Dear A2 Dominion,
I have followed the development of these proposals for the site at 156 West End Lane with interest.
I note the changes to the plan that seem to have given the proposed design more bulkiness while (apparently) reducing its actual size. I say apparently because the claim of reducing the height is wholly disingenuous. The original proposal that I saw was 8 storeys. The current proposal is 8 storeys. You may well have floated the idea of making it bigger in the interim, but any claim of reduction is a total deception. I think a phrase like this might be more accurate: “Despite objection from Camden citizens, developer A2Dominion has refused to reduce the height of the proposed Tower Blocks from the original 8 storeys.” (see Fig.1)
I find the side-by-side comparison with Canterbury Mansions thoroughly disheartening. That your design team can draw inspiration from such an elegant and sophisticated building to produce something uglier and blander than the building currently on the site is an architectural achievement not soon surpassed. At least the eyesore that currently stands there has the conviction to embrace a style. That you tout a prominent corner feature as a design goal, and offer a cube shaped exhaust vent as your proposal would be hilarious if it weren’t your intention to build it in my neighbourhood.
In the side-by-side analysis of the elevations you also leave off the profile of an entire floor of your proposed design. Will you build that extra floor? Why leave it off, as if somehow, being light beige, it might sneak by unnoticed? The only nod to the character of the existing architecture seems to begin and end with what can be produced with the barest minimum change to the materials cost and with zero impact on maximum gross internal floor space. Consequently, the proposed new facade looms over the pavement like a giant orange-brick boil, heaving at its seams to burst. I should not like to be waiting for the 328 if it should pop. Furthermore, this feeble attempt to match the character of the neighbourhood architecture is then wholly abandoned for the remainder of the lego block design.
I note you have chosen the top of the chimney pots and a decorative mast as the benchmark for matching the height of your development to the neighbouring building. Why stop there?
You may observe if you were to walk along West End Lane (I don’t know first-hand whether the architect(s) from Child Graddon Lewis have), that where there are changes in grade, the rooflines of the buildings loosely follow that line. You need only look across the road to see this in practice, the resulting effect is the building sitting within the landscape, following the topography, not inflicted on it or bursting out of it as your design appears to. Even the current structure, for its many faults at least got this right. I include a few photographs to illustrate this point if anyone on the design team is unable to visit the neighbourhood. (See fig.2-5)
You commit the same sin in the side elevation, preserving the roofline to the eastern edge of the development, taking no heed of the fact that the grade has dropped nearly a full storey here. This has the effect of adding a storey to the height of the third and fourth Private Sale Towers relative to the local landscape.
But of course the elevation of the buildings on the new private street is a subject worthy of its own discussion. Please take note of this section of the Neighbourhood Plan, Section B7:
The site shall provide an improved design relationship to the adjoining Canterbury Mansions and West End Green Conservation Area, to protect and enhance the character and appearance of the area. Therefore, the height of any new development should ensure the overall design and transition in massing achieves an appropriate relationship with neighbouring properties – and it can be demonstrated that no harm is caused to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area, its setting.
Indeed, this section, specifically about the site at 156 West End Lane suggests what is evident to all those who live in West Hampstead. The building heights and architecture on the High Street, also named the Town Centre, are distinct from those on the side streets. A site that neighbours both will require a transition in massing to achieve this appropriate relationship to both. Consequently, you are not in discussion to purchase and develop one homogenous site. In Camden’s own Site Allocation Plan, we find this description, which very clearly denotes the expectations for the site and intimates a division in land use:
- Provide appropriate town centre uses along the frontage with residential including affordable housing above and to the rear of site
You most assuredly have two agendas and two design goals to meet. One massive Eight Storey size does not fit all. You have a High Street Development, which extends the entire Western edge of the property and extends Eastward to roughly the end of the existing five storey building. I shall repeat… existing five storey building so that perhaps you may take note that the building being replaced is five storeys tall, not six, or seven and certainly not eight. Behind this, where unsurprisingly the existing development drops substantially in height, you will have a residential site. Where and how this transition occurs may be a matter of discussion, but to proceed as though the entire Southern frontage on Potteries Path is a High Street is to completely misunderstand what such a thing is.
