Getting down and dirty on Kilburn High Road

Amid all the grumbling about filth on West End Lane, it’s always worth casting an eye elsewhere to see whether we can learn from others. Or to put our own woes into perspective. Recently, there have been some despairing tweets about the clutter, litter and, general grime on Kilburn High Road (this includes responses from one of the local councillors). We went to take a closer look down the Camden side of the road.

We started up by the railway bridge near the junction with Maygrove Road. And it didn’t take long to see the first of many (illegal) A-boards. At this point I’m going to introduce the word “curtilage“. This means the defined area of a property’s land. Within your curtilage you can do what you want (within reason) – build a deck, put out goods or an A-board etc.. Beyond is the public highway and you cannot do what you want, whether it’s within reason or not.

If the public highway is narrow then it is particularly important to keep it clear for pedestrian flow, buggies, wheelchairs and so on. It is the council’s responsibility to enforce that it is kept clear.


Further down, more A-boards appearing and furniture for sale.

More A-boards

It gets worse along the really narrow stretch of pavement from 334 to 328 ; although most of the businesses have built out on their curtilage they then obstruct the remaining narrow pavement with A-boards and allow their chairs to spill off their land (and bins too). Adding to the confusion of where responsibility lies, this stretch is actually part of West Hampstead ward, not Kilburn.


And they've even pinned an ad to the tree...

There is even an ad pinned to the tree…

A bit further on we come to the Hilal Food Centre.  It’s a popular store – I shop there too – but it still has to obey the same planning rules as everyone else. It has ‘allegedly’ spread way over it’s curtilage and keeps creeping forward across the public highway. Their gain at our loss.

Hilal2Next up is popular pizza joint Quartieri, which had tested the limit by putting out chairs on the pavement and an A-board. However, it was slapped down pretty quickly and with a reputation to keep has been playing by rules since then.

The Black Lion has been around for longer than most businesses on the High Road. It has a nice outdoor space at the side – on its own curtilage – but has recently started putting out chairs and tables on the public pavement. Without planning permission, apparently. The pavement here is wide enough to take it, but it still needs permission guys.


Next up, another pub. The Sir Colin Campbell has tables outside too, but – and here’s the important bit – these are on its own curtilage. And the A-boards are on it too. Cheers to the SCC for being a responsible business.


I have spared you yet more photos of fly tipping thus far – there was certainly plenty of it, but at this point we reached a particularly egregious case, some of which appeared to have come from the other side of the road. Why did the fly-tipper cross the road? Because enforcement is tougher on the Brent side.

Cllr John Duffy, a Labour Councillor in Brent, ensures that fly-tipping (and planning breaches) are dealt with and followed up. This doesn’t seem to happen as effectively on the Camden side of the road, although the local councillors tweet the tweet!


Credit where it’s due

Camden can however take credit for the physical state of the pavements and for the state of the road. Any cycling readers will know that the northern end of Kilburn High Road is in a terrible state, with potholes big enough to cause an accident. But once you pass Quex Road, the surface improves and it’s fine from then on. The reason: in an effort to do some of that famed joined-up thinking, Camden is responsible for the road on the lower section below Willesden Lane and Brent for the upper section.  Camden has met its responsibilities, while the potholes suggest Brent has not.

Pothole number one (of many)

Pothole number one (of many)

And pothole number two.

And pothole number two.

The road surface is vastly better south of Quex Road

The road surface is vastly better south of Quex Road

There is a noticeable difference in the pavements too. On what I understand is the part Brent is responsible for, but in ‘Camden’, there clearly potential trip hazards. WHL checked with Camden on this as it sounds a bit odd and even they weren’t sure.

Clearly a trip hazard. Damages in case of injury would be a lot more than 10p!

Clearly a trip hazard. Damages in case of injury would be a lot more than 10p!

Kilburn High Road marks the boundary between Camden and Kilburn (with Westminster and Barnet also getting involved at the southern and northern ends) and somewhere that’s on the periphery for all councils is always likely to struggle to get the attention of borough heartlands. There are added complications that even within one borough, the road passes through multiple wards, but that shouldn’t have an impact on enforcement.

Aside from aesthetics, why should this be of such a concern? For a start there’s the ‘broken windows‘ theory (general deterioration leads to bigger problems), and certainly the deterioration of our streets has coincided with a rise in crime. And as if that wasn’t enough, living in a cleaner more pleasant environment is less stressful, which given that Camden has some of the highest rates of mental illness across the country – with almost 50,000 adults in Camden experiencing anxiety and depression (20% higher than national levels), would be one more reason to strive for cleaner streets and a decent public realm.

