Save West Hampstead, “Stop the Blocks!” Community Meeting Report

Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” held a fantastic community meeting at the Lymington Road Residents’ Association Hall last night, Tuesday 8th September.

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The meeting was well-attended (another standing room only affair!) and we were thrilled to see plenty of regular and new faces from the West Hampstead community, demonstrating how great concerns are about forced over-development of the area with projects that do not meet actual housing needs.  It was also wonderful to have present at the meeting key organisers from other local campaigns against unwanted developments across Camden including the Combined Residents Associations of South Hampstead (CRASH), Save Swiss Cottage, and West Hampstead Gardens & Residents Association.  Journalists from the Camden New Journal and the Ham & High were present to cover the meeting.

The meeting was chaired by Neil Fletcher, ex-Deputy Leader of Camden Council and the evening started with an update from the Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” campaign. For those that were unable to attend, a brief summary of updates is included at the end of this article.

Next up was George Turner of Reclaim London, The Battle for Waterloo and the 8 Albert Embankment challenge who gave a fascinating talk about the trials and tribulations of taking on rapacious developers. He provided a wealth of useful information about challenging inappropriate and unwanted developments that don’t meet the housing needs of local communities, and highlighted the importance of Conservation Areas and heritage assets. George also explained how the proliferation of blocks and high-rise ‘luxury’ developments is, at its core, little more than a drive by developers to maximise on the volume of floor-space that can be sold, usually off-plan, to investors who care nothing for amenity, public services or the local communities but rather about the value of their international investments in safety-deposit boxes in the sky.

George took and responded to questions from the floor in which he made the very pertinent point that, just because someone is claimed to be an ‘expert’ in their field, doesn’t mean that what they say can be taken at face value and, often, information is selectively presented to support an a priori conclusion. He also made the point that the best experts on the subject of any local area are the residents themselves, not drop-in developers that frame everything within the context of their intended development objectives.

Finally, a round-up of what the near future holds in store was presented by the campaign and covered the forthcoming round of A2D/Instinctif presentations this week. Times and dates of the September presentations are as follows:

  • Thursday, 10th September, 4pm to 7.30pm at Hampstead Synagogue
  • Saturday, 12th September, 10am to 1pm at Sidings Community Centre

We would encourage everyone to attend these presentations and to be vocal about their objections to yet another proposed development of blocks in West Hampstead that threatens the amenity of all residents while delivering no tangible benefits to the community.

The point was made that Camden Council have willingly derogated their duties on the provision of housing that meets the needs of ordinary people across multiple sites in Camden, preferring instead to accept the ‘legalised bribery’ of Section 106 monies. However, despite collecting considerable monies from S106 payments, West Hampstead residents are facing the possible closure of the only remaining library in the area (prior to foisting a Library Heights development on the neighbourhood?) as well as reductions in the levels of public services provided and funded by the council.

The question remains: Exactly what are the supposed benefits to local residents of  forced, over-intensive over-development of the area?

Meeting attendees were also encouraged to attend two related events:

  • The campaign to Save West Hampstead Library, by attending the meeting at the library on Thursday 10th September at 7.30pm.
  • The Monday 14th September meeting of the Neighbourhood Development Forum which takes place at 7.30pm in West Hampstead Library and at which Phil Jones, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Transport & Planning, will be speaking.

Campaign Update Notes

Updates from the Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!”Campaign were as follows:

  • Our previous standing-room only meeting was held on 14th July. A week later, on 21st July, Lymington Road south-side residents whose homes immediately adjoin the 156 West End Lane site were invited to another presentation by PR firm Instinctif. We were shocked to discover that the number of storeys proposed had increased to 4, 7 and 9 storeys through the addition of a deceptively named “lower-ground” floor situated above-ground.0d99e01f-8aa1-4f62-bbd7-bf2b0d762bf6 c5f48dcf-8fee-4042-8ad7-b17225453068
  • No significant alterations had been made to the proposals to reflect the many objections submitted, so the use of the term ‘consultations’ is highly questionable, given that any true consultation is a two-way process.
  • On Sunday evening a meeting was held between local residents and our three local councillors, Angela Pober, Phil Rosenberg and James Yarde. There was a general ignorance among councillors about how the planning process is proceeding and the councillors stated that A2Dominion was not engaged in pre-planning meetings with council planners. Since then, Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” has provided the councillors with clear evidence that council planners are indeed meeting with the developers. This information was contained in a communication from Camden’s Director of Culture and Environment, Ed Watson, that was passed to us by our local MP Tulip Siddiq.
  • This provides further evidence – as if it were needed – that Camden Council as the owners of the land, Camden Council as the brokers of the land, Camden Council as the planning authority, Camden Council working closely with Camden Council’s ‘preferred bidder’, and Camden Council as the beneficiaries of any monies received for the sale of the land cannot possibly act independently, impartially and honestly in any decision making process.
  • West Hampstead residents, whose amenity will be negatively impacted by a proposed development of the scale, mass, bulk and height proposed by A2Dominion are now just two exhibitions away from the developer’s stated time-line that includes a planning application submission in November that could seal the fate of 156 West End Lane for evermore.
  • It has been mooted that a Development Management Forum will be organised by Camden Council, however we have not received any further details about when this process will commence. This means that now is the time to step-up the campaign to Stop the Blocks.
  • If A2Dominion determine that the well-supported and growing public opposition to their proposals in tandem with the need to comply with Camden Council’s planning regulations, and the planning restrictions imposed by building on the perimeter of the cherished West End Green Conservation Area are not sufficient obstacles for them to walk away from the project before it is too late and they do submit a planning application, we may need to commission the services of planning professionals to lodge a successful challenge. We will of course be ready to cross that bridge should we come to it.

