West Hampstead Place Plan: progress report

The West Hampstead place plan, published last year, set out a lot of areas for action. Last week, Camden issued a two-page update on progress. Later in the year we’ll summarise progress against all the action points, but this is a good chance for a mid-term report.

The plan has five sections: Development, Economy, Environment, Services and Transport.

The two key objectives:

  1. Work with the community to develop more detailed area planning guidance
  2. Involve the local community (where possible) in identifying priorities for how developer contributions are used.

On the first, the update refers to the Neighbourhood Development Forum, which is moving forward with its plan for the area and which the council supports through advice. The area covered by the forum is now under consultation (you may have seen some signs on lampposts to this effect).

This of course is not specific to the place plan – these NDFs are popping up all over the country and council support is part of the process. The update also says, “It is particularly important to establish more detailed planning guidance for the interchange area… as soon as possible. This is to ensure that if proposals come forward, the opportunities for a coordinated response to achieve the desired objectives are not missed”. Which is council speak for “lets not f*ck it up”.

This interchange plan has snuck under the radar a bit. I first heard about it at an NDF meeting late last year, although the minutes of the most recent meeting shed more light on it:

“Council officers would be carrying out work on this project; it’s mainly a technical piece of work to see how the West Hampstead Growth Area can accommodate the extra new homes and jobs as set out in the London Plan. They will work with the NDF on the detail of their proposals, although the Forum is not obliged to adopt its policies or recommendations. If both documents are approved, the NDP would sit above the framework as a statutory plan; the framework would be classed as ‘supplementary planning guidance’.”

In other words, it may not be of much concern (one might argue that it’s a waste of council time).

The second objective was getting community input on how to spend the money developers have to give for local improvements (the “Section 106” money). There is a meeting on February 21st, organised by WHAT, to discuss just this. It’s at the library from 7.30-9.45pm and is open to everyone. If you’re one of the people who grumbles that it’s the same few people always deciding what happens here, why not go along and have your say – you might be pleasantly surprised at the reception you get.

Development grade: A-

The three key objectives:

  1. Protect and promote the village character of the area
  2. Support West End Lane and Mill Lane shops and businesses
  3. Meet the needs of the people who live, work and visit the area

The update report cites the farmers’ market as an example of moving in the right direction, claiming (rightly) that it’s a great success and that it adds “variety to the shopping experience”.

Less clear-cut are the advances being made by the West Hampstead Business Forum. While the report suggests that it’s going from “strength to strength”, it doesn’t yet seem to have found its voice or even be quite sure what issues it needs to focus on.

I’ve reported already on the latest attempt of Mill Lane traders to coalesce into an active campaign group, and the council has been supportive to some extent. However, little seems to have been achieved yet in terms of encouraging landlords of vacant premises to fill them, or in terms of the traders themselves delivering against some of their creative ideas for the street.

The “look and feel” of the shopping area also falls under the Economy banner. Here, the place plan update refers to the council’s targeting the large billboards, such as those taken down from the bridge over the tube lines and says, “work is continuing to remove the remainder of the large billboards that do not have consent.” The council is also going to start targeting the the smaller signs – like all those A-boards that clutter the high street.

Economy grade: B-

The three key objectives:

  1. Provide new accessible open space to benefit the area
  2. Continue to improve open spaces, food growing, biodiversity and sustainability
  3. Maintain the valued quality and historic character of the area

The update makes no reference to any of these points and it’s hard to think what has been done in terms of open spaces although there is a move to improve Kilburn Grange Park (more on that over the next few days). The Friends of Fortune Green continue to drive improvements as phase two of the park’s renovation gets underway. This will include excavating the remains of a WW2 air raid shelter, refilling and re-turfing part of the green, replacing two noticeboards and adding a new one, landscaping a “children’s corner” and laying a ‘2012’ legacy running route.

(If you want to help out, then block out Sunday 3rd March (1-4pm ) to cut down the perennials and Saturday 16th March (also 1 to 4pm) for planting.)

Environment grade: D (higher grade could be available if you show your workings)

The three key objectives:

  1. Continue to monitor the demand for school places and nursery provision
  2. Continue to support local voluntary sector organisations and investigate innovative delivery of services
  3. Negotiate with developers for ‘affordable’ provision of community space for local groups

Again, there’s no mention of progress here on the update. Extra primary places have been secured with the proposed Liddell Road school site (although work has yet to start on this), and Emmanuel School’s expansion also helps – although this predates the place plan. It’s not clear what else has been done under this section – or at least not clear what the council has helped facilitate.

