Every few months, each ward in Camden holds the sexily-titled “Area Action Group”. It’s hard to imagine a less-suitable title. I think we should borrow from the Americans here and use the more appealing “Town Hall meeting” idea… but I digress.
The AAGs are a chance to catch up on the latest issues in the area. Next week, this includes the rubbish/fly-tipping problem that you’re all so worked up about. Gary Borg – one of Camden’s street environment officers – will be present.
The evenings are hosted by the local councillors but they are explicitly not allowed to be party political (although that doesn’t stop one or two of the more boistrous councillors from making a few choice comments from the safety of the audience from time to time). They often invite officials from other public bodies to come and be interrogated by feisty residents. Turnout varies, but 80 people would be a rough average.
Don’t dismiss these meetings as not for you, at least not without coming to one first. They can be quite revealing and offer a chance to ask questions that often otherwise aren’t asked. I’m not going to pretend they are a laugh-a-minute and, as regular readers of this website, you are already up to speed with much of what’s going on locally.
But… but, my friends…
Once in a while it does no harm to see who the people are who represent you locally; and it does no harm to see the residents who are most vocal in such meetings and whether or not they broadly articulate your views. Then you can decide whether you’re in the Russell Brand or Robert Webb camp (I walked past Robert Webb on Tuesday night, he was heading to the tube station in quite a hurry – running late for his Hampstead Theatre production I wondered?).
I must also give credit to Keith Moffitt, the councillor who normally chairs the meetings. He does a good job of keeping the agenda moving along and not letting ranters get overly ranty (this can be a challenge).
|Keith Moffitt, West Hampstead councillor|
West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards hold a combined meeting. The next one is on November 13th – the day before #whampgather (still sold out, sorry). They are held at the synagogue community hall on Dennington Park Road, just off West End Lane. Wear warm clothes.
Here’s the agenda:
7pm Opportunity to meet ward councillors informally over tea/coffee
7.30pm Start of meeting and introductions
- Transport for London – 139 bus route and other issues
- Refuse collection and street cleansing – new service launched
- Thames Water – Cllr Moffitt to give verbal update on feedback to date
- Neighbourhood Planning Forum update
- Any other business
See you there?
The turnout for this week’s West Hampstead & Fortune Green Area Action Group was higher than usual, with parking, planning, and local business on the agenda.
For those of you not familiar with the AAGs, they are an opportunity to meet local councillors, hear about the latest developments in the area, and for the public to share their views and ask questions.
Parking changes in Camden
The council is reviewing its parking policies. We had a quick rundown of changes over the past few years: fewer parking tickets, no clamping, allowing taxis to park on yellow lines for ATM access.
The borough is introducing cashless parking via mobile phones (meters will still accept coins), and is reviewing how its permit system will work with auto-renewal systems, e-permits and simplifying the visitor permit system with half-hour visitor permits being abolished. It was also made clear that the parking zones won’t be extended as that encourages short journeys and more parking pressure around stations.
Parking turned out to be an issue that people got quite exercised by. There was a question about all the proposed housing developments and the impact on parking in the area. All new developments are encouraged to be car free and residents will not be allowed to apply for permits on nearby streets. The view was expressed that new residents would find a way around the rules. There was also a suggestion that if there was basement parking in new developments it could then be used as public parking during the day.
There was grumbling about changes to visitor permit system and the common complaint councils face up and down the country: that they are “using motorists as cash cows”.
Parking wardens came in for flak for being too picky over permits. The representative from Camden explained that the appeals process will look at such issues. The masses weren’t impressed and the view was expressed that the permits were too complicated yet there was no process by which the public could look at getting them changed.
The parking review will also look at the details for each controlled parking zone, including on Fortune Green Road where parking for the 24hr gym is causing some local residents a degree of angst.
Next up, James Earl from the Fordwych Residents Association explained the concept of the Neighbourhood Development Plan, which you can read more about here. One local development was being displayed at the meeting – Handrail House on Maygrove Road is likely to be turned into flats. The developer is throwing money at local community centre Sidings, including astroturfing the pitch, in order to ease any objections. If plans are cleared by April then the developer will avoid the Crossrail levy that all larger residential developments in London will have to pay.
I asked whether there was any way in which we could get the Mayor’s London plan to enlarge the area designated for intensification (800 homes over the next few years) so that all the homes wouldn’t have to be clustered so tightly along the railway lines. Almost certainly a futile notion, but local councillor Flick Rea suggested that if there was ever a time to lobby politicians it was in the run up to an election and we were about to prepare for another Ken v Boris battle (and lets remember Ken lives locally so would at least be au fait with the particularities of the area). This would not be about reducing the number of new homes in West Hampstead, just spreading them out a little more. Developers themselves might not be so keen, under current planning frameworks, it’s much harder for councils to reject developments that flank railways.
Flick also mentioned that it was possible that the council offices on West End Lane (better known as the Wickes/Travis Perkins building), which are also destined to be flats, could end up as being entirely affordable housing as part of a deal with a (hypothetical) developer. So much for integrated housing projects.
Someone asked what our councillors’ own view was about the future of West Hampstead; I think suggesting that there was too much of a “our hands are tied” attitude. Councillor Keith Moffitt said that they had a clear vision, which was to preserve the villagey feel of the area, while recognising the need for new homes. One can imagine that this will translate into planners insisting that some of the larger developments lop a couple of floors off their proposals, or tone down any architectural oddities, but that any wholesale rejection of housing developments is unlikely.
I bumped into James later in the week and asked if there had been a good response after the meeting in terms of helping set up a steering group for the NDP – and it seemed like there had been. This will be a lengthy process though, and is very much going to focus on the developments that aren’t even on the table yet rather than those already under discussion.
There was a brief discussion on the new proposals for Gondar Gardens, which I’ve tackled in a separate blog. Questions were also raised as to whether there really was a need for new housing in the area, and weren’t there already too many houses on the market (the idea was firmly rebuffed by the estate agent contingent who said demand outstripped supply at the moment). And someone asked whether ownership of new flats could be restricted to Londoners or “people who need them”. You can imagine the answer.
Councillor Gillian Risso-Gill spoke briefly about the fledgling West Hampstead Business Forum and introduced David Matthews from Dutch & Dutch estate agents who has offered to chair the group. It will be interesting to see what comes out of that in the coming months.
The meeting concluded with short presentations / plugs for the financially challenged West Hampstead Community Association by Geoff Berridge, and for the financially more secure Sidings Community Centre by Sue Measures. Both run all manner of classes, so do check them out.
There were two off-agenda items that came up in final questions. The first concerned the cycle permeability scheme (allowing two-way cycle traffic on many of our one-way streets), which some locals think is a recipe for disaster. The consultation period for this has passed, but the councillors suggested that comments even now might well be considered.
The second was an impassioned plea regarding Netherwood Day Centre. This specialist Alzheimers unit just off the Kilburn High Road is teetering on the precipice again after an initial stay of execution following a high profile campaign involving local celebrities such as Ricky Gervais.
And that was that
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last night’s Area Forum for Camden’s Kilburn ward focused heavily on crime & safety. Here’s the “transcript” based on Mike and Jen’s tweets during the meeting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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