Netherwood Street: Residents take rubbish into their own hands

If you’ve ever had cause to walk from West End Lane to Kilburn High Road via Sherriff Road, you will have been on Netherwood Street. You probably hurried by trying not to notice the unsightly dump between the pavement and the railway line. All manner of refuse, including builders waste and evidence of rough sleeping, combine to give this otherwise pleasant area a distinctly grotty feel.

WHGARA, the local residents association for that part of West Hampstead, has decided to reclaim this abandoned council-owned site, and turn it into a small park.

Cllr Phil Rosenberg, who ran a very informal consultation on rubbish hotspots in the area via West Hampstead Life, took Cllr Sally Gimson, who’s responsible for such things in Camden, on a walkabout to see the worst offending places – including Netherwood Street.

Phil Rosenberg: "being knee deep in muck is the best thing I've been able to do"

Phil Rosenberg: “being knee deep in muck is the best thing I’ve been able to do”

Camden was able to bring WHGARA together with local charity, Camden Green Gym, and national campaign CleanUpUK to make a difference to the area. The three groups joined volunteers from the Webheath estate, and the two councillors to clear the site earlier this month. Working for three hours, the 20+ volunteers moved heavy debris including mattresses and discarded builders’ material, and more than 50 bags of flytipped waste.

Netherwood St Group Photo

WHGARA secretary Brigid Shaughnessy said, “It was a real success. The community really rallied behind it and we are hopeful that it can be restored as a creative new green space for residents”.

Netherwood Street clean-up before...

Netherwood Street clean-up before…

... and after

… and after

Once the space is cleared of waste, campaigners hope to turn the plot in to a micro-park, and the possibility of new allotments is being discussed. Ms Shaughnessy paid tribute to the “sustained and positive support” of the councillors, which had helped get the clean-up off the ground.

Netherwood St Litter Pick

Phil Rosenberg said, “It sounds strange to say it, but being knee-deep in muck is the best thing I have been able to do since becoming a local councillor. It just shows that when the community, council and local charities come together, we can achieve amazing things.”

The campaigners are hoping to do another round on the weekend of May 9th/10th, which we’ll publicise on these pages – do get involved in what’s a great community initiative. However, Camden has a long way to go to win over residents who are dissatisified with the rubbish on our streets (especially the Kilburn High Road end of Netherwood) and the performance of contractors. This feels like a step in the right direction, though hopefully not every initiative will require residents to become quite so closely acquainted with the problem they want solved!

Bench for elderly attracts litter and noise

You’d think a bench would be an uncontroversial object. Just a few pieces of wood, not getting in anyone’s way. Doing its bench thing.

You’d be wrong, so terribly terribly wrong.

KOVE, which stands for Kilburn Older Voices Exchange, together with WHAT (West Hampstead Amenities & Transport), managed to get Camden to install a bench on the corner of Hemstal Road and West End Lane. Those of you who live in the frozen northern wastelands of Fortune Green may not even know where that is. Hemstal is the first turning to Kilburn after you leave the shops of West End Lane heading south. It also has, somewhat bafflingly, one of those Legible London signs.

That’s quite the jaunty perch

Anyway, I was sent a press release by KOVE telling me about this bench.

“After consulting members of the community, the site was chosen to help give people a rest from walking the steep incline.

Mrs Dawda, a local resident, said, “I often feel breathless walking up Hemstal Road and so a chance to have a rest is very good. In fine weather, I can also just sit to have a read and chat to new people. It is a great improvement to the area.””

Mel Wright, KOVE coordinator explained, “This bench is part of our ongoing campaign for community seating in Kilburn and West Hampstead. We carried out a survey a little while back about what older people needed to help improve the quality of their lives. One of the main priorities was somewhere to sit and rest whilst going out. People with chronic health conditions and disabilities are sometimes marooned at home unless they can be assured of a sit down when they go out to do shoping or visits. This new seat is a valuable community resource to be enjoyed by everyone and we hope that like all the other benches it will be treated with respect.”

