M&S opens and West Hampstead speaks

There’s always a bit of excitement when a major new shop or restaurant opens in the area. Some scoff at the fervour with which chains are welcomed. Others just scoff the food they sell.

Marks & Spencer’s food hall in West Hampstead Square will undoubtedly be a boon not just for those eventually living in the new development, but for everyone living that end of West Hampstead where there are only convenience stores (whether all three of those can survive remains to be seen.)

Followng our behind-the-scenes peek a couple of weeks ago, the shop opened on Wednesday at 10am – how did locals react?

The unofficial “we’re open” photo

And the official one

In case you’re wondering, the woman cutting the ribbon is Judith Parry who, according to the press release, is celebrating her 32nd anniversary working at M&S this year. “I’m at a point in my life now where I’ve settled into my current role as a sales advisor and look forward to the years to come at M&S Foodhall West Hampstead until I retire!”, she said.

Of course, the honeymoon was quickly over…

Peek behind the scenes at West Hampstead’s newest supermarket

Yes, it’s not just any store opening, it’s an M&S Foodhall opening. Sorry.

No doubt some West Hampstead residents (especially those living south of the railway) are counting down the days until the shop opens on February 22nd at West Hampstead Square.

As part of its customer engagement, M&S and its contractors Wates offered a sneak preview of the new store to any interested parties.

Although the store was still in the final stages of construction, the equipment and fittings were already in place giving a good idea of what to expect. From what we could see it has a familiar M&S Foodhall look. No great surprise. The ceiling pipework and lighting is exposed, which fits in with the contemporary look of West Hampstead Square.

Wafting bread smells as your enter.

Wafting bread smells as you enter.

As you enter, to your left will be an in-store bakery next to a large flower and plant display.  Straight ahead are metres and metres of chiller cabinets for all those M&S fresh food and ready meals. Yes, including Chicken Kiev.  Down at the end is fruit and veg.

Spot the chicken Kiev.

Spot the Chicken Kiev.

Turning to the right at the end, coming back along the parallel aisle is a large wine section with dry goods opposite.

Past the wine and dry goods is be a paper and card section but – two surprises at the checkout – only SCOTs. No M&S has not got some strange new employment policy, it stands for Self-Check Out Tills.

There is an M&S collection point for online purchases, with a couple of tills for the less technical among us. The other surprise was the absence of a coffee counter at the moment. Nor is there the promised hot-food take away unit. That would have required an on site toilet, which proved too complicated to arrange. Not too complicated, apparently, is customer WiFi.

Great S.C.O.T.!

Great S.C.O.T.!

Given West Hampstead’s very poor experience of supermarket delivery vehicles (yes, we’re looking at you Tesco), everyone took a keen interest in the back of the unit, and we were surprised to see quite a small warehouse space, which suggests deliveries will need to be frequent.

Then a quick tour downstairs to see the space for the 55 new staff (20 of whom have been recruited locally). They will be led by the store manager, Kate Thomas.

It's a fridge Jim, but not as you know it

It’s a fridge Jim, but not as you know it

The store was due to open six months ago in August last year. Although those of us with long memories might recall that there was talk of M&S opening on this site twenty years ago. It’s been a long wait.

No caption necessary!

No caption necessary!


Frustrated buyers face more delays at Ballymore

West Hampstead Square still isn’t finished. As you will have noticed.

Progress is being made as recent tweets show but it’s well overdue, and while it’s annoying for locals as the roads clog up with lorries delivering materials, for those who’ve bought apartments (some of whom are existing West Hampstead residents), the delays are going from frustrating to potentially financially damaging.

West Hampstead Square - when will it be finished?

West Hampstead Square – when will it be finished?

The original completion date was June 2015. But, in June this year, with development already a year behind, Ballymore ditched the original construction company, O’Hare McGovern, and took over itself. After taking stock of the situation, it predicted completion by the end of this year. However, since then the company has ‘encountered further obstacles’, according to a letter sent to anxious buyers, which have now set the completion date back another three months. The latest is that no-one will move in until the start of next year and some flats won’t be ready until March. Anger is starting to bubble up.

“Ballymore has taken me and other buyers for granted,” says one local buyer who wants to remain anonymous. “The delay is frustrating, but what’s unacceptable is the manner with which they have drip-fed delays this year, rather than giving a realistic estimate from the start.”

Another buyer felt “it has been very poorly dealt with and has been very stressful” but now he just “wants to get it done to stop spending unnecessary money”.

The problem buyers face is that as soon as the actual completion date is announced, they have just 10 days to provide the balance of the money. Anyone tempted by a premature completion date announcement might find themselves having given notice or sold their existing property only to end up being told to hold on – again.

One buyer, for example, was initially told he could move in by June, but was then told that completion was expected in September, then October, then late October, then early November, then late November. By the end of October it was going to be completing in early December, but just a few days later that was pushed back to the end of January.

Aside from the practicalities of knowing when to move out, these flats were sold pre-Brexit and the uncertainty in the run-up to that vote and in the aftermath has dampened the property market somewhat. Private buyers are probably OK, according to Jon Hughes at local estate agent Benham & Reeves. Overall, the market has softened though underlying prices remain stable, but transaction volume is down.

Buy-to-let investors, who will surely make up a significant percentage of West Hampstead Square owners, will find things a little more difficult. Before construction started, the predicted rental price for a two-bed at West Hampstead Square was £650-£700 per week according to one local agent. In today’s market, he suggested sub-£600 seems more realistic. In addition, mortgage criteria have tightened (though rates are still low) and there is additional 3% stamp duty to pay on second homes.