I attach a selection of views of neighbouring roads that clearly show what the accepted transition from High Street to side street looks like. (Fig. 6-14) As it happens, I love the proposed name of your new side street: Shared Surface. It evokes history, community and the village feel that West Hampstead is striving to protect. You may well note, that on all the other side streets (or shared surfaces if you prefer) in and around West Hampstead the homes are three storeys high. You may find the odd exception, stretching skyward to four storeys, but by and large the acceptable height of homes on the residential roads of West Hampstead is pretty well fixed.
Of course it is a different matter when Mansion Blocks occupy the entirety of city blocks, but this is not the circumstance of the site at 156 West End Lane. In fact, this site is adjoined to the north, quite closely I might add, by a considerable number of houses that contain a surprising number of residents. Residents who have no desire to have their homes plunged into the shadow of your eight storey monoliths. Citizens who do not want their wonderful sunny southern views to be consumed wholly and completely by a view of the back of your proposed orange Tower Blocks. Your document describes these houses as Villas, bringing to mind the predominantly vacant summer homes of Emperors. Perhaps this language is designed to be inviting to a certain demographic you may be targeting for the “private sale” units, who will be buying off plan from distant countries without any ambition to become our neighbours. Those absentee buyers may be the reason that you project a mere 209 employed residents in 191 units. Make no mistake however, these are houses on Lymington Road not Villas, lived in by your neighbours and you are proposing to radically diminish the benefit they can enjoy from their homes.
Where Camden Site Allocations Plan suggests that there should be “an appropriate transition in massing towards the south and east of the site” you clearly have interpreted that to suit your own ends. You ought to read Camden’s guidance as an indication that the height and mass should “transition” to something more “appropriate” as you move away from the high street. Instead, you have made NO transition whatsoever to the east, and seem to think that this licenses you to reach maximum heights at the south edge of the site. (See Fig. 15) To avoid further confusion on the matter, here is the full text followed by a plain English translation:
“If redeveloped the existing relationship of new development immediately adjoining Canterbury Mansions to the north should be considerably more sympathetic in terms of scale, height and design with an appropriate transition in massing towards the south and east of the site.”
In simple unambiguous English:
“A new development should look nicer next to Canterbury Mansions and be less imposing than what is currently there, and should change heights and bulk to a more suitable smaller size once you move back from the High Street.”
You could not have got it more wrong really.
The Camden Site Allocations Plan goes on to say that a new development will be expected to “ensure an acceptable relationship to the adjacent residential properties on Lymington Road”. As mentioned above, the unwelcome construction of a looming block of luxury flats is not the foundation of an acceptable relationship. Perhaps the hope is to assuage your neighbours by reducing the heights of the towers sharply from eight to six to four storeys as they near the garden fences. Simply put, the site is not wide enough to push a tower block any meaningful distance away from those garden fences. Hence any new structure anywhere on the site that exceeds the conventional rooflines of West Hampstead homes (three storeys) will serve to obliterate the views from Lymington Road and overshadow the existing homes completely. This is clearly not “an appropriate relationship with neighbouring properties.” (Fig. 16)
I haven’t measured my own house, but as the heights offered in the current set of proposals are measured from grade at the pavement on West End Lane (e.g. buildings labelled +25 metres and +21 metres are in fact the same height) I can say the houses are around +9m. In other words: You propose to build homes that are MORE THAN TWO TIMES TOO TALL. Put another way, you are asking for more than DOUBLE what is the established norm. Our neighbourhood is not a buffet where you can gorge yourself on a double helping of pudding.