A noble aim Mel, a noble aim. Just seems there’s been one small problem, and local residents association WHGARA (I do apologise for all the acronyms in this article) has been quick to pounce on it.

Camden contacted local councillors and neighbourhood police teams before the bench was put in place and ‘no significant issues were raised at the time’, but it seems the council didn’t speak to residents of St James’ Mansions. That’s the building behind the bench. They are now complaining of long evenings of nuisance and noise and days of litter.

Graffiti (from a satisfied diner?)
Photo via WHGARA

It turns out that there used to be a bench roughly in the same place, but it was removed some years ago because of similar problems.

WHGARA is categorical in its condemnation of the whole sorry affair:

The bench is in the wrong place and attracting the wrong users. Elderly people have not been seen sitting on this bench – builders on their lunchbreak, yes! Drinkers and drunks and people fast asleep in the evening, yes! The council have neglected to supply any litter bins and all the cans, pizza and takeaway boxes and fish and chip wrappers end up on the gardens behind the bench in St James’ Mansions front gardens.

One might argue that you can’t really legislate for who uses a public bench, unless you want to stick one of those “priority seat” stickers from the tube on it. If a builder wants to sit down and have a sandwich at lunchtime, then I think that’s fair enough. A litter bin would be sensible though.

The problems in the evening are slightly more challenging, though one wonders whether, as the occasional patrol car drives up West End Lane, an officer could wind the window down and have a quiet word with any rowdy bench-abusers. Whether the graffiti is related to the bench is hard to prove from a photo, but either way, it seems a shame to have to rip up the bench.

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.

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.

WHGARA’s objection to 187-199 West End Lane

Local residents association WHGARA has perhaps been the most vocal opponent of the proposals to redevelop 187-199 West End Lane. Here is a copy of its submission to the Camden Development Control Committee, which it will make on March 1st.

187-199 WEST END LANE APPLICATION No 2011/6129/P

1. WHGARA represents the residents of the area of West Hampstead, immediately next to and south of the proposed development. This application directly affects every one who lives in this Association’s area and who will see – and experience the consequences of – these overbearing tower blocks every day of every year.

We speak also for the interests of the wider number of residents of this part of West Hampstead who come and visit our area who have no one to speak for them. Many individuals, groups and businesses in this community will be disadvantaged for no good reason other than the profits to be made by the developers.

2. We support and agree with all that has been said by all three of our West Hampstead Councillors, Keith Moffitt, John Bryant and Gillian Risso-Gill. They speak with one voice in opposing this development in its present form with convincing reasons. We ask you to accept what they say. West Hampstead is primarily a residential area of low-rise housing – none more than 4 or 5 storeys high. Our Victorian and Edwardian forefathers recognised that low levels in a suburban environment are a necessary and attractive feature of town planning. As a result, even the tallest existing buildings are within a human scale. Blocks along West End Lane’s going towards Abbey Road are only 4- 5 storeys high. There are no tall buildings away from West End Lane itself. In the last 40 years, there has been no permission in West Hampstead, Hampstead, Swiss Cottage, St John Wood or Child’s Hill for a developer to build a 12 storey residential tower block – a skyscraper – let alone two more blocks which are10 storeys high. We have a heritage of a built-environment with a rich social mix of residents and many small businesses. Many other developers are waiting to see what the outcome of this application is going to be.

3. We are at a defining moment. This joint development by a public body – Network Rail – and its private enterprise partner, Ballymore is totally out of keeping with anything that has gone before and is closer to the ghastly tower blocks which planners allowed to be built in the 1960s. It represents a massive overdevelopment of a small, narrow and tapering site. The site may be ripe for development, but not like this. It defies Camden Core Development policy CS 5 and is detrimental in great measure to the amenity of all local residents. It goes against Core Policy CS 14, because it is completely at odds with the context and character of the area. It has few saving graces and nil charm.