Any off-plan purchase comes with an element of risk – economic circumstances and personal finances can change unexpectedly over the course of 12 to 18 months – but when a build is running more than 18 months late that risk is exacerbated. We know of some buyers who are have had issues with the sale of their previous properties, others who have sold to release the funds and now need to ask landlords to extend their leases. For anyone not in the super-rich or professional property investor category, these delays are both expensive and upsetting.

It is not just residents who have been affected. Businesses had been hoping to move in before the bouyant Christmas trading period. The latest news is that they will be able to start their shop fit-outs in December, but they won’t be able to open until January at the earliest. Apparently, Marks & Spencer may not open until February.

It seems that buyers have no legal recourse to compensation for the delays despite being strung along for months and possibly well over a year. In fact, in the small print of the contract, Ballymore can complete as late as 2018! All in all it is stressful situation for the buyers, several of whom have expressed their frustration to WHL. If you have experienced these problems or others, drop us a line. We asked Ballymore for a comment, but no-one has returned our calls.

Revealing the ‘history’ of Heritage Lane

We promised to investigate why ‘West Hampstead Square’ is now known as ‘Heritage Lane’ and here’s the result of our sleuthing. Back in 2014, Ballymore applied to use the ‘West Hampstead’ prefix as the postal address for the development, while it was marketing it as West Hampstead Square. There is a very simple statutory consulting process – Camden asks the Fire Brigade, who refused on the grounds it would be a duplication in Camden (and hence could be confusing). What’s confusing is whether it is the square or the road at the side that is being named but either way, it’s hard to see what would be especially confusing.

Camden says that names have been turned down by the Fire Brigade even if there is no other one in the Borough on the grounds that there is one in the neighbouring Boroughs of Islington or Barnet.


When Ballymore was told that West Hampstead Square had been turned down, it came up with the following alternatives: Scholars/Heritage/Bohemia and Wordsmith with a suffix of Row, Way, or Lane. Seems like they were following the logic of each building being named after an author. Scholars was also rejected on the basis of duplication, leaving Heritage, Bohemia and Wordsmith. The rest, as they say, is Heritage.

The naming of buildings is governed by the London Government Act 1963 Section 43 and the London Buildings Acts (Amendment) Act 1939 Part 2, along with more recent policy guidance. If the streets of Kilburn were being named today there would no longer be a Kilburn Lane, Kilburn High Road, Kilburn Place, Kilburn Square, or Kilburn Vale. Cricklewood couldn’t have a Broadway and a Lane. However, recent developments elsewhere in London do include Oval Quarter near the Oval and redeveloped Kings Cross includes Kings Boulevard and Kings Place.

Planners say that we should foster a sense of place to create successful neighbourhoods. So they suggested this development have a square to provide some open space off crowded West End Lane, and the buildings were named expressly to reference West Hampstead.

One would have thought that someone at Ballymore would thought about all this in advance. The readers of West Hampstead Life came up with a concept behind the naming of buildings, giving them a sense of place. Since the building isn’t yet occupied, it’s not too late to change it. It doesn’t cost much and could be done if Ballymore wanted to, although there may be legal documents using the name Heritage Lane.

Yes, it was cheeky of Ballymore to ‘nick’ West Hampstead as the name for this development but given it lies next to ‘West Hampstead’ Overground station and opposite ‘West Hampstead’ tube it was not an unreasonable choice. It may well be that it will be called West Hampstead Square anyway. That could indeed be confusing for the emergency services.

West Hampstead Square rebrands as “Heritage Lane”


Ballymore’s increasingly delayed West Hampstead Square megaproject has taken another turn for the bizzare. In a marketing document seen by West Hampstead Life, the developer is selling the long leasehold for the commercial part of the development with a breakdown of who the tenants will be. The words “West Hampstead Square” appear nowhere in this glossy brochure. Instead, we are invited to take a walk down “Heritage Lane”.


A Ballymore spokesperson told us that this was not the developer’s idea. Indeed she sounded a bit peeved given the amount they’d spent on marketing West Hampstead Square. Instead, she claimed that Camden had forced this upon them. We are chasing Camden for comment/confirmation, though local councillors and the NDF were nonplussed. It is true that local authorities and Royal Mail do have a say over new street names even on private developments. But how anyone thought Heritage Lane was a good idea is beyond me.

Perhaps if indeed Camden is responsible, the new name should have been put to some sort of public vote… Or maybe not (Blocky McBlockface anyone?). The access road for the bin lorries and no doubt endless Yodel vans is hardly lane-like, and the commercial bit out front certainly isn’t a Lane. It’s not a Square either to be fair, but it is some form of broadly quadrilaterally shaped space.

Still, all that heritage eh? Um. West Hampstead Square Heritage Lane is a distinctly modern development, all brick and glass and air conditioning units. Whether or not you like it aesthetically, it is unapologetically modern and does not conjure up images of heritage. And nor does it need to – it’s been marketed as modern living for modern people so this sudden throwback to heritage seems an odd choice?

Ballymore did hold a local competition to help with the naming of the tower blocks, but we all naively assumed that West Hampstead Square would be the permanent name of the whole scheme.


The winning entry suggested the blocks were named after local authors, and apparently Camden has agreed to this, so the first five blocks at least will be named (I don’t know in what order) Orwell, Milne, Lessing, Beckford and Hardy.

So what’s going to be in Heritage Lane?

We all know that Marks & Spencer is opening a food store there. This is a large 5,800 sq foot shop (ground floor), for which M&S will pay just shy of a quarter of a million pounds a year in rent. To give you an idea of size, that’s larger than the Little Waitrose and Tesco Express on West End Lane combined.

