Green fingered women wanted

The West Hampstead Women’s Centre, which occupies the Old Kilburn Library on Cotleigh Road, is looking for volunteers to help with its community garden.

Daffodils? The WHWC’s garden is already sprouting!

Every Wednesday afternoon you can not only do a bit of planting, but then learn how to cook with what you grow. I think it sounds good – but sadly I don’t fit the demographic.

Anyway, for more information e-mail Sarah, go to Facebook, or see the poster below.

Water out most of day, road closed until weekend?

A water main burst last night on West End Lane by West End Lane Cars. Many people south of the stations either have no water or low water pressure. The latest estimate from the workmen carrying out the repairs is that water will be restored by 5pm today.

The repairs to the pipe have meant closing the road. Apparently, one of the reasons for delay was coordinating with the council to close the road. More on that story as I get it.

As a very rough rule of thumb, properties on and to the west of West End Lane are worse affected than those to the east, although there are exceptions to this rule possibly based on how high up in a building you are. Thames Water is providing bottled water outside West End Charcoal Grill. I did see people taking water and heading north, when the problems are south. Seems a bit opportunist.

This is what water looks like

Starbucks and Costa have been struggling – the former is serving filter coffee, the latter is out of hot water. Wired has a large external tank and is still operating as normal. ML Estates decided to abandon any attempt at opening its office today.

West End Lane is closed between Blackburn Road and Iverson Road. National Express coaches, already diverted off Finchley Road (not sure why), are now having to head down Iverson Rd.

There was a tweet just now from Cllr Keith Moffitt saying that the road would be closed until Saturday “in order to ensure all remedial works are completed”. This does not bode well for traffic for the rest of the week – buses are of course on diversion, clogging up both Kilburn High Road and Finchley Road as well as side streets.

I’ve asked Keith whether he can find out whether the resurfacing work on West End Lane, which disrupted traffic and polluted the farmers’ market last weekend, will continue as planned or whether we’ll get some respite after three days of closure. [update 12:50pm: resurfacing work will go ahead, depending on progress of Thames Water’s works]

It is perhaps worth pointing out that there have been instances recently where the doom-and-gloom news of lengthy road closures have in fact not been that bad at all. Nevertheless, expect disruption and delays at the very least.

Here’s the latest from TfL on the bus diversions:

  • 139 Curtailed to Quex Road and stand Kilburn High Road. Depart via Kilburn High Road Left Belsize Road Right Abbey Road to normal route.
  • 328 towards Golders Green from Quex Road Right Abbey Road Left Belsize Road Left Finchley Road to normal route.
  • 328 towards Kilburn from West End Lane Right Iverson Road Left Kilburn High Road to normal route.
  • C11 towards Archway from West End Lane Right Iverson Road Left Kilburn High Road Left Quex Road Left West End Lane Right Broadhurst Gardens to normal route
  • C11 towards Brent Cross from Cleve Road Left West End Lane Right Quex Road Right Kilburn High Road Right Mill Lane Left Westbere Road to normal route.

Your views on local flood risk – yes, it exists.

I started this article this morning with “Newer residents might find this a peculiar topic…”. By this evening, newer residents were suddenly all too aware of the flood risk in West Hampstead as West End Lane was transformed into a river after a pipe apparently burst. [update: here’s the latest on the impact on Wednesday morning:]

Photo via @Veena_ju

Pipes burst all the time of course, but the water is supposed to drain away eventually. The challenge is that with so much hard surface and drains and gullies getting blocked by debris, and in the case of Blackburn Road tonight, mud from the construction site, this water has nowhere to go. This is when we see the fire engines getting involved, pumping water off the streets.

Move away from a single burst pipe to a rainstorm that drenches a much wider area and it’s clear that West Hampstead could have a problem.

There have been two major flood events in West Hampstead in the last 40 years: 1975 and 2002. Both of these were caused not by a burst pipe, or even the sort of relentless winter rain we’ve got at the moment but by freak summer storms. The risk is more to do with surface runoff and blocked drains than a rising water table.

Lymington Road in 2002 (Photo: Steve Berryman)

As chance would have it, just yesterday Camden launched a consultation on flood strategy. Nick Humfrey, from the council, was on hand at last night’s Area Action Group meeting to explain more about it.

After the 2002 flood, Thames Water invested in a large flood risk project in the area, known as the Sumatra Road scheme. This increased sewer capacity and added a holding tank and flood risk has reduced as a result.Nevertheless, two particular areas have been designated as potential flood risk locations: Cannon Hill and Goldhurst Terrace.

“While we have been able to develop a strong understanding of the flood risk in the borough through our modelling, records and the knowledge of our staff, there is always more information we can use and we’re keen to hear from you about areas in your neighbourhood which flood regularly or actions that have been taken which have had an impact on flood risk.

We are also interested in hearing your views on the proposed plans for managing and alleviating flood risk. While the plans are still at an early stage and the strategy is not able to go into detail for specific schemes, we’re very keen to hear of any issues that will need to be considered when the detail for these schemes is delivered.”

The whole draft plan can be downloaded here and below is the map of Camden showing streets that have suffered from flooding in the past.

If Nick thought he was in for a quick Q&A session last night he was sorely mistaken. Local residents had plenty to say about this topic – many with damp memories of both these previous major floods as well as smaller incidents.

The two biggest concerns were – aptly enough – the council’s clearing of street gullies, and the ever-thorny issue of the impact of the increase in basement excavations. The gullies are meant to be cleared around once a year, but locals claimed there were gullies that hadn’t been cleared in years. As for basements, this is becoming a major issue all over Camden – and beyond. Planning permission needs to be sought for such work, but it seems to be granted usually. The challenge may be that too many basements in one street or one area could mean that drainage is compromised causing localised flooding. There are many anecdotal examples of this. Surveys are required for each basement, but the cumulative impact seems to be proving harder for planners to prove or act on. One indignant woman last night seemed simply stunned that Camden could allow swimming pools in basements. I haven’t heard of too many of those in West Hampstead myself – such ironic development is surely confined to our NW3 neighbours up on the hill.

Anyway, if you have any thoughts on local flooding or have been the victim of even a minor flood event in your back garden or street, do fill in the survey. The more data Camden has, the more accurately it can model flood risk and then the flood relief measures it needs to implement will be as effective as possible.

Census: Finding the rock god

The headline aggregate census statistics were released last year but only at the local authority level, i.e., Camden-wide. As the data crunchers do their thing, the Office of National Statistics will start to release the numbers at the local level.

This allows us to start looking at West Hampstead in more detail.

It’s stats, which means methodology. Bear with me (or scroll down for the numbers). Census data is collated at the “output area” level. There are MSOAs, which correspond roughly to ward-sizes, LSOAs are one-size smaller, and OAs are at the street/postcode level. They all have numerical codes and it can be quite hard to find out what they actually correspond to on the ground!

However, it is possible to see that Greater West Hampstead roughly covers four MSOAs with the evocative names of Camden 005, 010, 013 and 016. This map shows the area they cover.

With more time you could play around with the LSOAs to get the “perfect” boundaries for the area you want to cover, but we’re going to stick with MSOAs for now. The great advantage of these areas over the ward boundaries is that they do not change as much, which makes comparison over time easier.

Right that’s your geographical stats lesson out of the way.

The latest release of stats gives us the total population at these lower levels, the ethnic make-up of the area, and the stated religious affiliation (or lack of one).

The population of West Hamptead is 33,751, up from 31,004 since the 2001 census – a rise of 8.8%. The bulk of this growth has been in the north of the area in Fortune Green and the “heart” of West Hampstead. These two MSOAs experienced population growth of more than 10%. Given all the building work slated for the next few years, the 2021 census should show even greater growth. The area as a whole though is broadly in line with national population growth rates and lower than the London growth rate of 14%.

Ethnic mix
Less than half of West Hampstead’s population consider themselves to be British in one form or another – 44.6% to be precise. Of the 94 ethnic categories in the census, only Punjabi, “Black European”, “Black and Chinese” have no representatives in West Hampstead, which is quite astonishing. Here are the other highlight numbers:

  • 4.9% “Other Western European” (seems to be almost everything apart from Italian); 
  • 4.8% to be African, 
  • 4.2% to be Irish, 
  • 3.6% Indian or British Indian, 
  • 2.77% “Other White”, 
  • 2.75% “European Mixed”, 
  • 2.1% Australian or New Zealander, 
  • 2.1% Bangladeshi, 
  • 1.7% North American and so on. 

Comparisons with 2001 are tricky as I simply can’t find the comparable 2001 chart. It’s possible to get the broad ethnic breakdown by each MSOA but if anyone can send me a link to the full dataset I shall be grateful

Just over a third of whampers (35.9%) class themselves as Christian, which is well below the national average of 59.3%). A quarter of people have no religion (this includes people who state “Jedi”), and a fifth didn’t asnwer the question.

  • 8.7% identify as Muslim
  • 6.5% identify as Jewish
  • 1.2% identify as Buddhist
  • 92 people identify as Jedi

Unlike the ethnic breakdown there are a lot of religions not represented in the area (there are 56 religions mentioned in the census). One of the delights of the very detailed output is that you can get quite precise about where these people live. So, for example, according to the data, the one Heavy Metal devotee probably lives on Woodchurch or Acol Road (or was staying there that night).

So if you’ve got a neighbour on those streets who plays heavy metal and you don’t like it, complain at your peril – you may not be able to infringe his or her right to worship 😉

How much for this letter to the Corinthians?

The possible move of West Hampstead’s post office into St James Church is at an advanced stage of negotiation. It would be one of the first church post offices in a major British city. Yet it seems very few people are aware that it might happen.

Google Street View June 2012

The franchise owner of the existing West End Lane post office – Mr Ajay Kukadia – has apparently decided that it’s time to call it a day after almost 25 years. He has other plans for the premises. However, he has said that he will not close the post office until an alternative location has been secured. Mr Kukadia approached local estate agents Dutch & Dutch to help find a new location and they tweeted this in mid-November. Almost immediately, Father Andrew Cain, vicar of St James and St Mary, replied.

We’ve been instructed to help the@whampstead Post Office relocate to a new shop. Ideas on a postcard..or better-‘tweetme’ #newpostoffice
— West Hampstead Agent (@Dutch_and_Dutch) November 13, 2012

@dutch_and_dutch @whampstead – how about thinking a bit wider. Church?
— Fr Andrew Cain (@churchnw6) November 13, 2012

@dutch_and_dutch @whampstead – does it have to be a shop?
— Fr Andrew Cain (@churchnw6) November 13, 2012

@churchnw6 I don’t believe so. I like your thinking!
— West Hampstead Agent (@Dutch_and_Dutch) November 13, 2012

@dutch_and_dutch ok. Lets talk.
— Fr Andrew Cain (@churchnw6) November 13, 2012

Talk they did and the process has now moved on. There are, as you can imagine, lots of legal loopholes to jump through. The church – on the corner of West End Lane and Sherriff Road – has been accepted as a suitable venue, but that’s just the starting point. Now the Post Office and the church both have to prepare detailed plans and a business case. The church also has to approve the necessary alterations. When i first heard about this, I assumed that the plan was to house the counters in the church hall on Sherriff Road. But apparently, the idea is to have it actually in the church itself.

This is not groundbreaking – but it is unusual, especially in London. In 2003, the parish centre in Hemingford Grey in Cambridgeshire took over the local post office. The first post office actually in a church opened in 2004 in the exquisitely named village of Sheepy Magna in Leicestershire – a parish with around 1,000 inhabitants. It was only open six hours a week. Sleepy rural backwaters, where demand is low and the pace of life slow, seem well suited to such co-located services and the local church often plays a more significant role in the community than it does in a busy multicultural setting such as north-west London.

Unsurprisingly, given the often arcane and prosciptive nature of some religious doctrines, there may be  challenges to overcome so that some members of non-Christian faiths can enter the church. For example, here are two counter-arguments from the Jewish Chronicle in 2008 about whether Jews can enter a church or not. According to the 2011 census data, more than 2,000 people in West Hampstead identify as Jewish, although the census does not of course tell us how many would side with the stricter interpretations of the Talmud.

Some Muslims also believe they must not enter a church because of the display of idols, although once again it’s possible to find arguments on both sides given that there would be no religious context to the post office other than its location.

There may be workarounds for the most orthodox of non-Christian believers, and pragmatism often wins out eventually given how much of sacred text is open to interpretation.

Back to the practicalities of our own post office being in the church. Father Andrew points out that there are no guarantees this will come to pass.

“If the business case is not strong, if the alterations cost too much, if the approvals are not given – all could stop this happening. If that were the case then I would be sad – it’s a great opportunity and there is currently no other venue suitable for the Post Office to move to – and that will probably mean no post office in West Hampstead. That would be a real loss to the community and especially for those too old or disabled to get up to Finchley Road or down to Kilburn.”

Father Andrew is also keen to point out that the motivation for this is not financial. “We have a strong financial base of our own, we run a good annual surplus and have a steady if small congregation. We are not going to make money out of this and indeed will have to invest a very large amount of our own money.”

The motivation instead is to preserve a vital community service and to improve other community services. If approval is finally granted, the church will set up a charitable trust to run the Post Office, along with a café and a small retail space. Any profit made after running costs and loan repayments will go to funding community support workers. “We hope to have a Citizens Advice Bureau-supported debt advice worker on site, to employ a family support worker and possibly a youth worker. We hope to run pensioners’ lunches in the café, provide parent and toddler groups and also youth facilities in the evenings when the post office is closed.”

The post office space would also be an obvious location for one of the proposed pop-up police counters that are expected to appear as the police station closes. It may also cause a small but noteworthy shift in West Hampstead’s centre of gravity and could be a boost for those businesses south of the tube station.

If all the necessary approvals from the church, the post office and the public consultation are gained then we might be looking at August or September for the grand opening. This is the 125th anniversary of St James’ church – could it give a new lease of life to the building at a time when only 36% of the local population identify as Christian – substantially lower than the 48% across London as a whole.

As for what happens to the existing post office… did someone say Foxton’s?

Of course, if nothing else comes of this, the whole story proves the importance of Twitter in West Hampstead! Oh, and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians would cost him £1.66 in postage today or 87 pence if he wrote on both sides of airmail paper.

Neighbourhood plan: consultation time

Regular readers will have followed the progress of the Neighbourhood Development Forum; while even sporadic readers may have spotted the signs that have gone up around the area about the consultation stage the NDF is in now. I thought I’d let NDF Chair James Earl tell you more about it so you can get involved and make sure your views are counted.

“The Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) was established in January 2012 in response to the government’s Localism Act. This gives communities the power to draw up Plans for their area and to outline how the area should develop in future. It’s a very new concept and it’s pretty much untried and untested, but with a positive outlook it’s hoped drawing up a plan for our area will have benefits.

As some people know, the part of West Hampstead around the stations is classified as a ‘Growth Area’ in the London Plan. The stated aim is that this area should provide a minimum of 800 new homes and 100 new jobs between 2010-2031. Obviously, this will bring big changes to the area and have a large effect on it. A Neighbourhood Plan can’t change these figures, but can try to be more specific about where the homes are located and what other measures are needed in the area to accommodate this growth. It’s also important to note that the Plan can’t call for less development, and also has to fit in with the existing policies in the national, London and Camden plans.

To find out what people living and working in the area want from Fortune Green & West Hampstead in the future, we spent part of last year seeking views. Some of you may have seen our stall at the Jester Festival – which had pictures of local buildings and asked people what they thought of them – and/or filled out our survey. The results of this – along with lots of other information about the NDF – are on our website:

In order to have the legal authority to write a plan, we have to apply to Camden Council to recognise the Forum and the Area we cover. The Council is consulting on our application and comments have to be made by 15th March. You can find details about the consultation here.

To demonstrate to the Council that we have wide support, we are urging as many people as possible to respond. All you have to do is email to say you support the application and the area we cover (see map).

If our application is approved by the Council, we will be able to write a Plan. Once it’s finalised there has to be a further period of consultation, it has to be submitted to a planning inspector and then – finally – there is a referendum of all those living in the area. If a majority of those voting approve the Plan, it becomes a statutory planning document for the area.

The Forum welcomes anyone living or working in the area to get involved with our work and come to our meetings. You don’t have to have any expertise in planning issues – just a view about the area and what it should look like in future.

If you want to get in touch you can email: or follow us on twitter: @WHampsteadNDF.”

Property News: Why sellers tolerate fees

The start to the year has been very encouraging for the sales market in West Hampstead. It seems that the government Funding for Lending scheme, introduced six months ago, is starting to have an impact on the availability of loans while overall rates for borrowing are now at their lowest levels since the start of the recession.

It is hard to quantify exactly how much of an effect the scheme is having but there is no doubt that new applicant and viewing levels are up significantly from January 2012, and there’s an increased level of confidence in the market from agents and sellers alike.

Further good news for buyers is the government’s announcement that later this year it intends to allow empty office buildings to be converted into residential homes without the need for planning permission. This should relieve some of the upward pressure on sales and rental prices and is estimated to create an extra 100,000 homes across the UK.

This month I also wanted to raise the thorny subject of estate agents’ fees. According to the Guardian and Halifax Building Society, between 1959 and 2009 house prices have risen by 273% while real earnings rose 169%. Estate agent fees have not changed much in percentage terms over that time, so it would seem we are therefore earning more in real terms for the same job.

Is this what causes the ill feeling about estate agents? After all, in London we are talking about £40,000 (ex. vat) for selling a £2m property or even £10,000 (ex. vat) for selling a £500,000 flat (the price of an average 2-bed in NW6). On the face of it, not great value. Throw in the fact that ours is a largely unqualified profession governed by a mainly toothless Ombudsman scheme (although there are signs that it’s finding its bite) and even we can see why some of that negative sentiment arises. Fees for your estate agent far outstrip those for your conveyancing lawyer or RICS qualified surveyor. Hardly seems fair?

However, I suggest that there is a love/hate relationship between seller and agent and that although our fees seem high we can justify this and that secretly, sellers don’t really mind paying them.

This thought came to me while reading about Tesco’s failed venture into estate agency. Like many others, it invested into an online-only estate agency. The premise was that sellers, fed up with high fees, could advertise their properties online, take enquiries, conduct viewings and negotiate a sale all for a few hundred pounds. Other companies have tried various different versions of this model; some offering a negotiation and sales progression service and others a lower fixed percentage. None have yet succeeded.

It intrigued me that although sellers complain about estate agent fees when they were given the opportunity to pay less, they didn’t take it. I conducted some very basic market research: I emailed 25 of my friends and family and asked them to rank in preference what makes them decide who to appoint to sell their house: a) fees. b) local reputation c) recommendation d) personality/liked the agent or e) sold in my road.

Only one person replied that fees were the most important factor, and most placed it at the bottom of the list. It would seem that there is value in local knowledge and a track record, and that sellers do put trust in their agent to do the best job for them. I would argue this is because agents invest thousands in up front costs, creating a market place where property can be sold for the best possible price.

High street premises, newspaper advertising, expensive websites, numerous property search sites (whose prices go up exponentially each year), staff, sponsorship, marketing, petrol, cars etc.. are all up front costs designed to attract buyers for your property. This demand creates a market where you will be assured of achieving the market value of your property.

Another aspect of estate agents is that they have played a significant part (rightly or wrongly) in pushing up property prices over the last 50 years. Competition amongst agents and sellers’ desire to get the most money they can for their property means that every new instruction comes to the market at a slightly higher price than the last. This has contributed to huge amounts of personal wealth being made through the property boom of the last 50 years. Is part of the reason we accept the fees because the money we make is almost like Monopoly money that we have not seen and wouldn’t have made otherwise.

Property is usually a family’s single biggest asset and, naturally, when selling you want to be absolutely sure that you will be getting the best possible price. It seems that when it comes down to it, sellers do consider the agents the experts.

I would be interested to hear your views on this. Next month, we’ll look at the importance of development and consider whether homeowners and local authorities have too many rights to prevent it.

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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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.

Morning rush hour: One person every second

We all know that West Hampstead tube station is a busy place in morning rush hour. Elbows, rucksacks and briefcases are flying; the free papers are snaffled up; the tutting is audible as someone’s Oyster card fails to register. The entry gates act as a funnel for residents and commuters from further afield alike.

A data crunching firm decided to find out exactly how busy all the tube stations on the network were. They took data from weekdays in November 2010 to get average entry numbers to every station for 15 minute intervals.

This tells us that West Hampstead actually IS a busy station. Across the network, 8.15-8.30am is the peak time for people entering stations. An average of 863 people enter West Hampstead station at that time – that’s pretty much one person every second.

In fact, West Hampstead is the fourth busiest station on the Jubilee Line during these 15 minutes. However, the other stations: Waterloo (6,887), London Bridge (3,213) and Stratford (1,327) are all interchange stations and the data simply records numbers entering the tube in general, not for each line. It’s still reasonable to assume that for Waterloo and London Bridge, more than 863 of those people are boarding Jubilee Line trains – but Stratford is less clear cut, with the Central Line presumably accounting for a very healthy share.

New skills / new friends at West Hampstead WI

I bet lots of you didn’t even know there WAS a WI in West Hampstead. But there is, and it’s thriving, and here’s Emma to tell you all about it:

How did you start your new year? I like to get out and do something a bit different in January, while still watching the pennies. So I was lucky that after a short stomp through the cold to Brioche at the beginning of the month, I got to spend a brilliant evening learning about puppetry. Watching a professional puppeteer demonstrate her exceptional talents for engaging an audience through this fun art form, I then began learning how to bring my own hand puppet to life. Plus there was time to meet new people from around West Hampstead and catch up on the local gossip with friends. This is why I love being part of my local WI.

The West Hampstead Women’s Institute recently celebrated its first anniversary, and we are looking for new members to join us.

The puppeteer at our January meeting was Ruth Walters of Curly Ru Puppets and she is typical of the diverse range of topics that make up our monthly meetings; all of which aim to entertain and inform our members and are a great way to make new friends.

What is the Women’s Institute?
The Women’s Institute is a national organisation and charity with branches across the country. It plays a unique role in providing women with educational opportunities and the chance to build new skills, to take part in a wide variety of activities and to campaign on issues that matter to them and their communities.

During the past year the West Hampstead WI has organised talks and Q&A sessions with local stage and film actors (such as Imelda Staunton and Jim Carter), readings and discussions with local authors, guided London walks, pub style quizzes, raffles, singing lessons and craft workshops.

We meet on the first Thursday of the month at 7.30pm for a variety of talks, workshops and social events. These official monthly meetings are free for members, or you can join us as a guest for £3 up to three times.
We also meet during the month on a Wednesday morning at 10am for an informal coffee morning. There is no entrance fee for these morning meetings.

Our next meeting is on Thursday 7 February at 7.30pm and will be a hands on meeting about portraiture with artist and sculptor Barbara Beyer. Come and join our growing network!

All meetings, unless otherwise advertised take place in the Brioche cafe on West End Lane.

Membership: £33 for the year, and you can sign up at one of our meetings.

Upcoming events

  • February 7th – Barabara Beyer, artist and sculptor, will lead us through the details of portraiture – a hands on meeting
  • March 7th – Liz Astor will talk about the challenges of being a parent of a child with autism and preparing that child to enter the adult world.
  • April 4th – A social evening. Last year’s social evening was a real success, so we hope to have some more of that buzz
  • May 2nd – Senior midwife Jude Bayley, will talk about the state of midwifery today. Very topical as this year’s WI resolution is about supporting the recruitment of more midwives.
  • June 6th: An evening with local West Hampstead organisations including West Hampstead Life – A chance to find out what is going on around us.

Contact Details
Email us: and join our mailing list
Find us on Facebook:
Follow us on Twitter: @WestHampsteadWI
Check out the Women’s Institute Website:

We look forward to meeting you at one of our events!

Vicky, Jane, Dilys, Sue and Emma
The West Hampstead WI committee.

Councillors’ concerns over Inglewood Road site

You may recall the recent consultation from Camden regarding the proposal to sell off small sites in order to raise capital. One of these was behind West Hampstead library on Inglewood Road.

According to our local councillors, three-quarters of people who commented objected to the proposal to sell it off, but it will go before the cabinet meeting next month with the council recommending approval.

The councillors have raised four specific issues (although I’m lumping three of them together because they are so interrelated):

Cumulative Impact / Housing / Alternative uses – the concern here is that this site has not been included on any of the development plans and the constant infill of land with housing “will have an adverse impact on local services”. I wonder whether the challenge here is not one of development but manner of development. We all know that housing is a priority (as is space for employment), but the idea of cramming in apartments that barely conform to building regulations (as I believe has been suggested by one developer) is clearly not the right solution. This plot has an excellent location in the heart of West Hampstead, but is not an ideal site given its narrow shape, hemmed in on all sides. The councillors suggest, and it seems a reasonable idea, that the plot should be given B1 commercial status so it could be used for small businesses. Lets see some imagination on the part of the council in what they’d like to see here, and then encourage the right sort of bidders.

Parking – a more legitimate concern as the site now has lock-ups, so the people who use those and the outdoor parking spaces will lose them. Apparently, no alternative parking has been offered. Parking is a controversial issue in the area with local businesses wanting more to encourage visitors, while residents generally seem to favour less traffic and insist that the public transport links here are good enough for people to be able to leave their cars at home. Nevertheless, to actively lose a garage or parking space is clearly massively inconvenient.

Lets see whether the councillors have been persuasive enough or whether the site simply goes to the highest bidder.

Tom’s confused by smoked salmon at La Brocca

Had a nice bowl of pasta in La Brocca last Friday; I was even more hungry than usual, and the idea of penne with smoked salmon in a cream and tomato sauce, was a heartwarming thought on a cold evening (the bar was nice and warm too – that’s important – no-one wants to eat in a cold room).

A most enjoyable dish. Although I’ve always been slightly confused by the idea of cooking with smoked salmon, (kind of feels like it’s being done twice – or perhaps one and a half times), it was splendid. The saltiness of the salmon seasoned the plate, and the sauce was very pleasing too – flavoursome, and rich enough to add depth, without being too heavy (though personally, I quite like a thick sauce with pasta anyway – gorgonzola and cream, for example).

All in all a very satisfying way to start off my weekend, especially as the portion size was enormous!

That reminds me…must retreat to the kitchen now for my fourth round of toast. That’s what happens when you try and get by with a salad for dinner.

Mill Lane Bistro: Un petit coin de France

West Hampstead’s Mill Lane Bistro is unashamedly French, and the new menu has, if anything, gone even further down that autoroute. Frogs legs, snails and boeuf bourguignon all appear along with other bistro classics such as steak with dauphinoise potatoes. So is it France profonde, or Riviera rip-off?

Last Thursday, 32 of us took the place over to road test the menu for #whampreview, and – more importantly – have a convivial night of good chat over some wine. A healthy mix of familiar faces and whampvirgins gathered in The Black Lion before we braved the cold and trotted round the corner to be greeted by Cyril Blaret and his team.

We filled the main part of the restaurant and it was loud and warm and cosy in there. Mismatched tables had been put together, adding to the rustic charm, and we got down to the serious business of ordering while staving off our hunger with some sort of cheese choux buns that were universally loved.

Starters: Garlic abounds
The goats cheese salad (£7) was a popular choice. “As well dressed as Paris fashion week,” said Heather. Tom thought it was well balanced and Tony agreed it had the right “tang”. There was one voice of dissent on Nimet’s table: “over-garlicky”, while Sarah thought there was just too much greenery.

The frogs legs (£7) and snails (£7.50) were of course drenched in garlic – probably why they are so popular. Snails can be tricky to eat, can’t they, especially if you’re trying to prize them out of their non-existent shells. Cough. No names mentioned.

The well-seasoned rabbit terrine (£7.50) was a generous portion, although Shona speculated that it needed some sort of chutney alongside the cornichons. Matt was the only person who splashed out for the foie gras (£11), which he described as “very good and not too heavy”.

Two starters divided opinion. Nicky and Claire both thought the salmon tartare (£8) a little rich and creamy, while self-proclaimed “serious foodie” Shelley thought it was “delicious” and Nadia though the chive pesto worked well. Meanwhile, the French onion soup (£7) was deemed “good” by Nathan, who also liked the portion size, but Dexter was far less impressed and someone else said it was average.

The charcuterie board (£9.50) was a hit – hard to go wrong with loads of meat! My own tomato salad (£7) was better than I had expected with no single ingredient dominating.

Main courses: Hearty and rustic
Three of Sam’s table went for the ribeye steak (£18), and all gave it the thumbs up. On my table, Matt polished his off with aplomb while ranting about cheesey chips at Tasty Kebab on the Kilburn High Road. Steak was a popular choice on Nimet’s table too, and the accompanying dauphinoise went down a treat with everyone except Natasha who thought they could have been creamier. Everyone commented on the fact that the same distinctive salad dressing cropped up in both starter and main course salads. That’s forgivable at Little Bay prices, but here i think expectations were higher.

The oddly named “Vegetarian-style shepherd’s pie” (£14) intrigued more than excited. “Does it contain traces of uniquorn?” quipped Anna. She enjoyed it anyway, while Heather was a bit underwhelmed with hers. Nathan said his was “really tasty”. The other vegetarian main was risotto (£13), which came in for the most criticism “too cheesey, very salty and too liquidy,” said Dexter – the only person who had it.

The duck breast (£16) was described as “quacking” by Sam’s table, who were clearly having some sort of pun contest (honestly, I’m sparing you some of them). All three plates of duck on Tom’s table received lavish praise – “well cooked” and “good sauce”. Rosie described hers as “absolutely stunning.”

Rabbit in mustard sauce (£15) is one of my absolute favourite classic French dishes and was a popular choice. The rabbit was well cooked – it is prone to drying out – but the sauce lacked the mustard punch that I’d been hoping for. Sam and Nicky both thought it was too salty, while Claire described the baby spinach leaves hiding the rabbit as like a canopy of trees.

On a cold night, I thought the boeuf bourguignon (£15) might be a bigger hit, but only a couple of people chose this rustic dish. Not rustic enough for Sarah, but one of Nimet’s table described it as “very hearty and warming”. Tom agreed it was “hearty and satisfying”, and was delighted his side of greens were cooked in butter. The poached chicken (£15) received what must be the ultimate compliment: “grandmotherly” (not a compliment if you’d been cooked for by my grandmother, I have to say) and Eugene – still craving meat after his charcuterie board – was pleased with his.

The sea trout with blackberries (£15) sounded the oddest dish on the menu, and the one person who had it said the flavours didn’t go together (although she still ate it all!). The roast cod (£16) was “tender”. Moules marinières (£13) didn’t disappoint and both Shona and Dom admitted it was a “safe choice”.

Desserts: Reaching the climax
The final course was the undoubted success of the evening. The chocolate and berry tart (the tart of the day £6.50) was deemed “incroyable”, Tom was still talking about his a day or two later.

The tarte tatin (£6.50) – or “Tatatain” as Gregg Wallace calls it – was deemed a “tart for everyday” by Jo, “a highlight” by Karen, and “superb” by James. Dom was less excited, saying his was a little bland.

Crème brûlée was another hit. Rosie had a FRO (food-related orgasm) over hers, which was a bit disconcerting for Matt sitting opposite her and me next to her. He and I both had the profiteroles (£6.50) – mine with a birthday candle in, which was rather sweet and unexpected – which were good, “extra points for ice cream inside,” said Matt. “The nuts are not allowed though.” He’s wrong about the nuts.

Ged and Anna said they’d come back purely for the chocolate fondant (£6.50), while Sarah just scooped out the middle of hers. Claire, however, said it was a “NoFRO” for her. Sam’s Café gourmand (£7) proved what every customer knows, but too many restaurants have yet to grasp: you can’t serve ice cream on a slate.

History does not record what Tom’s table had for dessert, which translates as “Tom had had too much wine by then to take notes”.

For reds, everyone had either the Merlot (£16.50) or the Côtes du Rhone (£20) – the latter described by someone as having notes of a 19th century French library. The Sauvignon Blanc house white (£16.50) and the Marsanne (£17.50) both seemed popular for the whites. The wine list is a sensible length with plenty of choice and Cyril is very happy to help you choose.

The bills came to £40 a head or more on each table I believe.

Overall, it was a fantastic evening with some real culinary highlights: the duck and the chocolate tart being the stand-out dishes. The risotto was the only flop, although some dishes underwhelmed. Everyone heaped praise on the service and atmosphere. One table described it as “good value overall”, while others felt it was a little overpriced. This is a new menu, stripped down in terms of style of dish, and the kitchen may still be coming to terms with some of the plates. I got the impression that almost everyone would happily come back to give it another go. Mill Lane Bistro is certainly a major player in the local restaurant market – it sits up there with The Wet Fish Café and The Black Lion in terms of price, but offers very different food and atmosphere to both. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

Nimet’s table: 7.5
Jonathan’s table: 7.2
Sam’s table “I think we’d have given it 8”
Tom’s table “Apologies I forgot the scores”

Mill Lane Bistro
77 Mill Lane
London NW6 1NB
T: 020 7794 5577

Mill Lane Bistro on Urbanspoon

Photos courtesy of Rachel (@rach_1511) and me
Thanks to Sam, Tom and Nimet for hosting tables

Amy and Ben – two months after the crash

It was a fluke. I happened to see a tweet whizz through my timeline. It referred to a blog written by a widower. I thought it might have been the return of the chap in his 90s who’d briefly blogged his trip to Switzerland but had been overwhelmed by the response and abandoned it.

It was not.

The photo was the immediate giveaway although my eye took in the name underneath a split second later. There could only be one recently widowed husband of a woman called Desreen.

Life As A Widower is written by Ben Brooks-Dutton (he added “Brooks” to his and his son’s name after Desreen died – she had kept her name when they married, just 14 months earlier). His wife was killed in the collision on West End Lane last November.