Services grade: D- (again, show your workings)

There is just one objective:
Continue to improve how people move around and between the three stations
The update report refers to a drop-in session held in July, which threw up several proposals to address road safety and improve cycling. Work is already underway in consulting on or implementing these, which include alterations to speed bumps in Sumatra Road, and improving the junction at Inglewood Road and West End Lane.

“Other schemes potentially include looking at the loading restrictions along West End Lane, alterations to parking bays and opportunities for contraflow cycling.” The first would be widely welcomed by everyone apart from Tesco I’d imagine. The second could be popular with the local businesses who often cite parking restrictions as a barrier to a thriving weekday economy. As for contraflow cycling, there aren’t many one-way streets left that haven’t either become two-way for cyclists or that have been explicitly ruled out of such a change (e.g., Broadhurst Gardens).

Although the council have been quite active in this area, it doesn’t escape my attention that these issues don’t relate specifically to the area around and between the stations. The Legible London signs that have gone up are not a Camden-specific initiative.

Transport grade: B+

Overall, a mixed performance. We should perhaps remember that council resources are stretched at the moment, and that some of these issues will not be solved in six months. Nevertheless, it would be good to see the placeshaping team running through all the action points in the plan and giving us a quick update on all of them – or a timeframe for acting on those that cannot be quick fixes.

Mill Lane must get creative to attract visitors

There’s a new momentum on Mill Lane. This motley collection of independent shops has tried before to unite behind some self-promotion but these efforts have largely come to nothing. Now, the West Hampstead street that’s often seen as West End Lane’s poor relation has some impetus behind it thanks partly to the arrival of Monsters of Art and the youthful enthusiasm of co-owner Abby Wells.

Several of the businesses on Mill Lane held a preliminary meeting this month to discuss how to boost the street’s profile. Since then, Abby has met with Kate Goodman from Camden Council (Kate ran the place shaping initiative that many of you will remember from earlier in the year), and more of the businesses have piled in with ideas.

What’s the problem?
Mill Lane has a few related challenges to overcome: it suffers from relatively low footfall; the popular businesses are spread out along the street so there’s no focal point; it has one of the highest vacancy rates in the borough (18% in June 2010); and many people, especially those new to the area or passing through, simply don’t know that there are shops down there. Glance down the road from Fortune Green Road and you would be forgiven for thinking it was a predominantly residential street. Yet, as the star prize at whampgather proved, there are enough businesses on the street to create an amazing hamper of goodies. From The Tiffin Tin to The Alliance, Mill Lane has plenty of gems.

Isn’t this the council’s job?
Camden’s West Hampstead placeshaping document, published earlier this year, recognises the pressures facing Mill Lane and sets out ways in which the council could help. It explains that the council cannot fund direct business support, and that its role now is to act “as an enabler to small businesses through signposting them to national and regional growth support organisations.” This also includes pointing retailers to information and providing support to trader groups.

There are some specific actions in the placeshaping plan that refer to Mill Lane.

  • Facilitate engagement with local landowners and landlords to consider how the private sector can help to support a thriving shopping area and reduce the vacancy rate in Mill Lane.
  • Investigate opportunities to carry out further public realm improvement works to the northern part of the town centre and Mill Lane.
  • Lobby TfL to include Mill Lane neighbourhood centre shops on the Legible London signs, to help increase footfall to the area.

This may sound a bit like throwing a life jacket into the ocean, but it’s better than nothing and if it helps the businesses coalesce into one group that can form a consensus on what would most benefit the area then that alone is a big step in the right direction.

The relatively new West Hampstead Business Association could have a role here. However, a separate Mill Lane group that collaborated with the WHBA might be more effective than the WHBA acting as an umbrella group for all local businesses, given the different needs of West End Lane and Mill Lane.

The latest draft of the Neighbourhood Development plan also singles out Mill Lane as in need of its own section. Specifically, it suggests the following six policies should be applied to developments in Mill Lane:

  • A presumption in favour of preserving the look of shop-fronts.
  • A presumption in favour of rejecting proposals to convert retail space into residential use.
  • Encourage a more diverse range of shops and businesses.
  • Improve pavements, signage and traffic calming; remove street clutter.
  • Co-ordinate the developments on the north side of Mill Lane where they back onto properties on
  • Hillfield Road.
  • An urgent need to level the pavements on the north side of Mill Lane.