Next door is an M&S “Hot Food on the Move” café. The final ground floor unit is being occupied by The Provenance Meat Company, a butcher that has a Notting Hill outlet. After years and years (and years) of people whining about not having a butcher in West Hampstead, we’ve suddenly got two… and a farmers market. Are they all sustainable?

On the upper floor, it’s been well known for a while that the Village Haberdashery is moving from its cramped Mill Lane premises to take over a large 1,400 square foot space that will be both shop and workshop.

"Heritage Lane". Photo via Annie Barker

“Heritage Lane”. Photo via Annie Barker

Owner Annie Barker has big plans for the space, and it’s genuinely pleasing to see that a local business has been given a sizeable space there at reasonable rent – at least for five years when her rent will be reviewed. Finally on the upper floor, the news you’ve all been waiting for… yes… another estate agent. According to the brochure, this has not been confirmed yet, though it’s described as “specialising in premium new homes and luxury real estate with multiple offices in London and the Far East.” All in all, the annual rental income in year one comes in at £325,500.

And what is all this commercial space on the market for? According to one source, the asking price is somewhere around £6.75 million.

Authors recognised as Ballymore apartment blocks named

It’s been a long time coming, but Ballymore has finally announced the names of its tower blocks, following the competition West Hampstead Life ran back in August.

Only the first five blocks have been named so far and Ballymore hasn’t decided which name will go with which block. I’m told that the two rear blocks (which contain the affordable housing component of the development) will be named in line with the others though they’re still deciding on those names.

Ballymore has chosen authors with local connections as the theme, and the winner of the competition is Ed Fordham, who suggested three of the five names and was, coincidentally, also one of the original agitators for the names to be chosen in this way. All submissions were sent to Ballymore anonymously however.

The first five blocks will be called Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Lessing and Milne.

All five authors lived at one time or another (and for varying lengths of time!) in West Hampstead.

Here come the boys... (Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Milne)

Here come the boys… (Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Milne)

And here’s the Nobel prize-winning Doris Lessing in 1975. Lessing died in November last year having lived in West Hampstead for some 25 years.

More than 50 people submitted offical suggestions for the seven blocks with varying degrees of seriousness. More people left comments on the original article (including one who got most of the names that won). I won’t list all the entries, but here are a selection of the thoughtful, amusing and cheeky.

Classical references were popular: Seven wonders of the world, seven against Thebes (niche), and the seven hills of Rome.

Ephesus Adrastus Aventine
Giza Amphiaraus Capitoline
Alexandria Capaneus Esquiline
Babylon Hippomedon Quirinal
Halicarnassus Parthenopeus Palatine
Rhodes Polynices Caelian
Olympus Tydeus Viminal

The developers had said that “Connections” was their keyword in marketing, and some played on the transport links both at home and abroad

Marylebone Marais Paris
St Pancras Vendome Toulouse
Fenchurch Concorde Lyon
Kings Cross Vosges Marseille
Euston Bastille Strasbourg
Paddington Madeleine Avignon
Waterloo Châtelet Grenoble

Famous people loomed large, many living, some dead. Lots of submissions covered broadly similar ground with Dusty Springfield, Gerry Anderson, Emma Thompson, and Dirk Bogarde all featuring prominently. Camila Batmanghelidjh always seemed like a stretch though.

No-one would be surprised that Ballymore didn’t choose trees varieties, the suggestion of a few people (well before the tree dispute earlier this year). However two more unusual “vegetation” suggestions came in the form of English grape varieties and… inevitably… cucumber varieties.

Bacchus Vectina
Huxelrebe Olympian
Ortega Fountain
Seyval Blanc Marketmore
Rondo Corinto
Reichensteiner Kekiri
Madeleine Angevine Wautoma

Some of the odder suggestions came from people who got hung up on there being 7 towers. The seven dwarves (“Hi, I live in Grumpy House”), the seven days of the week, and the seven colours of the rainbow were all suggested twice. We had the last seven monarchs (which gets confusing with two Georges and two Edwards), seven planets and seven (rather than 8) points of the compass.

My favourite “whacky” suggestion though was to name the tower blocks after the Secret Seven: Peter, Janet, Jack, Barbara, George, Pam and Colin. Genius.

There were surprisingly few, shall we say, “satirical” entries, though someone did suggest “Totally, Out, Of, Keeping, With, West, Hampstead”. I don’t think that made the shortlist.

Alongside the winner, a genuine special mention to Jamie Murray, who put some serious thought into it and chose names linked to William Beckford. Beckford, whose name will appear on one of the buildings, owned West End House, which stood on the site of the development. Here’s Jamie’s submission in full:

As the towers in the West Hampstead Square development are to be built on the site of the old West End House, surely their names should be selected to commemorate eccentric author William Beckford, “The Sultan of Lansdown Tower”, who grew up there? So “Lansdown” is one obvious suggestion, but what about “Fonthill”, after the abbey Beckford built himself in Wiltshire?

Vathek, the antihero of the gothic novel for which Beckford is best remembered, is probably a bit too gothic, but what about “Carathis”, surely the most memorable character in the book? She’s based on Beckford’s own mother, Maria, who ended her life at West End House. And how about “Istakar”, after the destination of Vathek’s quest? It’s an old name for Persepolis, and has a lovely ring to it.

We ought not to forget “Azemia”, the heroine of one of Beckford’s more satirical works. Finally, while northwest London is already graced with a Mozart estate, we really must remember Beckford’s music tutor somehow: so what about “Amadeus” or “Wolfgang”?