Finally, WHL has been getting flak from local Labour activists about the number of tweets on the state of our local streets (don’t worry we get flack from the Tories too, about different issues – so we must be doing something right). They have said we should mention the Clean Camden App, and this we are happy to do. Just done it. WHL is a regular user but there are some things it can’t do (e.g. report those broken flagstones, or bins left on the pavement). Nor have we heard from Camden about how effective it is. In a nutshell – to paraphrase a former Prime Minister; we need to not only be tough on grime, but tough on the causes of grime.

Brent to the rescue for public firework displays

Wondering where to go to watch fireworks on Bonfire Night?



Your only local option for a big free display is Brent Council’s show at Roundwood Park on 5th November. This is a big display and is always very popular and busy. If you’re planning to take children, there’s a children’s display earlier in the evening at 7pm, which is less noisy than the main one, which kicks off an hour later. There’s also a funfair and food stalls. From West Hampstead, take the Jubilee line to Dollis Hill or Willesden Green and then walk or take the 226 bus to the park entrance.

A couple of other local-ish displays (thanks to the commenters below for telling us about them!) will be held at Queen’s Park Gardens from 6pm on 5th November, and the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate on the 9th. The former is not to be confused with the larger Queen’s Park; the nearest station is Kensal Green.

The Alexandra and Ainsworth estate, just off Abbey Road, will be a great setting for a fireworks show on Sunday 9th November, and is open to all, including non-residents.

There are no big public displays in the borough of Camden; in fact police will be cracking down on anyone caught lighting fireworks or Chinese lanterns.

Alexandra Palace is holding a fireworks display on Saturday night, but the problems that blighted last year’s event clearly haven’t affected ticket sales this year – it’s already completely sold out.

If you’re up for travelling further afield, Londonist has a good round-up of fireworks displays around the city.

Kilburn Festival cancelled


The Kilburn Festival, an annual event in Kilburn Grange Park, has been cancelled less than a month before it was due to take place on July 13th.

Some 10,000 people typically attend the family-friendly day, which comprises stalls, street food, live music and lots of kid-friendly activities.

The trustees say that they “do not have sufficient funds to put on a safe and quality festival this summer, but are hoping to plan events later in the year, and to be able to deliver a summer festival in 2015.”

West Hampstead Life understands that it is a lack of funding from Brent Council that has led to this situation. The local elections meant that Brent changed its dates on funding decisions and simply wasn’t able to make a decision in time over the Kilburn Festival funding. Other Brent-sponsored events have apparently also suffered as a result.

Welsh Harp & Fryent Country Park

Our first (half) day out, is a late summer six-mile ramble through Brent and Barnet that starts just six minutes from West Hampstead! On this Sunday afternoon, we watched swans corralling signets in Welsh Harp reservoir, discovered Brent’s oldest building, ate a wild apple, and still couldn’t avoid spotting the Shard.

Factbox ¦ Route map (full size) ¦ Slideshow

Our path was one section of the Capital Ring – a sort of pedestrian M25 that circles London.

We took the Thameslink north to Hendon (£1.70 with Oyster travelcard) – it really is just six minutes. A brisk cut across Hendon Broadway with its seemingly incongruous fishing tackle shop took us to the glorious leafy surrounds of Cool Oak Lane. There were indeed some cool-looking oaks on this shady walkway, already laden with acorns. There’s a narrow bridge that has its own pedestrian light – when the man goes green the cars have to stop and you can saunter across the bridge. Then head left – despite signs pointing both left and right.

The bridge takes you away from built-up Hendon and into parkland. There’s a lookout platform across the Welsh Harp (aka Brent) Reservoir. This is one of London’s largest lakes and an important conservation area for many bird and mammal species. It’s also home to a sailing centre and there were kids in canoes enjoying the water. Standing in this peaceful spot it was hard to believe we’d been on West End Lane less than half an hour previously. Welsh Harp is named after a pub by the way – I knew you’d ask

Don’t leave it too long before trying this walk – the Welsh Harp area looks like it’s going to be built on in a very controversial large-scale housing development. From a purely environmental point of view, this seems like a terrible shame. To have such open countryside in the heart of north London is fantastic.