The blog, which began on January 6th, documents his emotions and the enormous challenge of coping with overwhelming grief and a two-year-old son. This isn’t a diary as much as an anthology of memories and experiences. There must be an element of catharsis here, although my ignorant hunch would be that it’s too soon for that. There is certainly an element of wanting to share the experience, and hopefully to help others:

I can’t help but think that some poor bastard will wake up tomorrow morning, realise their wife has gone forever and that it wasn’t just a nightmare, and search for someone who can relate to the hell that they are going through. Perhaps if I keep writing they’ll find that someone. Perhaps a few more blokes will be encouraged to open up about how they feel. Perhaps the process might act as catharsis and make things easier on me. Perhaps when the next bloke calls Care for the Family there will be a few more guys to talk to.

More bluntly, Ben also says “I think opening up now is going to make living in my own head somewhat less difficult in the future. That’s what the books I’m throwing myself into say anyway.”

That last sentence hints at the humour in this blog. Does that sound odd? Read it, it’s not.

Ben explains his tattoo

Many of the entries are heartbreaking. It will be a harder person than me that doesn’t well up at the image of the toddler wiping away his father’s tears. As Ben says, “It’s just two guys trying to make each other feel better. One 2 and the other 33.”

Amy’s recovery
Meanwhile, across the pond, Amy Werner is having her own battle. The American postgrad who was badly injured in the same crash was put back together by St Mary’s in Paddington, before her parents decided to fly her back home to the US. These sort of medical flights don’t use long-haul aircraft, so Amy and her mother had to hop from London to Shannon to Newfoundland to Boston in early December. She spent a week in hospital in Boston and then she moved to a rehab clinic affiliated with Harvard.

She is making steady progress – her rehab work is both physical and cognitive. Every day she’s able to walk further using crutches, and her right leg – broken in the accident – is getting stronger. She’s also having speech therapy and other rehabilitation treatment to work on functions such as memory. At the moment, the cause for concern is the sight in her right eye, which has yet to return.

It’s going to be a long journey back for Amy, but her mother’s daily updates are full of optimism, and each one describes how Amy’s feisty attitude and determination is leading to demonstrable improvement in her abilities. I understand that Ben is also aware of Amy’s progress and hope that he can take some strength from her determination.

Both Ben and Amy had their lives turned upside down in a matter of seconds. If we can learn anything from either of them it’s to treasure what – and whom – we have; and that human beings are capable of remarkable acts when they find themselves at the very brink. I wish them well.

Police station closure moves closer

As was widely expected – and reported in these pages back in November – West Hampstead police station is indeed set for closure.

This week, the draft consultation document was released that outlines which of London’s police stations will be shut. The document originates from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. This body runs the “estate” of the Met, i.e., the bricks and mortar.

The Estate Strategy (2012-2016) is “To deliver a more efficient and higher quality estate which meets the operational needs of the MPS and is significantly lower in cost to run.” The actual numbers are a 32 percent drop from £205 million in March this year to £140 million by April 2016. You’ll recall that the total cut to the Met’s budget is £500 million, so this £65 million is a relatively small part of that.

In “financial and space terms” (ie, “this means”) the Met will need to:

  • Enhance the opportunities for members of the public to meet with the police providing suitable access facilities in buildings that are already within the estate or local civic facilities, whilst also raising the profile of public facing properties through consistent standards of signage and corporate ‘look and feel’. [Yeeush. This is the “coffee shop police counters” bit]
  • Reduce the running costs of the MOPAC estate to £140m each year by 2015/16 – a 30% reduction on 2012 costs. [This is the “sell off the buildings” bit]
  • Reduce the amount of space occupied by 300,000 sq m by 2015/16. [see above]
  • Provide up to 950 modern cells, reducing the cost of the custody estate, and providing suitable facilities to support the reduction in the time it takes for a detainee being taken into custody to be processed. [This is the “centralise detention” bit]
  • To reduce the amount of residential accommodation owned by MOPAC to no more than 200 units whilst working with Residential Providers to provide affordable accommodation to officers and staff close to where they work. [This is the “force police officers to spend more time finding affordable accommodation” bit]

I’ve already discussed some of the broad principles here, but the core of the strategy as it relates to police stations is:

The Commissioner and the Mayor have committed to providing one 24 hour police station in each Borough and to not shutting any police station until there is a suitable alternative provision where the public can meet the police.

Camden’s 24hr station will be Holborn, Brent’s will be Wembley. Camden will also keep Kentish Town station open, although it will shift from being a 24hr station to a daytime station. West Hampstead, Albany Street and Hampstead stations will all close. Quite where the “suitable alternative provision” will be is not clear, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

It is debatable whether the closure of the front counter will have a major impact on most people. It’s not as if police officers are sitting at their desks waiting for someone to call 999 so they can jump in a car and hurtle to the scene of the crime. The impact of the larger cuts is likely to come more in the allocation of police resources across the regular officers, safer neighbourhood teams, and PCSOs rather than to the buildings.

We’re not in Dock Green any more

Skinny latte and a search warrant please
Back to those contact points. For those times when someone does want to walk into a police station, where will they go? Much of the press has gone big on the “coffeeshop coppers” angle, but are the police really going to use Starbucks and Costa as temporary front counters? Here’s what the consultation document says:

Many public sector organisations are now exploring opportunities to share the publicly owned/occupied estate. This not only reduces costs but creates a more engaging and vibrant use of facilities – it creates a more friendly face. 

Last time I looked, Starbucks in particular was not a “public sector organisation”. The document continues:

The MPS has recognised the need to enable the public to contact the police through a variety of different channels… The MPS describe this as ‘The Public Access Promise’. Since 2008, there has been a 20% reduction in crime reporting at front counters and a 32% increase in internet and email reporting. The Commissioner, for example, has committed that all victims of crime will be visited by a police officer if they wish rather than having to visit a police station – this benefits victims but also has a consequential effect on the need for police estate.

There’s no doubt that a Dixon of Dock Green style bobby waiting behind a front desk is both antiquated and probably largely (though not necessarily entirely) redundant. If Caroline Pigeon is right and one in four rapes are reported at front desks, then it would be interesting to know why that is so high. Surely, whatever the reason someone goes to a police station (voluntarily) they should have the right to a private room to explain their situation. That’s hard to find in a Costa, or outside a Sainsbury’s.

Not that the report appears to rule out completely working with the private sector (my emphasis):

As part of this estate strategy, MOPAC will further develop our relationships with other public sector bodies as well as private and third sector organisations specifically to find routes for the public to access the police in areas where they could access many other services.

Where might these places realistically be for us? The library is an obvious option. Perhaps the churches – St James’s is certainly looking to expand its role in the community. The foyer of the O2 centre is a regular spot for the Safer Neighbourhood roadshows, but could that replace a front counter?

The Public Access Strategy, which is being developed by the MPS, has highlighted that a number of front counters are underused. Once the strategy has been approved, following consultation initiatives, and the list finalised, those front counters will be replaced through the provision of ‘Contact Points’. The Contact Points will be in existing MPS and shared public buildings.

The pertinent question is then whether “shared public buildings” mean buildings owned by the public sector (libraries, sports centres) or buildings open to the public (shopping malls, cinemas etc.).

What I can’t understand is why Camden is apparently ruling out using the Safer Neighbourhood Base on West End Lane as a contact point? It’s an existing MPS building, it only needs to be manned whenever another contact point would be manned and the cost of making it accessible to the public would surely be fairly small – officers would have more resources on hand to deal with basic queries, there’s more privacy for members of the public, and even if a flat white was beyond officers’ ability I’m sure they could manage a milky Nescafé.

Will no-one think of the horses?
West Hampstead police station also houses some of the Met’s horses. It sounds as if their fate has yet to be decided:

The primary focus for the estate strategy is for the welfare of the animals and their proximity to where they are likely to be deployed. A review of this portfolio will be undertaken to assess the suitability of each property and location with the aim, if possible, to rationalise the number of buildings. Key Target: Opportunities will be considered for rationalising space into modern efficient facilities – delivering running cost savings of £0.5m each year.  

That’s from a total budget of £2.4m. Police horses are used at large events of course, so proximity to Wembley might help keep the horses here – perhaps we’ll get more. Having lost the Kings Troop last year, it would be a shame to lose the police horses too, for no other reason than the character they add. And the opportunity for photos like this one taken by Adam Wilson last May.

“Shocking images in West Hampstead as horse
eats policewoman’s head as she withdraws cash”

Which gym meets your budget and needs?

The 2017 version of the West Hampstead gym guide is now available.

It might be a January cliché, but many people are looking to start a healthy regime after the excesses of Christmas, and gyms and fitness centres are all too aware of this. But which to join in NW6? I reluctantly left the comforting embrace of the sofa to do a tour of Kilburn and West Hampstead’s fitness facilities and find out who was offering what.

There are three price brackets: luxury, mid-range, and budget. There’s even some free options in there. Take a look and let me know if anything takes your fancy. Also, please let me know if I’ve missed any out! (You can leave feedback in comments section below or tweet me @ZENW6)

Luxury (£££)
Virgin Active, O2 Centre Swiss Cottage
Spacious and well-equipped, with multiple fitness studios and a pool, this is more “health club” than gym, and this is reflected in the membership cost. I can imagine just going for a dip in the pool followed by a spell in the sauna or steam room, and a rest in the café afterwards. Mmm. Not that I’m recommending this as a viable fitness regime, of course.
NB There’s also a Virgin Active in Cricklewood, for those based that side of West Hampstead.

Full Flexi Monthly (rolling monthly contract): £99/mth + £30 joining fee
Minimum 12-month contract: £89/mth
(Special offer: join now and get January free, with joining fee waived)

Gloves Boxing Club, Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead
Specialised one-to-one or group training in this friendly, unintimidating boxing gym. Read about my visit to the club. Prices vary depending on class package/ type of training.

Current offers include:
10x personal training sessions: £400 (usually £700)
Bantamweight package (3 classes/wk): £60 (usually £69)
Lightweight package (morning/ Sat classes): £69 (usually £75)
Heavyweight package (all classes) £99 (usually £125)

Movers and Shapers, West End Lane, West Hampstead
Positioned as an alternative to a conventional gym, Movers and Shapers offer 30-minute intensive classes in small groups using Power Plate machines. Free trials are available if you want to find out more (or look out for a review coming soon).

Minimum 3-month contract: Peak £125/mth; off-peak £99/mth. PAYG available.

Mid-range (££)
Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre, Swiss Cottage
A Camden-run sports centre with plenty of equipment – I visited on a Saturday afternoon and thought it was busy but didn’t notice queues for any machines. There are lots of classes too, though the popular ones get very booked up. Membership prices cover access to gym, classes and pool. There’s also a climbing wall, sports hall and squash courts, sessions in which can be paid for separately.

Monthly fee (no minimum contract): £49.80/mth (+ £40.25 joining fee)
Monthly fee with access to other gyms in the network and racquet sports within Camden: £53/mth  (no joining fee)

Bannatyne’s, Marriot Maida Vale, Kilburn High Road
Bizarrely, membership here is structured around whether or not you get a towel each time you work out. There was a huge stack of them behind the reception desk when I walked in, and very white and fluffy they looked too. There’s a gym, fitness studio and 25m pool. If you’re a Kilburn-based towel fetishist, this is the place for you.

Minimum 6-month contract (WITH TOWELS): £58/mth (+ £30 joining fee)
Minimum 3-month contract (NO TOWELS): £49/mth (+ £40 joining fee)


My Fitness Boutique, off Mill Lane, West Hampstead
My Fitness Boutique, up by West End Green, offers around 50 classes a week including Zumba, spinning, yoga and circuits. All are pay-as-you-go, so if you like trying out different classes without having to commit to a contract, this is a good choice.

Example prices (from website):
Single class: £10
Introductory 5-class package (intro offer only): £25
30-day pack (unlimited classes): £55

Budget (£)
The Gym Group, Fortune Green, West Hampstead ()
No-frills budget gym open 24/7 with card entry.

£19.99/mth (+ £20 joining fee). No minimum contract.

It's not usually this quiet

It’s not usually this quiet

Fit4Less, Kilburn High Road
If you can see past the garish bright green walls, and aren’t bothered about classes or a swimming pool, this new no-frills gym might be for you. Friendly staff were on hand to answer questions on my visit, and personal training is available too. Initial feedback on Twitter has been positive.

£19.99/mth (+ £24.99 joining fee). No minimum contract.

Outdoor gyms, Kilburn Grange Park and Swiss Cottage.
I must admit I haven’t tried these, but they look like a great idea. According to Camden’s website, they are “suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels”, so give them a go next time you’re out for a run! Best of all, they’re free!

Gerry Anderson in West Hampstead

You may have heard that Gerry Anderson, the creator of Thunderbirds, died on the 26 December 2012. What is less well-known is that he grew up in West Hampstead, in a ‘squalid house’ off West End Lane, according to his biography. When Dick spoke to him a few years ago, Gerry said he couldn’t remember exactly where he’d lived but it was at the top of a large house on West End Lane, with a tent-shaped glass roof over the front door. There was a garage with a driveway at the side. The family of four lived in poverty in one room, with a blanket hung up to separate the cooking area from the sleeping area. They shared a bathroom with the other tenants who included: a rather sinister ex-convict, an eccentric artist, and a woman who later Gerry realised was probably a prostitute.
Gerry went to Kingsgate Infants School. His mother would see him across West End Lane, then he walked by himself down Cotleigh Road to the school. He said he hated the afternoon rest period when the children were forced to sleep, resting their heads on the sloping desks. He was only five, but thought it was a ridiculous waste of time. After school he would climb back up the hill and wait at the main road. His mother would be watching at the window across West End Lane, then she would wave and come down to collect him. Gerry remembered the excitement of going to the cinema each week at the Kilburn State or The Grange. He and his mother would sit in the six penny front row stalls. Movietone News and The March of Time were followed by a couple of cartoons and two feature films – lavish Hollywood films and British B movies.
Using the Electoral Registers, Marianne and Dick have worked out for the first time exactly where Gerry lived in West Hampstead. His parents Joseph and Deborah Abrahams are shown at 50 West End Lane from 1929 to 1935. This was a large detached house on the corner of Woodchurch Road.
50 West End Lane, 1890s OS Map
Gerry Anderson was born Gerald Alexander Abrahams, on 14 April 1929, in the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital. His parents, Joseph Abrahams and Deborah Leonoff, were married in the Rochford area of Essex, which includes Westcliff-on-sea and Southend, in 1921.
His grandparents, the Bielogovski family who came from Russia, took the name of Abrahams on their arrival in London’s East India dock in 1895. The family settled in Westcliff-on-sea. Their son Joseph worked as the manager of a clothing company for his brother Michael. At the company he met an attractive clerical assistant called Deborah Leonoff, who lived in Hackney, and she agreed to marry him. They moved to Willesden Green, but theirs was a stormy relationship with lots of rows. Joseph, an ardent socialist, argued with his brother about business and wealth. He left the clothing company and worked installing tobacco dispensing machines in private homes. A packet of 20 cigarettes cost one shilling and Joseph visited the customers on his bicycle, to fill the machines and collect the cash. But money was tight and the family had to move into the single room at the top of 50 West End Lane. Joseph was a classical pianist and they found space for an upright piano. The woman in the room below would complain about the noise, banging on the ceiling with her broomstick. When the ex-convict opposite moved, Deborah pleaded with Joseph to rent the vacant flat. He reluctantly agreed and they moved into three rooms and a small kitchen. But Gerry believed his father couldn’t really afford the higher rent. When Gerry was five he suffered from German measles and like many children at the time he was hospitalized for six weeks, followed by four weeks in a convalescent home. He was surprised when he came home to find some brightly painted lead cars and a set of traffic lights arranged in a street scene on a green baize card table. Deborah had bought them, with help from the prostitute neighbour.
In 1936 the family moved to 50A Clifford Way, Neasden. Three years later they moved again, to 198 Neasden Lane where they stayed for many years. In the years before WW2, Gerry and his mother experienced anti-Semitism. Gerry remembers being circled by boys in the Braincroft school playground who ridiculed him chanting ‘Jew Boy,’ until a teacher came to his rescue. When a laundry boy came to the house to collect the weekly washing and saw the name Abrahams on the bundle, he threw it back at Gerry’s mother shouting, ‘We don’t collect laundry from Jews.’ Gerry and hismother pleaded with Joseph to change their name and in November 1939 it was changed from Abrahams to Anderson. This was just a name that Deborah liked, but later it led some people to believe that Gerry had Scottish roots! When he became successful, Gerry spent over £3,000 on a new bungalow for his parents in Maidenhead, allowing them to leave their rented flat in Neasden Lane. Joseph Anderson died in Maidenhead Hospital in 1965. His mother Deborah died in Wrexham Park Hospital, Slough in the 1970s.
Gerry’s older brother Lionel was born in 1922 in the Westcliff-on-sea area. When War was declared, he joined the RAF aged just seventeen, and went to Arizona for training. Gerry remembered one of his brother’s letters talked about flying over an air base called ‘Thunderbird Field.’ This stuck in his memory and he used it for the title of his puppet series. Gerry was impressed when Lionel came home as a uniformed Flight Sergeant flying Mosquitoes with 515 Squadron. One day when he flew very low over the house, Gerry jumped up and down with pride and excitement. Lionel successfully flew 38 missions but he died on 27 April 1944, when his plane was shot down during an attack over Holland. He was 22 years old.
Gerry worked in the film industry and became famous for his TV puppet films, but he said he always wanted to make films with real actors.
50 West End Lane
Before Gerry Anderson lived there, the large corner house was built in 1881 for wealthy professionals. It was occupied until 1883 by William John Vereker Bindon, a doctor who called it ‘Appin’. He was born in the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, and did his medical training in Edinburgh. He married Jemima Downie in 1874. They came to London where he practised in Kilburn, living first at Elm Villas, Willesden Lane. Then in 1881 they moved to the newly built 50 West End Lane. In October 1882 William had an affair with one of his patients, Hannah Smith, the wife of the composer Edward Sydney Smith who lived at 28 Birchington Road. In 1883 Jemima sued William for divorce on the grounds of cruelty and adultery and was granted a divorce. At the trial Blanche Augustine Pinget, a French maid working for Mrs Smith said she’d seen Dr Bindon kissing Mrs Smith in her bedroom. There were two unhappy marriages, as Sydney Smith was having an affair with Blanche whom he married after Hannah died in 1886. Dr Bindon went to Australia where he died in 1891. 
50 West End Lane was put up for sale in 1883. The sale details give us a good description of the house:
For sale by auction. ‘Appin’, West End Lane, a superior family residence conveniently situated a few minutes walk from West Hampstead Station, on the Harrow branch of the Metropolitan Railway and the West End Station on the Midland Railway. The house, which is of pleasing elevation, is approached through a front garden, and has a spacious garden with a tennis court in the rear; it contains, on the two upper floors, nine principal and secondary bedchambers, a large studio, a bath room with hot and cold bath, a box room, housemaid’s closet etc; on the ground floor, entrance and inner halls, excellent lofty drawing room, dinning room, and library, a surgery, with separate side entrance from Woodchurch Road, lavatory, etc, also kitchen scullery, and pantry with serving hatch, and spacious cellarage in the basement.
It was bought by Albert Joseph Altman who changed the name of the house to ‘Elmira’. Altman was a wealthy sports and games manufacturer at Aldersgate Street who made croquet and cricket equipment. In 1876 as a City Alderman he became the Chairman of a Special Committee set up to consider the fifty designs for a new bridge over the Thames. When Tower Bridge was finally opened in 1894 he was knighted for his services. Altman was at the West End Lanehouse until 1890.
Other owners of the house were doctors and merchants. In December 1927, 50 West End Lane was sold at auction by Leopold Farmer and Sons for £3,150. At this point it became a lodging house let out in nine small flats or single rooms. It remained like this until mid-June 1944 when the first of ten V1 doodlebugs to hit Hampstead, exploded behind 42 West End Lane and destroyed the neighbouring houses. Seventeen people died and others were badly wounded. One woman was rescued alive after being buried for 48 hours. 
1944 Bomb damage, looking across West End Lane towards Gascony Avenue (Camden Local History Archives)
Michael Alpert, who lived just off West End Lane, remembers the day the VI fell and has written the following account:

When very early on a Monday morning in June 1944 that the VI crashed on West End Lane, I was awakened by the sound of breaking glass caused by the blast. My father was in the army and I was asleep with my mother in Smyrna Mansions, just off Gascony Avenue, which can be seen in the centre of the photograph above. I was eight years old.

My mother gathered me up and we went down to the street shelter opposite the Mansions. After a time we went back to the flat. My mother’s calm was amazing. She made up a bed for me in the large front room which looks over Smyrna Road and had been less affected by the bomb blast than the rooms at the back of the flat, while she sat doing the accounts for the milk bar which she ran in Kilburn High Road. 

It was mid-summer and the early morning was very mild and light. As soon as possible my mother got me ready to go to the weekly boarding school which I attended and to which I used to return on Monday mornings. Since we had no gas and probably no water from the bomb blast, my mother could not give me breakfast, so when we arrived she asked the matron to give me something to eat and drink. At morning assembly that day I said, with some exaggeration, that we had been ‘bombed out’, which was the expression used then.

I went to school by train in East Sheen, via Richmond, on what is now the Overground. I remember only one delay in all the years I travelled on that line, and once being held outside Willesden Junction during an air raid, when all trains had to stop lest they fall into a bomb crater.

From summer 1944 onwards as soon as you heard the ominous buzz of the flying bomb, followed by the motor cutting-out, you knew that the doodlebug would crash in about twenty seconds, so you made a dash for the street shelter, which was said to be proof against everything but a direct hit. At school we slept in a shelter covered with corrugated iron and earth in the garden. The smell of damp earth always brings the memory back. In the street shelter, of which there were two in Smyrna Road, each household had a little sort of cell with bunks. I think we continued to sleep in shelters until early January 1945. For a few weeks a more powerful and faster rocket, the V2, fell and caused immense destruction and loss of life. There was no warning of its arrival. Luckily the launching pads were overrun before life in Britain was nearly paralysed.

For many years afterwards we played in the bombed buildings, including those on West End Lane. It was, I suppose, dangerous to do so, because floors and stairs could easily give way, but it was great fun for a young boy.

The frontage of West End Lane between Acol and Woodchurch Roads remained a bomb site until the Council completed the 80 flats in Sidney Boyd Court in 1953. 
Sidney Boyd Court Today
Corner of Sidney Boyd Court, site of 50 West End Lane

Property News – What will 2013 bring?

As homeowners and buyers we all have an opinion on what property is worth in our area. Indeed, many people have made a fortune by speculating or even just by staying put while prices have risen.

In previous decades this was a hot topic of dinner conversation, but since the advent of the internet, property prices have become very transparent. You can now find your address on, fill in a few details and be told in an instant what your house or flat is worth.

What is now more difficult to predict is what might happen next. Lets take a look at the factors affecting house prices and demand in West Hampstead for the next 12 months and I’ll give you my best guess on where we could be at the end of this year.

Successive governments have promised the end of ‘boom and bust’, but none have been able to deliver. House prices have ebbed and flowed with the economy, gone pop when the bubble has burst, and then recovered to start the whole pattern again. But, as a nation fixated on home ownership, we have all willed prices ever upwards and this longer-term trend has almost become predictably reassuring. After all, despite the ups and downs, London prices doubled every five years up to 2007.

This time, however, I think things are a bit different. There is now a huge difference between London and the rest of the country. Legal and General predicts that the UK market has now hit bottom but prices will not start to recover until 2017. Prices in London, meanwhile, have already far outstripped their 2007 peak and in some prime areas they are already 50% higher! The difference is that this price increase is being fuelled by the high demand for the relatively few available properties – transaction levels remain half of what they were in 2007.

West Hampstead sellers must face the decision of whether to hold out for another 12 months in a rising market, or whether to sell and pre-empt the possible bursting of the bubble. Buyers of course are hesitant to commit at prices that might tumble, but are more anxious about not eventually paying more for the same property if they wait, especially if they have to move. Lenders are cautious for the same reasons and require more security and certainty. These factors, together with overseas buyers looking for a safe haven for their cash, have all driven the increase in London house prices since 2010.

The big question is how long can London prices keep going up? The answer seems to be for quite a while longer. There is no indication that the factors affecting prices will change in 2013. Supply will remain low and demand high. Recent news regarding increased lending at lower rates will create more room in the market for price rises, and the levels of investment in new-build housing remain at record lows. The only threats to further price rises would seem to be a sudden interest rate rise or the impact from another global economic shock.

In their recent forecasts, Knight Frank, Hamptons and Savills all predict a levelling off of prices in London with small rises of between 1% and 2% in 2013. This seems cautious to me (they said 2–5% last year) so I shall stick my neck out and say we should expect to see rises of between 5% and 10% in West Hampstead in 2013. The basic economics of supply and demand is my reasoning.

Thanks for all your comments and feedback from last month, please keep them coming. Next time, I’ll look at how estate agents work and raise the sometimes controversial issue of fees!

In the meantime, I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2013.

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

Sponsored article

Encouraging slower speeds on Sumatra Road

Are “sinusoidal” speed bumps the way to reduce traffic speed, or should West Hampstead’s Sumatra Road become one-way?

Last year we had cycle permeability, 20mph zones, and debates over “table humps” to slow traffic. As 2013 hoves into view, Camden is launching a consultation on how to reduce traffic speeds on Sumatra Road by converting the existing speed cushions into sinusoidal road humps.

A speed cushion

Sinusoidal speed bump

Ok, lets get it out of the way: sinusoidal definitely sounds like a medical condition. In fact, a sinusoidal road hump has a less severe profile than old-style speed bumps but apparently is also effective at reducing speeds.

The speed limit on Sumatra Road was reduced to 20mph last year. A raised junction was also built at the junction with Glenbrook Road. During the consultation for this, some residents told Camden they felt the existing speed cushions were not bringing car speeds down enough, and the idea of turning Sumatra into a one-way street was mooted.

Indeed, I was cc’d on a chain of e-mail correspondence between one Sumatra resident and the council. The first mail, from Septmeber 2012, was trying to cultivate support for making Sumatra Road one-way to control speeding traffic.

“There is a children’s playground on our road and the number of speeding cars and large lorries is a danger to children and families that live on this residential street,” went the argument. “There is also only room for one car on Sumatra Road and traffic often builds up as cars refuse to reverse to let others through.”

The resident reckoned that a one-way sign placed at one end of the road would be a “cheap and common sense solution to this problem of public safety.”

Back in October I received a similar mail from another local.

“As someone who drives around [Sumatra Rd and surrounding streets] a couple of times a week they’re certainly narrow and it’s difficult to see round the corners because of all the parked cars. I think if there was a way to make them one-way it would be more useful than a 20mph limit, but I guess that’s also more expensive.”

Camden’s response to the one-way idea:

“In general it is against our policy to introduce one way streets as these often lead to increased speeds as vehicles do not have to deal with any opposing traffic and hence can speed up.

Making the road one way could potentially increase the volume of traffic as more drivers would find it an attractive option given they would not face any opposing traffic. In addition, traffic would potentially be displaced to nearby streets as they would not be allowed to use Sumatra Road in one direction.”

The change in type of speed bump is partly a reaction to these complaints. The road accident data shows that in the three years to the end of February 2012,there were six accidents along Sumatra Road, of which two resulted in serious injuries.

The proposal is therefore to convert the speed cushions into these sinusoidal road humps along the full length of Sumatra Road.

There’s also a plan to convert an existing 15 metre shared use parking bay into a 15 metre pay & display only parking bay outside the Solent Road Health Centre. This follows a request from the clinic to provide short-term parking facilities for visitors. The proposed pay and display parking will operate Mon–Fri 08:30–18:30 and would mean permit holders will not able to park in these three spaces during these hours.

If agreed, all this will happen in early 2013 and will be funded by TfL.

To give Camden your views, complete this questionnaire and return it by 25th January 2013 to: London Borough of Camden, Culture and Environment Directorate, Transport Strategy Service, FREEPOST RLZH–UEYC–ACZZ, Argyle Street, London, WC1H 8EQ. Or send a separate response to each question to (you must include your postal address though).

Legible London signs aren’t perfectly placed

I first noticed the Legible London signs in West Hampstead when I almost walked smack into one that is inconviently in the middle of the entrance to the farmers’ market.

The signs popped up so stealthily that several people wondered if they’d been there all along and they’d just never noticed them.

The signs are a TfL initiative but are co-branded with Camden’s logo. Camden adopted the scheme back in 2008 and rolls it out across the borough when funding is available. However, the signs in West Hampstead were apparently funded by TfL to help with the interchange.

One of the ideas behind the signs is to encourage people to walk more. They give estimated walking times to transport links and some other arbitrary destinations (I confess to my shame that I’ve never heard of the Hampstead School of Art, which features prominently on our signs). There is also a wildly inaccurate and crude “5 minutes” circle, which is based on absolute distance from the sign and does not relate to street layout or terrain in any way whatsoever. Still, I’m all for people walking more if they can.

In central London these signs are extremely useful for visitors. They are oriented in the direction you’re facing rather than automatically north (though personally I find that more confusing).

But what of their location in West Hampstead. Are they really in the most sensible spots? Do we need so many? Who decides which destinations are highlighted? According to Camden council, it’s ultimately down to the Transport Policy and Design team to decide where the boards go, but there are several standard guidelines that are normally followed:

  • Outside pedestrian entry points – mainly tube and train stations.
  • Along high streets
  • At key decision points – main junctions
  • On footways with high pedestrian footfall
  • Other factors affect where boards are placed such as footways widths and vehicle sight lines (ie. not blocking them)

I did a recce of the signs and I’m not at all sure they are in the optimum locations. Neither local councillors nor WHAT (West Hampstead Amenties & Transport) were consulted on the location, which seems a gratuitous oversight.

From the south, the first sign is on the corner of Hemstal Road and West End Lane, which seems rather a long way from the interchange. I guess if you’re walking to or from Kilburn then it might be useful, but people who don’t know the area are more likely to go the extra stop on the Jubilee Line or Overground, and if you’re on the Thameslink then you’d use Iverson Road to travel between Kilburn and West Hampstead.

A beacon of info on Hemstal Rd
Five minutes as the crow flies not as the pedestrian walks
Hampstead School of Art??

Apparently there is supposed to be a sign installed at the top of Blackburn Road, which is the most obvious place to put one although the pavement is already quite narrow and crowded there. There is of course a map just inside the tube station anyway. The sign would hopefully replace this corrugated plastic sign that I suspect most people don’t even notice.

A basic (and largely redundant) sign high
on a lampost at the top of Blackburn Road.
Here’s the other side looking north

There are two signs on Iverson Road. One on the corner with West End Lane, and one outside the Thameslink station. It seems unnecessary to have two so close together.

Austrian tourists peruse the Iverson Road map
The times don’t tally with those from the previous sign
This Thameslink board is about 20 seconds
from the Iverson Road/WEL one

The next one is outside the library, and is in the ultra-thin format.

The last one is tucked away by the bus stand by West End Green (and not at the junction with Mill Lane as the councillors seem to think). This is perhaps the most bizarrely located sign of all. You can’t get on or off a bus here, it’s just where the 139 waits before starting service. Kate Goodman, from Camden’s placeshaping initiative, told me that as part of the place plan and the need to raise awareness of the Mill Lane shops, she had liaised with the transport officers to get Mill Lane on the signage. This has happened on this northernmost sign, although there’s no mention of shops.

Handy for, er, no-one?

While I was looking at this one, I got chatting to a woman. She was in two minds as to whether the whole idea was a waste of money or genuinely useful but was adamant that it would take her more than five minutes to walk up to the junction of Bracknell Gardens and Frognal Lane.

“Five minutes to the Finchley Road? Not with that hill!”

It’s true that the pavement is very wide here, so the sign is not impeding anyone. But surely the sign should be either nearer the bus stop or preferably at the West End Lane / Mill Lane junction, where it’s also fairly wide. There could be an argument I suppose about sight lines at this busy junction, but it’s hard to imagine there couldn’t be a solution.

Wide pavement at the corner of Mill Lane / West End Lane

Overall, as I guess comes across, I think these signs have been plonked on our streets with not enough consideration given to their purpose or location. Having more streetmaps available is a good thing, although in another five years even more of us will be used to using our smartphones to navigate around unfamiliar areas. One wonders therefore whether the cost of designing and installing them in less touristy areas such as West Hampstead justifies the benefits. No-one seems able to tell me what the cost actually is – at least it’s coming from TfL and not the council’s tightly stretched budget.

Pulling no punches: Gloves Boxing Club review

Everyone laughed when I announced I was off to a personal training session at Gloves Boxing Club. Aside from any concerns or prejudices about women participating in combat sports, I don’t think people see me as particularly tough or aggressive. “What’s lighter and girlier than fly-weight?” mused my sister. “You’re probably powder-puff weight.” Ignoring the mockery, and inspired by Nicola Adams’ Olympic gold for Team GB, I figured when better than 2012 to step into the ring.

Suitably fired up, I flounced off to the club on Broadhurst Gardens. It’s housed in what was the ticket hall of the original West Hampstead Metropolitan Line station. The building has a cool industrial vibe with exposed brickwork and other original features; but I wasn’t here to admire the architecture, I was here to train like a boxer.

Ben – my trainer for the afternoon – took me through a set of exercises based on the different classes that Gloves offers. This was a great introduction to the various disciplines they teach, and gave me an insight into the club’s philosophy. You can train here to compete in “white collar boxing” events, but many club members are happy to stick to non-contact boxing training.

Gloves founder, Tony Riddle, has an impressive boxing CV having travelled the world and worked with big names such as highly-regarded coach Kenny Weldon, who himself worked with world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. This year, Carrie Barry from the US women’s boxing team trained at the club while recovering from a knee injury.

One of Tony’s core beliefs is that good training starts with your feet. There’s a large poster of a bare footprint on the wall, and my trainers were quickly cast aside as my whole workout was barefoot.

If shoes are bad, I soon learned that many other modern-day vices are even worse for encouraging unnatural movement and posture, such as spending a lot of time sitting down. “Chairs are the enemy,” declared Ben, as he ordered me to do about a million squats. Ouch.

We then spent time on toe drills, involving balancing (somewhat painfully) on broom handles to find where to put my weight. With regular practice, these exercises apparently help prevent bunions as you learn to avoid putting pressure on the toe joints. We also did some wrist exercises, beneficial for people like me whose wrists are weakened by daily typing on keyboards.