So my suggestions are: Lansdown, Fonthill, Carathis, Istakar, Azemia, Amadeus, Wolfgang.

But the winner is Ed Fordham whose full list was: “AA Milne, George Orwell, Gerry Anderson, Thomas Hardy, Dusty Springfield, Joe Orton, WH Ainsworth”. Well done Ed, a meal for two at The Wet Fish Café awaits.

Ballymore construction starts March 10th

Having cleared the site (and, yes, the trees), construction of West Hampstead Square is now imminent. At the first working group meeting between developers Ballymore, building contractors O’Hare McGovern and community representatives, Ballymore announced that work would start on March 10th and is due to finish next summer.

Work will take place 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays.

Perhaps of more concern for locals will be the 45 lorry movements per day along Finchley Road and West End Lane, delivering materials and removing waste.

Local councillor Gillian Risso-Gill will be speaking to the council about a traffic management plan for the development. The contractor’s own report says it will have a “left turn in, left turn out” policy, so lorries won’t have to cross lanes. Sounds good in practice, though if it leads to more traffic heading up West End Lane beyond Iverson Road then it may be preferable to endure the right turns out of the site.

Having promised to look into ways to mitigate the loss of the trees by “greening” the north wall (the one that will face the Overground tracks), Ballymore came back with no suggestions, saying that there was no scope for additional planting on the north side due to Network Rail fencing. Don’t expect the campaigners to roll over easily on this one.

Sneak preview of Overground station plans

Concept drawing - station front

The first pictures have emerged of what West Hampstead Overground station is going to look like after a complete remodel. The £7m scheme is still in its early stages but it looks like it will resemble most other modern stations with an abundance of glass and steel.

The Overground station, which opened in 1888, handles 3 million passengers a year, so more capacity is needed as well as longer platforms to accommodate the new 5-carriage trains that will start to run from 2015.

We reported last year that TfL was planning to rebuild the station, partly thanks to almost £1 million from Ballymore as part of its contribtuions to the community for West Hampstead Square (the Section 106 money). Architects are now finalising initial designs in advance of the planning application, which will be submitted in the spring. Before that, TfL will consult with passengers and the community to comment on the proposal.

Looking east - the footbridge is further down the platform than it is today.

Looking east – the footbridge is further down the platform than it is today.

The existing station will be partially removed so the pavement can be widened. The new station will be between the existing station and West Hampstead Square, and there will be step-free access from street-level to platform via lifts. The current platforms are too narrow for lift shafts so they will need to be widened by at least 3 metres (this will of course ease the crowding on the platform too).

Work to widen and extend platforms will commence in late spring, and work on the new station building should follow in early 2015 and take approximately one year – depending on planning permission of course.

The images, courtesy of TfL are still conceptual and are subject to change prior to the submission of a planning application. It’s still hard from these to understand quite how it fits into the streetscape, especially with West Hampstead Square yet to be built.

Trees – there are always trees

TfL has already broached the thorny issue of trees. “In order to complete the platform and station works, it is necessary to remove four sycamore trees from the railway embankment along the westbound platform. The proximity of these trees to the new station building and platform means that the scheme cannot be completed with them in place.”

One of those trees has just had a Tree Preservation Order slapped on it by Camden, but expect TfL (and Network Rail who own the land) to get its way – even if it has to deal with petitions and masked protestors.

Gary Nolan, TfL’s Stakeholder Communications Manager, Rail, said “We are currently in discussions with tree officers from the London Borough of Camden regarding these trees and we intend to re-landscape the embankments to the rear of both platforms following the completion of works.”

Timber! Ballymore trees finally felled

This morning the trees on the Ballymore site, which have been the subject of so much protest, are being felled.

Cut logs are being piled up and a woodchipper is making short work of the spindly branches.

The petition that hoped to stop the removal of the trees reached 897 signatures.

The green woodchipper

The green woodchipper

The trees are being cleared

The trees are being cleared

The woodchipper minces up the branches

The woodchipper minces up the branches

Logs piled up in the foreground

Logs piled up in the foreground

Tree vigil outside West Hampstead Square

Ballymore Tree Vigil

A small group of about a dozen people stood in the weak winter sunshine this morning protesting about the removal of the trees on Ballymore’s West Hampstead Square site. It had been described as a “vigil”, but that would really mean hanging around until the trees were actually removed.

A few cars were honking their horns – presumably in support, while what looked like a stag party changing trains gave them a few whoops.

Some of the protestors were wearing white masks, though quite why a protest about trees requires that level of anonymity isn’t obvious.

Signs read “Towers 7 Trees 0” and “Camden Council Thanks for Nothing”. At least someone had tried for a good pun, with “We’re Syca Ba££ymore”

If you’re not familar with the tree saga, the latest installment is here.

David vs. Goliath as tree campaign takes root

As all bright schoolchildren know, King Canute didn’t believe his regal powers could stop the tide. In fact, he got his feet wet precisely to prove this point to his obsequious courtiers.

Still, to this day “Canute-like” is used to describe people who battle on against an inevitability. This must be what the local campaigners behind the Save the Trees petition feel like. Since January 16th they have been tweeting seemingly non-stop to anyone and everyone in the area, pleading that they sign the petition. They are trying to convince Ballymore and Network Rail to spare the lives of the trees that are destined for the chop on the West Hampstead Square site.

The petition has had some success, attracting almost 600 signatures to date. However, any stay of execution for the trees seems extremely unlikely.