Press Release: Open Letter to Camden Council & A2Dominion

Introduction

West Hampstead in the London Borough of Camden is, like many other boroughs in the city, facing unprecedented levels of ‘redevelopment’ – indeed over-intensive over-development – at the behest of councils operating in tandem with private developers. In rather too many cases, long-standing communities are being destroyed and local public assets being sold-off and handed over to private developers to do with largely as they choose, irrespective of the direct tangible benefits to existing residents, in a single-minded race to build housing and cleverly-named “affordable housing” that is beyond the means of the majority of workers.

Camden is no different, having already seen the historic Camden Lock Market and huge swathes of light industrial space in King’s Cross and elsewhere sold-off. West Hampstead, with its multiple railway network interchange and widely touted “village feel” is also the focus of a series of large-scale developments approved by the council in spite of their impact on residents, their businesses and livelihoods and the area’s heritage.

Today, the Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” Campaign publishes its open letter to Camden Council and A2 Dominion, the council’s latest preferred bidder for a site at 156 West End Lane, in an attempt to shine a light on the dubious operation of the council, its representatives and the way in which it seems happy to ignore and overturn its own planning policies in bids to secure short-term profits from the rapid disposal of public assets against the wishes of the very people and communities the council is meant serve.

For further information about the campaign, please see the Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” website at savewesthampstead.wordpress.com, follow us on Twitter, or email us directly at SaveWestHampstead@gmail.com.


Open Letter to Camden Council & A2Dominion

Fundamental flaws and failings in the plans to redevelop 156 West End Lane

Balancing the pressures of growth with the sustainability of communities is one of the biggest pressures we face today. In our borough of Camden, as across London, we must plan for tomorrow, provide for today, and not lose sight of the past and our heritage.

The public emergence of redevelopment proposals for 156 West End Lane in West Hampstead (the Travis Perkins site) has fundamentally called into question how our elected representatives at Camden Council are trying to tackle this delicate balancing act. The ill-considered plans unveiling themselves before residents in a fast-paced one-horse race to secure the site and planning permission have spurred the formation of our community action group, Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!”, and people across our community are deeply concerned and disturbed by the proposals.

Let us be clear – we do not wish to stand in the way of house-building – we want to see more done to provide high-quality and actually affordable homes in our community and we want our elected representatives – and the officers who advise them – to take the lead.

What we do not want is for inappropriate developments to be foisted upon us by arbitrary developers, with or without consultation.

We do not want our Council and its representatives to sell-off public assets to fund their out of control spending plans or financial mismanagements.

We do not want our Council to have the unaccountable ability to selectively set-aside policies they have established to protect and support borough-wide planning. Likewise entities like Travis Perkins, a local employer and server of local retail and tradesman in the community for nearly four decades, should not be held hostage to the vagaries of an inconsistent planning department simply by virtue of the fact that the land they sit on is not owned privately, but by the Council who may deem it desirable to grant themselves and their preferred developer of the moment carte blanche planning consent.