Then on to some kettlebell exercises and animal movements. I felt slightly silly crawling like a cat and emulating the movements of a frog, but apparently this is all part of getting back in touch with natural human movement patterns, which we’ve gradually lost since our hunter-gatherer days.

Finally, after this preparatory training and a warm-up, it was on to some boxing. It was quite exciting having my hands wrapped and putting the gloves on. I was instantly transformed into a fearsome-looking pugilist. As you can see from the picture. Ahem.

Ben’s first job was to banish any Wii Sports perceptions of boxing, which leads people to tire their arms quickly with aimless punching. Instead, he showed me how to move efficiently, shift my weight and use my body’s natural momentum to throw the perfect punch. Footwork plays a big part in this (it’s back to the feet again).

I was soon adopting a passable stance and moving with light springy motions as instructed. I’m not sure I quite managed to look as effortlessly graceful as Ben, who is also a Parkour and free running practitioner. Finally, after much practice, I managed to land a few satisfying punches on a punch bag.

I was curious about how many women use the gym. Tony reckons the male-female split is about 60/40. More women than I’d expected. He also said that it’s often easier to train women as we tend to have a “better, quicker grasp of the movement patterns,” though of course this is a generalisation!

The session was over. I felt exhausted but also exhilarated. It had been very satisfying to train in a meaningful discipline and learn real sporting skills instead of performing dull repetitions on a gym machine.

The only downside for me is the cost. Access to professional coaches and specialised training doesn’t come cheap, and this is reflected in the membership prices. There are various packages depending on whether you opt for one-on-one coaching or join in group classes. The ‘Heavyweight’ membership, which lets you attend unlimited timetabled classes, is £125 per month (although there’s a special offer price at the moment of £99). The ‘Bantamweight’ package, for three classes a week, will set you back £60 (usually £69).

I feel this is good value, but you’d really have to commit to attending regularly and build it into your lifestyle. This might be a stretch for those of us who have guiltily neglected gym memberships in the past. However, unlike a conventional gym, you might just develop a passion for honing your skills in “the sweet science”, which may motivate you to return.

If you’re considering investing in personal training, then this boxing regime might be the way forward – and it doesn’t have to mean facing an opponent in the ring. As the Gloves motto says, “Training like a boxer is different to training to be a boxer.”

I’m going to party like it’s 2013

Nothing screams party like a Monday night in West Hampstead. But this Monday is New Year’s Eve so all of a sudden it’s party central in NW6. Or something.

Personally, I’ll be getting in a bottle of vodka and enough Haribo to sink the Bismarck and watching Jools Holland in my Christmas onesie, but no doubt the rest of you aspire to more sociable activities.

The Gallery: “Anything Goes”. Get your £15 tickets at the bar (but they’re selling out fast apparently). Fancy dress preferred but not mandatory. DJ until late.

The Alice House: “Madhatter’s Tea Party” [see what they’ve done there? No, not the typo]. Tickets also £15 (or £25!! on the night). DJ, special cocktails “and more”. I don’t know what that implies either but for £25 I’d want quite a lot more.

La Brocca: Open until 2am. Party in bar, restaurant also open. Normal menu + some “delicious New Year specials”. Normal price – no cover charge

The Black Lion (West End Lane): ‘Glasses or Moustaches’. Tickets are £10 in advance or £15 on the door, which includes a glass of Black Lion punch. Soul & funk music from 10pm. You can hire their booths as well.

The Alliance: “Lots of music and a party ’til the early hours”. I heard good things about last year’s NYE bash here, so if you’re up that end of town worth checking out I’d say.

The Priory Tavern: DJ from 10pm, glitter shots (I predict coughing), a special cocktail menu (remember, these guys are serious about cocktails), fireworks at midnight(ish). Tweet, call, or drop in to put yourself on the free guest list. Otherwise fork out a fiver after 10pm.

North London Tavern: Two options here – one with a four course dinner and the one without. Both end up in an 80s party. Dinner will cost you £40 (here’s the menu), while entry to the bar is just £5 after 10pm when the DJ starts. Open ’til 2am.

The Good Ship: “Something Serious NYE Extravaganza”. “Party into the small hours recapturing the wonderful summer when everyone came together before waking up with a hangover in 2013 and realising that we’re all absolutely done for.” Nice. That’s the sort of pessimism that made this country great. Something Serious apparently play indie, pop, rock n roll with a dash of electro as the sprinkles on top. They “guarantee to make you dance until your feet smoke.” If that’s not worth the £10 ticket price alone then I don’t know what is.

Betsy Smith: “Saints & sinners”. The evening kicks off at 7.30pm and 2-for-1 cocktails last until 9. There’s a £50 bar tab for the best dressed. So that’s another two cocktails. It also advertises “shot girls” and a “torture chamber”. Just to reiterate that you will be paying for this. But then there are confetti canons, and who doesn’t love a confetti canon. DJ Louisubsole is on the decks. £10 in advance (which is actually pretty decent for around here) or £15 on the door. Call 020 7624 5793.

Still waiting to hear back from: The Railway, The Alliance, Kilburn’s Black Lion, and the Lower Ground Bar. Will add those as I get them so keep checking back.

Top 10 stories of 2012

After the epic review of the year, I thought it would be interesting to see what were actually the most read stories of 2012 on the website*.

  1. Fatal accident on West End Lane. This tragedy happened in November but still garnered far more attention than anything else in 2012. It was pleasing to see that so much of that interest was translated into a desire to support the families involved.
  2. Wiggins puts Kilburn roughly on the map. He’s been the man of the year, and has just been made Sir Bradley. This article, originally written after his Tour de France win, had several waves of interest following the Olympics and his Sports Personality awards.
  3. Sunday lunch in West Hampstead & Kilburn. The first installment of our roast dinner endurance event has proved a big hit. We also reviewed pubs on the periphery of West Hampstead in a separate entry, which is where you’ll find the results table!
  4. Goldhurst Terrace assault: man arrested. Another sad story that got plenty of coverage, partly because the capture of the alleged assailant played out in real-time over Twitter, so interest was high. Tragically, the victim eventually died of his injuries.
  5. All change by West End Green. It wouldn’t be West Hampstead without an article about retail! This was the piece that promised a butcher but sadly delivered nothing.
  6. A Tale of Two Lions. When The Lion reopened as The Black Lion confusion ensued what with there already being a Black Lion in NW6. This slice of local history attempted to unravel the nomenclature.
  7. Spot a celeb? Think before you tweet. This piece on Robert Webb caught people’s attention – there were plenty of comments with opinion divided over Webb’s decision to reply to the guy who originally tweeted him.
  8. Farmers’ market – it’s official. This was undoubtedly the major local good news stories of 2012, with follow-up articles also proving popular.
  9. Neighbourhood Development Forum moves forward. The only outright planning story to make the list, this report from March contains the minutes of the second meeting and the first discussion of what would prove to be the thorny issue of the southern boundary.
  10. Is this Virgin suicide? Another article to have several waves of interest, this piece reflects the enormous problems faced by many Virgin broadband customers in the area. Lots of people are amazed Virgin has kept these customers at all.

*where stories had multiple articles, such as the farmers market or the car accident, I’ve simply taken the article with the most views to represent the story.

Roast beef at The Gallery – one of the hits of our Sunday Lunch review

2012 review: What have I missed since Jan 1st

Did someone say bandwagon?

Like any publication worth its salt, this website is not immune to the allure of churning out a review of the past 12 months. So here are the crime-fighting vicars and the organic cauliflowers that made up 2012 for West Hampstead.

First, the stories you may have missed, then a fuller round-up of the bigger news of the year.

January: During a siege far away in Child’s Hill, it was necessary to explain to some in West Hampstead how helicopters work. The Kings Troop left their barracks in St John’s Wood, which meant no more parades up West End Lane. Police carried out a sting operation to rescue a kidnapped dog held to ransom.

February: West Hampstead’s crime fighting vicar Andrew Cain got plenty of attention from the press after he apprehended a thief. A man was evicted after building a microlight and a boat in his flat. Virgin broadband customers were told problems would be sorted out by mid-March.

March: We began the Herculean task of testing all the Sunday lunches in the neighbourhood.

April: Vince Power shelved his ambitious (did someone say ridiculous?) plans for a festival in Kilburn Grange park that would have lasted throughout the Olympics. The Netherwood Day Centre received another – more lasting – reprieve from council cuts.

May: We launched NxNW6 for local film listings. Virgin broadband customers were told problems would be sorted out by mid-September. Luton fans caused chaos at the Thameslink station.

June: Twitter power got a potentially dangerous hole in a railway fence fixed very quickly. It really isn’t just about Stephen Fry and photos of breakfasts y’know.

July: Kilburn High Road flooded spectacularly. There was the first of two outdoor film screenings on Fortune Green. Some residents complained about having to look where they were driving. A man bought a bag for £20 in a West End Lane charity shop that was worth a small fortune.

August: Local celeb Robert Webb got miffed when a fan told him via Twitter that he’d spotted him in the pub.

September: The Met Line ran its last old train. George Orwell’s son read from his father’s Bookshop Memories essay in West End Lane Books. Developers offered a free Mini if people bought one of the Mill Apartments on an open day. Virgin broadband customers were told… well, you get the idea.

October: The Blackburn Road student building had its topping out ceremony. Camden proposed a 20mph blanket speed limit.

November: The tenth whampgather set new records for attendance and money raised. We learned the West End Lane post office will close, but only when new (co-located) premises have been found.

December: We launched ZENW6 for health & fitness news and reviews, and Property News. The third Christmas market was a success once again. We learned there were 704 Jedis in Camden (but only 9 Scientologists)

Bet you didn’t remember all that?

But what about the issues you did remember?

In the market for produce?
News that we might get a market first emerged in April. Back then we were told that the Iverson Road site would not be big enough for an accredited farmers’ market. Readers were asked to say what sort of market they’d like to see instead. The results were overwhelmingly in favour of a food market.

Good time then for Hampstead Butcher & Providores to announce its plans to open in West Hampstead. After two years of tweeters clamouring for a butcher, it seemed as if their prayers had been answered. A month later, we learned that the butcher had “postponed” its decision to move to the area. We’re still waiting.

In June, we discovered that London Farmers’ Market – the group that runs multiple markets in the city, including the large one in Queens Park – was in negotiation with Network Rail and that a proper farmers’ market was looking likely. It was not until August, and a false start, that we finally had a firm opening date for the farmers’ market and a cow to prove it. The cow stood next to a short-lived hot dog stand and Mr Whippy van.

Finally, on September 22nd, while I was fast asleep in a hotel in Denver, Colorado, the market opened. There was joy, there was laughter, there were some quite expensive vegetables. I awoke to a deluge of tweets about it. It has since been described by several people (not all of whom are Cllr Risso-Gill) as being “the best thing to happen in West Hampstead for years.”

After trading for a couple of months (and having an amazing run of luck with the weather), the market required planning permission. An overwhelming 284 people wrote to the council in favour of the market, with just four objections. No surprise then that permission was granted.

February: the much-loved (but too seldom-frequented) Rotisserie on Fortune Green closed, while on West End Lane, Guglee opened after revamping the short-lived Costello’s.
March: Sushi Kou opened in the Rotisserie’s spot.
April: Walnut and Bon Express – at the opposite ends of both West End Lane and the culinary spectrum – both shut their doors. The latter remains empty. Karahi Master, which had been refused a late licence, also closed. Kebab options in West Hampstead were dwindling fast. Meanwhile, the Lion became the Black Lion (again) to confuse everyone.
June: Grilled O Fried opened where Karahi Master had been. Was it a typo, or was it Portuguese? Feng Sushi took over from Walnut, bringing the number of sushi outlets in the greater West Hampstead area to seven. Millennium Café in Broadhurst Gardens closed with a whimper.
July: The smallest of those seven sushi bars closed – Sushi Gen was no more.
August: Picasso opened where Sushi Gen was – oddly, given that Picasso was a Spanish artist who lived in France, Picasso served Italian food.
October: Elephant Walk and J’s both closed.
November: Wired, a pop-up coffee shop, opened, as did Hana, taking over from the much-maligned Sea Lantern.
December: Bella Luna opened where J’s had been, and Grilled O Fried’s short-lived operation shut up shop.

Star of stage and screen
When you’re blessed with natural beauty and talent, it’s no surprise to find yourself thrust centre-stage. I should know, there was a whole paragraph about me in GQ earlier this year. Oh yes.

January: Maxine Peake was in the Wet Fish Café filming legal drama Silk. Across the road in West End Lane Books, Warwick Davis and Karl Pilkington were filming for An Idiot Abroad.
March: Vanessa Feltz grumbled about parking in West Hampstead on her BBC London radio show. A lively debate ensued online.
May: Keith “Plays Pop” Chegwin was spotted around Fordwych Road filming for a PR company
June: That episode of Silk aired, and the West Hampstead police stables were mentioned in a short BBC World film about Hampstead.
July: The Abbey Area estate was the setting for a BBC/Film 4 short film featuring Noel Clarke that polarised opinion [I liked it]
August: West Hampstead popped up in The Guardian, thanks to me, and in the Evening Standard, thanks to Robert Webb. It also featured on Samantha Womack’s edition of Who Do You Think You Are?
September: The police stables appeared again, as ITV reported on a performing horse joining the Met.
December: On the same day, Wired appeared on the One Show, and Flowerstalk featured on This Week. Later in the month West Hampstead was a pointless answer on Pointless, got a mention on Graham Norton and flashed by in archive footage in a piece about 150 years of the tube.

Plan of action
Perhaps the biggest stories of the year have been forged in Camden’s planning department. Not everyone gets excited about planning news, although as soon as building work begins you can guarantee a surge of interest and misguided accusations of a lack of consultation.

The most dramatic and controversial of all the planning decisions was that for 187-199 West End Lane aka West End Square aka the Ballymore scheme. Consultation for this sizeable residential development ended in mid-February. There were vocal objections to the scale, especially the 12-storey tower that would form the high point of this six-block plan. Nevertheless, in March, Camden passed the proposal on the grounds of the housing shortage and Ballymore’s amendments to its initial plan. City Hall also had to pass it, which it duly did. In September, the strip of shops on that land – from Café Bon to M.L.Estates – were given six months’ notice to quit.

West End Square proposal

Consultation also closed in February for the residential development at 163 Iverson Road where the garden centre once stood. The original plans had been watered down and although there were still objections, Camden passed the proposals in the summer. There is no word on when building will start.

Gondar Gardens sounds like a location in The Hobbit, and the saga has certainly dragged on like a Tolkein novel. In May, Camden rejected developer Linden Wates’ second proposal for this site even as an appeal over the first rejection was underway. That appeal was upheld by the national planning inspector in November. Then in early December, to many people’s surprise, Linden Wates also decided to appeal against the second refusal as well. Hedging their bets, or simply trying to recoup costs?

West Hampstead has been earmarked as an “area for intensification” in the London plan, with the bulk of that increase in population destined for the area around the train lines. The neighbourhood is therefore likely to undergo significant change over the coming years, and thus – using powers under the new Localism Act – a Neighbourhood Development Forum was set up in January, and is drafting a Neighbourhood Development Plan. Over the course of the year, it unveiled locals’ attitudes to architecture and to West Hampstead in general. Alongside this sits Camden’s own Placeshaping plan. This initiative was launched in 2011, and finally published its report in June.

Education isn’t a topic covered often in these pages, but schools did feature in planning news this year. South Hampstead High School was granted permission to build temporary classrooms on the Lymington Road sports ground (which it owns) while a two-year rebuild and refurb of its existing site in Hampstead is carried out. Meanwhile, Liddell Road industrial estate has been identified as the probable site of a new primary school that will operate under the aegis of Kingsgate primary school.

Emmanuel School opened a new building across the road from its existing property. Lots of locals moaned about the choice of grey brick rather than the more traditional red. Finally, a small private school could move in to the empty ground floor unit of Alfred Court on Fortune Green.

With so much activity, I added a “Planning news” menu option for the website and compiled an annotated map of all large local developments that will be kept updated throughout 2013 – a year that could see construction start at 187-199, and will definitely see the Abbey Area development begin.

Dial 999
It is sadly inevitable that over the course of a year in an area as densely populated as West Hampstead there will be crime and tragedy. In 2012, much of this seemed to be concentrated in the last two months of the year.

On Saturday November 10th a car hit two pedestrians on West End Lane. Desreen Brooks, from south London, was killed as she left the house of some local friends. Amy Werner, a postgrad from Vermont, was extremely badly injured. Her parents flew over immediately and she spent a month in an induced coma. A couple of weeks before Christmas she was able to fly back to the US where she is now in a rehab centre recovering slowly but steadily. Police are still piecing together what happened and no arrests have been made.

Desreen Brooks, with husband Ben Dutton

Later in November, Douglas Hutchison, a 60-year-old visually impaired man, was seriously injured in what is believed to be an unprovoked attack in broad daylight outside his home in Goldhurst Terrace. His attacker was immediately arrested following a police chase through the streets of South Hampstead. Mr Hutchison, who was more commonly known by his nom de plume, Professor Whitestick, died from his injuries in December.

There were two serious house fires in December. The first was in West End Court and sadly resulted in the death of the elderly woman who lived in the flat. The second was in Maygrove Road; thankfully fire crews were able to rescue all four people inside. There was also an unusual fire on West End Lane that thankfully caused no injuries but knocked out power for some residents.

What of the emergency services themselves? West Hampstead fire station looks secure for the time being, although Belsize is set to close. The local police station, however, has been earmarked for closure. In December, we learned that PC Ruth Marshall from the local Safer Neighbourhood Team will be returning to Northamptonshire police in early January.

March: A security van was robbed on West End Lane, which caused a few wags to speculate on how a speedy getaway would work given all the traffic.
June: Following a spate of attacks, the Ham & High reported on the pressure on Camden to improve security on the Black Path.
August: A dispersal zone was created around the Lithos Road and Lymington Road estates. Strangely it was removed in November with no consultation.
December: There were two West End Lane accidents in one day, one in the morning involving a police car and one in the evening when a pedestrian appeared to have been knocked down on a zebra crossing.

Sporting triumphs
For London, the Olympics was the year’s single biggest story. West Hampstead may not have held any events itself (although we learned it has some Olympic history) but we were not immune from the Games (and at least two locals performed in the opening ceremony).

There were fears that TfL had underestimated the impact the Olympics would have on the interchange between the three stations, especially with Lords and Wembley being close by and with two of the three lines heading straight to Stratford. In the end, West Hampstead coped remarkably well, and Kilburn even hosted the Trinidad & Tobago cultural house.

Sports person of the year (officially and unofficially) was Tour de France winner and Olympic gold medallist Bradley Wiggins. His local connection first came to the fore in an interview with Sky Sports, and from then on the media dubbed him the “Kid from Kilburn” (even though he’s lived in the north-west of England rather than London for quite some time). There are still murmurings about getting him to do a victory parade up Kilburn High Road, or naming something in his honour; and there was a lot of unnecessary quibbling about where exactly he came from.

L’Equipe identifies Kilburn
(photo via @mascart)

A year is a long time in politics
It was a relatively quiet year politically for West Hampstead. In the Mayoral elections in May, West Hampstead voted to keep Boris as mayor, but resoundingly kicked out Assembly Member Brian Coleman – as did the rest of his Barnet & Camden constituency. The Lib Dems, who hold all six of the West Hampstead and Fortune Green council seats, took a battering at the ballot box.

In October, the Boundary Commission presented its revised proposals for parliamentary constituencies and returned Fortune Green to Hampstead & Kilburn.

It was confirmed that all three main parties will field new candidates in the next general election, although none is yet to declare its candidate. The Conservatives have at least drawn up a shortlist, while speculation is rife as to who will assume Glenda Jackson’s mantle for Labour.

The end of the year as we know it… and I feel fine
There you have it – all the news that’s old and approved as Adrian Kronauer would have said if Good Morning Vietnam had had a slightly flippant review of the year. Hope you enjoyed following along on West Hampstead Life this year. For a weekly round-up of local news delivered to your inbox, just sign up to the newsletter. You’ll also be the first to hear about upcoming whampevents.

Best wishes for 2013.

Tom gets into the Spiga seasonal spirit

Nice little gathering to try Spiga’s Christmas menu the other day. As ever, appetising, with lots of their usual favourites on show. The pasta and gnocchi proved popular starters for some, but I tried the baked goats cheese on grilled aubergine and peppers, with balsamic. I’m not usually overly keen on the latter, but this was great! Excellent texture to the cheese, and the sweetness of the dressing worked well with the tanginess of the dish. The smoked salmon looked nice too, with asparagus (which – *important newsflash* – I have just heard is great for avoiding hangovers!) and a poached egg.

Mains were a hit too; there was turkey, a “bang-on” cod (marinated with herbs, in ginger, garlic and chilli sauce), and a baked, layered aubergine dish with tomato and basil sauce, mozarella and rocket, which looked superb – always impressive when a restaurant makes the effort to create really good veggie dishes. I had the sun-dried tomato crusted salmon with a saffron and prosecco sauce – the crust added a subtle extra dimension and the sauce packed lots of flavour. Lovely!

Chocolate tart with strawbs to finish – rather greedily I had one and a half of those, but don’t tell anyone. Don’t want to get a reputation as a glutton. What? Too late you say??

Wine of the evening was a Côtes du Rhône which seemed to impress all who tried it – excellent drop of festive medicine. I’ve been drinking a lot of these throughout 2012, and will probably manage one or two more before the year’s out.

Off to the North London Tavern tonight; must pick up a decent handful of asparagus on my way home…

Have a fantastic, food-festive new year! 

Tom purrs at Hana’s Persian food

On a chilly evening, I was grateful to be invited along with Jonathan to try outHana, the new Persian restaurant at the West End Green side of town. The venue has gone through a series of changes over the last few years, and the latest incarnation is thankfully quite different to Le Petit Coin, our second ever #whampreview destination some three years ago.

Happily, the neat, clean, nicely-lit room was warm; at this time of year it’s really awkward when you walk into a restaurant, then realise it’s freezing cold and quickly have to decide whether to make an about-turn or not. (There is one method I personally recommend to help warm up: try The Black Lion’s mulled wine as I did on this occasion – it’s fantastic).

Having been warmly welcomed by the delightful duo of manageress Alicia, and her very able waitress Pamela, we were guided through the menu. As usual, I was distracted by the wine list and took little in. Starting off with four dips, I was pleased to be warned that the hummus contained a lot of garlic. As @Sparklegirl21 correctly tweeted recently, there’s no such thing as too much garlic. Predictably, this was our favourite, but all four were good, one with spinach, another with cold chicken, and a warm aubergine dip.

The dips came with very thin flatbreads coated in sesame seeds. This thinness allowed them to be devoured without eating too much before mains arrived. When they did, they were well presented and immediately appetising. Jonathan noted that his enjoyable Ghafgazi mixed skewer (£12) – chunky cuts of marinated lamb fillet and chicken – arrived well-grilled, and I thought it had an elegant simplicity to it, with its colourful grilled tomato and perfect saffron rice.

I was drawn towards the Khorosheth Gheymeh, invitingly priced at £7.95. This stew of diced lamb in tomato sauce, split peas and sun-dried limes, topped with finely cut potato chips and rice (I took up the option of adding aubergine for £1), was delicious, and perfect for an icy-cold evening – though I don’t recall the chips being present for some reason! The various elements were warming and blended very well together; well-seasoned, with sweetness, sourness, and a healthy dose of cinnamon. The lamb was tender and flavoursome, and all in all this was an uplifting dish, cheerfully served in an authentic little pot. It’s a dish I’d like to have again. Our wine, a Tempranillo, also proved a sound choice.

Some excellent saffron ice cream arrived, accompanied by another plate that is a little hard to explain – a sort of sponge-pancake hybrid wrapped around a soft, sweet, creamy centre, which was quite enjoyable. Having recently mocked me for buying myself some Thornton’s chocolates to enjoy one night, Jonathan now seemed to find it gleefully amusing when I likened our dessert to that traditional family favourite, Arctic Roll!

Hana is something different for West Hampstead. It offers good value, and is only round the corner from plenty of other popular haunts – so I hope plenty of people will make the effort to get along there. Expect smiling, enthusiastic service, and a well thought-out menu that also includes some great-sounding seafood options by the way.

I suggest using the current bone-numbing weather as a very good reason to try Hana, enjoy interesting food in a nice environment, and reminisce about Arctic Roll. And if you’re still cold when you leave, pop in to The Black Lion for that piping hot mulled wine.

Happy Christmas, diners – the Port and cheeseboard are not far off now! My advice is to eat, drink, and be merry – and then repeat several times. Cheers!

Keep it in the neighbourhood: The benefits of buying local

Many of us generally, if not obsessively, like to shop at local independent places if we can. Often we can’t, or convenience (or price) dictates we go elsewhere. We may simply not care.

However, a study in the US has actually quantified the economic benefits to a neighbourhood of giving your trade to the locals rather than the chains. The principle may not be too surprising, but the data is definitely interesting.

A group called Civic Economics has been crunching the numbers for 10 US towns and cities over a decade. These are generally significantly larger urban areas than West Hampstead mind you. Nevertheless, the findings are always more or less the same: money spent at independent outlets is more likely to stay local than that spent at a chain.

In Louisville, Kentucky, researchers found independent stores recirculate 55.2% of revenues compared to 13.6% for big retailers. In other words they put four times as much back into the local area, relatively speaking. This is not the same as saying they recirculate four times the amount of money, but it does imply that the more consumers choose to shop local, the greater the benefit for the local economy. Studying restaurants revealed similar, though less dramatic, findings. In Louisville, independent restaurants put just over twice as much of their revenue back into the local economy as the chains. I note from Wikipedia that Louisville is the headquarters of both Papa John’s and the world’s largest fast food company by units, Yum! Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell!

Louisville’s answer to West End Lane Books

(Louisville’s Independent Business Alliance (a co-sponsor of the study) cites a bunch of reasons for spending local. Number one is “To keep it weird”, and the organisation’s website is in fact

Across the 10 cities studied, spending at local businesses generated on average 3.7 times more local economic benefit than spending at chains. Naturally, money staying in the local economy fuels that economy.

“The extra dollars in the local economy produce more jobs for residents, extra tax revenues for local governments, more investment in commercial and residential districts, and enhanced support for local nonprofits. In short, these businesses create better places.” Louisville study

The study is not without holes – it’s sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, which has an agenda to promote local retailers. It doesn’t look at very many chain operators (Barnes & Noble, Target, Home Depot and Office Max are the only four), and it’s the same ones in each city. Nor does it look at the price differential between chains and independents. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting guide to the value of shopping local.

Perhaps the best stat to come out of the Louisville study is that a market shift of just 10% from chains to independents would, based on these numbers in this city, generate an additional $416 million for the local economy off total retail sales of $10 billion. Whether that’s enough to get Papa John’s and Pizza Hut employees to buy independent pizza anytime soon remains to be seen!

Video: West End Lane fire

Last night around 4.30pm, smoke was spotted seemingly coming out of the ground outside Sainsbury’s on West End Lane in West Hampstead.

About the same time, a few businesses and residents across the road reported a power cut. Perhaps unsurprisingly it turned out the two were related. Apparently there was a small electrical fire in the cabling that runs under the street (some reports said TV cable), and this was causing smoke to rise quite dramatically from West End Lane.

The fire brigade arrived pretty quickly – not exactly a long way for them – and the fire was extinguished, but it was quite some hours before power was restored to parts of West End Lane.

Wayne Nixon captured some of the drama on video.

Update 4.45pm The Ham & High’s report

A hands-on experience: Tui Na at Yi Dao

In the first of a regular new West Hampstead Life column, my health & beauty correspondent @ZENW6 investigates an alternative to a sports massage at a new Mill Lane clinic. Over the coming months, ZENW6 will look at everything from hair salons to fitness studios in and around West Hampstead. Do with any comments or suggestions for articles.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I was invited to the Yi Dao clinic for a complimentary Tui Na massage. Google had helped get me up to speed: it’s a traditional Chinese physical therapy encompassing eastern body movement principles such as Tai Chi. But that wasn’t very detailed, so I was slightly apprehensive. Much as I enjoy a relaxing massage, was this the latest extreme health fad that I’d soon see endorsed by Madonna in the pages of Grazia? Would there be chanting?

Husband and wife team Zarig Cooper and Conny Duxbury, who took over the clinic (formerly The London Health Clinic) on Mill Lane around three months ago, were on hand to explain more. Both passionate and knowledgeable about eastern healthcare techniques, they talked me through the treatments they offer. They are both experienced Tui Na practitioners who have studied and trained in Chinese hospitals. Conny also specialises in acupuncture. I got to look at some interesting photographs of their last visit to China, including pictures of dedicated Tui Na massage wards; apparently it’s a very mainstream treatment offered in hospitals there and Conny’s dream is to make Tui Na therapy mainstream here in the UK.

“When people suffer from back pain they don’t need to automatically reach for painkillers or anti-inflammatories, or in extreme cases undergo unnecessary surgery,” she explains. Having been a Tai Chi teacher for 10 years (and with the enviable posture to prove it), she firmly believes that most people’s muscular aches and pains are caused by inefficient movement and bad posture, which put undue stress on the body over time.

What’s different about Tui Na from massage techniques we’re more familiar with? Zarig and Conny argue that it’s not a quick-fix solution for specific aches and pains that can then recur later, but more a way of living and moving. So, although they use Tui Na therapy to treat injuries, for example as an alternative to conventional sports massage, Yi Dao’s wider mission is to analyse people’s lifestyles and observe their breathing patterns and movements to help them break ingrained “patterns of tension”.

Zarig showed me around the clinic – there’s a nice softly-lit treatment room for western-style oil based massage but the Tui Na room was a little more austere and clinical, though still comfortable. My session started with a consultation to talk through my problems – I often suffer from a stiff neck caused by long hours sitting in front of a computer screen. Zarig demonstrated how limited my movement is; for example, I couldn’t touch my chin to my collarbone. We also discovered I have a chronic inability to relax; after a long day at the office, my back muscles were tense just lying on the massage table. There was a lot of work to be done here.

The massage wasn’t all relaxing; the tension in my back and shoulders meant that at times it was slightly painful and a bit ticklish. When I got used to the pressing / rolling movement it became much more enjoyable and soporific and I started to believe Zarig’s claim that some regular clients fall asleep mid-massage. I liked the fact that this massage can be carried out fully-clothed; there was no awkward disrobing or oil transferred onto your clothes.

Zarig’s style is down-to-earth. He was quick to reject any talk of “mystical energy flow” or any of the other unconventional terms often associated with alternative medicine. Rather, he believes that stress contributes to many conditions and that this manifests itself in physical terms. In short, the cumulative effect of tension and stress leaves the body in a tense and weakened state. I suspect it may be unrealistic for some to commit to incorporating these principles into their daily life, in which case the effect of the massage alone is not unlike a conventional sports massage or osteopathy session.

Would I go again? Yes, probably. I certainly left the clinic feeling more relaxed, calm and healthy than I had for a long time, and with a new found superpower of being able to turn my head to the right. Tui Na wouldn’t be for everyone – those expecting an indulgent treat may come away disappointed – but I liked the straightforward, scientific approach and think it would be a good treatment for those with sports injuries, or for anyone with ongoing mild aches and pains caused by the stresses of everyday life. If you’re looking for Christmas presents, you can get £30 vouchers for an hour’s Tui Na massage or oil massage (both normally £50). There’s no chanting.

Property News – Stressed in NW6

Welcome to the Property News section of West Hampstead Life. Local estate agent Benham & Reeves will be writing about the local sales market over the coming months, giving you some sales and prices statistics for the area as well as encouraging debate around estate agent practices, development and other areas of the property sales market in West Hampstead (comments will be moderated).

Even though these articles are being written by an estate agent, I’m making sure it’s honest comment and criticism of the industry! Here’s what Darryl Jenkins, manager of Benham & Reeves’ West Hampstead office, says about the venture:

The concept has been developed in conjunction with West Hampstead Life as a way of encouraging a dialogue between local residents and mistrusted estate agents. Hopefully, it’s refreshingly different with some (though perhaps not all) stereotypes being broken along the way.

So, with that, let me hand over to Darryl for December’s Property Sales News

Stressed in NW6

The start of this venture marks the end of another challenging year of property sales in West Hampstead. Challenging for buyers, sellers and agents alike.

Buyers have faced ever-stricter lending criteria for mortgages and only the very best candidates with at least 20% deposits are being accepted. There are signs that this is starting to ease though. According to recent figures published by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML), the number of first-time buyers taking out a mortgage to buy a property in London between July and September was the highest for three years, although still far short of 2006/07 levels. Ownership in London remains, at 50%, the lowest in the UK.

In the West Hampstead office we have seen about the same number of new buyers registering in 2012 as in 2011 with an increase over the last few months mirroring the CML data. There are also signs that mortgage deals have become more competitive with private banks entering the market – some of whom are offering 1.99% fixed for 2 years with a 30% deposit.

Fewer offers, and offers below asking price also indicate a lack of confidence in the continued rise in prices and a reluctance to meet sellers’ price expectations, which are being buoyed by the lack of property on the market and the constant message from estate agent marketing that demand is strong.

Naturally, buyers want to buy at the lowest price and sellers want to sell at the highest price but I cannot remember a time when there have been such conflicting messages. Every day, the press highlight the challenging national and international economic situation, yet households are also receiving a constant stream of ‘record price achieved, more property required’ leaflets through their doors.

For example, we recently marketed a garden flat in West Hampstead at the vendor’s asking price of £1.5m, which 12 months ago would have been valued at £1.3m. After 30 or so viewings, we had received several offers all around £1.35m. The owner was reluctant to agree a sale at this level as he really believed the value to be a lot higher even though the market had found the level lower. After months of more viewings we have eventually agreed a sale just below £1.4m. This demonstrates the widening gap between vendor and buyer expectations. Both want to build in more of a financial cushion against the uncertainty of the market.