Readers who’ve been following the story for some time will recall that developer Ballymore has decided to chop down 27 of the 32 trees originally identified as being on its building site. This is in line with the planning permission it was granted, despite its own tree survey suggesting that some of the trees could be retained.


Ballymore did realise that it could make five trees Network Rail’s problem as they were just off its land. Network Rail, which plans to redevelop the Overground station next door, is expected to remove those final five trees.

Helpful "infographic" via the campaigners

Helpful “infographic” via the campaigners

Lots of people have been unhappy about all this – Emma Thompson and Jim Carter even weighed into the debate. At a recent meeting between campaigners and Ballymore, the developer repeated that it intended to remove all the trees on its own land as it had planning permission to do just that. It agreed to look at how it might make the north-facing wall of the development “greener”, though no firm proposals have yet to emerge.

Despite another wave of publicity, Jonathon Weston, senior development manager at Ballymore, said this week, “Of the 32 trees identified in the Arboriculture Report we anticipate removing 27 within our site boundary. As part of our development plans we intend to replace these trees with 70 new trees as part of a comprehensive, high quality public realm offer.

We are currently in the process of reviewing the landscaped gardens between each new apartment building with a view to “greening up” the northern boundary at these locations as discussed at the meeting with the residents.”

The company, which has now named O’Hare & McGovern as its principal contractor, intends to be on site in February and, according to Weston, “we anticipate the trees to be felled within the next few weeks.”

In the face of all this, the campaigners hasve soldiered on. One of them, local resident Stephen Jones, recognises that the petition may be futile: “I think the only thing that could save the trees  would have to be some kind of miracle, like Ballymore going bust or the right person hearing about it.” However, he also makes the point that there is a bigger issue here. “At the least more people will be aware of the actions of greedy developers”. He casts it as a “David and Goliath” contest, although it seems highly unlikely that this slingshot will be enough to fell the giant this time around.

At this week’s West Hampstead NDF meeting, the issue of trees came up again. Local residents group WHGARA has written that, according to a different assessment of the trees called CAVAT, they are worth more than £400,000, for which the community is not being compensated.

The passion aroused by the tree saga is palpable. At the NDF meeting this week there was also a suggestion that the neighbourhood plan should state clearly that there should be a presumption against the removal of any trees in future developments.

If Ballymore has done anything, it has perhaps galvanised locals into recognising the benefits of greenery in our neighbourhood and perhaps will end up strengthening the protection afforded to trees.

Which would be good for property prices no doubt…

West Hampstead grows: Development review of the year

“Why did no-one try and fight it?”

I guarantee that when the tower blocks that will form West Hampstead Square start to go up in 2014, at least one person will express horror and shock that such a thing was allowed to go ahead uncontested.

Of course people did contest it – or at least the scale of it. Some still are. None of that matters now – the development got its planning permission more than a year ago. If you’re new to the area The best summary article of the plan is here, though scrolling through these pages will give you the full story.

The existing buildings, businesses that almost all managed to relocate locally, were knocked down the first weekend in May.

The remnants of Cafe Bon

Ballymore, the developers, launched the marketing offensive in the early summer with a website and then a promotional newspaper that seemed to suggest West Hampstead is populated by glamorous couples who swan around the stations in 1930s garb.

When sales eventually started to the general public in September (after a few existing Ballymore customers were given first dibs), there was considerable interest though most locals were a little gobsmacked by the prices (studios start at £405,000), 2-beds are in the £750,000+ range, service charge is ~£2,800 for 2-beds (and even ground rent is £750!).

The widespread belief, therefore, is that the unit are going to investors. After all, buyers have to drop a 20% deposit within a matter of months even though the flats won’t be ready until well into 2015.

As the flats went on the market, a bruhaha developed over the fate of trees on and adjacent to the site. Emma Thompson even got involved.

It’s all been of little import, though Ballymore has agreed to look at some more “greening” of parts of the site that won’t be seen by its own residents. The trees that people are now concerned about are on Network Rail land and are almost certain to be cleared when the Overground station is redeveloped in 2014.

West Hampstead Square might be the most high profile development in the area, but it’s far from the only one.

Work has finally started on the 163 Iverson Road site. This former garden centre will be turned into flats with some imaginative architecture to make the most of an odd-shaped site. Former Conservative candidate Chris Philp is now one of the investors in the development after a property fund he set up took over the site.

163 Iverson Road looking east

Next door, McGregor Homes has an application in to turn the Iverson Tyres site into a block of flats that reflect the architecture of the 163 development. It’s hard to see any major objections to these plans – already revised once after discussion with council planners. One objection might be that Iverson Tyres itself (which ows the land) isn’t able to move its offices into the one commercial unit in the development because Camden is insisting on classifying it for light industrial use.

The redevelopment of Handrail House and the building next door (63 & 65 Maygrove Road) hasn’t really got going even though developer Regal Homes has sold some of the units off plan during an Asian roadshow. The empty Handrail House was the site of a rave by squatters back in May.

The saga of Gondar Gardens is a tortuous one, but it may be entering its final stage. This time last year, the first of developer Linden Wates’ (now three) proposals had just been successfully appealed by the developer and the second was being lined up for appeal. There was some surprise that the national planning inspector rejected that second proposal.

Linden Wates has since put forward its third proposal – a tweak of the second adjusted to take the inspectors’ comments into account. GARA – the relevant residents association – will decide at its AGM in January exactly how to respond, but its initial reaction is to push to ensure that the developer puts forward as sympathetic a proposal as possible rather than to contest this third plan outright. This is, therefore, likely to be the beginning of the end of the story.