4. Much emphasis has, for instance, been laid on payback in the form of a small public square, just by the railway station. In reality, it is just about twice the size of the fire-station forecourt in West End Lane. It will contribute little to our community and the reality is that any developer of the site is going to do much the same kind of thing, because a small open space is needed there nowadays to allow for the current, very large number of daily commuters who use the 3 stations which lie next to each other.

5. The size and bulk of the development is hostile to our environment and will have a chilling impact on our community. This is not central, inner London, but a lovely village, close to the centre. Queen Victoria used to go riding along West End Lane because it was a pleasant place to come. These tower blocks are going to be directly visible from a great number of places – not least from West End. They overshadow (from the south) the nearest street –Iverson Road- robbing it of light. To allow the construction of 1 x 12 storeys, 2 x 10 storeys and 2 x 8 storeys anywhere, let alone on this small site of less than 1 hectare would be unforgivable. These tower blocks will be there, long after our lifetimes. The Members of this Committee must not bestow such a ghastly legacy on this generation and the many generations to come. Get it into perspective: the height of the 12 storey block is more than twice as high as St Pancras. There is an almost complete absence of a proper analysis of this impact in the Officers’ report.

6. Although the Mayor’s Intensification Plan may envisage 800 new homes in the area, it does not mean that 25% of that plan needs to be stuffed onto one small site. The designation as a growth area does not mean that just one developer partnership should be allowed by our elected representatives to rob our community of its pleasant environment and to set a chilling precedent that other developers will eagerly follow. This development represents over-ambition and a thirst for unjustified profits by Network Rail and its partners at our environmental and social expense. The size of the buildings is driven by the commercial decision to cram in 200 or so apartments – as if this was in the heart of the West End or the City. We ask the committee members, as our elected representatives, to moderate this scheme to not more than 6-8 storeys and send the message to the developers to go back to the drawing board. The development as proposed will devastate the infrastructure and village feel of West Hampstead, which the draft Place Shaping document describes as the KEY ATTRIBUTE of this area.

7. Some of the statistics deployed by the developers are highly suspect and, as the Councillors point out, out of date. For instance, these 200 homes will produce some 700 – 800 new residents, given the mix of flats. The developers claim only 363 residents on the basis that no bedroom would be occupied by more than one person! That is obviously nonsense. They suggest that there will be only 72 children needing new school places, whereas the true number will be many more. There are just 2 doctors’ surgeries within or on the fringe of the West Hampstead Ward – So the developers used a one mile radius instead, and included any surgery in Kilburn, St John’s Wood, Swiss Cottage and so on. The calculations concerning increased pressure on public transport and traffic generally are also unusually low.

8. The impact on local parking is unpredictable because of car-capping. “Let them use car clubs” -you may say, but the Application provides for a tiny number of car club parking spaces and completely ignores the impact of residents and their visitors who will want to park – outside controlled hours. 14% of residents in West Hampstead, according to the Council, commute by car. For this development alone, that equates to well over 100 new residents’ cars, which will be searching the surrounding streets for spaces at night and weekends. And that does not take into account the delivery vans servicing the number of shops in the proposed scheme, for whom almost no special provision has been made.

9. This is an Application for a completely overwhelming and undistinguished piece of architecture, involving a huge overdevelopment of a small site and one which is going to impact adversely on all our lives and the future generations to come. If built, this is not going to win any prizes – only universal condemnation for the developers and the town planners who allowed it, contrary to the local community’s strong objections and in the face of broad local protest.

We, therefore, ask the Committee to refuse the application.
Stephen Nathan QC, Chairman, WHGARA. 27.ii.2012

Meeting on 187-199 development

If you’re interested or affected by the development of the 187-199 West End Lane site (for background, I suggest reading this), then you might want to go along to the meeting on Monday night. The relatively newly formed West Hampstead Gardens Residents Association (with its ‘rhymes with Viagra’ moniker of WHGARA) is certainly going to be represented if this flyer is anything to go by.