All this tell us that the problems of Mill Lane are widely recognised. But at a time of limited (read: non-existent) public resources to help tackle them, the onus falls on the existing businesses to overcome these obstacles. Which brings us back to the latest wave of energy washing over the street.

At the November meeting there was broad agreement that public awareness of Mill Lane’s offering was too low, and that the lack of a cohesive feel to the retail units hindered the appeal of the street as a shopping destination. Beyond that, the more ambitious challenge was to do something economically viable with the empty shops

Raising awareness
The immediate solution proposed was to get the council to implement better signage (which would partly fall under the Legible London signage action above), at the West End Lane end of Mill Lane, on West End Green, and outside West Hampstead tube station. Since that meeting, Kate Goodman has said that extra signage to the north of West End Lane will be installed, but played down the idea that there’d be tube station signage too.

The idea of preparing a small brochure to hand out has also been raised, although it’s not clear who would fund this. Camden have broadly supported this idea though, and may be able to help with some of the distribution logistics. Prod from Mill Lane Barbers, whose enthusiasm is also hard to beat, has suggested a caricature poster capturing the essence of the Lane and the businesses on it as well.

One idea that’s likely to prove popular is a late-night Christmas shopping event. It may even be possible to get some footprints laid on the pavement to draw people in from West End Green. Those businesses at the West Hampstead Christmas Market on December 8th could also help promote the street more generally, and there’s talk of having a board at the market showing the press coverage that some of them have received over the past couple of years.

One Lane
The shops also saw that Christmas would be a good opportunity to work on the look and feel of Mill Lane and try and make it a more unified shopping district. Something as simple as having the same Christmas lights in as many of the shops as possible could achieve this – these could be officially switched on at the Christmas shopping event.

An idea that I particularly like is that businesses up and down Mill Lane ‘donate’ parts of their property, (e.g., a back door, shutter, or any outdoor area), to professional artists who will then jointly produce a piece of street art. This concept has worked brilliantly in Middlesex Street E1. It has the potential both to improve the look of Mill Lane and attract visitors.

Breathing life into empty premises
Maximising the use of the empty (or almost empty) shops on the street with pop-up projects (galleries, retail space etc.) was a popular idea. This would help animate Mill Lane, and provide more of a continuous stretch of retail operations along the street. One idea was to collaborate with artists who might rent units for a short period for gallery and/or workshop space. Kate Goodman was in favour of the pop-up shop idea, and apparently there are nine empty shops on Mill Lane that could possibly by used. She is going to find out who owns/manages these properties and forward on their details – a good example of where the council can support these initiatives.

Both the pop-up idea and the street art idea certainly tie in with my own belief that Mill Lane would be well served by becoming an explicit artisan/art quarter. In the immediate term, the local business owners recognised that coordinating so many things popping up is a lot of work and perhaps would be too time consuming for them to tackle (after all they do still have their own businesses to run). A stop-gap measure would be to use the shop fronts as art installations, or hang something in empty shop windows.

Mill Lane needs a bit of love, so why not have a wander along there this weekend and refresh your memory as to what’s available. From carpets to cupcakes, you might be surprised at the shops and services you find.

Should we pay for our own amenities?

I came across an article from Fast Company this morning. It’s about a trend in the US to ask local residents to contribute to civic improvements – so-called “crowdfunding”. A Tampa-based organisation called Citizinvestor has been pushing this.

The recession has left hundreds of parks un-renovated, and hundreds of basketball courts unpaved. Without funds, municipalities have had to delay, or cancel, projects that otherwise would get started…
… For example, the city of Philadelphia is currently asking for $12,875 so it can plant 15,000 trees. But that’s just the start. The plan is for many more, and bigger, projects than that.

Unlike Kickstarter, a crowdfunding scheme for creative projects that also operates in the UK, Citizinvestor lets locals “petition for projects as well as contribute to ones municipalities have put forward.”. There are no rewards for contributing (although contributions are tax-deductible in the US).

It’s an interesting idea and got me wondering whether such a thing would work in an area such as West Hampstead. I suspect it might. But wholehearted adoption would lead to bigger ideological questions. After all, we already pay taxes to both central and local government, and civic space has traditionally been funded by municipal government. Sure, when times are tough I think a lot of people would rather see money spent on nurses, or care for the elderly than on planting new trees or relaying paths in a park, but how likely is it that once an economy rebounds a government would resume responsibility for something its citizens had willingly paid for on top of their existing taxes?

