consultation before deciding whether to remove most of the trees.

Meanwhile, councillors of all parties were critical of the design of the new Phase 1 housing block, which eats up the green space in front of the car park. They were rightly unimpressed by the council’s attempt to argue that the redesigned junction (rebranded rather ludicrously as a ‘central character area’) would act as a new open space for young kids. It then emerged that the council is exploring a half-baked plan to remove the traffic lights from one of the busiest junctions in NW6!

The committee did eventually approve the scheme, but the meeting confirmed my view that this development scheme has lost its way. Although it started life as a regeneration initiative, there has been no real attempt to get buy-in from the shops and other traders on Belsize Road and Abbey Road who are affected. No local residents voiced support tonight, and the Kilburn ward councillors were absent from the meeting. Although £2.3m has been spent on various consultants, who organised blue skies workshops and produced glossy brochures, when it came to the planning consultation, nobody from the council bothered to organise a local meeting clearly setting out the plans on the table.

This is not the end of the road. The council has still to work up its detailed scheme for Phase 2 of the development, which is particularly contentious. And the construction phase of the project is likely to take five years or so. So lets hope that the local community is better involved in shaping the project from here on in.

The entire site today

Related articles
Take a look at Abbey Area plans (January 2013)
Abbey Area application passed by Camden (April 2012)
Abbey Area Development will go to City Hall (February 2012)

Take a look at Abbey Area plans

Next week, drop into the Abbey Community Centre to look at the designs and plans for the large-scale redevelopment of the Abbey Area estate.

As well as viewing the designs you should be able to ask the project team questions. The overall plan is to create approximately 260 new homes, as well as services such as a health and community centre and some retail facilities.

Click for full-size (map is aligned north)

The exhibition is on Monday 28th and Wednesday 30th January from 3.30–8pm 222c Belsize Road.

For more information see Camden’s website or read this:

Abbey Area application passed by Camden

Three local planning applications were on the agenda for Thursday’s Development Control committee meeting (Where Camden councillors vote on large planning applications).

The major decision to be made was regarding the Abbey Area development. This a proposal by Camden council itself, so naturally planning officers were recommending approval. The full 171 page report is here (sorry, not annotated this one!). There was a lengthy discussion in the meeting about this, with some strong views concerning the mix of housing in the new proposal as well as the impact of another large-scale development. Kilburn ward councillor Mike Katz perhaps captured the challenges of the plan most eloquently, pointing out that although the plans might not be perfect, “The best is often the enemy of the good and there’s much good about this development” He went on to address one of the criticisms head on: “I rather take objection that by trying to address our housing needs in NW London that you create a ghetto.”

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Eventually the vote was unanimously in favour, with two abstentions (Cllrs Rea & Braithwaite). There was no news of what might happen to the businesses that will see their premises destroyed – both under Emminster (Oscar’s Den, the piano shop, the pub), and in the car park (the framers, the upholsterers etc.). The entire webcast of the discussion can be viewed here.

Abbey Area Development will go to City Hall

Those of you living at the southern end of the neighbourhood are probably already up to speed with the extensive plans to redevelop the Abbey area estate at the Belsize Road/Abbey Road junction. There has already been a public consultation on this.

If you’re not sure what this is, The Abbey Area Redevelopment Project is a part of Camden’s estate regeneration programme approved in December 2007. The proposals involve the demolition and replacement of 70 homes at Emminster and Hinstock, a community centre health centre and some shops along with the existing Belsize Road multi-storey car park. Casterbridge and Snowman House tower blocks (the two big ones the east side of Abbey Road) would be retained with alterations proposed at the base of the buildings.

The new scheme will provide up to 299 homes including provision for larger family accommodation for affordable rent, some new homes for shared ownership and private sale.

Click for full-size version

The proposals also allow for the delivery of new community and health facilities at the base of the retained Casterbridge and Snowman House tower blocks along with new retail and business space to support the existing and new community. Here’s what the plans look like.

As you can see, it’s a large-scale development. Just for a bit of historical context, here’s what the site looked like in 1940.

I can’t immediately find evidence that this site was bombed, but it seems highly likely given that railways were targeted. The area was redeveloped in the 1960s and 1970s, including the Grade II listed Alexandra & Ainsworth estate (aka Rowley Way), which is outside the scope of this plan. The site also is adjacent to the proposed HS2 line out of Euston, however, HS2 shouldn’t affect these current plans, which would be underway well before HS2 construction starts in earnest. (There is an issue down the other end of Rowley Way with an access shaft for HS2, but that’s for another post.)

As would be expected for a development of this size, City Hall has already responded to the plans. There are a few areas where they are non-compliant with the London plan, and the final application will have to go before City Hall and cannot just be passed by Camden. The devil here is largely in the detail. Here’s the relevant extract from the report:

“London Plan policies on land use, housing, estate renewal, affordable housing, housing choice, density, child playspace, tall buildings, design, inclusive access, noise, climate change and transport are relevant to this application. The application complies with some of these policies but not with others, for the following reasons:

  • Land use: The principle of this residential led estate renewal scheme is supported
  • Housing, estate renewal, affordable housing and housing choice: Further discussion is needed on viability, tenure mix and minimum levels of affordable family housing
  • Density: the density should be calculated using the indicative scheme and in line with London plan guidance.
  • Child playspace: a playspace strategy should be submitted and off-site improvements committed to
  • Tall buildings and design: the design principles are generally supported however further discussions is needed on materials and the appearance of the tall building in particular
  • Inclusive access: Further information and commitments are needed.
  • Noise: Further information and commitments are needed.
  • Climate change: Further information and commitments are needed.
  • Transport: Further information and commitments are needed.”

Some of these issues sound a bit like dotting the i’s, but others – the child playspace and the tenure mix of units – present more of a challenge to the developers. You can read the full report here.

Camden’s planning site has all the documents related to the plan, including the reports on the retail situation – will Oscar’s Den be given first option on a new retail space? We can but hope.

Meanwhile, here’s an annotated copy of the full proposals (look out for the pages with the big green ticks, and the red outlines). Click on the title for access to the full-size version.

Abbey Area Redevelopment Project