Most sad of all, the solution to overcoming these simple objections are staring you in the face. Your neighbours. A word you’ve used on occasion. Canterbury Mansions is a terrific model of a successful mixed-use building housing five businesses and boasting some 17 residential units in a footprint substantially smaller than the existing former Camden offices at 156 West End Lane. Immediately to the north of the proposed site, Lymington Road provides a somewhat crude but straightforward blueprint of how to put 50+ residential units on a parcel of land similar in all dimensions to the residential portion of the site you hope to purchase. Naturally, purpose built structures would certainly improve the efficiency of the delivery of this housing, offering substantially more living space per square meter than period conversions, without over-reaching on the elevations. With some creativity, you might be able to put 70 or more units on the land that backs on to Lymington Road without eclipsing 9+ metres (or eclipsing the existing homes and residents). Case in point, there is a sizeable affordable housing development built by Camden itself that is your third neighbour (the soccer pitch and playground you propose to cast into shade for nine months of the year are part of that very same development). You will note that they have built a variety of unit sizes with significant density while keeping the height of the homes in line with the homes in the rest of the neighbourhood (see Fig. 17).
I would welcome a proposal from A2Dominion to develop the site in keeping with the established norms of the neighbourhood (the adjoining conservation area).
Of note in Camden’s Document “Shaping the Future of the Wider West Hampstead Area” is the conclusion that:
“…whilst there are a number of open spaces within the area, including award winning Maygrove Peace Park, Iverson Road and Crown Close open spaces, West Hampstead as a whole has been identified in Camden Planning documents as an area deficient in open space.”
It is consequently reprehensible that you should propose to submerge one of these rare open spaces in the shadow of your overblown development.(See Fig. 18) Without knowing an actual height from grade of the proposed towers at the edge of the Crown Close Open Space (+ 21 metres above a pavement approximately 150 metres east = 8 storeys = dwarfing everything around it), I can only roughly calculate that the proposed structure will cast the entirety of the football pitch into shadow each day after school for nine months of the year. It will be in shadow on every single day that shade is unwelcome and likely none of the days it might be seen as a mercy. It is galling also that at the recent round of “presentations” A2Dominion had the cheek to suggest that the shade was a benefit to parents in protecting their children from the sun. I do not need an eight storey blight of private luxury flats to help me with my parenting, thank you. No matter how many square metres of roof garden you plan to include in your proposal, you cannot possibly make up for the loss of daylight to the children of West Hampstead. (Of course we do understand that no one shall be allowed to visit these roof gardens, for you claim they will not impinge on the privacy of the gardens and homes they overlook.)
I note also with interest your recent invitation to the presentation on September 10th and 12th touted A2Dominion as a charity. Now that I have looked more closely at your corporate structure, I am curious to know something. Will the not-for-profit arm (A2Dominion Homes Ltd) be the only division of A2Dominion involved in the development of the site? It seemed from this last correspondence that the project was a not-for-profit venture. I can only assume that this is the case. It would be unseemly for one to hint that were so, only for it to be discovered that this represents just one aspect of the development and the profit motive behind the project was obscured by the use of this reference. Perhaps unethical might be a more accurate term for this type of obfuscation. I assume for instance that the holders of A2Dominion Bonds will be expecting their nearly £14,000,000.00 in pay outs this year and wonder how this is achieved in isolation from the business of building non-profit affordable housing. Perhaps you could provide a broad strokes outline of the corporate structure behind the proposed development and their respective roles. This would help avoid any further confusion (deliberate or otherwise) surrounding who the real beneficiaries of this development are.