It’s worth noting that the schemes up for funding are already on the government agenda but aren’t a priority. So, this isn’t entirely about people doing it for themselves – the Citizinvestor model has people contributing to projects that have already been approved and will be then be implemented by local government, although the petition element does introduce a populist angle.

The co-founder of Citizinvestor, Jordan Rayner, is quoted in the article as saying “There is a place for a service to make government work more like a vending machine, where I get to choose which parks and pools I want to build.” Good soundbite, but surely that runs the risk that the more affluent the area, the more “parks and pools” get funded. It would add complexity (and grumbling) if the council’s pledge was “we’ll pay for a swimming pool in this deprived area, but those of you in the richer areas have to provide your own”. Here we enter into questions of scale – in London this would surely have to work at a borough-wide level, with an understanding that people in Kilburn ward would be unlikely to cough up for civic improvements in Camden Town, and vice-versa.

We already live in a city where the divide between public space and private space is increasingly blurred; in theory citizen funding would leave no doubt as to who any such projects belonged to. But when does citizen funding bleed into “local business funding”, and in turn “big business funding”. Citizinvestor’s FAQs make no mention of any commercial interest in funding proposals, and it would perhaps be a good starting point to clarify that no branding would be allowed on any project, and no conditions could be imposed by anyone contributing to the cost.

What do you think? Do you think a few thousand locals would stump up a few quid each to tart up West End Green? Not too controversial. What about speed bumps? Cycle lanes? Increasing litter patrols? What constitutes an essential service, and what’s a “nice to have” when belts are being tightened.

I’ve included the How It Works section from the Citizinvestor website, which clarifies the mechanics of the scheme quite well:

Municipalities submit projects to
These are projects that have already been scored, department-approved and only lack one thing – funding. Projects range from building a new park to installing speed bumps or adding a few parking spaces to your neighborhood library. The list of these projects for any city is nearly endless. Currently, these projects sit on a long-list behind other budget priorities, especially now when local government budgets are tighter than ever before.

Citizens invest in the projects they care about most.
For the first time ever, we are giving citizens the opportunity to tell government exactly where they want their dollars spent. Citizens can find projects that their local government has posted on and pledge to invest any amount they wish towards the project. Not only can citizens invest in projects from their local governments, but Citizinvestor also gives citizens the opportunity to petition for new projects that local government either hasn’t thought of or hasn’t approved.

Once a project is 100% funded, the project is built!
This is key – citizens only pay their portion of the project if other citizens step up to the plate and commit to fund 100% of the stated cost. This is a win/win for everyone! Citizens only have to invest money if there is a guarantee that the project of their choice will be built and governments only have to commit to building a project if they receive 100% of the funding they need. Not a dime changes hands unless everyone is happy. This ensures that there is no risk to citizens for pledging to invest and no risk to governments posting projects to

Place plan published – actions for West Hampstead

West Hampstead will be a place where local communities experience real benefits from the opportunities that come with redevelopment and people feel that they have influenced and shaped how investment is made in the area. Support for local business will be a key part of enhancing the distinctive village character and more local jobs will contribute to a successful local economy. Local services, housing, open spaces and facilities will meet the needs of local communities as will the quality of experience that people have moving around the area. Cooperation with local people, voluntary sector organisations, developers, businesses and the council will make this happen.

This is the vision for West Hampstead, as laid out by the place plan finally published by Camden council. From this extract it feels a bit like “local shops for local people”, but this document really isn’t that parochial. It has been quite some time in the making, and I’ve reported on its progress over the past 12 months.

You can access the original, or view a version where I’ve ringed the passages that I think are particularly worth reading (also embedded below).

The idea of the Place Plan is to set some context for local development – of which much is planned over the next 5-10 years. It has no statutory power, but the council are supposed to take it into account when assessing planning applications, and budget allocation. It is very strongly informed by local residents – even by readers of this website (as it mentions on page 10) – and I can imagine that lobbying groups are likely to refer to it heavily when responding to proposed changes.

One of the underlying objectives is to make people feel (hopefully justifiably) that they have some input into what happens around them. In this regard, the Place Plan should dovetail with the Neighbourhood Development Plan.