The other big development news is for a site at the very heart of West Hampstead, but progress is likely to be slow. 156 West End Lane, the red-brick building known as the “Travis Perkins building”, has been sold for redevelopment.

156West End Lane has enormous potential

However, Travis Perkins has a lease that means it can stay in the building for another three years. In the meantime the offices above – once used by the council – sit empty. It’s hoped that, given the substantial cost to Camden of simply keeping the building, some alternative uses can be found for at least some of the office space.

Hoping to play a part in all the big developments that lie ahead, the Neighbourhood Development Forum worked through various drafts of its plan and tried different ways to reach out to the broader community. Hopefully, by now most residents have at least heard of it, and many have contributed their thoughts. The final draft should be published in late January 2014 and go to consultation.

Other planning news

  • An application was submitted to turn the ground floor of Alfred Court into an extension of a private school. It was always going nowhere fast – much like the traffic it would have created.
  • The Blackburn Road student block was finished and opened on time – few people seem to object too much, despite its bulk.
  • The “Mario’s block” on Broadhurst Gardens is up for redevelopment – will it be modern or traditional?
  • The major Abbey Area redevelopment (around the Belsize Road/Abbey Road junction) has stuttered on with amendments to plans but little seems to have happened.

As always, you can keep up to date with major planning proposals and developments with the map below (do let me know if anything needs updating)

View Developments in West Hampstead in a larger map

Trees: Will they stay or will they go?

The saga of the trees on and around the West Hampstead Square site drags on. The campaigners continue to pester Camden to slap preservation orders on those trees growing by the Overground line that are off the Ballymore site, but on Network Rail land. Camden is resisting, partly because, as I understand it, it wouldn’t have any impact anyway as Network Rail has the power to override that.

As far as I’m aware, Ballymore has yet to respond to Emma Thompson’s open letter to them on this matter.

In the meantime, if you’ve been wondering which trees might stay and which might go in the short term… well, you’re in luck. I was sent a handy visual. I think this is what all infographics should look like.

Emma Thompson joins Ballymore tree row

It’s been quiet of late on the Ballymore building site at West Hampstead Square. This has meant a stay of execution for the trees that have caused so much heated debate over the past couple of months.

Emma Thompson at the 2011 charity cricket match
Photo via @bubela

Now, one of West Hampstead’s most famous residents has waded into the debate with a letter, published in the Ham & High this week, which she’s given me permission to print in full here.

An open letter from Emma Thompson to Sean Mulryan, Chairman & Group Managing Director of Ballymore Developments and Peter McCall, Construction Director


I am a long-term resident of West Hampstead (54 years) and have watched as over the years, development has all but removed any green spaces and most of the life-giving trees from the area. I understood from the Council that your development was set to include the trees that give pleasure and vitally – oxygen – to the area but I now understand that you are planning to chop them all down.

Please do not indulge in this act of vandalism and eco-savagery. It’s totally unnecessary and you will endear yourselves greatly to this community if you listen to their desires in this matter.

No-one wants to lose the few trees we have. Their survival is of the utmost importance. Your development will be infinitely more attractive with the trees in place. Your recommendations stated that you would protect and enhance the ‘green infrastructure’ – which it now seems you had no intention of doing. I understand all too well the way these things happen. Give lip-service to the ‘green’ bits and then when everyone has forgotten about the agreement, lop it all down.

Do not be tempted to do this. It won’t help you and it will anger the community.

I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely yours
Emma Thompson (actor/writer and conservationist)
Local resident

I think we all look forward to Ballymore’s reply, which I’d be very happy to publish here.

Tree debate moves to Network Rail

If anyone still sent actual letters, then the local back-and-forth about the chopping down of the trees on and near the Ballymore site would have accounted for a small copse all by itself.

Mercifully, it’s only been everyone’s inboxes taking the strain as councillors, concerned locals, residents associations, the Neighbourhood Development Forum, council officers and the developers have been trying to establish clarity on the subject. The one group conspicuous by its absence from these discussions is Network Rail and yet it is in their hands that the fate of many of the remaining trees rests, along with the views of many future West Hampstead Square residents.

One of the issues seems to be that it’s not easy to determine from the ground (without access to the building site), precisely which trees are on the Ballymore land, and which are on the railway embankment by the Overground lines and owned by Network Rail.

These must be Network Rail trees, right?
(photo via Candice Temple)

This story first came to light about six weeks ago, when it appeared that Ballymore was going to cut down all the trees on its West Hampstead Square site. This was in line with its planning permission, but there had been some hope that a small handful of trees might be spared.

One communication from Camden, which followed a meeting between a Trees and Landscape Officer and Ballymore, says “The large sycamore at the top of the site and trees at the other end of the site can and will be retained.”

If this is the case, then this is already better news than we had back in August (if you’re in the pro-tree lobby). Ballymore has planning permission to cut down all the trees – although the report it’s using does suggest that some could be spared.

If Ballymore does the right thing and saves the trees it doesn’t need to remove (and plenty of eagle-eyed locals will be watching very carefully), then the issue then becomes the trees that fall outside the Ballymore footprint. These are Network Rail trees and are highly likely to be removed when the new station or access point from West Hampstead Square is built.

Neighbourhood Development Forum member Mark Stonebanks manage to dig up the document that summarised the key themes that emerged as the views of participants in the main public consultation for West Hampstead Square. It dates from July 2011, and says: “The development should retain the existing trees along the boundaries of the site where possible to help soften the proposals”. It even includes a direct quote: “People won’t mind the height so much if there’s a lot of green grass and organic things growing up the building.”