As you’ve seen fit to share a cocktail napkin cross section of your proposal, here’s some back of the envelope math to consider. West Hampstead real estate has surpassed £8,500/sqm. The site at 156 West End Lane is 6,000 sqm. If you built on the site, that represents a one storey building worth £51,000,000. Subtract the land costs of £20,000,000 and a reasonable £1000/sqm building costs and you’re left with £25,000,000. Surely that’s enough to pay for the demolition, the salaries of the hardworking types at A2Dominion (and their PR firms) and any other pay outs (totalling £ 19,000,000), leaving an additional £6,000,000.00 untouched to build a second storey of affordable housing (Camden’s 50% target), already bought and paid for. Of course this is an oversimplification. Who would want to consume the whole footprint of the site for example? And there’s revenue generating retail space to consider. Equally, a proposal that sought five (even six!) storeys of High Street development and three storeys of residential housing, with ample room for open space and “shared surfaces” would certainly produce a much higher gross internal area and would meet the many disparate agendas of the stakeholders with minimal resistance. Save perhaps for the A2Dominion shareholders and bondholders, but we’ve previously established this is a non-profit venture. Correct?
Finally, as the site is designated as an Archaeological Priority Area, what steps does A2Dominion propose to take in the demolition, site clearing and excavation of the site? Could you please detail these for me? I see you have a designated Archaeology consultant, but what real steps will be taken?
I look forward to a point by point reply to these views. I also look forward to seeing them duly considered in the next round of presentations. Please expect that I will vigorously oppose your planning application should it fail to address my concerns and the concerns of other Camden residents.
West Hampstead Resident
P.S. I include for your benefit some relevant sections of the various planning guidance your next proposal needs to adhere to. No doubt these are well known to you. I have bolded some of the most relevant sections as well as those which are referred to above.
CAMDEN SITE ALLOCATIONS PLAN
Site 28: 156 West End Lane
Development will be expected to:
- Provide appropriate town centre uses along the frontage with residential including affordable housing above and to the rear of site
- Provide an improved design relationship to adjoining Canterbury Mansions and West End Green Conservation Area to protect and enhance the character and appearance of this area
- Ensure an acceptable relationship to the adjacent residential properties on Lymington Road
Main Policy Considerations
- The Council will ensure that new development will preserve and enhance nearby built heritage assets (Policy CS14 and DP25).
If redeveloped the existing relationship of new development immediately adjoining Canterbury Mansions to the north should be considerably more sympathetic in terms of scale, height and design with an appropriate transition in massing towards the south and east of the site.
Development should relate appropriately to open spaces and not be detrimental to its function or ecological value.
FORTUNE GREEN & WEST HAMPSTEAD NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN
POLICY 2: DESIGN & CHARACTER
All development shall be of a high quality of design, which complements and enhances the distinct local character and identity of Fortune Green and West Hampstead. This shall be achieved by:
- Development which positively interfaces with the street and streetscape in which it is located.
- Development which maintains the positive contributions to character of existing buildings and structures.
- Development which is human in scale, in order to maintain and create a positive relationship between buildings and street level activity.
- Development which has regard to the form, function, structure and heritage of its context – including the scale, mass, orientation, pattern and grain of surrounding buildings, streets and spaces.
- A presumption in favour of a colour palate which reflects, or is in harmony with, the materials of its context.
- New buildings and extensions that respect and are sensitive to the height of existing buildings in their vicinity and setting. Tall buildings in the Growth Area will need to have regard to their impact on the setting of the two immediately adjacent conservation areas, in order to avoid any negative impact on them.
A9. The NPPF (60) states that it is “proper to seek to promote or reinforce local distinctiveness” and says (58) that development shall “respond to local character and history, and reflect the identity of local surroundings and materials”. As outlined in 2.2 & 2.5 many parts of Fortune Green and West Hampstead have a clear architectural heritage – with an attractive character and a distinct local identity. These positive features are strongly supported (as set out in the Consultation Statement) and need to be protected and preserved. New developments in such areas – particularly terraced streets – need to be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area in terms of their proportion, height, scale, massing, materials, storey height and rooflines. Larger developments, while reflecting new design, need to incorporate design features that reflect the character of existing development, using materials (such as red brick) which complement existing buildings. Innovation is not ruled out, however schemes incorporating innovation will need to make a persuasive case for such development and demonstrate the suitability of such schemes.