Having walked the length of the reservoir, where there are numerous picnic spots and a few hidden nooks and crannies, we stumbled upon St Andrew’s Old Church (not to be confused with the new St Andrew’s round the corner). The Capital Ring signs don’t take you past the church, instead take the footpath signed “Leading to St Andrew’s Road” and make your way through the spooky graveyard to find it. An ice cream van’s jingle in the distance only added to the horror film vibe.

Amazingly, the church is thought to be the oldest standing building in Brent, dating back to Saxon times. As we approached it seemed a service was ending, but the garb of the small congregation and the priest suggested this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill CofE service. Instead, the church is now home to Romanian Orthodox worshippers. Brent council has a fantastic article on the history of the building, which I wish we’d read before we went.

You soon pick up the Capital Ring path again as it makes it way through the paved front gardens of suburbia to Fryent Country Park. The views open up to the north and it feels as if you have left London behind. The park is more of a heathland with original hedgerows and paths in all directions. The Capital Ring path is well signposted, and where there are multiple paths, look at the directional arrow carefully although there are plenty of ways of getting to the busy main road that bisects the park.

There were sloes, blackberries and even apples in abundance in the park. The latter offshoots presumably of nearby orchards. Aside from a lone jogger, we had the whole area to ourselves, even on a sunny mild Sunday afternoon.

After crossing the road, the park becomes more of a wood, and the path takes the only major climb of the route – a short pull up to Barn Hill.

Having barely seen a soul since entering Fryent Park, there were a few families enjoying the pond up here, replete with moorhens. The views of Wembley stadium from the trig point must be hard to beat, and a clearing to the east lets you glimpse the glass and steel structures of the City – the Gherkin and Shard both visible in the haze. For some reason there was a watermelon cut in half and lying on the grass as if picnickers had been forced to leave in a hurry and feared it might weigh them down as they fled.

Coming down from Barn Hill, there’s a temptation to cross the Jubilee Line footbridge, but in fact the path turns left and then disappears right, into a small copse – the signpost is completely overgrown though, but even making a mistake here will lead you back onto the path.

The wilder parts of the walk are behind you – although some might find Preston Road a little wilder than West End Lane. Here’s refreshment in the form of some corner shops (one of which was selling doner kebab flavour crisps!). This is also a bailing out point as you can catch the Met Line from here.

As you reach the picture perfect village school that is Preston Park primary, the path cuts through an appealing small urban park with a playground and cricket pitch (there was a match, but it was tea). Another trip through suburbia the other side and under South Kenton station and you’re almost at Northwick Park.

Here the view is dominated by the enormous hospital, and by military aircraft flying into RAF Northolt. There were a couple more cricket matches here; it was tea here too – at least for the more serious looking one. The Capital Ring takes a very unprepossessing route off through some brambles but we headed on the spur path to Northwick Park station. From here, it’s a 12 minute ride on the Metropolitan Line (£1.50 off-peak) to Finchley Road station and back to the sanctity of NW6.

What to take: The path could be muddy, so not your best shoes. There are shops in Hendon and Preston Road, but that’s about it, so you may want some water/snacks.
Maps: Most of the walk is on Section 10 of the Capital Ring. Here’s the map. (this describes the route in reverse). I would recommend OS Explorer 173 London North (1:25,000), which marks the path as well.
Terrain: well-maintained paths and pavement, undulating, with one steeper section of up/down
Distance: 6.5 miles
Signposting: Very well signposted for the most part, though some signs are small. Map definitely recommended.
View Welsh Harp and Fryent Park in a larger map
(can’t see the photos? Go to the Flickr page)

The future of the Kilburn High Road

Last week there was a joint Brent/Camden public meeting to discuss how to revitalise the Kilburn High Road. Some might argue that it’s not lacking in vitality now, but there’s also a sense that with so many fast food outlets and shabby looking shops it’s time to rethink the KHR.

Eugene went along to the meeting at the famous State building to see what ideas were being tossed around.

“I remember coming home from school one summer and looking at an article from the Evening Standard that called Kilburn High Road “The Dirtiest Road in London”. To me, the KHR seemed bustling but also a genuine community – no cleaner or dirtier than any other road. It was busy and traffic snarled and, yes, that would annoy me but you’d always move beyond that. To me, the character of the road was where people start their journey in London before moving to the suburbs. Certainly my parents did that at one point. So I took an interest in what was discussed here.

Cllr Katz’s view as the meeting fills up

The panel consisted of Cllr Mary Arnold (Brent), Cllr Mike Katz (Camden), Mike Haines from the Local Government Association with responsibity for economy and transport, covering high streets, and Caroline Lynch, a local resident.