There are a number of critical questions that we want to see answered before the fate of the area is sealed without the application of appropriate process and due diligence:

  • What joined-up assessment is being made of the proliferation of developments now taking place in West Hampstead and the cumulative impact they, and other developments under consideration, will have on the area? We have major developments already in construction or in planning all around West End Lane and major concerns over public services, such as schools and healthcare, public transport, public amenity and safety. As is clear from a cursory study of the facts so far, the Council is failing in its duty to plan coherently, strategically and for the benefit of the community.
  • What effort is the council making to ensure that any proposed development at 156 West End Lane does not negatively impact on the Conservation Area which the site adjoins? The much vaunted ‘village feel’ of West Hampstead, as described by the now leader of the council, Sarah Hayward, is too precious to neglect. When it’s gone, it’s gone. We will not let it go without a fight.
  • Why has the Council bungled the ‘sale’ of 156 West End Lane so spectacularly, costing taxpayers so significantly in the process? We all know about the wasteful neglect of the office space above Travis Perkins/Wickes which has lain vacant for years now, costing us thousands every month. Compounded with a mis-managed ‘sale’ process which saw a developer (Mace) appointed and then kicked off the scheme, a beauty parade courting other developers held but then, as we understand it, fudged and then, finally, A2 Dominion appointed and apparently about to sign a contract worth around £5m less to the Council than if it had properly concluded the original bidding opportunity approximately 12 months earlier. This is not astute financial and asset management at a time when Camden residents are already suffering swingeing cuts to public services across the board, including everything from healthcare services to refuse collections to threats of closure of public services such as libraries.
  • Why is it that the Council seems to have forgotten its own adopted policies on employment and supporting established businesses in the borough when considering developments? We have witnessed the scandalous fiasco at Liddell Road with the Council trying to justify closing down local businesses and much needed light industrial space to build an out of scale tower block by using the sop of a new school (in fact, an extension to an already existing school rather than a new school) in a bid to placate the local community that fought hard against the plans. We all know that more school places are needed and the council has a duty to provide them, but they need to be delivered in a joined-up, measured and sustainable way that does not negatively impact the wider community through the imposition of inappropriate developments that do not meet housing requirements of local people and the majority of workers on average London wages. We do not now need Councillors waiving through another set of ill-considered, profit-driven plans for 156 West End Lane just because they own the land and need to generate cash to balance their spending plans. At best this is hypocritical, at worst it requires scrupulous further investigation of the facts to determine quite what lies behind the drive to steamroller through another inappropriate development in West Hampstead. Probity is key and proper judicial scrutiny must be applied.
  • Where have our ward councillors gone? In meetings and discussions to date, we are seeing a worrying back foot shuffle by the members of the council elected to represent West Hampstead residents. They are not at all keen to engage with or even listen to us – apparently on the basis of legal advice to preserve Development Control Committee positions – while simultaneously more than happy to meet with developers. So we are left with no option but to question their priority – is it the party whip (and the diktat to ‘get the consent and bank the cash’ in the short term) or the electorate, the community, and the people that elected them whom they are there to represent?

We are a passionate group of concerned residents that have learned from Camden’s mistakes of the near past and are demanding better long-term solutions. Today, we are around 100 people and support for our organisation locally and across the borough is growing faster than we could have hoped. We echo sentiments that ring true across Camden and London, which are seeing an unprecedented growth in grass-roots community groups formed to oppose ill-considered and inappropriate ‘developments’ that do not meet the needs of local communities and which are driven by the short term cash-flow concerns of councils and long-term profit motives of developers aiming to maximise returns from any piece of land they are allowed by short-sighted councils to occupy. Our mission is to ensure proper scrutiny is applied both to the management of public assets and to the people we elect to represent us and provide stewardship for our community.

The proposals for 156 West End Lane contravene Camden’s planning policies and threaten to blight a heritage conservation area. Worse, they offer nothing more than the worst possible deal for the taxpayer. Attempts to whitewash the legitimacy of the Council’s approach on the basis the scheme will deliver new housing – which is necessary but not an end in itself – are disingenuous.

We are calling for a better solution. We are calling for Camden Council to act as considerate and caring custodians of our community, not cash-chasing property speculators acting fast and loose with public assets that belong to everyone and could be used to benefit the whole community, rather than a private developer and the incumbent Council administration. Councillors and elected representatives are transient, but the communities they leave behind are forced to live with their legacies.

There are better ways than the proposals outlined and these need to be explored fully before a decision that will negatively impact the community, the environment and the general amenity of residents while simultaneously failing to provide the type of housing that is so desperately needed. Other options need to be explored and the sooner Camden Council changes course, the better for all concerned in the long term.

Sincerely,

On behalf of the Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” Campaign

Supported by:

  • The Lymington Road Residents’ Association
  • The Crediton Hill Residents’ Association
  • The West End Green Conservation Area Committee
  • West Hampstead Gardens & Residents Association
  • Combined Residents Association of South Hampstead (CRASH)
  • Save Swiss Cottage
  • Reclaim London