The next hurdle for buyers has been finding a suitable property to buy. Prices in West Hampstead are up roughly 10% this year so we’re seeing that sellers are more likely to hold onto their property in this rising market rather than sell. This is compounded by the fact that sellers are usually also buyers who have been put off by the new stamp duty increases and the general economic uncertainty of job security.

Apart from the difficulty of finding your next home, owners of property in West Hampstead have enjoyed good capital appreciation in the last 12 months. If a property has come to market at a sensible price we have found a buyer within a couple of weeks at what is normally a record price for the road or block. The difference is that the buyer is more likely to be an overseas investor than a local owner or renter trading up or buying for the first time.

This market also brings new challenges for estate agents. A recent count on showed 106 separate agents advertising property for sale in NW6! Whilst I don’t expect too much sympathy (years of raking it in etc..etc..) every agent is having to work twice as hard just to stand still. Fewer properties on the market and even more agents trying to sell them has inevitably put downward pressure on fees (to be covered in a future article). This is good news for sellers but also explains why you’re getting more marketing material through your door as we all fight for our share.

This unique market, where lenders are reluctant to lend, sellers are thin on the ground, prices are rising and transactions are down has bought new levels of anxiety and stress for all. Agents have indicated record levels for the percentage of agreed sales that have fallen through this year – normally we’d expect 1 in 3, but this year it’s more likely to be 1 in 2. Lenders are taking twice as long (in some cases up to three months) to approve mortgages and surveyors and lawyers are taking longer and being beyond thorough (there’s always more litigation in economic slumps) All this means that estate agents are becoming more skilled at counselling than valuing! Holding a transaction together is now harder than any of the other sales processes, so when choosing an agent consider their life experience and people skills as well as their expensive marketing.

All in all, whether you have been a buyer, seller or agent in 2012 you are probably feeling more than 12 months older than you did in January. It’s been a stressful year.

What will happen in 2013 and beyond is clearly tricky to predict, but that won’t stop me having a go next month!. Please let me know your thoughts on the year ahead or any other comments about either the macro or micro issues of the property market.

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

Sponsored article

One Show visits Wired

Turn on BBC1 tonight for early evening magazine programme The One Show to see West End Lane’s very own Wired make an appearance.

A One Show researcher contacted me yesterday trying to track down a number for Wired (hint: you need a website guys!), and the crew and a reporter turned up this morning at 9 o’clock to chat to co-owner Tom about whether the recent adverse publicity surrounding Starbucks has had any impact on business.

Watch (or iPlayer) the show from 7pm tonight to find out what Tom had to say about independent coffee shops.

Photo via @cyberdonkey
Photo via @cyberdonkey

West Hampstead screen prints for sale

Many of you will remember an article back in July about artist Martin Robertson who was interested in finding out what we thought symbolised West Hampstead.

Many of you gave your thoughts on this and Martin went away to work on his interpretation.

Lots of West Hampstead landmarks there – bonus points for spotting the Czech chef, and the #whamp hashtag!

You can order the black & white screenprint or the colour versions directly from Martin.

Boris puts kybosh on tube station lift

Navigating between the three West Hampstead stations is already challenging, with narrow pavements, crowds of people and at least one road to cross whichever change you’re making.

Now imagine that you’re not so good at walking – or can’t walk at all. That minor hassle becomes a major hassle. Or would be if it was even worth attempting given the lack of step-free access to the platform.

The Thameslink station does now have proper step-free access (though god help you if there’s one of those pesky short-notice platform changes). The Overground station doesn’t have a lift at the moment, but will get one, perhaps in 2014, having successfully been awarded £1m by the Department for Transport.

Which leaves us with the Jubilee Line station – arguably the most useful of all for day-to-day travel in London.

No-go area for wheelchair users

Lib Dem London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon recently asked the Mayor:

Do you agree that West Hampstead station, which sits on both the Jubilee and London Overground lines, is a good candidate for being made step free?

Boris provided a written reply (I doubt he wrote it himself, there isn’t a single classical reference in there), of which here is an abridged version:

Regrettably there is no funding to undertake works at the Tube station. Aside from the funding question, the Underground station would not be an easy location at which to install step-free facilities. This is because the small ticket hall sits on a road bridge above the tracks carrying the Jubilee, Metropolitan and Chiltern lines. The station is also surrounded by various separately owned properties and there is no space for a lift.

Customers in the West Hampstead area who require a step-free route to central London or need to access the Tube network can use Thameslink services to a number of stations in zone 1 including King’s Cross St Pancras, Farringdon, Blackfriars and London Bridge, all of which are now fully accessible.

Local resident and wheelchair user Shannon Murray certainly doesn’t mince her words in response:

Regrettably they don’t have the funding to undertake the works, well regrettably I don’t have the ability to undertake walking. I can’t use Boris bikes nor can I use the buses or navigate most pavements independently. It’s easy for politicians and decision makers to distance themselves from the implications of access issues because they don’t really impact their lives.

It is a valid point that there are engineering challenges with the Jubilee Line station and these would push the costs of installing a lift even higher. But it is beyond the wit of man to find some innovative solution to this challenge? I fear that step-free access across the Underground network will never become a reality but, at a major interchange like West Hampstead, dismissing the idea so readily feels like a missed opportunity.

Tom goes wild at La Brocca

La Brocca’s “Wild Weekend” sounded intriguing, so I raced down there as soon as I could only to find it wasn’t some kind of seedy NW6 orgy after all. (That was happening at Lower Ground Bar next door). Instead, this was Brocca’s celebration of “the best of wild autumn foods from our sea and forests; game, fish and vegetables including pheasant, venison, wild boar, rabbit, and wild porcini mushrooms” – wonderful.

So, holed-up in the characterful basement restaurant, which I’ve always liked, we browsed the menu, eager to see what it was all about. The specials were appetising; game, fish, soup… something for everyone.

I chose the sea bass, caper butter and wild mushroom risotto, sacrificing a starter in order to gorge myself on some very decent (and varied) breads, and marinated olives. The risotto was nice, but the sea bass superb – crispy skin to absolute perfection. One point deducted for cold plates and a couple of errors caused by the waiter not writing down our order, but strangely this seems the norm in restaurants these days – can anyone explain why?

As usual, I requested a salad on the side, as I know from experience that chef has a deft touch and knows how to dress leaves with respect. I also love the addition of avocado – one of those magical and quite unique ingredients.

Across the table, Jonathan dived into a vibrant wild mushroom, white wine and garlic sauce starter [J: it was absolutely delicious], then the hunter’s game pie on mash with green beans and gravy – which also proved to be a success, though he noted it was perhaps centred solely around venison rather than a combination of game. We both agreed the Chianti was a winner; smooth, soft, but with a subtle, bitter twist, not lacking a finish, and just very satisfying indeed.

On this occasion, I didn’t opt for a dessert – perhaps I’ll have two of them next time. The apple crumble is a particular favourite of mine.

The evening ended on a rather uncharacteristic note, however, when I returned to the upper bar and ordered . . . a glass of water. Yes, I acknowledge this was bizarre and rather worrying behaviour – however as I type I am enjoying a complex Crozes Hermitage; rumours of my liver’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Give me time though! 

Christmas market returns to West End Green

On December 8th, West End Green will host the third successive West Hampstead Christmas market.

It starts at 10am and there’ll be stalls on the green. In previous years these have been a mixture of local crafts, some food (hot and cold), and a couple of community groups. It’s not a German-style market, which I know has disappointed a few people in the past.

The market in 2010

This year there is also a full programme of indoor events in Emmanuel Church, with a focus on events for kids, but with enough to keep adults occupied too. Many of these aren’t necessarily traditional Christmas activities although there’s the opportunity to make wreaths, and there’ll be a choir singing in the afternoon. But there’s also zumba, karate and yoga. These have been arranged by the Community Association for West Hampstead and the Friends of Fortune Green.

The market is still looking for volunteers to help on the day. If you’d like to be part of it, please call Jody Graham on 07765 214867.

Alexanders Estate Agents is the main sponsor this year, and it’s interesting to note that the other sponsors are a diverse bunch of services, only one of which appears to be located in West Hampstead. It would be good to see more local businesses getting behind the Christmas market, which might help elevate it from the village fête feel it has had the past couple of years to more of a destination market that might attract people from further afield.

Full programme
10-12 Make Wreaths & Bird Feeders
11–12 Intros to Knitting
11.30–12.00 Street Dance by children
11–1 Art Project for families
12-12.30 Zumba
12.30-1 Karate for kids,
12-3 Slap-London Face Painting
1.00-1.15 Children’s Indian Dancing
1.15–2.00 Storytelling for families
2–3 West Hampstead Choir
2-4 Art Project for Families
3-3.30 Performing Arts by kids
3:30–4:00 Yoga for Adults

Will response times slow under fire station proposals?

West Hampstead police station may be for the chop, but is our fire station safe from the latest round of cuts? The most recent proposal to close stations in London puts Belsize station on the chopping block, while West Hampstead is neither slated for any changes, nor has the security of being on the protected list.

West Hampstead fire station – 111 years old
Photo via @Tetramesh

In October, a leaked document appeared to show that 17 stations were going to be closed in response to the Mayor’s call for the London Fire Brigade (LFB) to find £65 million in savings over two years. The 17 stations included Belsize. This certainly isn’t set in stone, but is believed to be the preferred option. To understand what this means for response times, I’m going to have to show the workings.

The sexily titled Operational efficiency work in progress Fifth London Safety Plan Supporting document No.17 Pre-consultation draft is a 44page discussion of London’s fire station needs published by the LFB. It’s actually very readable and has loads of London-wide statistics. For stats at the borough level, I recommend reading LFB in Camden 2012/13, which shows even more clearly that the number of incidents is falling (it also shows that Camden has the second highest number of false alarms in London). You can even monitor fires at the ward level, and month by month if you really want to dig into the data.

Aside from the financial savings, is there any evidence that the LFB has scope to cut back services? In terms of number of call-outs and looking across London, then yes.

  • The brigade attends 35% fewer incidents than 10 years ago; some stations have seen the number of call-outs drop by two-thirds;
  • 24 fire stations attend two incidents or fewer a day;
  • False alarms make up almost half of all the calls attended;
  • Total number of fires (27,000 in 2011) is lower than at any time in the last 40 years;
  • Fewer people are dying in fires: 56 in 2011 compared to nearly 80 a year between 1991-2001;
  • Even the busiest fire engine (Soho) is occupied for less than 17% of the time;
  • The average firefighter attends 195 incidents a year; of which 101 will be false alarms and only 8 will be the more significant incidents. Some firefighters attend 10 or fewer fires a year

The document points out that although the risk of fast-spreading fires and of domestic deaths and injuries has greatly reduced, it has been replaced by what it terms “new risk”, which is now a very prominent aspect of the Brigade’s work. These new risks (by which I think it means more large-scale incidents) mean that the LFB is much more complex than the old model of stations with one or two fire engines (“appliances” in fire brigade parlance). London hosts a raft of specialist teams such as urban search and rescue teams and high volume pumps.

Of course, one of the reasons that the numbers of fires and fire-related deaths is falling is that fire officers spend more time in the community, making visits to houses and schools. If one thinks of fire crews more like all-round police officers, who have both a community role and an emergency response role, then it is clear that simply looking at the number of times the sirens are wailing through the streets will not paint the whole picture of fire safety in the capital.

What does it cost?
Here are the figures across London:

“We spend around £270m on station-based emergency response. Of that, £229m is spent on firefighters’ salaries and allowances; £21m is spent on the upkeep and running of fire stations; and £20m is spent on equipment, including fire engines.”

Salaries are clearly the big component here, though the document points out that consolidating fire stations can also create substantial savings without reducing coverage. Which brings us to the issue of response times.

Fire! Fire!
London-wide response time targets are:

  • Average arrival time for the 1st appliance: 6 minutes
  • Average arrival time for the 2nd appliance: 8 minutes
  • 95% of incidents must have a 1st appliance arrival time of 12 minutes or less

Camden’s four fire stations perform well against these. In fact, response times are among the fastest in London at just over 4 minutes 40 seconds on average for the first appliance and 6 minutes for the second. There isn’t much doubt that arriving quickly is important when it comes to a serious incident. However, the report says that there are complexities in balancing the desire for speed with the the fact that demand is extremely low in some parts of London.

To determine whether there could be a better and more cost-effective configuration, modelling was carried out based on finding £25m and £50m in savings. Several configurations for each were modelled. The report goes into a lot of detail on this, so do read it if you’re interested.

The option that was leaked back in October is shown below (you’ll need to click for the full-size version):

In terms of the impact on Camden, the two £25m options published both propose closing Belsize and adding an extra pump at Euston. In this scenario, average borough response times drop for the first appliance but are the same or faster for the second vehicle. All are still within the London-wide targets.

In the first of the £50m saving options, Belsize closes, Kentish Town loses an appliance, while Euston and West Hampstead remain unchanged. Appliance one now arrives in 6’00” and Appliance 2 at 7’03”. A marked increase in response time.

The second of the £50m options actually mirrors the £25m options, at least in Camden; i.e., Belsize closes, Euston gets an extra pump, and Kentish Town and West Hampstead remain unchanged. Other changes outside the borough mean response times for both appliances are now effectively the same at 5’57” and 6’00” respectively.

These are all just proposals, although Belsize gets closed in all of them.

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.

Ambitious scope for local development plan

We’re inching nearer to a final Neighbourhood Development Plan. There’s a meeting this Thursday to discuss the second draft plan.

At the time of writing the draft, the issue of the southern boundary had not been resolved. Since then, however, the results of the WHGARA (West Hamsptead Gardens Area Residents Association) vote on the matter have been released and 75% of people were in favour of being part of the plan area rather than sitting outside it. This is almost certain to mean that the area covered will exactly match the ward boundaries of West Hampstead and Fortune Green.

156 West End Lane – one of the sites up for development

The draft plan is very much a work in progress, and still has some gaps. Nevertheless, two things are worth looking at even at this early stage. The first is the overall scope of the plan, the second is the introduction of the core policies.

If you read the write-up of the public meeting back at the end of October, you’ll know that Neighbourhood Development Plans can vary enormously in scope from all-encompassing town plans to single-issue plans. The West Hampstead & Fortune Green plan certainly drifts closer to the first idea. Broadly, it seeks to influence building development (location, form, use of Section 106 money), business and economic development (retail mix, high street feel), street environment (roads, parking, cycling, pedestrians), public transport, environment (green space, trees), community, and public services (schools, healthcare). Some of these area are easier to influence than others – some lie firmly within Camden’s remit, other are the purview of larger bodies such as TfL or City Hall. But it would be hard to argue that the plan lacks ambition.

The draft plan outlines 12 core policies. Many of these are not especially controversial and only the hard core members of the “flatten everything to build more houses” brigade are likely to object to limitations on building height, or a presumption that green space is a good thing.

It is worth reiterating the message of policies 1 and 2 – namely that the bulk of dense housing development should be in the designated growth area (that is broadly the area between and around the stations and railway tracks), while the rest of West Hampstead is allowed to retain its current feel. Whether this will lead to two very distinctive town centres developing – one to the south and one to the north end of West End Lane – and whether this is desirable is up for debate. I can well imagine the good burghers of Fortune Green grumbling about how busy it is around the interchange while they enjoy the peace and quiet of the leafy suburbs the rest of the time.

  1. New development should be focused on providing a range of housing and housing types, including social and affordable housing and 3-4 bedroom homes for families. The vast majority of new housing and development should be located in the ‘West Hampstead growth area’.
  2. Outside the growth area, new development should be on a much smaller scale.
  3. New buildings in the growth area should be no higher than xx storeys; outside this area new buildings should be no higher than xx storeys.
  4. New developments should promote high quality design which fit in with their surroundings, especially in terms of height, appearance and design.
  5. Conservation areas should promote high design standards and have policies which are strongly enforced.
  6. Development in the Area should also be focused on providing new jobs and attracting new businesses to the Area. Existing businesses, and the land they occupy, should be protected and encouraged.
  7. There is an urgent need for ongoing improvements to public transport in the Area, particularly the three rail stations.
  8. Future development should protect, preserve and enhance existing green/open space and provide new green/open space in new developments.
  9. Provide as much space as possible for pedestrians and promote ease of movement through the Area.
  10. Protect the existing public services and community facilities in the Area and provide new services/facilities as the population of the Area grows.
  11. Provide an environment that is suitable for a mixed community, including young people, old people, families and those from a range of social backgrounds.
  12. In all developments, there should be a presumption in favour of preserving the look, feel and views of the Area.

The next meeting of the Neighbourhood Development Forum is at 7.30pm at Emmanuel Church on Thursday. It’s open to all, so why not come along and find out more.

Could West Hampstead police station close?

West Hampstead police station looks certain to lose its front counter, but the murmurings that the whole station is under threat are getting louder.

The Metropolitan Police has engaged in a strange consultation process regarding front counter closures. It can, at best, be described as cursory. A cynic might even interpret it as underhand. “Priority stakeholders” were the only people due to be consulted. Andrew Dismore, the London Assembly Member for Barnet & Camden, is one of these people but, for some reason, it took the borough police a week to find his e-mail address to inform him of the consultation. By that time there were only four days left for him to respond. Even if he had received it in time, it still seems a staggeringly short period of consultation. And why was it so hard for the police to find the e-mail address of an elected representative? (Here’s a hint for them next time).

Andrew Dismore

We all know that public services are being cut back far and wide, and the Met is certainly not exempt. The consultation document (which is a strange two-pager that’s heavy on rationale but light on solutions) explains that the force’s budget need to drop by an eye-watering half a billion pounds by 2015. That isn’t just a lot of money, it’s also a huge chunk of 2011/12’s £2.7 billion budget.

There are 136 police front counters across London, although the consultation paper says that more than a quarter have less than one visitor per hour. Fewer than 50 crimes a night are reported at front counters between 11pm and 7am, and 23 of the 24-hour stations see less than one crime reported every three nights. “They are now primarily staffed by police officers, simply waiting for the public to come to them,” says the paper.

The Met is keen to point out that “This is not about reducing our service but expanding, adapting and changing it for a more modern approach.” I do wonder why it’s not possible for those police officers drumming their fingers on the front desk to perhaps be doing something else while they wait, and maybe someone has to ring a doorbell to be let in, so there’s a drop-in service, but the desk doesn’t have to actually be manned permanently. Surely multi-tasking is possible. (I don’t believe for a minute that police officers aren’t already doing something while they sit and wait).

At Mayor’s Question Time this week, Boris came under sustained fire from Assembly Members, notably Labour’s Dismore and the Lib Dems’ Caroline Pidgeon, who said that 1 in 4 rapes were reported at front counters and was it really reasonable to expect people to report these and other serious crimes in coffee shops. For the consensus is that this is Boris’s big idea: relocate police counters to more accessible locations such as shopping centres. This good ITV news report even moots our very own O2 centre as a possible location as well as showing the Mayor’s response to the questions – he accuses Dismore of “fetishising bricks and mortar”, and says that coffee shops are indeed one avenue that might be pursued.

The grand plan foresees the number of locations where the public can contact the police in person rise from 136 today to up to 270 locations in 2015. In total, 65 front counters will be replaced by more than 200 “Contact Points”, of which seven will be in Camden.

Hampstead police station has already been slated for closure and despite a vocal campaign up in NW3 it’s hard to see that it will be reprieved. Although the consultation document doesn’t expressly mention West Hampstead (in fact the only station named is Holborn which will be the borough’s only 24/7 station), Camden police told Dismore directly:

“The proposals under consultation for Camden are for Holborn front counter to remain open 24 hours and for Kentish Town to be open 40 hour per week. Albany Street, Hampstead and West Hampstead front counters will close and we are looking to create 7 Contact Points across the borough to provide alternative access to policing services.”

That seems pretty clear. It would make our nearest public access station Kentish Town, which is hardly convenient. What is still not clear is whether the whole of West Hampstead police station would close, including the 999 response units. As we all know, West Hampstead also has stables for the mounted police, although this division sits outside the borough structure. According to a letter from Camden’s conservative leader Andrew Mennear in the CNJ back in October, the mounted police would stay while the rest of the police station would close and West Hampstead’s police force would be off to Kentish Town. Even the latest draft of the Neighbourhood Development Plan mentions the police station site as a possible development space.

I’m led to understand by Andrew Dismore’s office that the (seemingly blindingly obvious) idea of turning the small Safer Neighbourhood Team base by the tube station into a front counter is not being considered. So where will locals be able to report crime (or hand in lost property)? The O2 shopping centre strikes me as the most obvious place. The SNT already runs stalls there from time to time, and there is designated community space upstairs. It’s hard to think of anywhere on West End Lane unless there could be co-sharing with the library, or with whatever comes to pass at 156 West End Lane (aka the Travis Perkins building). Mill Lane has more vacant spaces, but none of these solutions are to house a response team. Still, we all know that there’s never any traffic between here and Kentish Tow… oh, yes. Right.

Making savings of £500m is always going to lead to some difficult decisions, but efficiency and cost-effectiveness are surely only part of the equation when it comes to providing emergency service cover. In the meantime, Dismore’s changed his Twitter avatar to one that reads 999SOS – a Labour initiative in City Hall and across London to coordinate objections to the scale and speed of cuts to the police and fire services.

How would you feel about the demise of the front counter at West Hampstead? How about the loss of the whole police station?

West End Lane crash: Can we help?

Since Tuesday, I’ve spoken to Ben Dutton and twice to Rich Werner. Ben is the husband of Desreen Brooks who died in Saturday’s accident on West End Lane in West Hampstead. Rich is the father of Amy who was badly injured in the same crash and remains in hospital. Rich and his wife Gina flew over immediately from their home in Dover, Vermont together with Amy’s grandmother.

It would be an understatement to say that both were gracious under incredibly difficult circumstances. I think – I hope – it helped that these weren’t interviews for an article; they’d already been through that a few times on Tuesday. They were calling because they had heard, via the police’s family liaison officer, of the strength of feeling expressed in the comments left on this website, and of local people’s desire to help in any way they could.

Terrible incidents like this generally bring out the best in people – a desire to do something, anything, to show they care; to show to those affected that this isn’t just another statistic. How that goodwill manifests itself almost becomes irrelevant, people just want to show support. For the families going through the hell that is a sudden bereavement or horrendous injuries to a loved one, their focus can be only on coping with what is happening at the time.

How incredible then, for both Ben and Rich to want to take the time to express their thanks to the locals who have shown them such kindness. Ben was very clear that any help people could give should go towards supporting Amy’s family, who are a long way from home. He and his son have a lot of family and friends close by – he was just realising how many – and are being well looked after, he said. He told me that he and Desreen had planned a day out on Saturday, and he fully intended to go ahead with that because he wanted to keep a sense of normality for their son.

Ben was also very clear that they would still be frequent visitors to West Hampstead – their best friends live here, indeed that’s who they were visiting last Saturday night. His positive attitude, and determination that their son would know what an amazing woman his mother was, was extremely moving.

When I spoke to Rich on Tuesday, Amy was in theatre. We talked briefly about where they were staying and whether there was anything we could do to make that more comfortable for them, but he said they were in good shape for now. However, they recognise that they could well be here for a while and that a longer-term option might be necessary. We spoke again yesterday. On Tuesday it sounded like he was making an effort to be calm; yesterday there was a genuinely more positive tone. Tuesday’s operation had gone well, and the surgeon had been positive about Amy’s progess. She is still in a serious condition but the medical staff are keeping her stable before the next operation, which has been pushed back a couple of days. Amy’s grandmother will fly back to the US today.

Amy and her mother in May 2011

“I can’t express enough how great everyone has been,” said Rich. “It’s been overwhelming. If we close our eyes for a few minutes, it’s like we’re back in Dover.” To feel so cared for that you could be at home, when you are in fact 3,500 miles away is testament to the quality of care they are receiving at St Mary’s. They’ve been to the site of the crash and seen the cards and flowers people have left for both Amy and Desreen.

He specifically asked me to thank two people who’d left comments on the blog. First, one of the doctors who’d been passing and stopped to help. In the chaos that followed the collision, a plastic bag containing a vintage ukulele that belonged to his grandfather and was being taken to be restored went missing. The doctor has posted about this, understandably nervous that it would seem self-serving in the wake of such a tragedy but explaining that it had huge sentimental value. I didn’t think it was self-serving – here was a guy who’d stopped to help victims of a road accicent, bit harsh to think anything other than good of him. Rich saw it the same way and told me to say that he was sorry that this good samaritan had lost the instrument and to thank him for all he’d done for both victims.

He also asked me to thank someone who simply signed off as “J”, with no other way of contacting them. J had sat with Amy and put a blanket over her while they waited for the ambulance. I don’t have kids, but I can still just about imagine that thought that your child is lying in the road and you are an ocean away but someone, some kind person, is holding their hand and keeping them warm. If you read this J, then know that Rich and Gina are immensely grateful.

As for what we can do to help, well, right now, very little. It’s not the answer lots of you are looking for I know. Feeling impotent at a time like this is frustrating, but it’s nothing to what the people immediately affected are going through. Rich and I agreed to speak again in a few days’ time when they have a clearer idea of what their needs might be. Then I’ll be badgering you all for contacts in the property business, or whatever it is we need. Until then, let’s let them focus on being there for Amy.

Tom dives into Spiga’s new menu

With a fair degree of enthusiasm, three of us rolled up at Spiga (via a quick one in The Gallery), in order to check out their recently revised menu – the first overhaul since it opened just over a year ago.

I’ve actually been meaning to grab a pizza at Sarracino next door for a while, but it’s nice that there’s variation in Italian food in town, and indeed within Broadhurst Gardens. I love Spiga’s food; by my own admission I have a healthy appetite, and so it was to my taste that the latest menu seemed to emphasize big, hearty dishes. Is it getting too clichéd to say “rustic” too?

Starters arrived, and I enjoyed the freshness and well-judged cooking of my fritto misto; clearly quality seafood, and something I’d eat as a main (which was an available option). Next to me, the caprino al forno was going down well; oven-baked goat’s cheese in sesame seed crust, grilled veggies, plus a sweet and sour balsamic reduction. We all agreed the sesame seed crust was an interesting, and successful idea.

Cacciucco alla livornese was perhaps the standout at this stage; a “traditional Tuscan soup with a variety of fish, fresh tomato, wine, chilli and parsley, served with toasted garlic bread” – enticing. I’m glancing at the menu now (hence able to name the dishes verbatim) and note this is not offered as a main – perhaps would be a nice option? It’s the type of thing I actually bother to cook at home, though toast and Marmite perhaps better reflects my natural skills set in the kitchen; I’m better with a corkscrew than an an oven.

Now well into the swing of things, helped along by an excellent Chianti, the three of us shared two pastas. The tortelloni of chicken, veal and herbs in a porcini mushroom sauce was as rich and flavoursome as one would expect, accompanied by a non-meat option: ricotta, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and nutmeg, tossed in butter and sage – delicious. (Also pleased to note that the gorgonzola and wild mushroom gnocchi is still on the menu, and that the peas poached in stock remain as a welcome and enjoyable freebie – they seem to go well with everything).

We were perhaps a little full once mains arrived, but my pan-fried salmon with prawns and capers in a Prosecco wine sauce, with sautéed spinach was, quite simply, the sort of food I want to eat – again and again. Bold flavours, yet the salmon was not overpowered.

Fillet of beef, wild mushrooms and porcini sauce, with gnocchi tossed in butter and sage was also a hit – as was the roast corn-fed chicken breast filled with mozzarella, tomato sauce provençale and rice.

Spiga remains very good value; somehow they combine quality of ingredients, a high degree of both skill and flair in the kitchen (and clearly a lot of passion too) – with generous portions that will challenge the hungriest of diners (me, basically).

It’s not hard to see why a certain friend of mine practically lives there, and if a spare room to let becomes available, perhaps I’ll be following suit! 

Camden consults on “small sites” sell-off

Almost two years ago, Camden launched its 15-year(!) community investment programme. A large part of this is flogging assets in order to invest in other services. In some cases this involves quite major closures, such as at 156 West End Lane, aka the Travis Perkins building. In other instances it means looking at small plots of land that the council happens to own and deciding whether or not to sell them off.

These “small sites” have already netted Camden £2 million, money which has gone into council homes.

Fourteen more sites are now up for consultation, of which three are in the Greater West Hampstead area.

Dennington Park Road
Dennington House (between Inglewood and Dennington Park Roads) is in fact more Dennington Car Park at the moment as the land behind the house is used for garages and car parking spaces accessed from Inglewood Road.

According to Camden, “This site could contribute towards the investment needed in existing council homes in West Hampstead ward, which is £4.9m over the next five years. If the Council does decide to sell the site council tenants and leaseholders living in Dennington House who currently rent one of the garages or car spaces will be offered alternative parking in the local area. There will also be further consultation about any proposed change of use, or new development on the site, when the planning application is made.

Dynham Road
There is a communal paved space between 27 and 33 Dynham Road. The sale of this property would go towards investment needed in existing council homes in Kilburn ward, which is £13.2m over the next five years.

Kilburn Vale estate
The site is the garages and forecourt in front of Sycamore Court. Again, any funds raised would go into Kilburn ward housing and tenants using the car parking area would be offered alternatives.

If you feel strongly for or against the disposal of these sites, you can let Camden know.

Mapping West Hampstead development

Crane over West Hampstead (c)

I thought it would be useful to keep track of all the major development plans in West Hampstead in map form. This is a beta version, I’m working on a more sophisticated one.

This map includes everything I’m aware of, from early-stage discussions to developments that are almost complete. If you know of anything that should be on here, please let me know (new builds only, not rennovations/house extensions etc.)

View Development in West Hampstead in a larger map

Blue: under construction
Green: planning permission granted
Red: at planning application/late-discussion stage
Pink: no imminent action / less significant

Time to make the farmers’ market legal

Not that it’s exactly been “illegal” since it opened. The market has been allowed to operate without planning permission for a short period of time, but now the application is in with Camden and if you are broadly in favour of us having a farmers’ market in West Hampstead every Saturday then it would be a good idea to go to the comments section of the planning application website and say so.

I’m not entirely sure why the application itself is not searchable on Camden’s website, but it’s pretty straightforward so if you like the market, let Camden know you want to keep it.

I got £199 problems but the rent ain’t one

…at least you’d hope not if you’re a student in West Hampstead next year.

You’ll have seen the large building going up on Blackburn Road over the past few months. Rising nine storeys at his highest point (furthest away from the tube lines and West End Lane), I’m sure most of you know that it’s going to house some 350 students starting in September 2013.

Students – especially en masse – can be a contentious populace. They lower the average age and lend an area a lively, more fashionable feel. Yet, they can also be noisy, messy, and do not always contribute positively to their neighbourhood. Those of us who’ve lived away from home as students can probably see ourselves reflected in both sides of the coin.

This particular bunch of students might consider themselves lucky to live in West Hampstead, as many of us do. Or they might feel it’s too far out of central London and lacks the range of nightlife and student-friendly cafés and restaurants they might get in town.

What’s fairly certain is that they’ll be relatively well off. The company’s website is a bit sparse on details, but this site (clearly targeting the international market) has a lot more info and having read it, I’m not so sure that these students will be filling up the Bridge Café. Unless egg and chips is all they can afford having paid for the relative luxury of their shared flat.

Rents in the new block start at £199 a week. That’s to live in a cluster flat, sharing communal facilities with 5-8 other students. It includes all bills, TV, WiFi etc.. That still seems like quite a lot for students, although a very quick trawl of the competition, both private operators such as Urbanest and universities’ own halls of residence, suggests that although it’s high-end, it’s not ridiculous.

The Blackburn Road development will also include a private gym, meeting rooms, an in-house cinema (!!), quiet rooms, common room and laundry facilities. There’ll be a concierge team, a 24 hour helpline, CCTV and secure electronic access. If you’re feeling flush you can pay more for in-room cleaning, laundry service, and “other technology upgrades”, which definitely either means you get a pet robot or faster WiFi.

I’m certainly not saying it’s bad value for the quality of housing, but I do wonder which students will be able to afford it. Let me mention again: it has an in-house cinema! Hopefully some of these new whampers will venture out into the big bad world – maybe even to Kilburn! My guess is that we’ll be welcoming a lot more international students with iMacs and credit cards than scruffy 19 year-olds from the provinces with beaten-up laptops and a £10 overdraft on their Lloyds-TSB student account.

163 Iverson Road – still waiting to start the build

The proposal to redevelop the garden centre site on Iverson Road into flats was given the green light back in the early summer but for some reason I never actually wrote about it.

I did discuss the plans back in January, after they had been watered down slightly from an initially very ambitious “aeroplane wing” style development.

The block will, when complete, consist of 33 flat and 3 houses. Even with the revisions, it’s not to everyone’s taste. The architects though are (naturally enough) proud of their response to what is a slightly unusually shaped site.

“Dexter Moren Associates have responded to this challenging Y-shaped site by creating two distinctive architectural treatments for the front and rear of the scheme. The southern wing adjacent to the railway tracks is raised on stilts to create a series of ‘tree houses’ and to distance the apartments from the trains. This allows the greenery from the embankment to flow under, into the heart of the development. The ‘tree houses’ are topped with a folded wing shaped metal roof that acts as a protective skin from the trains and creates a striking and dynamic roof form. The main frontage along Iverson Road is designed to respond to the streetscape with boxed balconies, roof terraces and a living green wall.”

It will also be very handy for the farmers’ market.

Gondar Gardens will be developed

News came in late last night that the Planning Inspector (that’s a national, not a Camden position) had upheld the appeal by Linden Wates. This was after Camden rejected Linden Wates’ original 2011 proposal to develop the reservoir site into 16 houses, largely submerged beneath ground level [full planning application].

You can read more about the background to the development, the critical role played by the humble slow worm, as well as look at the developers’ second, less flamboyant proposal (also rejected by Camden).

The planning inspector’s decision draws a line under this contentious development – GARA (the Gondar and Agamemnon Residents Association), which was the driving force behind the “no” campaign, has acknowledged that there is virtually no chance of any counter-appeal and, to its credit, is now looking to the future.