To quote the report:

“This ‘placeshaping’ approach is about taking the opportunity to think and act strategically about how to address these needs in terms of investment decisions, service delivery and physical changes. Understanding local concerns and priorities is at the heart of this approach which is all the more important against a backdrop of reduced Council resources arising from reductions in central government funding.”

Although it has no legal bearing on anything at all, it does purport to enable locals to hold the council to account over the concrete measures that it says it will undertake (starting from page 46). It is also a dynamic document and action plans can (and hopefully will) be updated as the situation evolves.

The plan is broken down into five sections, and each has a series of objectives.

  1. Development. To secure real local benefit from development opportunities. Key objectives: Work with the community to develop more detailed area planning guidance; involve the local community (where possible) in identifying priorities for how developer contributions are used.
  2. Economy. To support a successful local economy with a thriving neighbourhood. Key objectives: protect and promote the village character of the area; support West End Lane and Mill Lane shops and businesses; meet the needs of the people who live, work and visit the area.
  3. Environment. To provide new open space and improve the local environment. Key objectives: provide new accessible open space to benefit the area; continue to improve open spaces, food growing, biodiversity and sustainability; maintain the valued quality and historic character of the area.
  4. Services. To deliver improved local services. Key objectives: continue to monitor the demand for school places and nursery provision; continue to support local voluntary sector organisations and investigate innovative delivery of services; negotiate with developers for ‘affordable’ provision of community space for local groups.
  5. Transport. To make it easier and more pleasant for people to move around the area. Key objective: Continue to improve how people move around and between the three stations.

Generally there’s not much that’s controversial here. I’ve been at two of the group consultation sessions and these were the main topics that emerged – naturally with different people placing different emphases on them. I know some people think the idea of West Hampstead as any sort of village is risible, but it’s certainly a focal point both for transport and shopping/entertainment (more of the latter than the former these days). I’m pleased to see such specific recognition of the challenges facing Mill Lane, and a statement of intent to work on improving the street without sacrificing its character.

Amid all the bullet points and action plans, there are a few interesting comments in the overall vision and background section. Despite generally high levels of satisfaction among residents the plan recognises that different segments of the local population do not necessarily interact. Is this unusual, and does it matter? I would argue no it’s not unusual, but yes, it does matter. It matters because if we take one cut – age – 20-34 year-olds account for roughly half West Hampstead’s population, yet barely figure when it comes to deliberating local issues.

Although younger people here may not be long-term residents (largely, anecdotally, because they can’t afford to stay rather than because they don’t want to), it would be a mistake to think they don’t care. They also, inevitably, have some different priorities and sometimes a more forward looking outlook. It is to the council’s credit that one of the reasons they have involved me in this placeshaping process is because it gave them access to the views of younger people.

Although not explicitly discussed in the Place Plan, there is also something of an affluence divide. I heard at a recent local event that some of West Hampstead less well-off residents sometimes feel that they don’t fit in at lots of these community activities. Meanwhile, I wonder how many people in the “young professional” category avail themselves of the services offered by, for example, Sidings Community Centre. Just a thought. I hope that everyone feels welcome to attend #whampevents.

Do have a read of the document. There was plenty of cynicism at the first meeting I attended about the real impact such an initiative could have. At least by setting out clear actions, the council is saying “judge us on progress”, even if you think that many of them are a little vague, with a focus on “identifying”, “facilitating”, “monitoring”, “supporting” and “exploring” rather than more concrete words like “investing”, “building”, “changing”, or “upgrading”.

West Hampstead Place Plan_annotated

Place shaping update

Last Wednesday, the usual suspects along with a few welcome newcomers gathered in a chilly hall in Dennington Park Road to discuss the draft vision and action plan for West Hampstead’s place shaping programme.

In small groups we discussed whether we agreed with the broad vision statements. There was some disagreement about the need to “attract visitors”, with the more business-focused people arguing that West Hampstead very much should encourage more visitors to help support the local businesses here, while some of the longer-standing residents felt that we had visitors aplenty thanks to the stations and the congestion on the roads was already too much.

The meeting focused on what some of the concrete actions were that would help realise the vision and, in true Big Society fashion, who the groups or people were who might be able to help – including the council of course. Stimulating local business and encouraging local shops proved popular topics again, with the proviso that seems to be need to be repeated ad nauseum that the council can’t control specific companies moving in to the area. There was some interest in the community supermarket idea, especially if the Transition West Hampstead movement gets going and produce can be grown locally.