A10. The height of existing development in Fortune Green and West Hampstead makes a significant contribution to the overall character of the Area. The NPPF (59) recognises height as an important consideration and that design policies “…should concentrate on guiding the overall scale, density, massing, height, landscape, layout, materials and access of new development in relation to neighbouring buildings and the local area more generally”. Much of the Neighbourhood Plan Area consists of terraced housing, which is normally two or three storeys high. Mansion blocks tend to be four, five or six storeys in height. New buildings and development will need to be based on a human scale and efficiently use the site area. High density developments are not ruled out, and it is noted (see recent reports on ‘Mid-Rise Housing’ from the Prince’s Foundation and other groups) that high densities can be achieved through high quality design, without the need for tall buildings. In order to promote and reinforce the distinct and widely appreciated local character of Fortune Green and West Hampstead, new development shall respect, and be sensitive to, the height of existing buildings in their vicinity and setting.
B. West Hampstead Growth Area
The design of any new building will need to reflect the design of neighbouring buildings and the neighbouring Conservation Area (see Policies 2 & 3), including use of red brick.
• The site shall provide an improved design relationship to the adjoining Canterbury Mansions and West End Green Conservation Area, to protect and enhance the character and appearance of the area. Therefore, the height of any new development should ensure the overall design and transition in massing achieves an appropriate relationship with neighbouring properties – and it can be demonstrated that no harm is caused to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area, its setting.
PHOTOS AND DIAGRAMS
Fig. 1 – We can see that the height of the buildings were increased to 9 storeys for the June presentations. Note also the change in grade that makes the two private sale blocks one storey taller than the affordable rented block.
Fig. 2 – Throughout the neighbourhood, rooflines descend to follow the contours of the ground.
Fig. 3 – Here again we see the roofline in step with the slope of the hill.
Fig. 4 – Where grade drops one storey, the roofline matches.
Fig. 5 – Though difficult to see from street level because of the interesting geometry of the building, the vacant Camden Offices at 156 West End Lane are taller to the north, with the roofline dropping in harmony with the slope of the street.
Fig. 6 – This view could not be more illustrative of what is permitted in West Hampstead. The photo was taken directly across the street from the proposed development site. On the right, an imposing (yet elegant) High Street building, behind it on a footpath (not Potteries path but a footpath along the rail line) a NEWER development has been built. Note the height of the white building on the left. There could not be a more precise duplication of the circumstances at 156 West End Lane. It is mere steps away from the site and bears the identical relationship to the High Street, the rail-side path and residential neighbours to the north. Note also the busy pavements, still surprisingly crowded in the morning even after rush hour and the school run when this photo was taken.
Fig.7 – The impressive buildings on the High Street give way to the more human scale of the residential side streets of West Hampstead.
Fig. 8 & 9 – Newer developments observe the established appropriate relationship with neighbouring properties. Note the differing heights from High Street to side street.
Fig. 10 & 11 – Buildings on the High Street are afforded considerably more height than those on the side streets. Once we move a few steps from West End Lane (the High Street) we can see residential structures are 3 storeys high.
Fig. 12a & 12b – Yet more examples of what is the case throughout the neighbourhood.
Fig. 13 & 14 – As though more examples might be required, here again we see how the mass and height of buildings in West Hampstead change from High Street to side street. This is by no means an exhaustive examination of the subject. There are many, many more such examples at the intersection of West End Lane and each and every residential street. Take a short walk around the neighbourhood and you’ll see nothing else.
Fig. 15 – The Proposed development makes no “transition” to the south and east of the site. Inappropriate.
Fig. 16 – The Proposed overdevelopment will obliterate the views from the existing homes on Lymington Road.
Fig. 17 – The Camden council housing on Lymington Road achieves higher density while observing an “appropriate” scale and massing.
Fig. 18 – A composite of what the site might look like from the Crown Close open space. The eight storey Private sale block which towers above will cast the football pitch and playground into shade after school every day for nine months of the year.