The inspector’s report is long, but worth reading if you’re interested in such things. It’s a thoughtful and detailed consideration of the merits and drawbacks of the proposal, and explicitly recognises the challenges of balancing housing need and ecological merit, design and environmental impact, and planning policies that do – in their details – sometimes clash. Naturally, the conclusion won’t please everyone, and it’s certainly a shame that a gated community will result.

Here are the key sections:

Para 6. The appeal is allowed and planning permission is granted for the redevelopment of the existing reservoir structure to provide 16 residential units, associated parking, refuse storage and landscaping, and use of the surrounding land and rear of the site for open space (nature reserve) at Reservoir site, Gondar Gardens, London NW6 1QG in accordance with the terms of the application, Ref: 2011/0395/P, dated 24 January
2011, and the plans submitted with it, subject to the conditions included in the
schedule at the end of this decision.

Para 7. I consider there are 5 main issues in this case. They are:
(i) the effect of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the site and its surrounding area;
(ii) the ecological impact of the proposal;
(iii) the structural condition of the redundant reservoir;
(iv) the form and content of the proposal in relation to:
 – the provision of affordable housing,
 – the density and mix of the proposed dwellings, and
 – the design of the scheme within its townscape context;
and, if necessary;
(v) whether the project justifies the obligations cited above taking account of the contents of Regulation 122 of the Community Infrastructure Regulations 2010.

Character and appearance
Para 15. …The reservoir structure constituted previously developed land within the
terms of the definition now included in Annex 2 of the NPPF. The area surrounding the reservoir falls within its curtilage and, as a result of the definition, it too forms previously developed land. Although the presumption in favour of the redevelopment of previously developed land in preference to the development of greenfield land is not now as pervasive, it is nevertheless retained in paragraph 17 of the NPPF as one of the core planning principles. My predecessor referred in this context to the urgent need to find more sites for housing development, but, in accordance with the principle, the preference for redevelopment has to be tempered if the site concerned is of high environmental value.

Para 16. I am in no doubt that such value can be derived from both the ecological value of a site within its own terms, and/or from the contribution which it might make to amenity in the broadest sense – including residential amenity. In this context my colleague referred to the extensive views into the site from the surrounding houses. Although taken individually these are private views, they amount collectively to a considerable public asset and a ‘green lung’ providing local amenity. I agree with this description and assessment. Having further discussed the ecological interest of the land, he recommended the land should remain in the Schedule to the UDP as private open space (as well as being designated as a Site of Nature Conservation Interest – SINC).

Para 17. This protection is now expressed in Policy CS15 of the Camden Core Strategy 2010. The plan recognises that open space can fall into 2 categories: that which is open to the public (and which can provide for sport and recreation), and private open space – to which there is no or limited public access (such as, for example, railway embankments). The appeal site falls into the latter category and the first purpose of the policy is that such spaces will be protected.

Para 21. I saw on my visit that, although from the higher level windows in the Gondar Gardens and Sarre Road houses the proposed development would be clearly visible, this effect would be counter-balanced by the enhanced breadth of the prospect as a whole at this level. I recognise the presence of the proposed development would vary from the many windows overlooking the land, but taking all these matters into account, I conclude in relation to this main issue that the proposed development would have a limited adverse effect on the character and appearance of the site and its surrounding area. It would thus conflict to a degree with the purpose of paragraph (a) in the first component of Policy CS15.

click for larger view

Para 24. The site was the subject of 30 ecological surveys in 2008-10, but was found to include only a low number of slow worms. There was agreement between the parties that the reservoir roof itself would not constitute a particularly attractive location for the species, but the south and east sides of the land are considered highly suitable. It was acknowledged at the inquiry that slow worms would readily travel between the site and adjacent gardens where they would be likely to find suitable features for hibernating, foraging and basking opportunities.

Para 28. …Subject to the implementation of an appropriate scheme and the regulation of access, I am unconvinced that the slow worms would be adversely affected by the scheme as a whole – rather the reverse.

Para 32. …On the basis of the evidence I have received in this case, for example, the surrounding domestic gardens appear to make a greater contribution to the nature conservation interest of the area than the reservoir roof – even though the former do not fall within the SINC and the latter does.

Para 33. …I consider the ecological interest of the site as a whole would be enhanced and improved and that in this respect the limited harm identified under the first main issue [character and apperance] would be outweighed.

Affordable housing
Para 45. I see little prospect that market housing on the land could ever be used to generate on-site affordable housing. I therefore conclude in relation to this issue that the appellant is justified in seeking to take advantage (by making a payment-in-lieu) of the exception included in Policy DP3 and paragraph 3.74 of The London Plan.

On the issue of the reservoir structure itself, the inspector says he considers “the debate over the condition of the structure to have been peripheral to the determination of the appeal.”

Much of the Section 106 agreements had already been settled, but it’s interesting to see the total sum the developers will have to stump up. This is in addition to the payment of £6.8 million in lieu of affordable housing, which the inspector agreed was not feasible on the site (it will now go towards housing elsewhere in the borough). And also in addition to the costs of looking after those slow worms!

£62,720 community facilities contribution
£261,184 education contribution
£68,610 public open space contribution
£38,777 highways contribution

In an e-mail to GARA memebers, chairman David Yass, who campaigned vigorously against the development, said “This comes as a huge disappointment”, while another member summed it up with “gutted.” GARA has undoubtedly helped improve the plan, and helped secure some significant conditions that should help minimise the impact of the development on local residents and wildlife, during and after construction.

Inside the reservoir

Residents’ weekend parking in Fortune Green?

Earlier in the summer, Camden held a consultation about parking in the borough, specifically around the Controlled Parking Zones (CPZs). The findings have been published, so what changes should we expect in West Hampstead and neighbouring areas?

The scope of the consultation was to “gauge opinion on issues relating to the size, days and hours of control of controlled parking zones (CPZs) as well as on the maximum hours of stay in pay and display bays.” It was not a consultation exercise asking for views about specific proposed changes, which will be dealt separately, it was more to test the water.

First up, size. Most respondents generally thought the CPZs were the right size so there are no plans to review this further.

Residents in zone CA-P, which covers a large part of West Hampstead and Fortune Green, generally believed the weekday hours were too short and there was some interest in extending/introducing Saturday and Sunday controls, particularly in CA-P(c) )(the north-western reaches of Fortune Green

Opinion was equally split on whether the existing pay and display arrangements were suitable borough-wide. Camden’s conclusion is that there is scope to look at specific arrangements in some areas with a view to simplifying arrangements, such as changing bays with a 3-hour maximum stay to 2 or 4 hours).

Any changes to parking arrangements in Fortune Green would not happen until 2013/14.

Neighbourhood Plan gets nearer

There was a great turnout last Monday for the West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum meeting, chaired by WHAT. There were slides, there were speeches, there was a bit of heckling – but was there any fruitful outcome?

This was a chance for the NDF to present its progress to the public, and for the public to get a better understanding from not just the NDF but also Camden and Urban Design London, a training and networking organisation, about what all this might mean. There was plenty of time for questions, and plenty of questions were asked!

I’m not going to recap the genesis of the NDF, as I’ve covered it at length before. The group has spent the past few months trying to find out what locals think about the area, and how they’d like to see it develop. It is perhaps worth reiterating that the resulting plans from NDFs cannot be anti-development per se.

There has been a survey into people’s views on architecture in the area, and a much more involved survey of locals’ thoughts, which is worth looking at to get a sense of the mood of the population.

All these findings, together with issues highlighted at meetings such as this one, will go into the draft plan. James Earl, chairman, wouldn’t be drawn on when that first plan might be ready – but we’re talking months rather than weeks down the track. Even then, there are plenty of hurdles to jump through, not least a referendum in which everyone living in the affected area can vote. A majority is needed for the plan to become a proper planning document.

The presentation from Urban Design London‘s Paul Lavelle was, for me, the most interesting of the night (it’s at the end of this article). Paul explained how NDPs could work. They are very new and although there are many plans being drafted throughout the country, none has yet come to fruition. He showed a few case studies of those that were relatively advanced to demonstrate their variety in scope. Some plans are effectively mini local plans, that cover everything a council would consider. Others are single-issue plans designed with one objective in mind.

It will be interesting to see where the scope of the West Hampstead & Fortune Green plan ends up. The major issues that people raise are the interchange area between the three stations (the streetscape, the development plans, and the physical interchange of people), and the preservation of West Hampstead’s “village feel”, along with the desire for more green spaces. Architecture also looms large in people’s consciousness. So, the plan could decide to focus very heavily on architecture and far less on service provision, for example. Perhaps at its heart this idea comes down to whether it’s a plan focusing on issues, or on sites. Or, ambitiously, both.

The final speaker was Virginia Berridge, chair of WHAT, who made a couple of excellent points. The first was that the plan had to look ahead – this is a plan that may well not be ready in time to tackle the immediate wave of development proposals for the area. She pointed out that demographic projections suggested that the area would see an increase in the proportion of over-65s and in the number of parents with teenage children. Ensuring that these groups were adequately catered for could, therefore, be a key part of a plan. This might take the form of guiding how Section 106 money (the money developers pay to the council to help offset the cost of more residents) was spent – e.g., on sheltered housing or youth centres.

Virginia also raised the question of whether West Hampstead wanted to be a “posh suburb” or a “mixed community”, and that the answer to this question might also guide the direction the plan took.

With that the floor was open. I won’t attempt to capture all the questions / statements that came up. Many of them were issues that have been voiced before and won’t be resolved by a plan like this. Perhaps the most predictable, and understandable, reaction was from those who questioned whether such a plan would have any impact whatsoever. “Wouldn’t Camden just carry on doing what it wanted”, was the gist of a few people’s arguments. Certainly, some of those who’ve been around the block a few times are somewhat cynical about what this plan could achieve.

James took the angle that it was better to be positive and try and have some influence than just sit back and say that everything was Camden’s fault. Not surprisngly, the councillors present (most of the WH and FG councillors seemed to be there), agreed. Flick Rea even saying that this if we didn’t take this step now we might look back in 10 years time and wonder why on earth we didn’t as West Hamsptead changed irrevocably around us.

Sue Measures, who runs Sidings Community Centre, and who’s certainly been involved in enough of these initiatives to be cynical, also argued passionately that this was an opportunity to build a “shared social vision”. I forget now whether it was Sue at a later point, or someone else, who said that we should “protect what made people come here in the first place”, which seems to me a good sentiment that does not have to be at odds with the inevitable intensification that the area is undergoing.

The issue of the borders came up (raised partly by me), notably the southern border, which is the contentious one. To briefly recap: the NDF is proposing that the southern West Hampstead ward boundary should be the southern boundary of the plan area. WHGARA, the residents assocation for the streets south of the tube line and west of West End Lane, which are within West Hampstead ward, has been saying that its members will have to vote on whether they want to be included or not. This vote was supposed to take place earlier this month, but didn’t. I had originally understood that Camden strongly encouraged NDFs to bring the residents associations on board. At the meeting however, the representative from Camden planning told us that the borders were up to residents to decide. So, it’s not entirely clear to me why a residents association gets to decide on this, unless it can genuinely claim to represent a majority of households within its area.

James pointed out, when he wasn’t being heckled, that no two people he’d spoken to could agree on where the southern boundary of the plan should lie. I can well believe that. My view is that the members of the forum should forget the ward boundaries, which do change over time, and simply agree on what to them seems a logical boundary based on the input they’ve received from all relevant groups. For me, the ward boundary is peculiarly arbitrary – based I assume on balancing ward populations rather than on any sense of where people identify with or any particular planning considerations.

The southern border of West Hampstead ward

In what became a slightly farcical attempt to gauge the mood of the room, we were first asked whether we felt that this area south-west of the tube lines was part of West Hampstead – overwhelmingly people thought it was – and then whether we thought it should be part of the local plan – a slightly smaller majority thought it should be.

Given that the interchange is perhaps the number one planning issue in the area it seems perverse for the area of the plan to be centred so far north. Those living immediately to the south (yes, that includes me), will be at least if not more affected by changes here as the good people of Fortune Green. We already know that the “area for intensification” is not “West Hampstead” as we tend to think of it, but specifically the land along the railway lines. This area has, to be blunt, been sacrificed by Camden to preserve the red brick houses and land to the north. Not that people living outside the plan area are disenfranchised in terms of having their say when planning applications are made that would still affect them, but they would not be given a vote in the referendum on the plan. 

What now? The NDF will press ahead with the application to Camden to recognise the Forum and the area (with an agreed boundary), and then start drafting the plan. Hopefully, to echo several voices in the room last week, quibbles over boundaries do not delay the overall process.

West Hampstead & Fortune Green Neighbourhood Development Forum presentation

Misty-eyed or hungry for change? West Hampstead speaks

Are West Hampstead locals “misty-eyed” about the past, or driving for progressive change?

Depends who you ask. A few months ago, the Neighbourhood Development Forum ran a survey1 to gauge people’s views on development in West Hampstead. It is interesting to see what common themes emerged, and where there were areas of discord. Interesting, and relevant, because it is responses to these surveys that will help inform the development plan that the Forum will draft.

First up, the tickbox questions (just the most interesting ones). Two answers stand out: the relative popularity of today’s mix of chains and independent shops (which shows a healthy streak of realism among whampers), and the fairly even split between housing, employment and shops when it comes to development priorities in the area. There seems to be an understanding of the need for housing, as long as it doesn’t involve high-rise.

Do you think West Hampstead has a “village feel”? Yes: 85%
No: 15%
Do you think West Hampstead has the right balance
of shops, restaurants and cafés?
Yes: 42%
No: 58%
Which are the most valuable on the high street? Independent shops: 56%
Chains: 1%
Both: 43%
Do you think that West Hampstead has the right balance
between old and new buildings?
Yes: 75%
No: 25%
What do you think should have the greatest priority
in developing our area?
Housing: 36%
Employment: 31%
Shops: 31%
Are you willing to accept more high-rise buildings to increase
the amount of housing in the area?
Yes: 25%
No: 75%

Why is housing such a big deal? The housing crisis is fairly well understood,but behind all the statistics are real people such as the person who wrote this in the survey:

I am renting. In the future I will likely move out of London as I can’t afford to buy here. Local and city-wide population is growing. More well designed mid-rises make sense! If you look at the area – it is dominated by beautiful mid-high density housing – the Edwardian mansion flats. Lets have our version of these now. That might be high rise but well done tower blocks, it might be something along the lines of modern mansion flats but on new pieces of land. There is a reasonable block on Kingdon road like this. New housing would not spoil the village atmosphere.

The qualitative research is also enlightening. There’s a lot of emphasis on preserving green space, but the reactions to housing are mixed with some dead against, some seeking infill, and others who argue that change is a good thing, even if that means high-rises. The divide is perhaps strongest between those who are against all development (which is like trying to stop the tide), and those who have a more realistic outlook to how development should proceed:

Organically in conjunction with local residents, but with an emphasis on progress and not a misty-eyed past.

Overall, responses to the six open-ended questions ranged from the insightful to the banal to the hilarious. And one person just wasn’t sure about anything at all. Some people listed the types of shops they wanted, others used the opportunity to rant at the council.

Someone very kindly said that they really liked what I did for the community, while someone else alluded to the “prejudices and hobby-horses of self-appointed busybodies and bloggers”, which I guess refers at least in part to me, though I’m not quite sure which prejudices I’m guilty of spreading.

I’ve included an edited selection of answers below to try and give you a sense of the issues raised. These aren’t all the responses, and even those that are included have sometimes been edited for brevity, clarity and to avoid too much repetition. Nor have I included answers that reference things that have since happened, such as the farmers’ market.

As always, your comments overall would be interesting to hear. I’ll be writing more in the next day or so about the progress of the NDF and the recent public meeting about it.

Q1. What would you like to see included in a Neighbourhood Development Plan for Fortune Green & West Hampstead?

  • More parks and green space (e.g. pocket parks, access to the land with trees along the railway lines along the O2 Centre) or improving existing spaces. More employment space (to support the weekday economy). Small rise office/workshop/studios.
  • Education re: litter, manners and neighbourliness.
  • New buildings are a good thing, as they reflect the changing nature of the area. They need to be sympathetic and well designed though.
  • Ideally, plan for building more houses owned by co-operatives / Peabody [Peabody Trust] etc../ shared ownership / as well as standard private buyers.
  • More trees and grass.
  • Width restriction for large articulated lorries that use west end lane like a motorway.
  • Building in keeping in colour of visible materials. Buildings not to exceed current height in area. New buildings not to encroach on busy pavements that are narrow. Not to obscure light and pedestrian space near train stations. Not to increase density any MORE – turning the village into urban sprawl.
  • Better community facilities such as a hall for meetings that does not cost a lot.
  • Maintaining and improving the area as a good place to do business, improve quality of life for residents but also ensure the area plays its part in providing more housing for the borough and London as a whole. In particular this means a progressive approach to promoting good-quality developments (including ‘high rise’ buildings); a more mainstream high street with a better mix of shops, restaurants and other business space – accessible by car as well as public transport;
  • The provision of allotments – ideally on Gondar Gardens reservoir site.
  • More shops – mostly idependent but a Boots would be great.
  • Restictions on refurbishment of Victorian houses including the introduction of new basements, loft extensions and paving over front gardens. Prioritize the building of affordable housing on existing brownfield sites. Stopping people selling off their back gardens to developers. Retaining Gondar Gardens reservoir as a protected open space.
  • More flexible shortterm parking to allow small local shopkeepers to be more successful. Daytime parking restrictions affect shops but not restaurants whose main business is in the evenings. Traffic controls through West Hampstead to slow down traffic and to encourage them to consider pedestrians. (20mph?) More play facilities for over 5s. Better street cleaning. Our side streets are filthy and much of it comes from overflowing bins outside properties. (Enforcement?).
  • Reduction in street signage.
  • High quality modern design and architecture should be promoted but should be in sympathy with neighbouring buildings. The promotion of public transport and pedestrian movement is important.
  • A coherent plan for street trees.
  • Allow more people to convert their front gardens to driveways. Create more parking spaces. Develop underground car parks. Reduce the parking limitation zones. Make it easier for people to drive to our area to support our shops without fear of parking limits or fines.
  • A small pond.
  • A limit to the height of buildings. A higher proportion of social housing than is usually offered currently by developers. Linked Section 106 agreements which would contribute towards extra school places.
  • Space/units for small businesses and start-ups. there are no spaces like this anywhere this side of London. especially for people who want to create/make; carpenters, mechanics, crafts etc. building plans for housing around West Hampstead are too large. If you accommodate these people, where do you think they will park cars – even if its just for unloading/taxis, etc. west end lane will be grid-locked. school: another school on the c11 route is not a good idea. have any of you ever tried to get on a c11 when children need to get to school? bigger bus and more of them pls.
  • More youth clubs, or whatever the modern equivalent is.
  • Not sure.

Q2. What are the things you like about the area?

  • Good transport links. Proximity to central London
  • The location – and community feel.
  • The trees. The cafés (even though there isn’t one that is truly great). The green. How you can walk down the street at 9pm any night and it feels relaxed, with people sitting outside, it feels safe and it feels authentic… The sense that it could change and new, interesting, friendly shops/cafés/bars/art places or anything could open at anytime.
  • The openness with few high rise buildings, the safety, the numerous facilities for children.
  • Village feel, transport, not pretentious, good mix of people.
  • The traditional architecture.
  • I like the fact that there is a good balance between long, mid and short term locals and age groups. It provides a balanced feel to the area and maintains the village-y feel without it becoming too cliquey.
  • I like the village feel which is rapidly disappearing. It used to be an area of artisans and that feeling has gone.
  • The self-contained village feel – the wonderful local police – good community relations – huge effort made by existing residents to welcome new residents. The little bits of green space – the good rail connections. The family homes and the fact that families and young children still come to this area to make a home and keep it vibrant. Our good schools.
  • The transport facilities. The village feel of Mill Lane, independent shops, diversity of people in the area.
  • I love the feel of West Hampstead (apart from the West End Lane ‘parking lot’).
  • People used to be friendly and neighbours used to know one another. This has changed with property being rented and the resulting moving population.  West Hampstead still has a village atmosphere but, parking is a problem here. Travel is excellent with the new and attractive station.
  • It has a quieter feel, not busy like Kilburn.

Q3. What are the things you like about your street?

  • It’s a main road with continuous traffic and a bus route, frequently snarled up with jams so there is not much to like.
  • People are friendly and helpful.
  • The trees The mansion blocks – high density housing done well! The synagogue building (though I’ve never been inside – would like to). Its proximity to West End Lane, but relative quiet. The style of houses. Its safety – I can walk along it and feel safe mostly.
  • It is very quiet and I can nearly always find a parking space.
  • I don’t as I live on Fortune Green Road and it’s like a motorway for huge lorries. I suppose I love the large trees the most as they so beautiful.
  • The cemetery, Nautilus.
  • A lot of people I have known for 45 years +
  • It is changing for the better.
  • I like a) the attractive and symmetric architecture and the relative absence of front dormers; b) the lack of people parking in their front gardens.
  • In my humble opinion one of the most attractive streets in London – and I love that it is a street you would be hard pushed to find outside of the capital!
  • The people. I hate the narrow, old and tatty pavements. There should NOT be any trees on Weech Road. Fortune Green is moments away and provides ample trees. The pavements are too narrow. REMOVE the trees. They’re not wanted and not needed.
  • Having a park and a Tescos!

Q4. What things would like to protect in your area?

  • Parks and open spaces. Independent shops. Employment.small businesses
  • Trees. A few years ago new trees were planted. Unfortunately they were the wrong type and some have now been replaced others have disappeared and the spaced filled with a concrete slab.
  • The independent shops/cafés/bars that are left… The trees / the green. Cafés and bars that allow people to sit on the street. The public transport.
  • Trees, fewer pointless duplicate lampposts.
  • Architecture and the property frontage, stopping estate agents signs, extend conservation areas. Improve and maintain green spaces including West End Green and Kilburn Grange.
  • Green spaces, such as they are.
  • The 2 red old BT phone boxes by fortune green and have them freshly painted.
  • The look and feel of the streets. Not allowing houses to lose their original design integrity.
  • Change is part of growth and development. Parks and open spaces should be protected.
  • More police.
  • I’m happy for some development but a more open discussion about the costs and benefits.
  • The tree lined roads. No more housing.
  • The park and all nearby beautiful architecture. Replace the cheap shoddy lamps with traditional lighting fitting for the Hampstead area, Repair/replace all pavements. This is not trivial. It makes walking for the elderly more dangerous. It also makes it dangerous for walking with babies in a pushchair. The uneven surfaces cause people to trip and hurt themselves.
  • Views. There are too many big trees. I’d like to see them pruned more strongly, and more often. I’m talking both Council street trees and huge trees at the bottoms of virtually all adjoining gardens in Parsifal Road. (It’s a problem now we’re in the West End Green conservation area.). And light, again the trees’ fault. I’d pass a law saying no tree branch should ever obscure the light from a street lamp.
  • Not sure.

Q5. How do you think the area should develop in the future?

  • It would be good if the area could be developed to encourage settling rather than transience by strengthening the sense of community, identity and belonging. There will always be movement but the loss of family homes in favour of studios/bedsits, cafés/ low quality food outlets replacing shops selling quality products is turning the area into a dormitory town with a clone high street.
  • West Hampstead is great, but shows its heritage. It needs to develop infrastructure and shops/restaurants: – a couple more pubs (better quality than the current dives) – why not a Wetherspoons? – decent sit-down ociali/thai restaurants – a proper fish and chip shop more central than Nautilus.
  • More houses / flats (not just for buy to let). I am renting. In the future I will likely move out of London as I can’t afford to buy here. Local and city-wide population is growing. More well designed midrises make sense! If you look at the area – it is dominated by beautiful mid-high density housing – the Edwardian mansion flats. Lets have our version of these now. That might be high rise but well done tower blocks, it might be something along the lines of modern mansion flats but on new pieces of land. There is a reasonable block on Kingdon road like this. New housing would not spoil the village atmosphere.
  • It should be more cycling friendly.
  • I think there should be a focus on developing small businesses within the area, both so that the immediate community is better served and feels less need to go outside of the area and also so that people from other areas are encouraged to visit and spend their money. Currently parking is a problem for visitors though and any removal of resident’s parking to facilitate visitor parking would be unwelcome as it would cause issues for the residents.
  • Tricky, it feels fairly dense already.
  • I think the area should look to develop and preserve its past and not rush into putting in more and more dwellings in every spare space. I’m not unaware of the problems of housing generally. However, if we increase dwellings and developments in the future, I believe we are building in social problems for the future.
  • A big notice board in the high street to keep everyone up to date.
  • Stop cramming thousands around the station. Have a thought for quality of life and safely of those using station.
  • It should evolve from the present with the emphasis on small scale housing renewal.
  • Better use needs to be made of the commercial areas we have in the area – parts of Fortune Green, Mill Lane and Broadhurst Gardens are having a difficult time sustaining local businesses.
  • Mixed developments including housing, shops, bars and public spaces. Better interchange between stations.
  • Very very slowly and not at all until all the isuess with schoosls, water, transport, cars, noise, power and healthcare have been resolved with the council.
  • Stop too many expensive private housing projects, introduce rent controls for private landlords, stop the selling off of the few remaining council owned properties and make the location accessible to ordinary people – we are being overwhelmed by rich people from the City who have no commitment to the area or social services.
  • There should be sensitive development to ensure that intensification of accommodation does not exacerbate problems with rubbish, parking and noise. The existing style of building should be maintained.
  • Give more prominence to the needs of children and young people who are not well provided for.
  • Organically in conjunction with local residents, but with an emphasis on progress and not a misty-eyed past.
  • I don’t think West Hampstead should be a museum. It has to make a contribution towards providing additonal housing but the focus should be on affordable housing not on piedàterres for the rich. I would like something about improving the traffic flow through the areas around the West Hampstead stations and would support a major development there provided the quality was appropriate.
  • I think we need to put housing on the agenda as it is only if more housing is built that prices will come down relatively and young people will have a chance to get their feet on the housing ladder.
  • The interchange area should be a gateway to the area that we could be proud of. That area provides an opportunity for high quality, high density housing which could take West Hampstead as a whole up a level. Planners should be relaxed about the possible amalgamation of retail units to attract more A1 multiples.
  • Yes, new housing but not so high to overwhelm present buildings. More space for short term parking for shops and more space for pedestrians. Awareness on how much sign/street furniture there is in the main streets.
  • Put railings in front of the West Hampstead Thameslink, People come off the train mobile in hand and walk straight out in front of cars and cyclist.
  • Less crime (robberies).
  • More emphasis on people’s gardens, some are left trashy.
  • Less cars – the pollution, dirt and smell from them is very off-putting and very un-villagey.
  • The area, especially along the high street has started to look run down over the past 4 years. Investment needs to be concentrated into reviving the high streets of West End Lane and Mill lane and creating a vibrant community for shopping, socialising and relaxing.

Q6. Where should new development in the area be located?

  • Wherever there is space. Its a pity that one-fifth of West Hampstead ward is currently a car park (O2 Centre). Maybe development could be built over the railway lines so they are all underground!
  • The area around the stations should be tidied up and redeveloped with commercial units. The triangular area between the railway lines should be conservatively redeveloped.
  • I don’t know if i’m honest, i’m not a town planner / have access to all the data. Depends what the new development is too but: Possibly… by the transport hubs. In South Hampstead as walking up to the tube seems less busy than down West End Lane. The overground there is dead, but its a great line. Wherever there is land that is not being loved. Not just new – how about using properties that are empty? There are a lot of them. Iverson road? Back of Homebase?
  • There are patches of poorly maintained housing, especially in Sumatra Road that could be redeveloped in an appealing way.
  • In Cricklewood!
  • I don’t know where or if any new development should be permitted.
  • Around the train tracks and on Blackburn Road perhaps, but I really don’t know where they will find the space for new development…
  • In car park of O2 centre or possibly in Barnet where they have more space.
  • Where there is poorly used space such as along Maygrove Road.
  • The areas around the railway lines are obviously underutilized and should be the focus of sensible development. The whole of Blackburn road could be better utilized with a redevelopment incorporating both residential and commercial facilities. I don’t think there should be too many restrictions in terms of redevelopment. The example of the new Emmanuel school and residential development on Fortune Green are good examples of what can be achieved on existing sites.
  • It shouldn’t. Unless rundown properties need to be pulled down. You have to be realistic when the best thing is no more major development otherwise the area becomes soulless and loses appeal.
  • That manky area near the station.
  • Somewhere in London that has the space and infrastructure.
  • Renovation and conversion of old buildings should be prioritised instead of new build. One exception is that I would love to see the Sagar Building [Alfred Court on Fortune Green] demolished as it has ruined everyone’s view and looks like a prison. It could be replaced with an attractive building that was in tune with the surroundings.
  • I think encouragement, possibly financial, could be given to home-owners under-occupying their own property to release part of their homes for letting/conversion.
  • The reservoir is the last remaining undeveloped green site and would be an ideal place for open space for children but has sat empty for years. There was a small play area there in the early 80s which was closed down. If agreement is given to residential development there then the planning gain needs to be better open space facilities for local people. Please no more gated communities.
  • The development area should be constrained to the interchange.
  • High quality architecture should be welcomed all over the area.
  • Spaced evenly – everywhere. Society develops. That’s life!
  • Not sure.

1There were 180 responses from people spread across the area, with a slight bias to the northern half. Some basic demographic questions helped assess how representative the sample was, and it turned out to be moderately in line with the data from the 2001 census 2001, although with a strong bias towards responses from owner-occupiers, older people and long-term residents, who probably are largely the same group.

Each dot marks approximate address of a respondent.
The border is that of West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards

Need a flatmate? Win a prize!

Here’s a good thing. Win vouchers at West Hampstead businesses simply by advertising for a flatmate.

Lots of you use Twitter as a way to find flatmates. You post a tweet and, as long as I see it, I RT it adding the #whampflat hashtag. You can see the most recent tweets on the website (you may not have known this).

Now we’re stepping this up a level, in conjunction with Apartli. Apartli’s a flatmate finding service run by ex-whamper (so you know it’s going to be great, right?) Simon, who some of you have probably met. He’s a very nice guy and Swiss, so what could go wrong?

What’s different about Apartli? It’s the first flatsharing website that allows users to find flatmates and flatshares through their friends by letting users sign in through Facebook. On registration, users can see if they know potential flatmates through a mutual friend. You don’t need to sign in in order to browse available flatshares though. Arranging viewings is easy. Users can see viewing times for each flat and request a viewing with the click of a button, removing the need to play message tag just to find a suitable time.

So, if you’ve got a room to rent in West Hampstead (and yes, this might be just across the border in NW3 or NW2) then place your ad for free on Apartli and the first 10 ads will receive a £10 voucher from local businesses including The Wet Fish Cafe, Mill Lane Bistro, The Gallery, Cocoa Bijoux, West End Lane Books and Feng Sushi (I’m afraid you can’t choose which voucher you get – it’ll be drawn at random, but c’mon – they’re all pretty decent right?).

To enter, publish a real West Hampstead flatshare ad on Apartli using the promo code WHAMPNW6.

  • A “real NW6 flatshare ad” means it is a real flat in West Hampstead, London that is really available and you are really the one looking for a real flatmate. For reals.
  • You can only enter once. How many flats do you have anyway?
  • The first 10 eligible real ad posters will win a £10 voucher for a local NW6 business. The voucher has no cash value and Apartli won’t exchange or substitute it for anything else.
  • Once your ad is published Apartli will review it for its eligibility and send you a email within two working days to notify you if you’ve won. If you’ve won, Apartli will ask for your address so your voucher can be mailed to you.
  • You need to have at least three photos.
  • Please read the full terms and conditions on Apartli’s website

Now post those ads!

    Disclaimer: I have no financial connection with Apartli, I’m just helping Simon kickstart the operation in this area because it helps solve a genuine issue people have. We are hoping to integrate Apartli into West Hampstead Life at some stage though.

      Democratic paradox south of the tube line

      The local Neighbourhood Development Forum (which is now on Twitter by the way), held its latest meeting last week. I just perused the minutes and was intrigued by a paradox of democracy.

      Walk with me.

      The NDF has to determine the precise boundaries for its local plan. Ward boundaries are not necessarily the solution, but at the moment they’re the easiest option and the NDF covers West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. This means that, for example, Broadhurst Gardens is not covered because it’s in Swiss Cottage ward.

      According to the minutes of September’s NDF meeting, WHGARA – the residents association for the streets between Lowfield Road, West End Lane, Hemstal and Sherriff Roads – has not yet decided whether to support the Forum, but would make its decision on October 9th. I have discussed before the psychological and physical divide felt by some, but not all, residents who live south of the tube line between them and the rest of West Hampstead.

      NDF members said they thought it would be hard for WHGARA to express its views on the development of the area, particularly the Interchange, if they excluded themselves from the Forum; WHGARA’s representative said she “thought the Forum was pro-development and didn’t have much support in the south of the West Hampstead area.”

      James Earl, the NDF chair, said that if WHGARA decided not to support the Forum, the southern boundary would probably move north to be the railway line.

      This raises a couple of issues. First, I’d like to see the evidence of the support or lack of for the Forum in the WHGARA area. My unproven hunch is that most people have probably never heard of it, let alone have a view on it. Second, although I accept that residents assocations generally represent their area, they are not necessarily representative of an area, so to my mind it seems odd that if an RA chooses not to support an initiative, this automatically means that area is excluded.

      But this is not the paradox.

      Keep walking with me.

      Later, the minutes explain that the October 22nd NDF meeting will be open to the public and run in conjunction with WHAT. “Members said it was important to invite and involve more people than ‘the usual suspects’. There was a desire for publicity to be at the new farmers’ market; in shops and local businesses; and at other public events. Suggestions for poster locations also included on trees; doctors’ surgeries; schools; nurseries; community centres; parks; and cafes.”