One area where the council can have influence, and that some of us have been suggesting for some time, is in the guidance to new retail developments – or residential developments that have retail components, such as the Ballymore 187-199 West End Lane site. Encouraging/forcing developers to focus on small format stores rather than large retail spaces would inevitably encourage smaller retailers who could afford the rents, and discourage the chains who thrive on economies of scale. It’s not a sure-fire way to keep local businesses, but it’s a good start. Certainly for developments that take place on council owned sites, such as the existing Travis Perkins/Wickes site, which is likely to be sold off, the council would be able to set such terms.

I’ll publish the full report as soon as it’s available. In the meantime, the draft reports are available here. And if you have any contributions, please do contact Kate Goodman, our place shaping officer, before February 20th with any concrete suggestions – the more practical the better.

Placeshaping – the draft report

If you’ve been following for a while, or have ever clicked that handy “Latest Planning News” link on the right, you’ll probably have seen me talk about Placeshaping.

Here’s the recap: Camden council is conducting “placeshaping” exercises in many areas of the borough in order to identify the concerns of locals and try and guide the planning and development of these areas to the extent they can. I have been fortunate enough to have been asked to participate in some of the meetings, and some of you have contributed with thoughts via this blog, which I assure you are read by the team drawing up the report.

Developing a unified place plan is not a quick process. The first meeting I attended was back at the end of June and now we’re at the draft report stage. Kate Goodman from Camden, who is our Placeshaping officer, has given me permission to post this draft report, which is currently in two parts but will evenutally be merged.

As you read this, please do note that it is only a draft. Your comments though (perhaps not on any typos) are actively welcomed, especially on the second part which outlines the vision and action plan. Reference copies are also available for viewing at West Hampstead Library.

I’ve ringed in red some of the more interesting bits (you may disagree with what’s “interesting”) for those of you who just want to get the basic idea. The major issues covered are planning, and especially the large developments in the pipeline, the local retail environment, public services , green spaces, and movement between stations. Although parking is discussed, it’s notable that no mention is made of whether parking for the local shops might be addressed, despite it being raised regularly by local businesses as a key issue in boosting visitor numbers to the town centre (as it’s called). It’s also a shame that The Winch doesn’t get a mention in the youth services discussion despite being relatively close by, especially for people living the Swiss Cottage side of West Hampstead.

Click the little cloud icon to download the document, or the document title above the slides to go to the web version.

West Hampstead Place Plan Pt 1 – DRAFT

West Hampstead Place Plan Pt 2 – DRAFT

If you’re interested in being involved in the next meeting, which is planned for the next couple of weeks, please contact Kate.

West Hampstead place shaping workshop report

You may recall that at the end of June I was invited to join a “place shaping” workshop organised by Camden council. I wrote it up, but explained that the full report would be available later. That later is now. I received the document this morning. It’s quite long so, although I feel it’s a very fair reflection of at least my workshop (there were two in total), I’m not sure you need to read the whole thing unless you’re really interested.

Therefore, I’ve circled paragraphs that I think capture the main points, and made a few annotations. It’s important to clarify that the purpose of this was not to find solutions, but to try and establish some common purpose that can inform decisions taken by the council. Of course, much of what came up is not really in the council’s purview, and to some extent the least tangible concepts of community are up to residents to demonstrate themselves. Do leave comments and (if they’re appropriate) I can pass them back into the whole process.

West Hampstead Shaping the Future Workshop Final Report

187-199 West End Lane report

You’ll recall that on July 2nd there was a “Community Planning Day” to discuss the plans for the site adjacent to the tube lines to the west of West End Lane currently being used by the car wash, limo company, motorbike dealers and retail services such as Peppercorns and Café Bon.

The report back was apparently very much a presentation rather than a second opportunity to discuss the plans. The distributed “newsletter” sketched out a very rough plan for the site, but this is extremely preliminary.

Click for full-size version*

The document included a list of “key themes”. These are based on the public’s contributions to the planning day. They are broadly ideas most people would agree with, but note that the newsletter doesn’t say that these ideas will be implemented, it is merely a synthesis of comments.

Residents will probably hope both that the developers and architects will do more than just bear these comments in mind, and that the council will take them very seriously when assessing the plans – especially in light of the place shaping conversations. Questions were apparently raised in the report back session about the need for public service provision in light of an increase in population, notably in schools and medical services.