There was a brief flurry of interest on Friday when it appeared this might open up a loophole to save more trees, but the document states clearly that this is simply a summary of participants’ views, not something the developers should adhere to.

Another school of thought suggests Camden hasn’t enforced its own planning guidance to Ballymore, citing one sentence: “Ensure appropriate relationship to adjoining open space and ecological corridors and provide new open space”. Again, it strikes me this is all open to interpretation. What’s an “appropriate relationship”? Nor is it saying Ballymore must provide its own ecological corridors.

If it is indeed correct that Ballymore is able to retain a handful of trees on site, that is good news. If it can now be persuaded to engage with its development partner Network Rail to protect as many of the trees that are in the line of fire when the new station is built, even better.

Remember these are trees that screen the railway lines from the expensive flats and if you think it’s just quiet London Overground trains on those lines, think again. Tomorrow alone, 24 freight trains are scheduled to use that line between 6am and 8pm. If I’d paid north of £700,000 for a 2-bed flat with a balcony on that side of the building, I think I might expect a few trees between me and the freight trains as I sat outside with glass of Chablis and farmers’ market goats cheese.

Who’s saving which trees now?

The saga of the Ballymore trees has been clogging up my inbox over the past week or so. It feels like there’s some confusion as to which trees it is exactly we’re all hell bent on saving. What’s becoming clear though, is that Network Rail is likely to be the destroyer or saviour of the trees that really matter.

In my article the other day, I focused on the trees at the westerly end of the West Hampstead Square site, which were the ones assessed as being in the healthiest condition – the ones that didn’t have to be felled.

Campaigners have (more optimistically?) also been arguing that the trees nearest the Overground station on the other side of the site should be kept. They got a reply from Ballymore’s construction manager Peter McCall, which was fairly clear on both:

“Our development will require the removal of the trees along the track side as it is extremely unlikely that the trees if left in place would be viable with the proximity of the new development.

The trees which you were most concerned about will not be affected by our development but it is our understanding that these are to be removed in conjunction with the improvement works associated with the station itself. These works will be under the control of Network Rail / LUL”

Those last two sentences are really the important ones. If we accept that the trees on the Ballymore site are doomed (I for one have no plans to chain myself to them), then perhaps it’s worth turning to the trees off the site.

What’s also interesting is that Ballymore appears to be using some of the “offsite” trees in its West Hampstead Square marketing pitch. See those trees at the top of the picture below? They would seem to be trees that are now in danger of disappearing. “A natural place to live“, says the caption, not “Panoramic view of freight trains“.

This takes us back to an entirely different conversation during one of the early public consultation meetings about this proposal. Here’s what I wrote in November 2011 following that meeting, along with an artist’s impression designed to show how the large tower blocks would be all but invisible:

“[the developers] argued that the trees that flank the site (none of which are actually on the site and thus their long-term future cannot be guaranteed) give adequate screening for the larger buildings, although the photographs that tried to prove this were taken before the leaves began to come off the trees – they said they would be taking pictures again in winter”


I’m not sure whether those winter picture ever came, and you’ll notice that even then I pointed out that as Ballymore didn’t own the trees in question, it was not really their place to guarantee their future. Bear in mind, however, that Ballymore is in partnership with Network Rail so it’s not without influence, and there is that marketing pitch to its wealthy buyers (it issued the first press release today ahead of sales formally starting this weekend – studio flats start at £405,000).

Does Ballymore really want flats that look out over train lines, or would some nice mature greenery be more in keeping with that neighbourhood vibe it’s plugging hard?

It would be fantastic if Network Rail (or whoever owns the land, which can be harder to determine than it should be) could already begin building in tree preservation, or at the very least replanting, into their plans for the redevelopment of the Overground. Here’s an area where our (up-for-election-next-year) councillors should weigh in and discuss the matter with Camden planning officers early.

As a reminder for them, there’s been a strong “green spaces” lobby at most local planning-related meetings over the past couple of years. The placeshaping document published by Camden last year says: “Existing green ‘chains’ and habitat corridors along the railway tracks and existing sites of nature conservation… are highly valued by residents and need to be protected and enhanced.”

So, who’s going to stand up for the trees? Local councillors? Camden planning officers? Ballymore? Or is it going to be down to locals to make a fuss.

Related articles:
West Hampstead Square: All trees to be axed
West Hampstead Place Plan progress report
187-199 West End Lane: The Ballymore proposals

West Hampstead Square: All trees to be axed

West Hampstead Square, the Ballymore development on West End Lane, is still in the site clearance phase. The trees on the site will be removed very soon, but at least one group of residents wonders whether such drastic measures are necessary.

Removing the trees was all part of the original planning application, so it’s not like people weren’t warned. However, with a focus on building heights and overall design, less attention was probably paid to the fate of the trees.

This overlay shows a section of the site. The grey dots are the trees that will be removed and underneath you can see the foliage that forms part of the raised gardens for each block and trees along the access road. Click to see the full site image.

There are 32 trees on the site, according to the tree survey that was carried out two years ago. All were rated category “C”. This means that they are deemed to be of low quality or value.

Here’s the map of all the trees from the survey. Click for the large version. The trees that some locals think could be spared the axe are those to the north on the Overground railway border, which form a screen, and those at the far west of the site, which the survey suggests do not need to be removed

Looking west: taller trees to the left could be retained.
These are G1-T5 (see below)

It is of course hard to dispute the experts’ view without some experts of your own. However, it is worth looking at the detail of the text (although it does appear to be confusingly contradictory) [my emphasis].