      Excellent – I wholeheartedly approve, and you can be sure I’ll mention it on here too. Now we come to the paradox. You live in the WHGARA area, but have never heard of it- or it’s not your thing perhaps. You’re browing the cauliflowers at the farmers’ market when you notice a flyer for a public meeting about shaping the future of West Hampstead. This sounds more interesting. You toddle along, but then find all too quickly that it will have no bearing on your immediate streetscape because some people you don’t know have decided not to support it.

      Moving beyond the usual suspects is surely the right thing to do – the process should be open to as many people as are interested. So why then, is something as important as the boundaries for the whole plan dependent on the powers that be at WHGARA? More bluntly: what sort of majority off what sort of turnout is needed at a WHGARA meeting to determine whether it’s a yay or a nay? Do leave a comment if you know the answer to this question.

      I would urge the NDF to stick to its guns and use the two ward boundaries as the basis for the plan. Even though I don’t think it’s perfect, I remain unconvinved that the lack of support of a residents association (should that be the eventual outcome) is enough reason to shrink the size of the area.

      And there’s the paradox. Democracy should be about opening up decision making to the people, but it’s also pragmatically about electing decision-makers and abiding by their rules. Yet at this hyperlocal scale, the two seem to have the potential to clash.

      You can stop walking now.

      Dispersal zone could be extended

      Tuesday’s meeting about the proposed West Hampstead dispersal zone was less “drop-in” and more “sit around a table” than I’d been led to believe. As a result, and because the door was locked when I arrived, I missed the start and thus (presumbaly) the set-up and the police’s perspective.

      Nevertheless, I was there to hear local residents voice a wide range of disgruntlements with both the council and the police.There was a strong sense that “something had to be done”, with anecdotes of long-standing anti-social behaviour. There was also a recognition that the underlying problems wouldn’t be solved by simply moving people on, but the idea of this short-term measure was broadly welcomed with caveats around appropriate resourcing.

      The main problem the police want to deal with is gang activity on the Lithos Road estate, and they see the dispersal zone as a useful tool to help them. The challenge is that dispersal zones often just shift the problem across the border, wherever that border might be. They are also extremely subjective – any group of young people can be dispersed at the whim of the police and are not allowed to return within 24 hours.

      Lets take Broadhurst Gardens as an example – the whole road is included in the proposed zone. A group of 22-year-old bankers drinking outside The Gallery could be very noisy, and potentially anti-social. Down the other end of the road by the Broadfield Estate, a group of 18-year-olds could be hanging out one evening with not much else to do, just chatting and with no intention of causing trouble. Which group is more likely to be dispersed?

      There appeared to be a strong push to extend the zone across West End Lane to include the Thameslink station – this ended up being stretched to the Maygrove Road/Iverson Road junction including Medley Road.

      The blue lines mark the proposed extension

      Ultimately, most people seemed to say they supported the zone only if it was extended as described above. Camden’s Michael Hrycak (a Senior Community Safety Officer) explained that extending the zone would delay the process as people living in that area would then need to be consulted. Cllr John Bryant pointed out that there wasn’t much point having a consultation meeting if the input was going to be ignored. It’s not entirely clear how this will proceed – quite possibly by the original zone being put in force and the extension being considered when the zone is reviewed after six weeks or so.

      Such reviews are mandatory for dispersal zones. They can lead to prolonged periods of enforcement (a few years for example), or the review might conclude that the impact is negligible or that the problem has been solved. There’s also an issue in that anti-social behaviour tends to be worse in the summer when longer days and warmer nights encourages people to be out later. So, a reduction in ASB may be ascribed to a successful dispersal zone, when it could just be a function of rainy weather and chilly nights.

      As soon as I hear more about the implementation of the zone, I’ll report back.

      Move along please – nothing to see here

      Early Tuesday evening, there’s a drop-in consultation meeting about whether a dispersal zone should be implemented in part of West Hampstead. Whether you’re an arch libertarian or in the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade (or perhaps somewhere inbetween), this is your chance to get your views across.

      The idea is to “specifically target the problem of Anti Social Behaviour by youths and related incidents including large scale fights involving weapons, assaults, robbery, drinking alcohol and the use of drugs within the areas highlighted above. It is further aimed at targeting Anti Social Behaviour by groups associated with controlled drug offences on the West Hampstead Ward”

      What’s a dispersal zone? Here’s the definition from Local Government.

      A dispersal order will provide the police with additional powers to disperse groups of two or more people where the officer has reasonable grounds for believing that their presence or behaviour has resulted, or is likely to result, in a member of the public being harassed, intimidated, alarmed or distressed. Once asked to disperse, it will be a criminal offence for that person to return to the dispersal area for a 24-hour period.
      If a young person under the age of 16 is stopped in the area after 9.00 pm and is not accompanied by an adult, the police can escort them to their home address, if they are either:

      • at risk or vulnerable from anti-social behaviour or crime
      • causing, or at risk of causing, anti-social behaviour.

      A dispersal zone can be as small as the area surrounding a cash point or as large as an entire open area of a housing estate or row of shops. Once a dispersal order is in place, the escort power can be used against any under-16, but it does not necessarily have to be used at all.

      Camden police’s West Hampstead crime map for July 2012 isn’t online yet, but I’ve taken a look back over the past few months to see how many anti-social behaviour crimes have been recorded within the proposed dispersal zone. I also looked back at June 2011.

      June 2012 – 35 ASB offences
      May 2012 – 27 ASB offences
      April 2012 – 42 ASB offences
      March 2012 – 28 ASB offences
      June 2011 – 16 ASB offences

      Such a short time series isn’t that meaningful, although the fact that of these five months, June 2011 was the quietest might suggest that the problem is indeed getting worse although as you can see from both March and April these stats can be skewed by a couple of larger incidents. A dispersal zone was recently put in place the Brent side of Kilburn, and there was one around Swiss Cottage that was renewed several times.

      Not everyone agrees with the principle of dispersal zones. Aside from the fact that they can simply push the problem elsewhere, their detractors also argue that they infringe people’s rights. A group of young people hanging out on a street corner are not necessarily intent on causing trouble they may just be hanging out, and perhaps have nowhere else to go. The police of course argue that it makes their job easier.

      If you’re interested in learning more about why this dispersal zone is being proposed, or want to have your say, then the meeting is Tuesday 28th August 17.45-19.00 at Hampstead District Housing Office, 156 West End Lane.

      Farmers’ market moooves closer

      The saga of West Hampstead’s farmers’ market has been more like a storyline from The Archers of late. Will it/won’t it/Has Nigel Pargeter fallen off the roof?

      Then today a cow appeared. Not a real cow obviously, but a painted one. It’s standing next to the Mr Whippy van and the hot dog stand, so probably just as well it’s not a real one. It’s announcing that the Farmers’ Market will open on September 22nd.

      The LFM website confirms that the market will be every Saturday from 10am to 2pm. In early September the organisers will announce who’s going to open the market. In the meantime, LFM is still looking for a manager for the West Hampstead market if you’re interested!

      Tom checks out Babur Empire

      What to eat on a very warm, sticky, humid evening? A refreshing, chilled summer soup? A Greek salad? Some ice-cream? (errm, yes, actually..)

      Or alternatively….a nice, hot, spicy curry!

      Having enjoyed several deliveries from the excellent Tiffin Tin on Mill Lane recently, I decided on a more traditional style for my latest banquet and it was a good chance to check up on Babur Empire (also Mill Lane) following its recent change in management.

      Although a king prawn rogan josh isn’t on the menu, I know from experience that they’re happy to knock one up if requested, so I went for this old favourite, along with a saag aloo and a roti bread.

      My dinner arrived quickly, which was good, as I get very irritable if I sense a driver’s got lost and, as ever, it was delivered with the friendliness that I’m used to from these fine gentlemen.

      Pleased to report…delicious food! As I’ve often said, if an establishment treats prawns with respect, it is often indicative of overall standards – and these were good prawns, lightly cooked, in a rich, buttery, tomatoey sauce. (Not sure why, but I love the word “tomatoey”. It is how tomatoes would describe themselves, if they could speak). There was an appropriate heat to the dish, perhaps less so than last time, but kind of there in the background in a pleasing way; and the flavours were rounded and bold – possibly the best rogan josh I’ve had from Babur.

      Now, side orders can be a little predictable with traditional Indian food, can’t they? Not that this is a problem, but it should be pointed out here that my saag aloo was also particularly flavoursome. Really well-seasoned and balanced – it matched up well to the main dish. Adding to the fun was a decent roti bread, which I enthusiastically used to scoop up excess sauce. Tomatoey sauce.

      Although a Pinot Noir doesn’t seem immediately suitable to accompany such cuisine, the one I was guzzling on this occasion worked out OK, partly due to its character and edge. From the Casablanca Valley in Chile, a somewhat unusual and fascinating wine, which gradually grew on me when I used to drink it very regularly indeed in La Brocca. Earthy, savoury, a touch of herbs, and other things which I’m too stupid to pick out properly. A few months back, I asked some locals sitting at the bar why this wine was no longer available? “You’ve drunk it all”, a lady casually replied.

      To sum up then; whilst I love the modern, rather refined dishes of places liked Tiffin Tin and Holy Cow, I also remain very fond of the more old-school curries and their familiar, indulgent style. If you too enjoy the latter, do try Babur sometime. Heartwarming, satisfying food from a long-established local restaurant. And an excellent excuse, (as if we need one!), to experiment with wine and food matching. 

      Farmers’ market – it’s official

      London Farmers’ Markets has added West Hampstead to its list of markets. The market, which will be outside the new Thameslink station, opens on September 22nd and every Saturday after that. There isn’t much detail yet on what the stalls will be.

      UPDATE Aug 7th : the West Hampstead page has been removed from LFM’s website. Find out why:

      London Farmers’ Market is the organisation that operates the only accredited farmers’ markets in London (they are accredited by the National Farmers’ Retail & Markets Association (FARMA)). Its producers come from within 100 miles of the M25 and they must raise, grow or bake everything they sell.

      I’ve been reporting on the evolution of this market for a few months now. The response has generally been positive, with a few sceptics and grumblers thrown in for good measure. Interestingly, LFM claims that farmers markets increase footfall and increase trade for local businesses by as much as 20–30 percent.

      Highbrow day out

      It was flattering to be asked by The Guardian to write an article for its travel website about my “perfect day out” in north-west London. This forms part of a series of similar pieces written by other London writers and bloggers.

      It was an interesting exercise thinking about the highlights of our part of London. I tried to avoid some of the most obvious attractions and was pleased to be able to plug my personal Hampstead highlight:

      Completing my Hampstead tour is one of my favourite north-west London museums: 2 Willow Road was the home of architect (and arch-villain, in the eyes of local resident Ian Fleming) Erno Goldfinger. Like any architect worth his salt, Goldfinger designed his own home, which meant knocking down some cottages that Fleming apparently liked. Goldfinger (you can’t say it without bursting into a bit of Shirley Bassey, right?) also designed pretty much everything inside the house too. It’s a modernist’s wet dream and worth doing the guided tour to appreciate all the details.

      I was amused to see that the paper has billed the article as a “highbrow day out”, which is largely because they asked me not to list a load of restaurants and cafés, which apparently some other contributors had done. Ironic then, that one of the few eating places I plugged – Ammis Curry – closed between my submission and publication. Shame.

      Have a read of the article, and see whether there’s anything you’d have added (bearing in mind that it’s quite a packed day already!).

      On a separate issue, it would have been nice to have been paid for this – especially given the length, and the fact that I do write for a living – but I was willing to forgo the cash this time in the cause of NW London boosterism.

      Klooks Kleek and Decca: help needed

      Local historians Dick Weindling and Marianne Colloms are writing a book about the history of Klooks Kleek, a jazz and blues club which ran at the Railway Hotel, West Hampstead, from 1961 to 1970. The book will also look at the history of Decca Studios which was in Broadhurst Gardens until 1980.

      If you worked at Decca, or have any memories or stories about KK which they could use in book please email Dick at,

      In the meantime, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, do read my quick rundown of West Hampstead’s musical heritage.

      Driving’s hard enough, says CRASH

      Back in October last year, Camden asked locals what they thought of some changes to our streets. The most controversial was the provision of “cycle permeability“. In other words, allowing cyclists to pedal the wrong way up one-way streets. Not all one-way streets were included; some, such as Broadhurst Gardens, were considered unsuitable. But many of the quieter residential streets, especially around the Gardens area of South Hampstead were part of the plans.

      There were 76 replies to the consultation [pdf], 21 positive, 37 netural and 18 objections. Camden made a couple of tweaks to the plans, but otherwise decided to go ahead. Fairhazel Gardens has had such a system in place for more than 10 years, so one assumes that both the council and cycling lobby groups have sufficient data to make meaningful recommendations. Indeed, looking at a map of pedestrian and cyclist accidents in London from 2000-2010, there wasn’t a single reported bike accident (or pedestrian accident) on Fairhazel Gardens during that period.

      Fairhazel Gardens has had contraflow cycling for years

      However, South Hampstead Residents’ Association (appropriately, in this case, named CRASH) is not happy. At this late stage, it is appealing for people to write to Camden expressing their horror at this scheme. Their argument is that it is unsafe for cyclists and other road users (the scheme was initially proposed [pdf] by Camden Cyclists). Crash’s argument includes this gem of a debating point (original emphasis):

      “You will not only have to keep an eye on your rear mirror and side mirror for cyclists on your left, as usual, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, look forwards and in your right hand mirror for a cyclist on your right”

      Imagine having to look forward when driving!

      In other words, drivers would have to behave as they would on a normal road – checking both side mirrors and their rear-view mirror, as well as keeping an eye on the road ahead. Or as they have been doing on one-way stretches of Fairhazel Gardens for many years already.

      Is there a safety risk? Well, cars should be driving slowly anyway on these residential streets. It’s also up to cyclists to ride responsibly and err on the side of caution (and use lights when it’s dark). But to my mind it doesn’t seem to be beyond the wit of man to accommdate such a thing, even if drivers do occasionally have to look in the direction they’re going.

      Will West Hampstead get free WiFi?

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

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

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

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

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

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

      The contract is expected to be awarded in February 2013.

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

      Camden Cabinet Meeting July 18 2012 Notes on Wireless Provision

      Love it or loathe it?

      At the Jester Festival a couple of weeks back arguably the most interesting stall was a rather low-key affair. When I walked past it was manned by James Earl, chair of the Neighbourhood Development Forum. On his table were a set of photos of local building and spaces and a sheet against each one for a “love it” “hate it ” or “no comment” tick. West Hampstead being West Hampstead, some people of course wanted to write a few words as well – even in the “no comment” box.

      The idea of all this was to get a sense of what sort of developments people felt were appropriate for the area as James and the rest of the NDF begin to draw up the Neighbourhood Development Plan.

      The results are interesting, not least because they don’t always show a consensus, which is both encouraging (diversity of opinions is generally good) and worrying (how will locals ever agree on what we want). I’ve ranked them below are in descending order of “love” votes (which does not correlate exactly with the number of “hate” votes – Emmanuel School’s new building in particular was vehemently despised by many, but still attracted a fair number of “love” votes).

      I’ve included most of the comments. I’m not sure how I feel about the vitriol with which some people want to pull down buildings in which other people live. Overall, there’s a clear sense that everyone likes the traditional architecture of the area, while the rather monolithic structures such as the Travis Perkins building are almost universally loathed. This building is owned by Camden and is up for redevelopment in the not too distant future, so you shouldn’t have to look at it for too much longer – nevertheless, I await the outcry over the proposed redevelopment.

      People are much more divided over the smaller-scale modern buildings – some appreciating their design aesthetic, others seeming to claim that anything with a more bauhaus feel is automatically ugly. Of course many modern buildings, although offering less living space, are often far more environmentally friendly than the large high-ceilinged Victorian and Edwardian mansion blocks and homes that dominate the area.

      James decided not to include the artist’s impressions of the 187-199 West End Lane development, with its set of tower blocks or the student accommodation that’s under construction down Blackburn Road at the moment. I think everyone who cared has probably expressed their view on the former, while the latter seemed to pass relatively unnoticed, despite being of a similar height.

      There are still a couple of days left to fill in James’s survey about the local area, and it’s well worth doing as this will help inform the Development Plan, which is being drafted as we speak.

      Ok, on with the results…. I’m sure you’ll have your own comments to add at the end.

      Mill Lane Shops
      Love: 118 Need more; Hooray, lovely, more like this on Fortune Green Rd please
      No comment: 3
      Hate: 0
      Library seating
      Love: 101 Good but should have been 3 or 4 separate benches; nice; very nice; excellent
      No comment: 9 No cleaning provided, now a rubbish dump, but an improvement; waste of money during a recession; Money donated by private donor; waste of money improvement
      Hate: 1 Should have spent it on books
      New Thameslink station
      Love: 86 Very nice; great design; modern – nice; great new street scene; need benches please; longer to get to but looks nice; we should use the space for a weekly market
      No comment: 3Could have been more creative in using the space inside and outside; how about some seats; looks ok; need benches
      Hate: 4 Lighting not good at night
      View down Hillfield Road
      Love: 79 Gorgeous
      No comment: 8 Beautiful; shame about the estate agent’s board; ok
      Hate: 2
      West End Green area
      Love: 76 Gorgeous
      No comment: 3 A mess, should be improved for the community; dull paving; too much dog poo; the green needs doing up
      Hate: 4 pigeons
      Leafy Solent Road
      Love: 73 Gorgeous
      No comment: 2 OK
      Hate: 3 too many cars
      New houses on Mill Lane
      Love: 66 Very nice; sustainable
      No comment: 10 Ok; great; clean design; nice design but extortionate for the size of the houses; very small, very expensive
      Hate: 37 Should have had front gardens not drives; ugly; does not fit in with environment
      Extra floor added to mansion block
      Love: 51 Blends; ok; well done; very good
      No comment: 21 Didn’t know it had been done; didn’t notice; it goes with existing building
      Hate: 3
      Mill Apartments (under construction)
      Love: 39 Blends in well
      No comment: 13 Ok; not sure; average
      Hate: 11 too tall
      Infill house on Ravenshaw St.
      Love: 36 Love it; great; lovely; very good
      No comment: 17 not bad; half-good half-bad; brick fits in, windows ok, maybe juts out too much; why white?
      Hate: 18 poor; not in keeping; too modern for the street
      Zero-carbon house on Ranulf Rd
      Love: 25
      No comment: 18 Nice, but how sustainable is the wood? Interesting
      Hate: 24 ugly; took up too much road and pavement on a blind corner
      Emmanuel School
      Love: 35 Colour of bricks will stand test of time; needed regardless of appearance; well proportioned, well detailed; not bad; not love but it’s pretty good; very good; great design
      No comment: 16 Not sure about purple bricks; brickwork rather dark; brickwork wrong, design ok; why were red bricks not used; great it’s extended but bad design
      Hate: 51 Don’t like dismal grey brick; no red bricks; too near street; ugly; grey; frontage too far out, too high; out of character; disgusting brickwork; looks like architect’s office in Berlin; shame on you Camden; industrial building
      Flats on Kingdon Rd
      Love: 19
      No comment: 17 Does not go with red brick
      Hate: 57 Too high
      New houses on Gondar Gardens
      Love: 16 Ok here; quite nice look and good-sized windows; successful infill
      No comment: 11Ok some issues with brick; wrong design does not match the surroundings
      Hate: 64 looks like an industrial building not a home; ugly; too much grey
      New house on Mill Lane
      Love: 10
      No comment: 8
      Hate: 54 Awful; ugly; not in keeping; poor; urgh; terrible eyesore
      Office conversion on Sumatra Rd
      Love: 9
      No comment: 18 Ok
      Hate: 29 ugly; more trees; shockingly ugly and cheap looking
      Ellerton Tower on Mill Lane
      Love: 7 Classic Sydney Cook era architecture; looks like a giant snail but it is monumental; love it, from the inside top floor
      No comment: 7 Don’t like it; monster ugly
      Hate: 78 Hideous knock it down please; vile; demolish now!
      Paved-over gardens
      Love: 6 who cares; none of our business
      No comment: 28 Ok; nice garden to sit in
      Hate: 34 environmentally unsound; shame!; ok; bad for foundations; awful; nasty; too much run off
      New building in Maygrove Rd
      Love: 5 
      No comment: 8 good functionality; very poor exterior design; low brick wall is security risk for residents
      Hate: 33 needs trees; front looks life office building
      Buldings on Maygrove Rd
      Love: 2
      No comment: 13 Ok
      Hate: 32
      Travis Perkins building
      Love: 2
      No comment: 8 Rather indifferent
      Hate: 74 Demolish; horrible desing; height

      Olympic Travel Part II: How to move around London

      I’ve had my whinge about TfL’s model not showing West Hampstead as a hotspot. Now for some more practical advice about travel during the Games. If you are going to an event, I’m sure you’ve already worked out your strategy. I’d recommend the Overground to the Olympic Park, but the Javelin back from Stratford to Kings Cross and then tube or Thameslink home. It’s also less than a 3hr walk from West Hampstead to the stadium if you feel like the exercise.

      Tube ¦ Overground ¦ Bus ¦ Rail ¦ Roads ¦ Bikes ¦ Stats

      The Jubilee Line will be exceptionally busy pretty much all the time and is, frankly, going to be best avoided if possible. It’s estimated that 80 percent of all spectators attending Greater London venues will travel by rail, including the Tube.

      Here’s what GAOTG says:

      “Busiest Section: Bond Street to Stratford
      Most affected: Weekdays 7-9.30am eastbound and 4-7.30pm both directions, and from 10pm until last train
      Other stations on the Jubilee Line will also be busier than usual at certain times.

      • If possible, try to complete your travel either before 7.30am or after 9.30am or before 4pm or after 7.30pm on weekdays.
      • During the Games, you might find it quicker to travel using a different route to normal or using an alternative station.
      • At busy times, passengers are advised to avoid changing lines at London Bridge, Canada Water, Green Park or Bond Street.”

      As always, GAOTG directs you to its funky hotspot map, with a slider so you can see where the busiest stations will be on each day of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

      Friday August 3rd is going to be busy!

      Services will generally start between 5-5.30am, but on Sundays they will start 30-45 minutes earlier than usual, at around 6.30am. This will vary by line and station.

      The Tube and DLR will run around 60 minutes later than normal on all days. Last trains from central London will leave around 1.30am.

      There’ll be extra evening services on the Jubilee, Central and District lines and more trains running in the late evening from Friday 3 August, when events start at the Olympic Stadium.

      On certain days and at certain times of day during the Games, some stations will operate differently. Measures may include entry or exit only at some stations, one-way movement within the station or station closures at stations where capacity is not high enough to deal with the demand. These changes will be signed within the affected stations in advance.

      On the Bakerloo, expect a lot more people especially when Wembley is in use. Baker Street station will inevitably be very busy as a major interchange.

      The Met Line will also be exceptionally busy when Wembley is in use, and Finchley Road is another hotspot station.


      Despite being a direct route to the Olympic Park, our stretch of the Overground has not been singled out as being a major bottleneck, although it will – like everywhere else – be busier than normal. Highbury & Islington in particular will be a busy interchange station.


      Buses will run more frequently on many routes to cater for the additional passengers. However, some bus services will need to be temporarily diverted and some stops moved or suspended as a result of the road changes that will be in place.

      Thankfully, our local bus routes are barely affected. The good ol’ C11 doesn’t even get a mention in TfL’s 86-page bus route report. The archery at Lords shouldn’t affect the 139, although it is likely to be slow going down Abbey Road/Lisson Grove, as it is when there’s a test match on. The 139 and 189 will also be allowed to turn right off Oxford Street onto Portman Square even though that little stretch is a Games Vehicles only route.

      139: On Sunday 5th and Sunday 12th August, and Sunday 9th September, the 139 will terminate at Haymarket because of the marathons. This will be in place until Trafalgar Square reopens.

      328: During the men’s and women’s road race (July 28th and 29th), the southbound 328 will terminate at the top of Earl’s Court Road, just off Kensington High Street. This will be in effect all day apparently. Initially, there had been plans to increase the frequency of the 328 generally to service Earls Court, but this is now believed to be unnecessary.

      The 328 will terminate in West Kensington during the road races

      Those of you who head up the Finchley Road, take note of two changes
      113: At Marble Arch, the last stop and stand will be on Orchard Street as the Cumberland Gate bus stand will not be available from 20 July-15 August inclusive.

      N113: Restrictions on Whitehall require amendments to out of service turning movements. From Cockspur Street, buses will run via Whitehall and Whitehall Place to stand on Northumberland Avenue and will return directly to Cockspur Street and the line of route. Expected to apply 20 July-15 August inclusive


      National Rail services from London will operate later than normal. Last trains to locations within two to three hours of London will typically leave between midnight and 01:00. National Rail will also run longer and/or more frequent trains to and from most venue stations when events are taking place. Remember that Kings Cross St Pancras will be exceptionally busy as that’s where the Javelin trains to Stratford run to/from, and this will be one of the major routes people take to the Olympic Park. Expect lengthy queues.

      Here’s what First Capital Connect says about Thameslink:

      Trains already run throughout the night from Sunday to Friday on the Thameslink route so we have lengthened 34 of these per week out of London and added one new service on a Saturday night to get people home.

      At the weekend we have also doubled in length the majority of our services that run between Wimbledon/Sutton and St Albans/Luton, as well as our Sunday services between East Croydon and Bedford. We have also extended four Sunday services beyond London to Bedford and Brighton.

      We have ramped up train fleet maintenance at our depots to provide the extra services and we have cancelled all driver-training during the 2012 Games. We have special plans for the busiest stations we manage where there may be queueing systems. We’ll have over 1,000 additional shifts for customer facing roles. We have also increased our cleaning contract by 175 hours a day.

      Oyster users will be charged only the minimum fare if they can’t touch out because of altered station arrangements.

      Below are the estimated busy/very busy/extremely busy predictions for Thameslink trains in and out of London (click for full size).

      Thameslink heading north out of London
      Thameslink heading south into London


      The Olympic Route Network doesn’t really affect us very much. Obviously any attempt to drive into central London means running into issues, but in our bit of NW London, the only issues are around Lords and Wembley, and in neither case is there anything too drastic to worry about. The ORN comes into place on Wednesday and runs right through to August 14th. Normal traffic can use the vast majority of the ORN, although there will be temporary changes such as suspended turns, stopping and loading restrictions, and traffic signal timing alterations. Stopping or parking on the ORN will result in a £130 penalty charge and your vehicle may be towed away.

      These two maps and a reasonably good video give you some idea of what to expect.

      Changes around Lord’s (venue for archery)
      Changes around Wembley Stadium



      Cycling around London may well be one of the best ways of getting around. Just one thing to note though – many of the central London Boris Bike hire stands will be suspended during the Games.


      And finally
      A few stats from TfL on what London is going to be coping with (and a pretty map showing numbers of spectators on Sunday August 5th)

      Sunday 5th (click for full size)

      Up to one million extra visitors are expected in London every day during the Games. They will make an additional three million journeys, over and above the regular 12 million journeys made on public transport

      During each of the 16 days of the 2012 Games, London will be transport an average of 500,000 spectators and around 55,000 members of the Games Family each day, including athletes and team officials, technical officials, press and broadcasting teams, Olympic and Paralympic families, and marketing partners.

      Around 800,000 tickets are available on the busiest days (Friday 3 August for the transport network, although overall more tickets are available on Saturday 4 August) – 510,000 of which will be for London-­based venues.

      Live long and prosper – move out of NW6

      Maps have always been a powerful way of highlighting London’s social inequalities (Charles Booth‘s and John Snow‘s are the most iconic examples of this) and they continue to show how the richest and poorest Londoners often live side by side.


      The latest map from UCL’s Spatial Analysis team overlays two sets of data – life expectancy and child poverty. The team wanted to see whether the adage held true that a year in life expectancy is lost for every station eastbound on the Jubilee Line between Westminster and Canning Town.

      You can read the full article for the methodology, or click the map for the full view of London, but lets look briefly at the findings locally.

      People living within 200 metres of both TfL’s West Hampstead stations have a life expectancy of 81. This is pretty much bang on the national average (which is 78 for men and 82 for women) but lower than our neighbours to the south on the Jubilee Line, to the west on the overground and Bakerloo, and on a par with that in Kilburn.

      It’s not especially surprising that wealthy St John’s Wood (83) or Maida Vale (86) have higher life expectancies. In fact the borough of Westminster has the second highest life expectancy in the country, but perhaps marginally surprising that West Hampstead fares as well (or as badly) as Kilburn Park or Kilburn High Road. If we look at the Guardian’s deprivation map from April this year, we can see that the West Hampstead stations are marginally better off than Kilburn’s stations, and the child poverty data above tallies with that. So, why the discrepancy?

      Frankly, that’s not the right question to be asking. This sort of mapped analysis is not intended to be a perfect reflection of the reality on the ground. Mapping is all about scale, and this London life expectancy map is best seen as a way to see general changes along tube lines, where the trends are very clear. There is, for example, an astonishing 21-year difference between the shortest (75.3) and longest (96.4) life expectancies. However, when you see that the longest life expectancy is for Oxford Circus and think how many people live within 200 metres of that tube station, you begin to see the challenge of trying to derive meaningful insights from individual data points. This doesn’t detract from the fact that there are large discrepancies, most notably from west to east – this is even more visible when you look at the child poverty data.

      You may think this is old news, but as a way to bring to life the concept not just of deprivation but of disparity, maps are surprisingly powerful. Take a look at the routes you regularly use to get around London, and next time you whoosh through the city (or, more pertinently, go to the Olympic Park) on a tube train, have a think about the areas you’re passing through out of sight. Maybe also have a think about whether a child born in east London deserves a lower life expectancy just because of where their parents live.

      Business network holds open brunch

      The Community Association for West Hampstead is holding a “Business brunch” the morning of August 3rd at the Dornfell St community centre. It’s free to come along and you can just turn up. Should be a great opportunity to make some business contacts, schmooze a little, and get your morning dose of coffee all in one.

      Have your say on local planning

      If youv’e been following the birth of the Neighbourhood Development Forum, then you’ll know that the next step is to start putting together the actual plan. This is a document that will, unlike Camden’s Place Shaping document, have actual statutory powers. It must, however, be coherent will all other planning frameworks, which is basically a posh way of saying that it can’t be anti-development.

      If you were at the Jester Festival, you may have seen the NDF stall, where chair James Earl was asking people to say what they thought of various developments and buildings. When I swung by on Sunday afternoon it was noticeable that views were very mixed. Such diversity is good, I would argue, but it also means that if you don’t take an active role in helping to shape West Hampstead’s future, then you risk leaving it to people with diametrically opposed views to your own.

      To this end, can I suggest you fill in this survey about the area, and have a think about what to say in the open questions section so that when the plan is being devised it can truly reflect the viewpoints of the community and not just the few people who always fill in such forms.

      West Hampstead’s Olympicks

      No, no spelling mistake here. On Wednesday evening I joined about 40 other locals at West End Lane Books to hear local author and historian Simon Inglis and University of Southampton academic Martin Polley talk about the history of the Olympics in the UK. Polley’s book “The British Olympics: Britain’s Olympic Heritage 1612-2012“.

      Local actor Paul Brightwell added a dramatic touch and theatrical timbre as he read out extracts from some of the early marketing literature for local variants of the Olympics. This included West Hampstead’s very own contribution to the story around the end of the 18th century when a fair was held on West End Green, sponsored by the Cock & Hoop pub, which stood where Alexandra Mansions is now.

      Simon and Martin explained the political and social context in which local communities held what would today be termed “Village Games” using the Olympick banner largely tongue in cheek.

      You really should buy Martin’s excellent book (from West End Lane Books of course) for the full story. I really recommend it – I went to this talk expecting to find it mildly interesting, but in fact it was very engaging indeed.

      Sadly, West Hampstead’s part in the story came to light too late to make the book. But fear not, there will be more on the West End Green Games coming out later this year, and I’m hoping that Simon will be writing something about this for West Hampstead Life in the very near future.

      Tom does the maths at Spiga and Small & Beautiful

      E=MC2. No – I’ve never really understood it either. And anyway, eating and drinking is much more fun than algebra. With that in mind, it’s time for a couple of shout-outs to two NW6 eateries which seem to consistently get their calculations right. First off, Spiga. We’re lucky with Italian food here; we have La Smorfia, Hidden Treasure and Sarracino, all offering a different vibe and style, whether pizza, pasta, or something else. There’s “J” and Pizza Express too, come to think of it, and La Brocca also does a mean pizza.

      At my recent outing to Spiga I dived straight in with the bresaola to start with. I had a feeling this would be a winner and indeed it was. A vibrant and appetising crimson colour, generous portion size, and the blend of wild mushrooms, Parmesan shavings and rocket it was served on really made for an enticing starter. Continuing the theme, I rather greedily had a main of gnocchi with more wild mushrooms, and a Gorgonzola sauce. Here we go, my kind of food! Big, satisfying, bold….so much going on! The warmest of service (as ever), and plenty of good wine, added to my now jovial frame of mind. It’s not difficult to see why Spiga has quickly become such a success, especially when you find it’s not as expensive as you might have expected.

      Fast forward a couple of weeks, and the good value experienced at Spiga left me with some loose change with which to pop into Small & Beautiful in Kilburn, for a nice, relaxing late dinner. My favourite seat by the window was free, and I browsed the menu whilst chortling at the usual comedy that is the Kilburn High Road. Or maybe that was my reflection in the window. From the “3 courses for £6” option (I’m not joking), I tried broccoli soup (decent), and added a salad which included pleasing feta and great olives. The main was the standout: Vietnamese fish (can’t remember which – I did ask – perhaps that Cobbler thing but under its more scientific name) with a pesto coating, a potato side and spinach. Really, surprisingly delicious! With enthusiasm I tackled (as if it were a challenge – ha!) the Tiramisu, which was sponge-based rather than matching the menu’s “biscuit and cream” description. Guzzling a Shiraz, I had the rare experience of looking at a bill and being genuinely amazed at how little it had all come to.

      E=MC2. Whatever! Pour me another glass someone…all this maths is making my head spin! Enjoyable food, wine and ambience – all at friendly prices – that’s more the sort of equation I want to puzzle over.