The key points so far:

  • Mixed use – preliminary proposal is for a public square (with farmers market potential) bordering West End Lane and retail units near the front of the site. The development will be residential-led, however;
  • Affordable housing should be integrated into the plans;
  • Building height is very likely will increase towards the back of the site as the land slopes down;
  • Green spaces should be integral to the plans and existing trees retained;
  • New parking should be kept to a minimum.

What next?

“The Ballymore and Network Rail Team [the site’s co-owners] now plan to meet with London Borough of Camden’s planning officers and Councillors in the coming weeks or so to discuss the community feedback and work with local stakeholders to form a steering group which we intend to work with during the remainder of the consultation”

I will of course continue to keep you all up-to-date with any developments and if I can get a full PDF of the newsletter, I’ll add the link here.

Place shaping meeting overview

Wednesday’s Place Shaping meeting was very hands-on, so I wasnt able to take copious notes. There’ll be a full report produced by the independent facilitators, which naturally I’ll let you all know about. [update 18/8/11: that can now be found here]

Perhaps the most revealing moment came when the various sub-groups we’d been assigned to came together to share their visual (read “simple”) vision for West Hampstead. Three of the four groups had identical visions. They comprised green spaces, transportation, a vibrant shopping / café culture, and a coherent community. Idealistic? Perhaps a little – and of course this masked nuances – but I was pleasantly surprised at the uniformity of our basic desires for the area.

One hopes that the council (three of the West Hampstead & Fortune Green councillors were present) take note even of just this simple exercise when it comes to approving development plans for spaces coming up. Perhaps pressuring the 187-199 West End Lane developers to give the existing retailers on that space not just first option on new retail units, but first option at a reasonable rent. Perhaps suggesting that when the Travis Perkins site is sold off (that’s all council-owned property), any retail frontage is split into smaller units that would encourage independent traders rather than kept as a large unit that only a chain shop could operate. Just perhaps.

Anyway, despite going to the meeting with a fair degree of cynicism, I left marginally more optimistic. I shall be interested to see whether the synthesis of the discussion reflects my own recollection of how the evening panned out. In the meantime, do please read my original blog on it and add your comments below – I shall try and ensure that they get fed back into the process at some stage.

Lend me your ears: Shaping West Hampstead’s future

Tonight I’m off to a Camden meeting about the future of West Hampstead no less. Heavens. Perhaps more alarming is that I’m supposed to be representing a different slice of the West Hampstead population from those people who normally get invited to meetings like this. Yep, I’m there on behalf of you lot – the clued-up, keyed-in, mobile-addicted, latte-sipping computer jockeys who make up a sizeable chunk (did someone say majority?) of the local area. Christ, if I was any more down wiv da kidz i’d still be in short trousers.*

We’re going to discuss what we’d like West Hampstead to be like – there’ll be a focus on the West End Lane strip and on the area around the stations (the “interchange” as it’s known) in particular. I’m after your ideas. I’m less interested in the old chestnuts of “I’d like a butcher” and “Why so many hairdressers?” and “If another estate agent moves in I’m going to go all Michael Douglas in Falling Down“.

Here’s the sort of stuff that’s in scope: “enhancing streets and open spaces, improving the shopping offer on our high streets, delivering better homes for people, investing in our community spaces or securing local jobs and training opportunities for local people.” So, yes, that includes the shopping, but remember the council can’t control directly who moves into individual units and, as I explained here, even the issue of change-of-use permission is a thorny one. Other topics are also welcome.

This is all in the context that West Hampstead is going to grow. The timescale for growth is far from clear, but aside from the students moving in when the Blackburn Road development is finished, we should expect 1,000 new homes over the next 10-15 years. So, managing sustainable growth is very important

Please have a think about the topics listed below. Then choose 1-3 of them and leave a comment below with one idea/thought/suggestion for each of your chosen three. Be creative by all means, but also vaguely realistic. Think about the sort of place you’d like West Hampstead to be.

  • Mix of employment spaces
  • New business
  • Variety of shops
  • Look and feel of town centre
  • The interchange
  • Wider links & integration with neighbouring areas
  • Transportation
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Architecture & design
  • Mixed-use development
  • Coordinated development
  • Council-owned sites
  • Open spaces
  • Education, play and young people
  • Cultural services and facilities
  • Voluntary and community sector
  • Comunity safety

Thank you very much. I will of course report back on the meeting.

*You will never catch me wearing short trousers

West Hampstead / Fortune Green Area Action Group

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.