Each panellist set out their views on the future of the road.

Mary Arnold highlighted that the biggest new threat seems to be the opening up payday loan shops and too many betting shops. Brent is working with Camden to campaign against the gambling outlets. She talked about implementing a unified police team with Camden and would like a town team lead by residents, which is what they have in Harlesden. She also called for a planning commission on development in Kilburn Square and wants to set up a new business website that needs volunteers to set up.

Mike Katz said he wanted “prosperous, varied KHR”. Although this was hardly controversial. He emphasised that there was no reason why Brent and Camden councils cannot work together on this. He also brought up the payday loan outlets – there are now 12 on the High Road. It is difficult for councils to stop them mushrooming so encouragement needs to be given in supporting credit unions.

Caroline Lynch had some similar perspectives. She also talked about the number of loan shops and chicken outlets. She also mentioned the growing number of mobile phone shops, which, she argued, are encouraging lower budget shops in the KHR. Businesses are complaining about high rent levels and according to a survey she’d carried out, businesses also want Kilburn’s transport links to be exploited so that people get off the buses or trains and spend some money. Caroline also raised the issue of empty shops.

The floor was handed over to the audience who.

There was a question about having a Business Improvement District (apparently citing an example from Toronto). The LGA’s Mike Haines stated that such BIDs need more money and work best if small and large businesses work together with the council.

Someone pointed out that some rents were actually falling due to the recession. There was also a suggestion of “localism classes” to take on the payday lenders [Ed: I have no idea what this means].

There were also complaints that there were not enough live music venues on the High Road”

This last point must be one of the odder gripes given that there actually is quite a bit of live music in Kilburn still. I hope whoever asked that question went to The Luminaire as often as possible before it was forced to close.

Local Lib Dem worthy James King has used the meeting to launch a new website (and what might be seen as a thinly veiled manifesto for a run at the Lib Dem candidacy for Hampstead & Kilburn). At the meeting he suggested an exhibition on the High Road about the Irish immigration to the area.
There is in fact a slightly odd Kilburn business website, although if it wants to be taken seriously it would do well to be up-to-date enough to not cite The Luminaire, which closed more than a year ago, as one of the must-visit venues on the High Road.

Brent Council live tweeted the meeting, and I’ve included a selection of their tweets and a few others below. It was very unclear what the next steps are from this, but at least it shows a willingess for the two boroughs to cooperate. Lets hope willingness translates into action.

KHR: Two councils, one street

One of the challenges that Kilburn has is that is straddles two boroughs: Camden on the east and Brent on the west. Attempts to breathe fresh life into the area, and specifically Kilburn High Road itself are therefore always at risk of falling between the cracks of bureaucracy.

There have been various attempts to have cross-borough groups focus on the High Road, be they police or community-focused. There’s another one kicking off this month with a meeting that combines Camden’s Area Action Group meeting for the ward, and Brent’s “Brent Connects” meeting.

“Brent and Camden Council leaders have committed to reinvigorate the Kilburn Partnership which aims to revitalise the High Rd. Cllr Mo Butt and Cllr Sarah Hayward are supporting plans which will be discussed at the next Brent Connects meeting – a joint forum for local residents from Brent and Camden to be held at the iconic Gaumont Kilburn State, courtesy of Ruach Ministries, on April 17th at 7pm.

Put this date in your diary and come along to discuss the plans and ideas with a panel representing Brent and Camden residents and the Local Government Association (LGA) Economy and Transport.

Plans include improving pedestrian safety and reducing congestion on the High Rd and increasing the footfall by diversifying and introducing new business opportunities through meanwhile or pop-up shops. Ideas for improving access to fair credit and financial support for residents and traders are also topical in Kilburn.” (Kilburn Rose)

If you live in Kilburn, whichever side of the High Road, why not go along and contribute your thoughts and hear what other initiatives are being proposed. The speakers include:

  • Caroline Lynch, Kilburn Resident
  • Cllr James Denselow, Brent Council
  • Cllr Mike Katz, Camden Council
  • Cllr Mary Arnold, Brent Council
  • Mike Haines, Local Government Association (LGA)
Kilburn High Road (date unknown), via Julia Powell

Kilburn floods while Twitter explodes

I woke up on Wednesday and lazily checked Twitter only to find my timeline swamped by a deluge of tweets about Kilburn.

A burst water main initially believed to be in Maygrove Road, but later believed to be in Christchurch Avenue, caused a quite spectacular flood that was up to a metre deep in places according to London Fire Brigade.