      Farmers’ market in West Hampstead?

      You’ll remember back in April that I asked you all to say what sort of market you’d like to see set up by the new Thameslink station. I passed your comments on to our local councillors who were taking them into account.

      I never aggregated the results for you on here. So here they are:
      Food – 33 votes
      Crafts/gifts – 6 votes
      Antiques – 5 votes
      A mix of all the above 3 votes
      Food with flea market once a month – 2 votes
      Books – 1 vote

      It was clear that food was the most popular and there was a strong sense that people wanted good quality “normal” food rather than it all being cakes and “treats” (apart from people who run cake companies who said they wanted cakes).

      You’ll also remember that I banged on about the fact that, as much as we might want it, it wouldn’t be a farmers market. This was what I’d been told – and was consistent with previous discussions about the lack of space.

      So, imagine my surprise when I found out that it now looks like it’s going to be a proper farmers market. Apparently, London Farmers’ Markets (who organise most of the main farmers’ markets in London, including Queens Park) is in discussion with Network Rail (who own the land) about a Saturday market with around 18 stalls.

      This is very much still in the negotiation stage and is not confirmed. It wouldn’t start until September. Of course being an official farmers’ market would mean that local would-be stallholders would be squeezed out if they were not accredited. Is it better to have a a high-grade market that attracts people to the area, or a mixed market with local businesses taking more of the direct revenue? I would argue the former model is more sustainable. It’s also possible – as has happened at Swiss Cottage – that a successful farmers’ market could spill over into other market trading days in the same space.

      Olympic History: COMPETITION

      Next Wednesday, July 4th, local author and sports historian Simon Inglis will be at West End Lane Books together with Dr Martin Polley to talk about when the Olympics came to West Hampstead, drawing on Polley’s new book “The British Olympics: Britain’s Olympic Heritage 1612-2012“.

      The event is free, but please contact West End Lane Books if you’d like to attend as space is scarce ().

      In the meantime, you can win a copy of the book (worth £17.99) courtesy of West Hampstead Life. You just need to answer a simple question.

      Which village was the site of the first games of the post-classical era to adopt the formal title “Olimpick”?

      To enter, just with the subject line “Olympic Quiz”, and include your answer and name. Winners will be drawn Tuesday the 3rd.

      Good luck – it shouldn’t take too much sleuthing to find the answer!

      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

      Parking’s no joke

      When I was a small boy, my grandparents’ favourite joke involved a sign outside a public toilet in a car park that said “Have you paid and displayed”. Oh how we laughed. Well, I laughed the first time, aged about six. After that I laughed politely, then just smiled, and eventually took to walking off in disgust.

      I don’t own a car, and therefore the question of paying and displaying is not one that vexes me personally very often. However, for many people it’s a big issue – whether it’s paying for a residents permit or paying to park for 30 minutes so you can pop to the shops, parking is an emotive issue in these parts.

      We’ve touched on it before, after Wet Fish Café owner Andre openly mused as to whether the lack of visitor parking was the single biggest problem facing local businesses.

      Now is your chance to do something about it.

      Camden is in the middle of its parking review focusing on the size of residents’ parking zones (careful there Grandpa), parking zone hours, and pay & display parking hours. If you have views on how your local zones will operate in future, please fill in the online questionnaire or contact or 020 7974 4639 to get a paper version.

      The consultation runs until 18th June and is an “open” consultation; i.e., there are no specific proposals, the council wants to collect residents’ views. Any proposed changes would then be subject to further consultation.

      The West Hampstead Business Association has some quite strong views, and its chairman, David Matthews (from estate agent Dutch & Dutch) has given me permission to reprint the letter he sent Camden on behalf of the organisation.

      Dear Sirs,
      I write on behalf of the West Hampstead Business Association, a recently formed group set up to support and promote all businesses within the West Hampstead area. Local residents and businesses alike are making every effort to improve West Hampstead by doing all they can to create a pleasant environment and encourage good quality shops and amenities in the area. All of our members sight parking as the biggest obstacle to growing their businesses and achieving these objectives.
      The most prevalent concerns of our members are:
      1. The limited number of available Pay & Display parking spaces for visitors in and around West End Lane and Mill Lane
      2. Shared Use bays being rarely available for visitors
      3. The poor provision of Loading Bays for retail units on West End Lane and Mill Lane
      Attached is a petition with over 200 signatures highlighting the concern of both business operators and customers.
      Clearly for Pay & Display parking to benefit local businesses they need to be in close proximity to West End Lane and Mill Lane and not shared use as these bays are very rarely available to visitors. We feel the following should therefore be implemented:
      • The loss of 8+ Pay & Display bays to form the new First Capital Connect Station should be provided elsewhere and in close proximity to West End Lane.
      • The ‘Shared Use Bays’ in Sandwell Crescent and Dennington Park Road should be ‘Pay & Display’ only as they are very rarely available to visitors.
      • Between 10am and 3pm various parts of West End Lane could accommodate additional Pay & Display parking. Clearly at peak times it needs to be clear.
      • There is currently an overprovision of Shared Use and Pay & Display bays in Alvanley Gardens. If some of these bays became ‘Permit Parking’ there would be no net loss for local residents.
      We look forward to hearing that West Hampstead businesses have your support.
      David Matthews
      West Hampstead Business Association

      Is this Virgin suicide?

      One of the most frequent grumbles I see on Twitter from locals concerns the performance of Virgin Media’s broadband service. For months, people ask whether other locals are having problems. A few helpful folk repeat what they’ve been told by the help desk – which has generally been along the lines of “we’re aware of the problem and it will be fixed by … [insert month of your choice here].”

      This wasn’t good enough for Steve Berryman – he takes up the story:

      “In about October 2011 (I can’t remember the exact date it was so long ago) we (my brother and I) noticed exceptionally poor internet performance at home. We have the 50Mbit package (the most expensive) and  first figured, “It’s only a couple of days. Must be a small fault somewhere. They’ll fix it.”. However, the problem persisted. We called and asked what was wrong. “A fault in the area. It will be fixed in November”. OK. These things happen. An irritation, but no big deal.

      November came and went. December came and went. There were some days when it was ok. Many where the connection was mediocre at best, and some where it was simply unusable. This is all during peak hours, of course: those hours when we’re actually at home, wanting to use the internet. The few days I worked from home, it was lightning quick.

      We rang back again in January to ask what was going on. “Oh, yes that will be fixed in February”. Not the November we were first promised. A bit of complaining, but the date wasn’t too far away. We’re patient guys. Other people in the area were complaining of similar issues so it wasn’t an isolated problem. Surely that meant that the fix was a priority?

      February came and went. On ringing back (and getting a fault reference as well!) we were told March was the new fix date. I went on holiday for much of March but was surprised to see when I came back in April that there were still issues. “Oh, the new date is end of April”. Great. Quite angry now. Paying for months of service that we aren’t getting. We had asked previously about compensation for the months it was broken but only one time were we offered anything: £15 off that month’s bill. I’m not actually sure if it ever came off either… Other requests were fruitless. The first line support are unknowledgeable, don’t seem to have any authority and sometimes are plain rude.

      The April date has come and gone. It’s now the end of May and I’m told there is a new fix date – late September. That will bring it to almost a year of poor quality (tonight, as I type this, I am struggling to load the lightest of web pages) internet that I am paying quite a lot for.

      I’ve had many conversations with first line on the phone. Many tweets between the @virginmedia twitter social support staff and all they can do is apologise, tell me it won’t be fixed for months, ‘these things sometimes take longer than anticipated’, and agree that it’s not great. I’ve had enough. In my opinion it’s a capacity problem. It’s fine during the day on weekdays, but evenings and weekends it all goes to hell. They are still heavily advertising in my area.”

      Thanks Steve. To prove that this isn’t just anecdotal evidence of a poor service, Steve has started measuring packet loss using the tool mtr and recording it in 5 minute intervals. “I believe a problem on this scale should be a priority, and certainly not something that takes a year to resolve,” says Steve.

      Here’s the techy stuff: “The graphs show the packet loss for 20 pings on each hop of the route between home and Google’s servers. Each line represents a hop of the route (hence the messiness) and the higher the line, the worse the packet loss. Here is a Wikipedia article on packet loss, what it means, why it’s bad and what can cause it. I have strong suspicions that the NW6 Virgin Broadband problems are due to congestion on the line. They’ve known about the fault for some time – the fault reference is f001829169.”

      I’ve included one of Steve’s graphs – in this case from May 23rd, but you can visit his site to see the updates.

      Thanks to Steve for letting me reprint his words. The original appears here.

      Remember when it was all fields?

      Dick Weindling and Marianne Colloms quite literally wrote the book(s) when it comes to local history. And now they’re taking their work online with a new Kilburn History website.

      The first story to appear concerns a wartime murder at Kilburn station, but it’s not all blood and guts. Dick tells me that subsequent stories will include a Professor of Swimming and the now extinct Kilburn Baths, a painting of a Kilburn farm by an artist who was also an astronomer, and South Pacific tribal objects.

      Dick Weindling talks about A.A.Milne back in October 2010

      If you haven’t come across Dick and Marianne’s books then you are missing out. Their Kilburn and West Hampstead Past book is essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in learning more about this part of London. I wholeheartedly recommend it. Also worth a read, although published by the Camden History Society, is The Streets of West Hampstead, which is a bit more of a gazeteer, but is a handy reference.

      Having heard Dick speak at the unveiling of the green plaque to A.A. Milne in October 2010, I can attest to his engaging manner – this is no dusty historian.

      The two of them have a book due out in July called Camden Town and Kentish Town: Then and Now, and one next year called Bloody British History: Camden, with lots of blood and gore, which will cover the whole of the modern borough of Camden. It’s fairly gory around Camden Town most Saturday nights today if you ask me. They clearly have a slight fascination with the macabre; one of their other books is called The Good Grave Guide to Hampstead Cemetery.

      Stories from all these books and more will pop up on the new blog I’m told. It’s a very welcome addition to the local blogosphere.

      Lib Dems take a battering in West Hampstead

      London Elects released the results of the mayoral and assembly elections by ward yesterday. A bit of number crunching later and here are the percentage of votes and change from 2008 for the four local Camden wards (West Hampstead, Fortune Green, Kilburn and Swiss Cottage).

      What can we deduce from the data? Well, nothing that we didn’t know already in the sense that the Lib Dems (who have six local councillors – three each in Fortune Green and West Hampstead) took a hammering as they did across the city and across the country.

      It is reasonable to take the London-wide assembly member vote as the fairest reflection of party support as it is relatively devoid of the personality politics that beset both the mayoral race and the Barnet & Camden constituency race.

      The Lib Dems polled better locally than they did across the city as a whole, taking 10.8% of the vote compared to 6.8% across London. However, if we look at the drop from 2008, the picture is very different. Across London in 2008 the party polled 11.4%, while locally it managed 17.8%. So the percentage point drop locally from 2008 to 2012 was 7 percentage points (or 60.6%), while the percentage point drop London-wide from 2008 to 2012 was 4.6 percentage points (or 59.6%). So even where the Lib Dems are relatively strong, their support was actually worse in this election. This is not surprising, after all it is Lib Dem voters who will feel most aggrieved at their party’s record in coalition.

      In most other regards, the local voting patterns were not so different from those across the city: Boris was more popular than his party, while Ken was less popular despite being from this part of London.

      The next council elections are still two years away, and the longer-standing Lib Dem councillors in Fortune Green and West Hampstead may feel that their personal stock will still be high enough to secure their seats even if the party continues to struggle nationally at the ballot box. Whether all three seats in both wards will stay yellow, however, must surely be in some doubt.

      West Hampstead included in Camden eruv plans

      You may have heard of an eruv. It’s the name commonly given to an demarcated area within which Orthodox Jews are permitted to do some things on the Shabbat that they otherwise would not be. Most pertinently, and generally at the heart of calls from the community to set up an eruv, it allows people with limited mobility – either due to infirmity/disability or due to having young children – to leave the house. Wheelchairs and buggies are otherwise not allowed to be used, nor can medicine such as insulin be transported and used outside the home.

      Rabbi Shlomo Levin of South Hampstead Synagogue has been spearheading the campaign for the so-called “Camden eruv”, which would encompass West Hampstead, Fortune Green, Swiss Cottage, Belsize Park, Hampstead and beyond. An eruv “would change lives of Jews living in Camden,” he believes.

      View camden_eruv2011 in a larger map

      Eruvs are not particularly rare – Jewish communities in many large cities around the world have created them in order that people can continue to live modern urban lives in accordance with Orthodox laws. There is already an eruv in north-west London that covers Golders Green and Hampstead Garden Suburb. There’s also a proposal being developed for one in St Johns Wood and Maida Vale. My hyperlocal friend @w9maidavale, who (with his tongue firmly in his cheek) calls himself Lord Elgin, tweeted “The Eruv arguments are making Lord Elgin’s head spin. Charmingly bonkers but harmless.” Others in the area are taking it more seriously and it’s already running into some controversy

      One of the things that some people find strange about an eruv is that it has to be physically demarcated. This can be (and largely is) done using existing walls or boundaries, but where that is not possible, then tall poles are usually erected with wire strung between them. These are required for fairly complicated reasons relating to the separation of different realms and each set of poles and wires physically represents a doorway.

      It is the construction of these poles and wires that tends to bring the issue to the attention of the wider community as, in the UK at least, this requires the support of the local council. Jewish communities always pay for any work required but, unsurprisingly, non-Jewish residents can find it rather odd to have wire that has absolutely no significance for them strung up in their streets. If you’re not a religious person, then it’s really just street furniture. Eruv supporters will tend to argue that the poles and wires are very unobtrusive.

      You can read a lot more about the Camden eruv, and, on Wikipedia, more than you probably want to know about eruvs generally – such as that even with an eruv, you can’t open an umbrella on the Shabbat or that there appears to be a long-running debate as to whether the entire island of Manhattan is an eruv. It is precisely those sort of peculiar arcane laws that distance orthodox followers of any religion from the mainstream – whether religous or secular.

      It’s worth mentioning that not all Jews automatically support the creation of an eruv. For liberal Jews it’s meaningless as they do not abide by the Orthodox laws anyway. Some also argue that it might be time to question the underlying principle. A letter sent to the Camden New Journal by a non-Orthodox Jewish resident of Hampstead suggests campaigning “for these Sabbath laws to be more flexible and take people’s individual needs into account. I would also point out that when these laws were instituted neither insulin nor wheelchairs existed.” Nor are the details of how they are created unanimously agreed on. According to the BBC, “The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) – which includes synagogues in north-west London – has claimed that there are “serious halachic (Jewish law) problems” with the North West London eruv that make it invalid.” 

      My immediate reaction when I first heard about this was to wonder why it wasn’t enough to declare where the borders of the eruv were – handing out a map perhaps – rather than erecting poles and wires. After all, the people for whom it matters don’t use the poles as signposts, they are representational – and as I mentioned above, most of the eruv’s boundaries are simply existing structures. Having now understood the symbolic purpose of the phyiscal eruv infrastructure I can at least see the point of the poles, although one wonders whether there aren’t more imaginative ways of combining religious doctrine with modern multicultural living in a way that is invisible to everyone.

      West Hampstead “cooler than Hampstead”

      This week, The Times ran an article in its property section looking at West Hampstead. The full article is behind the Times paywall, but I thought I’d share a couple of the highlights.

      “West Hampstead is more under-the-radar than Hampstead proper, with a high street that is less pretty, but blessedly free of tourists and day-trippers.”

      Less pretty, but with fewer chain shops.

      “The Kilburn side of town is slightly better value — four-bedroom terrace houses start at about £1.2 million… Prices rise closer to Hampstead and homes also get larger: you will pay up to £2.5 million for a detached villa. Two-bedroom flats start at about £450,000…. While property is not exactly budget… it is on average 15 per cent cheaper than Hampstead. “West Hampstead has become an area of choice and not a poor relation,” he [Bambos Haralambous, the sales director at Goldschmidt & Howland] says.”

      I think it’s been “an area of choice” for a while now!

      “How is the nightlife? Not a lot going on beyond closing time, however, Camden Town is handy if you don’t want to head into Central London.” 

      Clearly no-one mentioned Lately’s or the Lower Ground Bar to the journalist, and what about heading to Kilburn rather than Camden Town? Hmm?

      “Is there any green space? The jewel in the crown of Hampstead proper is the heath. West Hampstead cannot compete, but it does have some open spaces, including Broadhurst Copse, a small park and playground, the Iverson Road Open Space, a hard-surface sports area with football and basketball facilities, and the Maygrove Peace Park.” 

      Bizarre not to mention Fortune Green, Kilburn Grange Park or even West End Green.

      “Upsides: A less touristy and some say “cooler” version of Hampstead, and it’s cheaper.
      Downsides: Property rarely comes with off-street parking, and finding a space is a scrum.”

      That parking issue again…

      Parking changes in Camden

      Camden has been postponing the public engagement part of its parking review – it was supposed to have happened in March, now apparently it wil be in May. Camden will be seeking residents’ views on parking zone days and hours of control and pay & display maximum stays. However, many other parking changes have been made already, without consultation. Here’s an overview of the major changes implemented in April. The full details are available on Camden’s parking pages.

      None of these address the concerns local businesses have in West Hampstead about the lack of short-term parking in the area to attract customers during the week.

      Resident parking permits

      • Residents with the lowest polluting vehicles that fall under tariff 1 will pay slightly less but the price has risen for other tariffs, with the largest increase for those with the largest and most polluting vehicles.
      • A free annual car club membership and £50 worth of drive hours for the first 150 residents willing to give up their resident permit.
      • A £10 supplement introduced for diesel vehicle owners.
      • Classic car owners will no longer be eligible for a free resident permit.
      • A £50 and £75 charge introduced for registering a 2nd or 3rd vehicle to a resident permit.
      • Persistent evaders (someone with three or more unpaid parking tickets beyond the appeal stage) will not be able to apply for a 6 month or annual resident permit.
      • The discount for electric car owners has been retained and will now also apply to electric motorcycle owners.
      • Renewably sourced electric vehicle owners will no longer be eligible for a free resident permit

      Resident visitor permits

      • The tiered pricing system is being replaced with a flat rate charge of 90p per hour.
      • The charge for disabled people and the elderly (over 75) falls to 45p per hour.
      • Residents can now buy their full annual allocation in one go if they wish, rather than having to buy visitor permits every three months.
      • We will no longer sell the 30 minute visitor permits when an alternative electronic visitor permit system is ready.

      Pay & Display parking

      • Camden is no longer enforcing meter feeding contraventions meaning that customers can now top up their parking session.
      • Electric vehicle owners will no longer be able to apply for the pay & display permit

      Business permits

      • Camden is increasing the price of business scheme A and B annual permits to £290.
      • A 75% permit discount has been introduced for businesses with electric and bio methane vehicles.
      • Applicants will be asked to supply proof that the vehicle is insured for business purposes (where a permit is being requested on the basis that there is an operational need for a vehicle for the viability of the business).
      • The price for installing a dedicated bay on-street for business scheme A first time applicants has been increased to £1,689.71.
      • We are proposing to convert resident bays to permit bays in four zones which will give business permit holders greater flexibility when parking.

      Business visitor vouchers

      • The tiered pricing system is being replaced with a flat rate charge of £2.50 per hour.
      • Restrictions that prevent businesses in certain streets from applying for business visitor vouchers will be removed.
      • The all day business visitor voucher will no longer be available.

      Parking permission

      • We are merging the current Permission to Park and Dispensation to Wait into one product that will allow tradespeople to park in permit bays or on a single yellow line.
      • We have reduced the daily charge for a parking permission to £30.
      • Parking permissions for funerals and weddings will remain free of charge.

      All change by West End Green

      The stretch of West End Lane from Nando’s to Walnut is set to see big changes over the next couple of months.

      As many of you will have read on Twitter, or (heaven forbid) seen with your own actual eyes, Walnut has closed. The ethically minded restaurant has been a fixture on the corner for just over 10 years, but came up for rent back in June (at just under £2,300 a month if you’re interested). Feng Sushi – also known for its ethical stance – will be moving in this June. Indeed work has already started on what will be the chain’s eighth outlet.

      £18 for the 22-piece selection box

      There’s much more detail on the design of the 50-cover restaurant here. Feng Sushi expressed an interest in West Hampstead a long time ago, so may feel a bit miffed that in the meantime, the area has become sushi capital of NW London. Alongside MeLoveSushi on West End Lane, there’s also newly opened Sushi Kou on Fortune Green, competing head-on with the well-established Yuzu. There are two newish sushi places on Finchley Road, and the longer-standing outlets Sushi Gen (with an ominous For Lease sign outside), Atari-ya on Fairfax Road (for my money the best of the local options), and Yo! Sushi in the O2 centre.

      If the rumours that Karahi Master has closed are correct, hot on the heels of Bon Express shutting down, then are we finally relinquishing the mighty kebab for the healthier sashimi?

      Still, if you’re missing your meat fix, rejoice. Apparently some of you haven’t yet caught up with the news that a butchers is coming to town. Since I started this whole blog/Twitter thing back in 2009, this has probably been the single biggest moan of locals: “Why can’t we have a butchers”. The fact that such places have to make a profit in what is a tough market has largely washed over you. So, I don’t want to hear a single person complain that Hampstead Butcher & Providore is too expensive. The high-end butchers already operates on Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead, and has done so for a couple of years now. The only way that a butcher is likely to survive in a high rent area like West End Lane is going to be to target the higher end of the market, and differentiate itself from the supermarkets.

      £54 for this “Meat for a week” selection

      Hampstead Butcher & Providore (I assume it’s not changing its name for us) will be at 260 West End Lane, where the Chinese medical centre has been (next to Domino’s).

      If you fancy a chop with your chop, then step next door. 258 West End Lane is becoming a new salon. Because that’s what we really need in the area. Marco Aldany is a new name for me, but then I’m not really a salon kinda guy. It appears to be a Spanish chain of hairdressers. I can’t tell you much more about it, but I can show you a picture of what the front will look like if it gets past the planners, and tell you that the glass will be armour-plated. Should you be thinking of driving a car into it or anything.

      Throw in the changes to The Lion – which has been learning the hard way about the power of Twitter – and the northern end of West Hampstead will have a very different feel to it by the end of the year.


      A market for West Hampstead

      I got a very exciting e-mail yesterday from Cllr Gillian Risso-Gill announcing that an agreement has been reached with First Capital Connect for the West Hampstead Business Forum to hold a Saturday market on the widenened pavement area by the new Thameslink station on Iverson Road.

      The site is not big enough for a full, accredited, commercial farmers market, which I know a lot of you are keen on. However, in order to try and maximise trade, the organisers are keen to know what locals would actually want. This will help them determine whether the focus will be on food, or antiques, or crafts, or something else.

      An early poll on Twitter yesterday suggested food was by far the most popular, although there was a significant vote for crafts/antiques/flea market. Perhaps different weeks could be different markets?

      The hope is that a pilot market could be arranged in the next 5-6 weeks.

      If you are interested in having a stall, I suggest you contact Gillian at in the first instance. If you’d like to have your say on the type of market you’d like to see, then please leave a comment below. I’ve already noted comments via Twitter so please don’t vote again!

      A Tale of Two Lions

      The Old Black Lion on West End Lane was established in 1751. It was a beerhouse not a tavern, meaning it could sell only beer.

      The Black Lion on Kilburn High Road is older. It dates back to 1666. (The Red Lion on Kilburn High Road dates back to 1444! Thankfully now it’s called The Westbury).

      Both pubs were rebuilt around the start of the 20th century. The Black Lion in 1898 and The Old Black Lion in 1912.

      Click for full-size, taken from The Streets of West Hampstead, Camden History Society

      When I first moved to Kilburn, the Old Black Lion was a Rat and Carrot. Yes, carrot. The Railway was a Rat & Parrot. The Rat & Carrot chain was fairly short-lived if I recall. It reverted to being the Old Black Lion.

      Only a few years ago, the Old Black Lion underwent a transformation from fairly straightforward pub showing sport to The Lion – which always reminded me a bit too much of an All Bar One.

      The Black Lion meanwhile became very popular, and I believe its ceiling is actually listed – if you can list a ceiling.

      A few months ago, rumours were flying around West Hampstead that The Lion was closing and being sold. I contacted Greene King, the owners, who assured me this was not the case. It was being refurbed and would be all new and shiny and exciting. It took a while for that to actually get started but the refurb is taking place at the moment.

      Then today I was followed on Twitter by @TheBlackLionNW6. Its bio clearly says it is in West Hampstead. The Black Lion in Kilburn (also in NW6) tweets – albeit rarely – under @BlackLionLondon (which might have pissed off some of the other Black Lions within the M25).

      “Black Lion” search in Google Maps. “B” is Kilburn’s. West Hampstead’s isn’t there yet

      This afternoon, The Black Lion (West Hampstead), tweeted a couple of photos of its dinner and lunch menus. They look quite expensive – it’s competition for The Alice House, not The Railway. At the bottom of the menus (very sensibly) is a website address: Don’t confuse this with The Black Lion’s (Kilburn) website:

      I visited the website (of the Black Lion West Hampstead). It’s obviously not quite fully fledged yet, but it does have a contact page, giving its address (295 West End Lane) and a handy Google map. Which shows the location of The Black Lion in Kilburn.

      West End Lane is suddenly the Kilburn High Road

      With a degree of irritation, I pointed this out to the good people at the new (Old) Black Lion who said that that was indeed a mistake and they’d correct it asap. Hurrah.

      In the meantime, the pub opens on April 26th. I am prepared to spend a lot of time explaining to people that there are two Black Lions (like there used to be) on two different roads but in the same postcode area. Before the internet this clearly wasn’t a problem as both coexisted for about 250 years. Now, everyone needs a unique identifier and perhaps “NW6” wasn’t the best one to pick. For a start why not go back to The Old Black Lion, or even call it “The New Black Lion”.

      I shall leave the last word to Shannon, whose common sense could have saved the day.

      Tom finds room for a Wet Fish crumble

      Valiantly battling a vicious hangover, following another all-dayer comparing Sunday pub roasts in NW London (yes, life’s hard), I struggled along to The Wet Fish Café for a spot of Monday-blues-bashing lunch.

      Things got off to a promising start when my soya latte was delivered, as requested, extra hot. They probably think I’m a real loser, spoiling their quality coffee in this manner, but that’s how I like it… and it was lovely.

      Having eaten half a ton of assorted animals the previous day, something healthy seemed sensible, especially as I needed to speed up the healing of my hand injury, which I assume everyone in London is well aware of by now. And, before you worry further, yes, I can still open a bottle of wine with a normal, non-cheating corkscrew.

      So, my “breakfast salad” arrived; an instantly appetising plate of herbed scrambled eggs, diced tomato with shreds of red onion, feta, spinach, and joyously ripe avocado (a word I can never spell without, errm, a spellchecker) – and some toasted brown bread which was great; satisfying, chewy texture yet crisp at the edges. Proper bread maketh proper toast.

      Hard to find fault; the eggs were especially fine, the spinach fresh, though perhaps cherry tomatoes would be even more pleasing to go with the feta, and I could have managed a couple more of the toasts, with some Marmite also in attendance (probably available had I asked).

      Sensing my hangover needed one final battering, I checked out the day’s counter cakes, and the menu’s dessert options. Like an arrow zoning in on a bullseye, my gaze focussed very quickly on the rhubarb and apple crumble with cinnamon and raisin ice cream. Wow – superb! The balance of acidity and sweetness was perfect, and the ice cream was really special.

      So there you have it. The Wet Fish Cafe – it’s almost worth deliberately inducing a hangover for! 

      Tom’s bowled over by Guglee

      Just reporting for duty, a little late, on an excellent evening with Jonathan at Guglee, West End Lane’s newest curry house.

      Owners Sachin and Nikhil had kindly offered us a meal in order to test out the menu, which was particularly interesting for me as I’d not yet visited their Finchley Road branch.

      We got off to a great start with a mixed grill platter. The meats were cooked and spiced with flair and skill, and I would have happily eaten these as a main meal with rice and naan. I’m fond of this type of thing; I prefer leaner, slightly drier cuts than, for example, French cuisine, where “the glory is in the fat” – as more than one big-name chef has put it. Not to knock classic cooking of course, but it’s a nice feeling to be eating wonderful food that’s healthy too.

      As for wine – something a little different – an Indian Shiraz. This was good stuff, with spice to match the food, but perhaps rounder and mellower than your average New World version. It also had something in particular which I just couldn’t place. You’d think drinking wine all the time for years on end would result in a more advanced palate; in my case it’s just eroded my memory cells and made me shake violently in terror whenever my wine rack’s empty.

      Main meals arrived looking proud and a touch regal, and I was extremely happy to see a seafood dish present, not only because I love this type of food, but also as I’m always keen to see how curry establishments handle such things. Guglee clearly takes prawns etc. seriously, and this was another flavoursome, gutsy dish. It had an earthiness to it and was just all-round pleasing and delicious.

      The “Railway Lamb” was brilliant; tender and rich, with various dimensions. When you head out for a curry, you anticipate interesting, bold flavours, and decent portions. Some of the new, modern curry houses have become a little twee and delicate for me; Guglee gets the balance right though; you won’t go home hungry, and you’ll be remembering the flavours and textures.

      Also warranting a mention is the aubergine side dish – a tangy, yoghurt base, and appetising in colour; also the sophisticated, thin naan bread, and of course the fragrant rice.

      It was a pleasure to chat with the enthusiastic staff and learn more about their menu and vision, and I’m looking forward to a return visit and more intriguing, spicy food – and further depletion of brain cells via that warm and friendly Shiraz. (March 2012)

      Do we need more visitor parking?

      Last week, a Twitter debate raged (i.e., a few people commented for about an hour) about whether West End Lane needs more pay & display parking to encourage people from outside the area to come in to West Hampstead to shop/eat/drink, especially during the week. It’s a timely discussion, in light of Camden’s imminent parking review. Here’s how it went – more commentary after the tweets.

      Afterwards, I asked André for some more background on the problem as he sees it.

      “It took me years to recognise the problem, so I do see it from the locals’ point of view: the idea of more traffic, more pollution, harder for locals to park etc. I empathise with and experience that myself.

      But 20 or so extra pay & displays (that exclude residents permits) would make little difference to those issues – in fact, maybe less traffic as people wouldn’t be circling for hours. But it would make a positive difference to retailers.”

      At the recent West Hampstead business forum meetings that have started, it’s been a strongly voiced concern. Weekends in West Hampstead are generally busy and profitable, but weekdays can be a struggle. It’s true that the area has a high number of self-employed and home workers, but they’re not hanging out in cafés all day (unless it’s to have a cappuccino while they use the Wifi) and aside from lunchtime, it’s not that busy around the area, especially at the northern end of West End Lane away from the transport hub.

      Click for full-size. NB: predates new Thameslink station on Iverson Rd

      He says that customers tell him and other local business owners that they hesitate to come during the day because they can’t park. “This is one big fat feedback message that echoes around West Hampstead every day.”

      “I had a meeting last week around midday, the guy called to say he’d been circling for 45 minutes and could we postpone… and he wanted to sell me something! Customers aren’t that determined. In fact, we’ve lost valued suppliers because they decided parking’s too difficult.”

      Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is that the people who proclaim to support independent businesses are also those who tend to be anti-car. So how do we reconcile that? People want more people to use our local businesses so they stay, but they don’t want more traffic – either locally or even generally. West Hampstead is, of course, amazingly well connected by public transport so the arguments of those who say enough people can come in to the area that way are valid. But are they realistic? If you live further out on the Jubilee or Met lines, or along the Overground routes, do you know much about West Hampstead – would you come in and meet your friends for lunch here, or pop into the bookshop rather than going somewhere else nearer and more convenient?

      Perhaps there’s an argument for targeted marketing. Lets say Camden agreed that footfall was low in some parts of the area, perhaps they could split the relevant budget between pay & display parking and funding marketing for the area in very specific places along the transport corridors so we try and boost footfall but do so using public transport. Certainly any pay & display parking would have to have restrictions that meant it matched the need without encouraging excessive car use when it wasn’t needed – at weekends for example when there’s enough footfall in West End Lane already.

      There is one very different perspective: keep the cars away and footfall low and the large chains will start to lose interest/move out, which could bring rents down and make local busineses more viable. But that’s a long-term game, and at odds with the fact that West Hampstead is destined for a large increase in population over the next 10 years.

      What do you think? Is there a problem at all? Is a small amount of extra parking going to make much difference? Is it worth trying to lure the residents of Elstree & Borehamwood, or Stanmore, or Acton onto the tubes and trains to visit West Hampstead? Perhaps businesses should behave very differently on weekdays and weekends to maintain profitability?

      Get on your knees: Local vicar won’t be victim

      Everyone loves a crime-fighting member of the cloth right? Who doesn’t look back fondly at Tom Bosley as Father Dowling? No, ok, I never watched it either but I’m sure it was amazing.

      Move over Bosley (to the extent you can given you died in 2010), there’s a new bad-ass vicar in town. While Father Dowling merely investigated, Father Andrew Cain of West Hampstead gets burglars down on their knees before calling the cops. Less Bosley; more Eastwood.

      West Hampstead’s vicar

      It all began with a rather blasé tweet Fr. Cain sent to me and @WHLocalPlod on Feb 21st: “we caught a burglar for you today. Red handed in our safe he didn’t stand a chance against assembled clergy.” Cain went on to say that the burglar was “foolish enough to steal from God’s House whilst I was in the Church”. Oh yeah.

      In a week when a horse has dominated the news agenda, the press was all over this story like a swarm of, er, biblical swarming things. The Camden New Journal ran it yesterday calling the St Mary’s and St Andrew’s vicar a “brave cleric” and printing a sort of Dempsey & Makepeace photo (google ’em) before describing him as a “fitness fanatic”.

      Photo with permission of Camden New Journal

      Cain & Cargill in their 80s TV series

      The Ham & High hasn’t got its print edition version online yet, but it went with “Brave vicar foils collection thief”, with the excellent subhead of “Cleric orders intruder to kneel on floor after hearing curate’s screams” and mentioning that Fr. Cain works out at the gym several times a week”.

