In an earlier post on this blog we covered the strangely contradictory approaches of West Hampstead Amenity and Transport (WHAT) and the West Hampstead & Fortune Green Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) to local planning matters and the way in which both organisations seem only too happy to abandon their stated aims and policies to suit their own ends rather than the best interests of West Hampstead residents.
One of the local criticisms of WHAT from some in the West Hampstead community is that WHAT is little more than a local front organisation for the Labour Party. Recent news in this regard, concerning the 156 West End Lane (156WEL) saga, comes from the minutes of a WHAT committee meeting held on 16th May 2016.
MINUTES OF WHAT COMMITTEE MEETING 16 MAY 2016
3) Matters arising
b) Item 3(d): 156 West End Lane: Virginia and Mark had met with A2Dominion, who said that they would be submitting a revised application soon.
“Virginia and Mark” refer to Virginia Berridge and Mark Hutton respectively, both of whom are eminent and high-profile members of the local Labour Party. The former was the chair of WHAT for some years and resigned her post at this year’s WHAT AGM and also happens to be married to Geoff Berridge, the Chair of both the West Hampstead Branch of the Labour Party as well as the Hampstead and Kilburn Constituency. The latter is a WHAT Committee member and a key organiser of local Labour Party activities in West Hampstead.
That both these prominent members of the local Labour Party would choose to hold a private meeting with A2Dominion — the organisation that is Labour controlled Camden Council’s preferred bidder in respect of the publicly owned land at 156 West End Lane that Labour Party Councillor for Finance and Technology Policy, Theo Blackwell, is looking to sell in order to fund the new council offices at 5 Pancras Square — is interesting to note, particularly in light of the fact that WHAT was the only local organisation that supported the A2Dominion proposals for 156 West End Lane in a manner quite contrary to several hundred West Hampstead residents.
Noteworthy too is that, of the 500+ letters of objection submitted in response to A2Dominion’s planning application, several of the minuscule number offering support for the proposal came from — you guessed it — local Labour Party members, including none other than Geoff Berridge.
Those of us who are members of both the Save West Hampstead campaign as well as WHAT have endeavoured to obtain from the WHAT committee a report on the meeting between Berridge, Hutton and A2Dominion representatives to establish exactly what was discussed but, thus far, have yet to receive a response. Readers can draw their own conclusions about the responsiveness of WHAT to developers as compared to their lack of response to WHAT members and residents of the same local community they claim so assiduously to aim to protect.
When challenged about their meeting in the context of a local Labour Party branch meeting, questions were met with dismissive words from Virginia and Mark to the effect of, “We suggest you wait and see what’s contained in the new proposals.” This, of course, neither answers the questions asked about the nature and upshot of their meeting, nor does it provide any more information about proposals for 156 West End Lane than was already known. But it does demonstrate clear Labour Party links throughout the party hierarchy, from the Camden Cabinet Councillor right through to well-established local Labour Party members in the race to secure a one-off receipt for the sale of a public asset that could instead be used by the council to:
- provide genuinely affordable councils homes in the midst of a housing crisis
- provide rental and council tax incomes in perpetuity, particularly in light of the fact that the council has repeatedly been offered the opportunity to retain ownership of the land AND build 100% genuinely affordable council homes
- renovate, expand and enhance the existing Crown Close Designated Open Space and children’s play areas in line with the long-standing campaign by residents to ensure the council properly maintains the facilities
- maintain the long-term employment that exists on the site
All of which brings us nicely round to meetings between A2Dominion and the NDF and the way in which A2Dominion will happily meet with some local groups but not all.
As those that have been following the story of 156 West End Lane will know, NDF committee members, including local Labour Councillor for West Hampstead, Phil Rosenberg (who also sits on the Development Control Committee), were meeting with A2Dominion back in March of 2015, some three months before A2Dominion appeared on the scene with presentations to West Hampstead residents. Since then, the NDF has had its own back-channel communications with A2Dominion and its propaganda organisation of choice, Instinctif.