Photo via @Kilburn_Dave

As it was the morning rush hour, the flood caused considerable disruption but the sight of the road under water seemed to be so amazing that grumbling was largely replaced by astonishment.

Photo via @mossbat

This is exactly the sort of news story that works well on Twitter. It doesn’t require in-depth analysis, public bodies can get important information to the public very quickly, and – as my hastily aggregated Pinterest board shows – it’s very photogenic.

No surprise then that Twitter formed the backbone of news reports.

The Evening Standard’s quoted heavily from Twitter and (in later versions) from eye witnesses who’d tweeted.

LBC actually sent a reporter to the scene and she tweeted good photos of the large hole in Christchurch Avenue and of the cleaning up operation in local shops.

Photo via @stanchers

You’d expect the local media to be on site and indeed, after the CNJ’s Richard Osley fired up a Storify page about it, he dispatched reporter Ruth Stivey to the scene. Ruth tweeted a good photo of the damage done to the cellar of the Sir Colin Campbell pub.

Photo via @LollyGee
Photo via @RuthStivey

The Brent & Kilburn Times also actually went to speak to the flooded business including the pub.

Not everyone manages to nail the use of new media. Brent Council, clearly preoccupied by the arrival of the Olympic torch through the northern reaches of the borough popped up on Twitter with a link to a page (since thoroughly updated) announcing that the High Road would be closed for five days.

This rather melodramatic scenario was clearly nonsense as the Fire Brigade did an amazing job of pumping out the water in a matter of hours and traffic was already flowing freely by mid-morning, even if the pavements were still a little muddy.

Once the water was gone, so was the news interest. The Brondesbury Medical Centre was closed all day, and Thames Water’s loss adjusters have been on the scene no doubt trying to work out quite how much damage this flood has done. Having seen the photos it’s actually amazing that the damage wasn’t more serious. Hopefully all the businesses that suffered don’t also incur any financial loss.

Will West Hampstead get free WiFi?

Last Wednesday, Camden council approved recommendations for the provision of free wireless “within the borders of the London Borough of Camden in areas of the borough that commercially viable as they have a high ‘footfall'”. What does that actually mean and would it include West Hampstead?

It’s far from clear exactly what “high footfall” means. After all, Camden includes Kings Cross, Camden Lock, and even parts of Covent Garden. Relative to that, even the interchange between West Hampstead’s stations at rush hour would be considered “sleepy”.

So are we going to get free WiFi or not? Camden’s finance chief, Theo Blackwell, has tweeted saying “Wifi could cover most of the borough”. Provision requires the use of exisiting council infrastructure, which is a posh way of saying “lampposts”. In response to a direct question as to whether West End Lane would be included, he replied “Wifi attached to street furniture so where people and streetlights, there should be coverage.”

The main reason for the lack of a straight answer is that this will be a commercial concession put out to tender. This is not a public-sector scheme to deliver universal WiFi, it’s a money raising exercise that brings some public benefits. Coverage will depend on what is economically viable for the provider. Camden intends to derive income from this (a good way to raise cash and provide a public service) and incur zero expenditure. We shall have to hope that bidders recognise the commercial benefits of giving access to our reasonably affluent neighbourhood, even if we lack the volume of pedestrians of Covent Garden.

The language used in the report (shown below with key passages highlighted) that Cabinet voted on does strongly imply that there will be a core network at first and then it says “It is expected this network will be further extended over time to support the priorities as set out in the Camden Plan.” 

There is also talk of “inter-borough collaboration” although the details seem a bit sketchy at the moment. It says, “The concession will be established in a way to permit other London Boroughs to participate in the arrangements to enable wireless services to be provided across Borough boundaries”. Those living on the Brent borders may wonder what likelihood there is of Brent council embracing this idea. Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea boroughs have already collaborated to award a concession. Although the document states that Camden is working with other London boroughs on joint procurement, it doesn’t specify which ones unfortunately.

The contract is expected to be awarded in February 2013.

What do you think? Are we well served already by free WiFi in coffee shops and bars and in the library. It’s unlikely that any free network would enable heavy home use – it’s intended for the public realm, so you can instagram a police horse, or send a quick e-mail from the street without using the slower 3G networks (and any data allowance). So do we even need it? Or would omitting NW London’s twitter capital be a horrendous oversight?

Camden Cabinet Meeting July 18 2012 Notes on Wireless Provision