      As is often the way with these sort of stories, the bigger papers caught wind of this surefire crowd pleaser. The Telegraph eschewed “brave” and just opted for the factual headline “Vicar made thief kneel until police arrived“, with no mention of his fitness regime at all.

      The Evening Standard, meanwhile, gave Fr. Cain an added note of authority in its “Vicar stops thief by ordering him to his knees” but also squeezed in that our hero “works out at the gym several times a week.”

      Quite why there’s the obsession with a vicar’s desire to keep fit isn’t entirely clear. Surely it would have been more impressive if it had been some weedy timid vicar standing up to the intruder rather than the gym bunny hunk we all know and love.

      What of the unlucky criminal? Will he face the wrath of God? It turns out that 54-year old Eric McDougall is quite the villain of the vestry. He was only out on bail as it was, and after appearing at Highbury magistrates court the next day, he’s gone straight back to prison.

      The last word of course should belong to Father Cain, quoted in the CNJ: “he realised there was nothing he could do, so he got on the floor – it was clear that he shouldn’t mess with me.”

      West Hampstead library hours change

      Amid all the discussion about library closures and the three Camden libraries that have been handed over to community groups, I suspect some people had forgotten that all the remaining libraries were to have their hours reduced.

      Here are the changes to West Hampstead library as of April 2nd:

      Old opening hours New opening hours
      Monday 10am-7pm 11am-7pm
      Tuesday 10am-7pm 11am-6pm
      Wednesday Closed 11am-6pm
      Thursday 10am-8pm 11am-6pm
      Friday 10am-7pm 11am-5pm
      Saturday 10am-5pm 11am-5pm
      Sunday 11am-4pm Closed

      The big change is that the library will now be open on Wednesdays but closed on Sundays. In total, library hours fall from 49 to 41.

      Remember also that the library will close from March 5th until April 2nd for some improvements. The new hours take effect when it reopens.

      For the changes to all Camden’s libraries, download the full list.

      The Thameslink station: Love it or loathe it

      When the new West Hampstead Thameslink station opened in December last year, the broad consensus seemed to be positive.

      Photo: Peter Cook

      The “modest yet thoughtfully designed” (according to Architecture Today) modern glass structure made a statement but there weren’t too many objections, despite the plans having been scaled down from something more interesting due to budget constraints. It also was more or less on time – and the site constraints had given rise to some construction challenges (again, the Architecture Today article has a lot more detail). Here’s a timelapse video of the project.

      Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone came along to the opening, and said a few words.

      The large open boulevard along Iverson Road also seemed like a refreshing change although it was predictable that the green tiling wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste.

      Fast forward a couple of months, with the northern entrance now open again so people aren’t missing their trains because they can’t leave the house one minute earlier, and murmurs of dissent are appearing on Twitter. Last week there was a brief flurry of messages on the topic.

      Personally, I quite like the station building, but there is an undeniable mismatch between the station and the footbridge that leads to the platforms. This, as most of you will know, was in place long before the station building work began – they were sadly not an integrated design and it shows. What’s your view? Is this a landmark building West Hampstead should be proud of, or a harbinger of the architectural doom that lies ahead in the next wave of development in the area. Or do you simply not care?

      First meeting for West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Plan

      Under the Localism Act, communities can form a Neighbourhood Development Plan. Given the extent of potential development in West Hampstead, James Earl from Fordwych Residents Association has proposed that we form one. The first meeting to get the ball rolling on this took place on January 25th. James forwarded me the minutes.

      1. Welcome & Introductions:
      James thanked everyone for coming & thanked the Sidings Community Centre for hosting the first meeting of the Forum.

      2. Election of interim chair:
      James was elected with no objections; there were no other candidates.

      3. Membership, future elections & constitution:
      It was agreed to keep the Forum as inclusive as possible. Anyone living or working in the area should be able to attend meetings and contribute to the Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP).

      James said a future meeting would elect a chair, vice-chair, secretary & treasurer. There was a discussion about sharing or revolving posts and the Forum not being hierarchical, but it was agreed that permanent officers would be needed to lead the work of the Forum.

      As part of the requirements set down for NDPs any group drawing up a plan needs a constitution. A group in Kentish Town has already drawn up a document for their group. James said he would draft a constitution for the next meeting & circulate to those interested beforehand.

      4. Introduction to Neighbourhood Development Plans:
      James outlined the basic idea behind NDPs, which are set out in the Localism Act, which comes into force in April 2012. A number of points were raised:

      • It was pointed that it was a resident led process, not a council-led or top down process.
      • Any NDP needs to fit in with the Camden Council Local Development Framework (LDF) & the Mayor of London’s London Plan (LP).
      • An NDP can’t propose less development – but can set out where future development should be located.
      • Residents can list things they don’t want – eg very high buildings.
      • There was concern that an NDP wouldn’t carry much weight & would not affect new developments.
      • An NDP is a chance to be more locally focussed than the LDF.
      • An NDP could link in with the Camden Council ‘Place Shaping Plan’ for WH & the Area Action forums.
      • If we don’t draw up a plan, someone else (eg a developer) could.
      • The area around the railway stations marked as an area of intensification in the LP can’t be overturned.
      • The NDP could be an opportunity for developers to give more back to the community – there were complaints that the current Section 106 agreements are a closed process.
      • The NDP will not stop current developments but will be able to shape future developments.
      • The NDP needs to be a forward thinking document that considers infrastructure too – such as transport, schools, health services etc.
      • The Forum has the chance to create a positive document that has a strong and lasting effect on our area.
      • The Forum can usefully bring together people and RAs from different parts of the local area and give residents a stronger and unified voice.

      5. Camden Council workshop – 24th January:
      Those who attended said there were both positive and negative voices about NDPs – there is a need to be realistic about what a NDP can achieve. People should go into the process with their eyes open.

      When NDPs come into force they will have a formal role in the planning process and can be referred to when commenting on/objecting to planning applications. The Council are keen for Forums to work with them and engage in a dialogue. Forums need to be clear about what they want to achieve and be aware of the other changes to the planning system. The Council will have to approve the proposed NDP area; there can’t be overlapping plans. The Plan will need to be approved in a referendum, so will need to attract wide support.

      It was pointed out that NDPs were originally designed for villages wanting more development.

      There is a surprising amount of land in our area that could be developed in the future – although new developments can also take place when existing buildings are knocked down.

      6. Issues to be covered by the Plan:
      James set out a range of different issues that could be covered by the NDP. As well as future development, it could include – traffic/street issues; businesses; green space; community facilities; local services etc.

      Residents are keen to focus on the ‘village feel’ of the area and in particular the shops & businesses on West End Lane & Mill Lane.

      The Forum will need to identify the priorities for the area and its residents/businesses.

      It was suggested that the Forum could look at recent development in the area and what does & doesn’t work.

      It was agreed to ask a Camden Council planning officer to a future meeting to ask questions.

      7. Area to be covered by the Plan:
      James said the original proposal for the area used the current ward boundaries for Fortune Green and West Hampstead. In the East, this is Finchley Road; in the North, the northern boundary of Camden Council; in West, Cricklewood Broadway/Shoot-up Hill/Kllburn High Road; & in the South, part railway line, part streets in South Hampstead.

      There was a discussion about excluding Cricklewood/Kilburn areas, in case they wanted to come up with their own NDP for the high streets.

      In the NW, some of the streets might want to tie in with Barnet.

      It was suggested consulting with CRASH on the southern boundary.

      There was a suggestion to keep the Plan focussed on the area around the interchange, as this is the area affected by big developments. Others felt it would be more useful to bring the wider community together, and people living away from the interchange area were affected by it.

      On a show of hands, a clear majority agreed to proceed by including the full area covered by the two wards.

      8. Proposed timescale:
      James said that because of the number of developments being proposed in the area, it was best to get on with the Plan as soon as possible. He said he thought it was realistic to have the Plan drawn up within the next year, with a referendum in spring 2013. Those present agreed that it would be wise to move quickly and start work on the Plan sooner rather than later.

      9. Funding:
      The Forum will need money to pay for meeting venues, printing, administration etc. There might also be a need to employ professional help with the plan. There is no money at present and no money from the Council. It was suggested local RAs could each contribute £50 to get the Forum going. S106 funding could be sought from the current developments. Local businesses could be asked to contribute.

      10. Other issues:
      There is a Camden Council West Hampstead Place Shaping workshop on February 8th. Those attending can report back to the next Forum meeting. [Ed: my report on that workshop]

      There was a call to continue to oppose the current proposed developments in the area; if they are rejected, the sites could be covered by the Plan when it comes into force.

      11. Future meetings:
      James said he would like to have monthly meetings to help get the Forum and the process established.

      The next meeting will look to agree on the area & constitution – plus initial work on the Plan.

      The next meeting will be on Tuesday 28th February at 7.30pm – venue tbc.

      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.

      Transition Whamp: Grow your own

      On Monday, a bunch of locals met at The Gallery to re-ignite Transition West Hampstead. Marcia MacLeod reports:

      “Fancy growing your own veg? No garden? You could put your name down for an allotment – but Camden’s waiting list was, the last time I checked, 40 years, and unless you can see yourself tottering around with a Zimmer frame as you water the tomatoes, there’s no point even trying.

      Flowerbed planting at Kilburn tube. Photo via Kilburn Times

      But there is another possibility: Transition West Hampstead’s food growing project – and if you walk down Abbey Road later this year, you might just see the first green shoots behind St Mary’s Church.

      The church, at the corner of Abbey Road and Priory Road, has donated some land to Transition West Hampstead to enable local residents to experience The Good Life. Led by David Abrahams, the group plans to turn the 20 square metre space into raised beds in time to start planting in the spring.

      Any crops grown will go to the people who worked on the site and the project hopes to include Abbey Community Centre and other community groups.

      Once Priory Gardens Food Growing Project gets off the ground, there are likely to be more. Even London Overground is apparently keen to see food growing at West Hampstead. Hmmmm….beans and cabbages would certainly make a change from graffiti!

      Transition West Hampstead is always keen to recruit new volunteers so, if you’re interested in finding out more, contact David at or call him on 07724 894145.”

      Tom has a Moment

      “Hmmm, shall I be healthy and have a salad?” I mused, knowing full well I would also be ordering a bowl of fries… “salad’s a bit dull on a cold afternoon, but this array of ingredients looks nice, especially the addition of mint, parsley and radish.”

      So it was to my considerable dismay that my salad (and huge bowl of chips) duly arrived, minus any trace of those last two items..

      I’ve never understood this irritatingly common problem; if you order something off a menu, it stands to reason that you like the description, and therefore would expect everything listed to be present? Is it careless forgetfulness, or laziness in re-stocking ingredients that can be located a few doors away at the greengrocers? How about I “forget” to pay the full amount?

      The fries were pleasing, and a bagel appeared which actually wasn’t expected – though some butter would have been good. I did manage (yet again – I am so ingenious) to invent a new dish – folded semi-bagel chip butties. Patent applied for.

      I like Moment; the staff are warm, there’s a nice selection of cakes, and if I ask for a latte which is actually hot (I know – such a strange request – well, apparently so judging by most places), they deliver. But I’m now a little put off my original intention of working my way through some other options on their interesting, varied menu. I guess I’m due another visit to the splendid Lena’s Café 2 – so perhaps my salad adventures will continue there next time.

      The lesson to be learned here is clear; in depressing, Wintery weather, don’t faff about – source a pie and some mulled wine, and leave the healthy rubbish for new year resolutions.

      Happy Christmas everyone!

      Twenty two do Ladudu

      On Thursday, we took over a good chunk of West End Lane’s popular Vietnamese restaurant Ladudu in the latest installment of whampreview.

      Unlike previous reviews, we had a set menu and arrived all at once – setting both the kitchen and front of house a sizeable challenge. Complimentary prawn crackers and green and jasmine tea arrived promptly and the conversation across our three tables started to flow as we waited for our appetiser platters. Several people had been to Vietnam and expectations were high.

      The first dish to arrive was a green papaya salad (one of my personal favourites and also popular with Eugene) surrounded by summer rolls filled with prawn, vermicelli and mint. These had very clean flavours – although my table felt the mint was a little overpowering giving what Sam described as a “toothpaste” finish. Other diners thought the mint made these rolls fresh, light and fragrant. Stefanie thought this was typical of what she’d eaten on her travels. In contrast to these sharper flavours, a plate of fried calamari, fried prawns, and vietnamese spring rolls had a lovely chilli warmth to them – the squid in particular was “bang on”, according to Thom. Paula thought they were light and tasty, although James thought the spring rolls were nice but not distinctive.

      The dipping sauce that Daniel and Sheena said really helped bring these bite-size morsels to life was a bit slow to my table. Alicia wondered whether a sweet peanut dipping sauce might be a good addition although she loved the summer rolls. Overall, most of us agreed with Tom, who loved the style, presentation, tastes and textures of the platters.

      Having demolished the starters, and moved from tea onto wine and beer, we were then served a hot and sour prawn soup. This was laden with prawns, white fish, squid and er.. pineapple, which caught a few people by surprise – “I saw it, and left it,” said Claire. It was generally very popular though; “a great mixture of tastes that somehow came together perfectly,” said June. It also briged the gap nicely as we waited for our main courses. Nicky thought it would make a “nourishing winter cold remedy”. Simon liked it but thought it meant the whole meal was quite a lot of food. Tom declared it to be “wonderful”. “The inclusion of big pieces of squid and things really made it a dish I would eat as a main. Perfect balance of flavours too.” Daniel called it the “Goldilocks of soups”.

      For a main course, each table got a bowl of beef curry and a bowl of chicken curry (our token vegetarian got her own vegetable curry). Simon liked the curries but preferred the starters, Bill thought they needed a little more kick, and SJ said they were nice but she wasn’t blown away. Alicia, however, thought they were tasty. Tom D summed up Nicky’s table’s view of the curries, saying they felt a bit generic south-east Asian. Eugene had a similar perspective, comparing them with a Wagamama’s curry. It’s probably fair to say that although everyone liked these dishes, no-one was bowled over.

      Luckily all the other elements of the main course were much more successful. We also had rice, rice noodles, a chicken stir fry dish, fried noodles, and morning glory (which Wikipedia tells me is designated a Federal Noxious Weed in the US, but was one of the most popular dishes for whampers – Bill declared it the highlight of the main course). On my table at least, there was quite some time between all these elements appearing and probably more rice and fewer vegetables than we needed.

      The chicken stir fry (or veg stir fry) was a big hit. Paula commented that the smoky mushrooms brought the dish alive, and Mark agreed it was well done. The fried noodles were also very popular on my table but took a while to arrive on Tom’s table, although once they did they were well received.

      The wine continued to appear – house white for my table, a Marlborough Pinot Noir on Tom’s table that he raved about, and white and red for Nicky’s gang. It seemed that first-time whampreviewers were quickly getting the hang of the whole thing (eat, drink and be merry).

      Most of us had room for dessert – especially when it came in the form of Ladudu’s truly outstanding ice cream, which is probably the best in West Hampstead. Coconut and pandan, lychee, vietnamese coffee, and  black sesame ice cream all elicited gasps of amazement. James said his was “the best lychee ice cream I’ve ever eaten” (yes, it was the only one – but I think the sentiment is valid). Nicky reckoned the black sesame ice cream was worth going back for all by itself – and the waiter enigmatically promised that they are working on a new improved sesame flavour “which will be as black as my Asian hair”. Alicia was the sole dissenting voice, saying her ice cream could have been sweeter.

      The other dessert option was a “celebratory glutinous rice cake with coconut reduction” – this was a bit heavy for Dominic and Isabelle, who failed to finish theirs. On my table, only Sam was in favour while Claire said it wasn’t to her taste. Tom’s table were more enthusiastic, with Paula saying it was “savoury, interesting and chewy”.

      Each table had a designated waiter or waitress, and service was friendly and well-informed if a bit slow at times as the kitchen tried to get everything out together. Large groups and set menus are also a relatively new venture for Ladudu, so it’s likely that they’ll iron out some of the kinks – and of course going in a small group or as a couple would be a very different experience.

      Overall, the evening went very well. Some dishes disappointed those who’d been expecting more exciting food, and those who had eaten at Ladudu before felt the menu hadn’t necessarily showcased the best of the restaurant’s food. However, other elements of the meal were really successful, and there was a strong sense that people wanted to come back.

      The cost: we paid £25 a head for the menu (£20 for the vegetarian option), with drinks and service on top. Tom’s alcoholics ended up with a £38/head bill, Nicky’s table was £36, and mine was £35.

      The scores:
      Nicky’s table 7.6
      Tom’s table 7.2
      Jonathan’s table 6.6
      Average: 7.1

      152 West End Lane
      NW6 1SD
      T: 020 7372 3217

      La du du on Urbanspoon

      Parking and planning dominate December’s AAG

      The turnout for this week’s West Hampstead & Fortune Green Area Action Group was higher than usual, with parking, planning, and local business on the agenda.

      For those of you not familiar with the AAGs, they are an opportunity to meet local councillors, hear about the latest developments in the area, and for the public to share their views and ask questions.

      Parking changes in Camden
      The council is reviewing its parking policies. We had a quick rundown of changes over the past few years: fewer parking tickets, no clamping, allowing taxis to park on yellow lines for ATM access.

      The borough is introducing cashless parking via mobile phones (meters will still accept coins), and is reviewing how its permit system will work with auto-renewal systems, e-permits and simplifying the visitor permit system with half-hour visitor permits being abolished. It was also made clear that the parking zones won’t be extended as that encourages short journeys and more parking pressure around stations.

      Parking turned out to be an issue that people got quite exercised by. There was a question about all the proposed housing developments and the impact on parking in the area. All new developments are encouraged to be car free and residents will not be allowed to apply for permits on nearby streets. The view was expressed that new residents would find a way around the rules. There was also a suggestion that if there was basement parking in new developments it could then be used as public parking during the day.

      There was grumbling about changes to visitor permit system and the common complaint councils face up and down the country: that they are “using motorists as cash cows”.

      Parking wardens came in for flak for being too picky over permits. The representative from Camden explained that the appeals process will look at such issues. The masses weren’t impressed and the view was expressed that the permits were too complicated yet there was no process by which the public could look at getting them changed.

      The parking review will also look at the details for each controlled parking zone, including on Fortune Green Road where parking for the 24hr gym is causing some local residents a degree of angst.

      Next up, James Earl from the Fordwych Residents Association explained the concept of the Neighbourhood Development Plan, which you can read more about here. One local development was being displayed at the meeting – Handrail House on Maygrove Road is likely to be turned into flats. The developer is throwing money at local community centre Sidings, including astroturfing the pitch, in order to ease any objections. If plans are cleared by April then the developer will avoid the Crossrail levy that all larger residential developments in London will have to pay.

      I asked whether there was any way in which we could get the Mayor’s London plan to enlarge the area designated for intensification (800 homes over the next few years) so that all the homes wouldn’t have to be clustered so tightly along the railway lines. Almost certainly a futile notion, but local councillor Flick Rea suggested that if there was ever a time to lobby politicians it was in the run up to an election and we were about to prepare for another Ken v Boris battle (and lets remember Ken lives locally so would at least be au fait with the particularities of the area). This would not be about reducing the number of new homes in West Hampstead, just spreading them out a little more. Developers themselves might not be so keen, under current planning frameworks, it’s much harder for councils to reject developments that flank railways.

      Flick also mentioned that it was possible that the council offices on West End Lane (better known as the Wickes/Travis Perkins building), which are also destined to be flats, could end up as being entirely affordable housing as part of a deal with a (hypothetical) developer. So much for integrated housing projects.

      Someone asked what our councillors’ own view was about the future of West Hampstead; I think suggesting that there was too much of a “our hands are tied” attitude. Councillor Keith Moffitt said that they had a clear vision, which was to preserve the villagey feel of the area, while recognising the need for new homes. One can imagine that this will translate into planners insisting that some of the larger developments lop a couple of floors off their proposals, or tone down any architectural oddities, but that any wholesale rejection of housing developments is unlikely.

      I bumped into James later in the week and asked if there had been a good response after the meeting in terms of helping set up a steering group for the NDP – and it seemed like there had been. This will be a lengthy process though, and is very much going to focus on the developments that aren’t even on the table yet rather than those already under discussion.

      There was a brief discussion on the new proposals for Gondar Gardens, which I’ve tackled in a separate blog. Questions were also raised as to whether there really was a need for new housing in the area, and weren’t there already too many houses on the market (the idea was firmly rebuffed by the estate agent contingent who said demand outstripped supply at the moment). And someone asked whether ownership of new flats could be restricted to Londoners or “people who need them”. You can imagine the answer.

      Councillor Gillian Risso-Gill spoke briefly about the fledgling West Hampstead Business Forum and introduced David Matthews from Dutch & Dutch estate agents who has offered to chair the group. It will be interesting to see what comes out of that in the coming months.

      The meeting concluded with short presentations / plugs for the financially challenged West Hampstead Community Association by Geoff Berridge, and for the financially more secure Sidings Community Centre by Sue Measures. Both run all manner of classes, so do check them out.

      There were two off-agenda items that came up in final questions. The first concerned the cycle permeability scheme (allowing two-way cycle traffic on many of our one-way streets), which some locals think is a recipe for disaster. The consultation period for this has passed, but the councillors suggested that comments even now might well be considered.

      The second was an impassioned plea regarding Netherwood Day Centre. This specialist Alzheimers unit just off the Kilburn High Road is teetering on the precipice again after an initial stay of execution following a high profile campaign involving local celebrities such as Ricky Gervais.

      And that was that

      Tom tries Costello

      Looking for an excuse to eat something good on a Friday evening, I made my way along to West End Lane’s latest newcomer, Costello, where, together with Jonathan, we’d very kindly been offered dinner on the house.

      Our attentive and wonderfully sparkly-eyed waitress looked after us well (I’m trying to tone down my waitress comments – I’ll get shot one of these days), and I nodded enthusiastically whilst simultaneously forgetting everything she told us about the evening’s specials.

      Anyway, I started with a risotto of woodland mushrooms, peas, Parmesan and truffle oil. Portion size was vast – we later learned this was a deliberate ploy to offer value – and value this was, because here was quality as well as quantity. Without doubt, a magnificent dish; deep, strong flavours blending together, and with the viscosity and texture of the rice spot on. We discovered via the manager, Colin, that the head chef (his brother) is a connoisseur of risotto and actually tests other establishments’ versions to gauge his own; this attention to detail shows.

      Pausing to gulp a little (OK, a lot) of the excellent Australian Shiraz, I looked on with wide eyes as my scallop dish appeared. Several voluminous specimens, on little pea “pancakes”, with a garlic cream sauce and slithers of smoked bacon (yes – sounds nice doesn’t it!) With such big molluscs, Jonathan wondered whether they’d be cooked through; they were absolutely on the edge – but done – and therefore wonderful. This is where I became further impressed; as with my starter, the sheer intensity of flavours was again very much in evidence. The garlic cream sauce was powerful and rich, but I felt the scallops stood up to it, perhaps evidence of their freshness.

      Jonathan was maybe a little less lucky with his choices; his grilled chicken, cinnamon apple and black pudding intro not quite hitting the mark on texture or balance. His main course salmon was flaky and pink, but the spicy skin hadn’t quite worked and the asparagus looked a little sorry on the plate [Ed: cold plates also didn’t help]. I feel this was justice; he never seems to do any work, eats out every day, and drinks even more than me yet doesn’t seem to get hangovers [Ed: not sure ANY of those things are strictly true!].

      I genuinely didn’t have need or capacity for dessert on this occasion, but noted that Costello bake their own as well as ordering in from a posh supplier in Primrose Hill. I had a glance at the options in their sweet cabinet or whatever it’s called, and there were plenty I’d happily try especially having seen Jonathan’s apple cake, which he assured me was excellent.

      So, a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and I’ll no doubt report back again soon on the cakes and things. In the meantime, I heartily recommend a visit; just ensure you haven’t already had a big full-English for breakfast and a pizza for lunch. Or, invite me along too and perhaps I’ll assist you in demolishing another risotto.

      The only way is up…. it seems.

      A market square; bustly shops and cafés; new influx of residents; 12-storey building… wait, what now?

      On Saturday, architects John Thomson & Partners held an exhibition in the church hall on Sherriff Road to show their latest proposals for the strip of land that slopes west from West End Lane between the tube lines and the Overground lines and is currently fronted by the parade of shops including Café Bon, Rock, and Peppercorns.

      The amended proposal will house 200 flats, with a mix of 1- 2- and 3-bed apartments (the majority being 2-bed), along with some affordable housing, giving a total population of around 500 people. The affordable housing (all tucked away at the far end of the site away from West End Lane) comprises 30% of the total floorspace, although I understand that the council stipulates 50% of floorspace should be affordable housing.

      The proposal is for six blocks of flats, each separated by green space – some of which will be accessible to residents only, and some of which will be small park space. The block facing onto West End Lane, behind the “market square” (remember this would be private space masquerading as public space) would be 5-storeys high. The next one back 7, then 9, then 12, then 9 then 7. To give some context, the highest buildings along West End Lane at the moment are 6-storeys high – most are four or five. [update: i was initially told by an architect from JTP to my face that the tallest building would be 11 storeys. It was only under some pressure at the public meeting the following week that they admitted that from the ground level, it would be 12. Such disingenuousness does nothing to win residents over]

      We heard a few technical things, such as that that buildings would be on springs – as used in earthquake zones – to absorb the vibrations from the passing trains and that ventilation would be provided so windows wouldn’t need to be opened. The buildings would be predominantly brick. But I think for most people, the materials and technical specifications weren’t the issue – the size was. Some artists impressions of what the site would look like from West End Lane made good use of tree cover to minimize the impact – trees, for example, owned by Network Rail and that could be chopped down at any time.

      (it’s behind the trees, look closely)

      (think you can see it here quite clearly)

      In all honesty, it seems very hard to imagine that the council is going to pass an 12-storey building, or even a 9-storey one. One option would be to have all the buildings at, say, 7 storeys. This might look even more monolithic though. I wondered whether the developers (Ballymore) and architects have already built this into their equation – a reduction in the number of private flats would increase the proportion of affordable housing to the statutory requirement.

      There will be more retail space than the site has presently, although some will be on a first floor level, rather than directly on the street. There is also a space large enough for a small supermarket, and apparently Partridges has expressed an interest – although this is all very early days.

      There is a public meeting on Wednesday about this, where the architects will present their proposals and take questions. I strongly suggest that if you are interested/concerned/delighted/offended about the idea then go along. Two things to bear in mind: a) no plans have officially been submitted yet; b) this land will be used for housing. You may also want to come the local Area Action Group meeting where the issue of a Neighbourhood Development Plan will be raised.

      One thing that would be nice (if you’re reading this Camden) is for the consultation area to extend to Broadhurst Gardens area. A woman I was speaking to at the event lives on that road and had no idea about this exhibition until a friend mentioned it to her, despite the fact that she lives much closer to the site than many other people in the consultation area.

      (What would be REALLY fun is if the student accommodation building on Blackburn Road, and whatever ends up being built on this site, are being thrown up at the same time. You think the traffic is bad on West End Lane now?)

      Spiga pulls out all the stops

      On Thursday, 24 of us took over Broadhurst Gardens’ newest restaurant Osteria Spiga in the latest (and largest) edition of #whampreview.

      With so many of us, we staggered the tables over the evening and Tom and I had selected a slightly shorter menu than Spiga’s full offering although there was still plenty of choice.

      We received a generous complimentary glass of prosecco on arrival, and there was bread and olives on the table. Starter portions were sizeable – Anna was sceptical as to whether we were receiving “critics portions”, but from my previous experiences at Spiga I think we were getting the usual dishes. Over the course of the evening, despite a few errors and inconsistencies, it was obvious that there was skill and flair in the kitchen, and the evening was a great success with the vast majority of food receiving glowing praise.

      The wild mushroom and poached egg starter (£4.50), especially popular on my table, was certainly a whole lot of mushrooms on a plate. It was “lovely and garlicky” according to Nathan, if “very rich” as Adrian and I both thought. June “thoroughly enjoyed it”, but Alex wasn’t sure whether the poached egg really went with the mushrooms – both parts cooked well, but did they merge together successfully?

      Poached egg featured with the asparagus starter too (£5.50), which was the most popular dish on Tom’s table although there seemed to be a few egg issues with Tom’s and Doron’s a little undercooked while Rajiv and Ryan’s was perfect – everyone loved the asparagus though.

      Those who opted for the cold meats platter (£5.90) were presented with an enormous wooden board of hams and salamis along with smoked mozzarella (“amazing” said Lauren) and Will cleared his board proclaiming it “excellent”. Eugene thought it was well presented and agreed the portions were generous. In fact, this is really large enough to be a sharing plate.

      Claire T loved her smoked salmon salad (£6.30) “a delicious combination of smoky oily fish with creamy mascarpone” and Tom, who tried a bite, reckoned he’d happily have it as a main course with some bread.

      The fried goat’s cheese (£5.20) was also a potential main course. Rahki said hers was “very tasty” and Amy said it was “substantial and rich, but it could benefit from more balsamic to balance the flavours”, while Mark looked on enviously.

      Matt and Emily (perhaps ambitiously) opted for risotto (£5.50) as a starter. Matt liked the “delicate flavours” and said the “asparagus really shone through”, but admitted it was “too big for a starter”. Emily liked the “creamy texture”, but would have liked a grating of parmesan on top.

      After starters came a complimentary pasta course – perhaps a course too many for some of us. It was a pumpkin and amaretti ravioli (two pieces) and an accomapnying ladleful of gnocchi in a tomato sauce. The ravioli divided opinion – it was on the sweet side for most people, but the almond flavour came through. “It tastes like Bakewell tart” said Mark and Anna, while Alex and Stefanie thought it a “bit too marzipanny”. The gnocchi was more of a hit – I’m not a great fan of gnocchi but I could have happily eaten a bowl of this for a main. All in all, a mixed success, although the generosity was definitely appreciated.

      Already quite full, the main courses started appearing. The duck in orange sauce (£9.80) was a popular choice although several people thought their’s slightly overcooked – in Claire T’s case, enough to send it back although she raved about her replacement calling it “sweet and fruity” and she said the duck leg croquette was “amazing”. Matt and I found the sauce a little too sweet, but Claire J said it was perfect and Phil enjoyed his, while Ryan liked the “top notch presentation”. The croquette divided opinion – I felt mine lacked depth of flavour and perhaps was underseasoned. June was pleased with her rare duck – cooked as she wanted.

      Nathan went for the vegetarian version of the Fagotini (£8.00), which did have to go back to the kitchen after a misunderstanding led to the first attempt having bacon in it. When he got the right one he thought it was “quite nice, but slightly bland”.

      Rakhi and Tom went for the gnocchi – Rakhi sensibly opting for the starter size (£5.80). She found it “tasty”. Tom’s main course portion (£7.80) was a “nice wholesome dish with delicate flavours”, atlhough both of them thought it needed more salt.

      The sea bass (£12.50) looked excellent – two large fillets on a bed of ratatouille. Rajiv reckoned it was “one of the best sea bass fillets I’ve ever had. Juicy, flaky and simply excellent”. Will gave it “top marks”, while Emily thought it was “very generous, but the ratatouille is too strong”.

      The steak (£14.50) was a hit, although Stefanie realised she’d now doubled up on the mushrooms after the funghi starter. It was “excellent and well presented” according to Eugene, who also liked the peas and stock side dish that comes with all mains at Spiga (and is delicious – you don’t need to order sides here!).

      Nathalie loved her veal chop (£14.90) although found the size overwhelming. Adrian enjoyed it but found it quite rich and would have preferred the potatoes as a side dish rather than on the plate. Doron’s was overcooked and was sent back – the replacement was still slightly over for him, but he thought it was “very tasty”. Tom’s table, who had all three of the returned dishes, got wine on the house as compensation.

      Alex gave his chicken (£9.30) 8/10, and was very happy with it, although he thought his orange juice disappointing.

      Dessert menus were generally waved away – everyone was very full by this stage. Will did find room for a crème brûlée (£4.20), which looked lovely and was “really good”. Matt’s table shared a tarte tatin (£4.30) and a chocolate torte (£4.60). The tarte tatin was more popular although Anna thought it too bitter and Claire J suggested the addition of salted caramel! Matt thought the torte “unadventurous”, but as Phil enigmatically pointed out “if you order a chocolate torte you’ll get a chocolate torte”.

      A couple of grappas, coffess and a vin santo with cantuccine made their way to my table, and of course complimentary limoncellos all round.

      Matt’s table hit the Chianti Classico (£21), which they preferred to the house red. My table was on nothing but the house red (a Merlot/Sangiovese blend from Umbria), which we all thought was excellent value at £12.95, and Tom’s table also enjoyed it, while Claire T upgraded her white wine having been unconvinced by the house white. Claire J simply liked the size and shape of the wine glasses!

      So that’s the food – but what about the service. It was, simply, excellent. This was a big ask for the two waitresses helped by Sandra (whose chef husband Sokol was responsible for about 75 plates of food that night), and they rose to the occasion. Tom praised the “outstanding and very warm” service and his table wholeheartedly agreed – remembering that they had the most problems. He particularly mentioned how hard Sandra worked to rectify the problems.

      With so much food and plenty of wine, I think most people were surprised at the final bill. Matt’s table (drinking pricier wine) came to £33 each, my table averaged at £30 each with a bit of juggling for Alex who wasn’t knocking back the wine like the rest of us, and Tom’s table was £28.

      The all important scores:
      Tom’s table: 8.1
      Jonathan’s table: 7.6
      Matt’s table: 8.0

      The bottom line seemed to be that even with very minor quibbles people enjoyed it very much and were very keen to come again. The warmth of hospitality is very genuine and that comes across. I’ll leave the last word to Eugene: “fantastic service, well-run, good value – a strong example of what a neighbourhood restaurant is”.

      Osteria Spiga
      182 Broadhurst Gardens
      NW6 3AY
      T: 020 7372 8188

      Photos by Lauren / Jonathan