On 18th May, in a Tweet notable for the fact that it was addressed to Fortune Green and Kilburn related accounts and NOT the @SaveWHamp campaign group that rallied over 500 objections to proposals for 156WEL, the NDF announced:
— West Hampstead NDF (@WHampsteadNDF) 18 May 2016
Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” emailed the NDF committee on 19th May to ask for further details. No reply was forthcoming, so we emailed the NDF committee again on 20th May requesting further information. No direct reply was received. Instead, we received the following email sent to Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!”, the Lymington Road Residents’ Association, the Crediton Hill Residents’ Association and the West End Green Conservation Area Committee:
Dear LRRA, Crediton Hill RA, CAAC & Stop the Blocks,
I’m writing to your four groups to give you an update on 156 West End Lane. I’m also copying in our local councillors.
The NDF has been contacted by a representative of A2Dominion, who’s informed us that a consultation on amended plans for 156 West End Lane is due to take place in “early June”.
We have not been given any details about the amendments, but we have been invited to send “two or three representatives of the NDF committee” to a presentation of the plans by the architects.
We have asked for a public exhibition/meeting to discuss the amended plans, but have been told the developer does not want to do this. We have also asked if they will talk to other local groups about the amended plans, but – again – have been told the developer does not want to do this.
Having discussed this, the NDF committee has decided to ask for further information before going ahead with any meeting. We have asked if the revised plans are already finalised – or whether there is a chance to suggest changes to the new scheme. We have also asked that the meeting includes a greater number of community representatives – we have suggested that they could invite a representative of each of the groups that commented on the planning application in December/January.
If/when we receive a reply, we will let you know.
To reiterate, we have no information about the amended plans we can share with you. As and when a new planning application is submitted we will write to all NDF members with an update.
I hope that’s helpful.
(on behalf of the NDF committee)
We replied in the spirit of community inclusiveness, stating that:
“We maintain that any update to the proposal should be shown to everyone within the community at the same time, on the basis that the amenity of everyone who lives and works in West Hampstead will be negatively impacted by A2D’s intentions for further over-development of the area.”
This statement was agreed with by both the Crediton Hill Residents’ Association and the West End Green Conservation Area Committee, both of which took the position that the proposed meeting solely with the NDF was nothing more than an attempt to divide local opinion and fragment community cohesion and the overwhelming opposition to the proposals.
On 27th May, James Earl, Chair of the NDF wrote:
I’m writing with an update on our discussions with the developer about the possibility of a meeting to discuss the amended proposals for 156 West End Lane.
We’ve established that the plans are finalised and there is no opportunity for us to suggest changes to the scheme that can be taken into account.
There is also no wish on the part of the developer to involve other groups in this discussion.
We’ve therefore decided not to go ahead with the proposed meeting.
At the end, in its attempts to play all possible angles of leverage over West Hampstead and divide community cohesion in opposition to their proposals for 156 West End Lane, A2Dominion WAS prepared to meet with the Neighbourhood Development Forum in private, DID meet with West Hampstead Amenity and Transport’s eminent Labour Party members in private, but REFUSED to meet with the five primary groups comprised of the very West Hampstead residents that would be most directly negatively impacted by their over-development proposals.
Once again, A2Dominion demonstrate that their agenda has nothing to do with the best interests of West Hampstead residents or the people whom, in their door-to-door propaganda drives of 2015, they prematurely referred to as ‘neighbours’.
WHAT’s initial comments on the planning application for 156WEL abjectly failed to mention the appalling damage that would be done to the valuable Crown Close Open Space and children’s play areas while simultaneously failing to reflect the great concerns of the wider West Hampstead community they claim to represent.
We urge members of WHAT to demand to know what was discussed in their name between Berridge, Hutton and A2Dominion. And given that many long-time members of WHAT have told us that WHAT’s comments on 156WEL weren’t reflective of their views on the subject, we ask WHAT members to ensure that — when the forthcoming new proposals are submitted and potentially open to re-consultation — any future WHAT submission reflects more than just the views of the Labour Party luminaries that happen to be WHAT’s leading lights, and put forward instead the many legitimate concerns of the West Hampstead community about yet more threatened over-development of the area.