Considering the trees collectively, they form something of an intermittent visual screen between the railways and the site, but due to the proximity of the trees to the railway lines and to walls and fences, their safe useful life expectancy is unlikely to be great – for the most part less than 20 years.

It may be possible to retain a small number of trees such as G1, G2, T3, G4 and T5. G4 has the potential to grow significantly larger as do many of the other sycamores. Coupled with their poor form they are best removed and replaced with more modest landscaping proposals, consistent with the shape and size of the site.

In line with the proposed scheme plan (Appendix A), this assessment suggests that all trees other than G1-T5 will need to be removed; whilst theoretically some further tree retention could be attempted the benefits arising from such tree retention are considered to be small in relation to the costs and difficulties arising.

The main message seems to be “remove everything”, with all but five trees needing to be removed and those five “best removed”. Those five trees are all at the very far end of the site, so would have no impact on the screen from Iverson Road.

There’s been a strong “green spaces” lobby at most local planning-related meetings over the past couple of years. The placeshaping document published by Camden last year says: “Existing green ‘chains’ and habitat corridors along the railway tracks and existing sites of nature conservation…  are highly valued by residents and need to be protected and enhanced.”

Not a lot of protection going on here.

Sycamore trees on southern boundary as of June 2012
(from Google StreetView)

The document also says,

The railway embankments are important parts of the green chains and biodiversity corridors in this area particularly due to the number of railway lines that pass through this area. It is important to ensure that these are protected and enhanced, particularly where developments are proposed alongside the railways.

The Council are also seeking to encourage partners, such as Network Rail, to ensure these lands are actively managed to ensure they help support the biodiversity of the area as a whole and work together to improve the missing green habitat link

WHGARA, the residents association for the area south of the site, has contacted Camden to see whether a stay of execution might be granted so that not all the trees are lost. After all, it points out, although the new development will have some green space (see map below, click for large version), the vast majority of this will not be of much benefit to non-residents, or even visible to them.

 Camden’s response:

This part of the railway embankment does not form part of the railway corridor open space or nature conservation designation.

There will be a number of trees planted as part of the redevelopment proposals and a number of other biodiversity enhancements such as living roofs and new landscaping. The overall balance of tree and other planting was considered and accepted … as part of the planning permission.

To me that reads like a “we’re not even going to look into this” answer, and I suppose the argument is that this was all in the public domain first time around and was passed so what’s the point.

Aerial view before demolition began (via GoogleMaps)

This leaves the tree defenders with one (not tree lined) avenue left – appeal directly to Ballymore to retain those five trees that its own survey said have the “potential to grow significantly” and do not need to be removed. Failing that, at least Ballymore will know that locals will be carefully matching up the trees that are eventually planted with those that appear on the map to make sure there’s no shortfall.

Full overlay of existing trees and proposed new trees

Name the West Hampstead Square towers

Whether or not you’re a fan of the West Hampstead Square development, it’s already well underway. Some of you have been into the marketing suite, which showcases the fixtures and fittings of the apartments (vintage, despite the modern architecture), and plenty more of you have been gazing through the window at the rather large model of the development.

For people who haven’t yet realised how big this scheme is, the model (which lights up at night rather pleasingly) gives some idea. West End Lane is on the right.

The tower blocks, which range from 5 storeys to 12, are currently named “A, B, C… etc.” Dull, right?

I had a word with Ballymore and it is willing to let whampers come up with names for each building. It’s competition time folks.

Get thinking
You need to come up with a name for each of the seven blocks in the development. Ballymore (not me) will choose the winner and there’s a caveat here – because these will be actual addresses of people’s properties, they have to be approved by the council too, so bear that in mind.

The winner will be the person who makes the most suggestions that are then used in the final building names. That person will win a three-course dinner for two with a tasting glass of wine paired with each course at The Wet Fish Café, and will be invited to the opening, along with knowing that they’ve helped to shape the built landscape of West Hampstead. Should a building name that has been submitted by other readers aside from the winner be chosen, they too will be invited to the opening.

There are no other parameters. I’m sure some of you will have some choice suggestions that clearly won’t get selected, and I’m braced for people who’ll say “we’re doing Ballymore’s job for them”, but why not look at the positives, help shape the place we live and bring these buildings into the community.

If you can’t come up with seven names, then why not suggest as many as you can – they may still get selected.

As I said, there are no other criteria – i will tell you that the marketing campaign is built around “Connections”, but that doesn’t have to influence you. I’ve already bagged Jimelda Towers by the way, in honour of our local thespian couple.

Send your suggestions to . Deadline is midnight September 2nd.

Good luck

Pavement widened at West Hampstead Square

If you went to the tube station today you’ll have noticed a significant change where the hoardings have been for the past few weeks.

The pavement has been widened, a couple of trees and a flower bed have appeared as if by magic, and there’s some large stencil lettering. All this to announce that the Ballymore West Hampstead Square development is getting nearer to its launch date (although that’s still being billed as September).

Maybe they could also get rid of the “Car parking for £10 a day” sign.

Behind the hoardings, it’s still a building site – two years to go!

West Hampstead Square

Today marks the end of an era.

The building site where 187-199 West End Lane stood must, I think, be now known as West Hampstead Square. The marketing suite is being dropped into place, and the development’s website is live so you can register your interest in the flats. No word on pricing yet, but when you register your interest, the site asks which price bracket you are interested in in increments of £250k with a £1m+ option.

The images on the website thus far focus much more on the square element of the development and less on the enormo-tower blocks behind.

And here’s what it looked like at around 10.45 this morning

Initial reaction on Twitter was mixed