W.H.A.T. the N.D.F***?

Looking for consistency in approaches to planning applications from local groups professing to defend and protect the neighbourhood

West Hampstead has a number of local groups and residents’ associations that are active to varying degrees.  The two of particular focus here are West Hampstead Amenity and Transport (WHAT) and the Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF).

West Hampstead Amenity and Transport was established back in 1973 and claims on its website:

WHAT cares about local issues such as… parkingopen spaces… graffiti… litter… noise… traffic congestion… local amenities… tube safety… bus routes… station improvements… planning issues… too many restaurants and bars… not enough shops… disabled access… children’s amenitiesheritage… environment…

Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” gave a presentation to the WHAT committee back in October 2015 highlighting some of the many concerns of local residents and the wider West Hampstead community to the proposals for 156 West End Lane, including the devastating overshadowing impact on the one designated open space in the area.

The NDF is a more recent entity whose foundations can be found in the Localism Act 2011 and whose purpose as outlined in Camden’s own documentation is to design and stand in place of a ‘masterplan’ for the area in the form of a Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP), written with input from and overseen by the Camden Planning Department (since at least version 2 of the draft plan):

Proposed headline actions: • Work together with stakeholders to develop more detailed area planning guidance. Either through existing planning legislation such as a Master Plan, Supplementary Planning Document or through supporting stakeholders to develop a Neighbourhood Plan.

Camden document: West Hampstead: Shaping the Future March 2012

NDF Constitution: 3. Aims & purposes of the Forum The Forum shall: • Draw up a Plan for the future development of the area

A local referendum in July 2015 saw the NDP become part of Camden planning policy.

The NDF has an interesting clause in its constitution — unlike most other Neighbourhood Development Forums where the purpose of the forum is to produce a Neighbourhood Development Plan, after which its work is done —  and so the forum still continues in the form of a committee that holds monthly meetings and occasional workshops to “monitor” the plan, as well as hold meetings with developers, Camden Planners and various other entities.

What has been woefully missing from the NDF’s approach to the challenges set by the proposed development at 156 West End Lane — in actuality the first real test of the utility and efficacy of the Neighbourhood Development Plan — is any attempt to communicate with, consult or canvas the opinions of local Residents’ Associations or residents that comprise the local community.

Instead Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” has had to attend NDF meetings to convey the strength of opposition among West Hampstead residents to the proposals for 156WEL, even to the point of insisting that discussions about such a huge development do not languish at the bottom of meeting agendas.

Reference Documents

The remainder of this article is based on the comments submitted by both WHAT and the NDF to recent planning applications in the area. The two applications in question relate to 156 West End Lane and 11 Blackburn Road.

Consistency versus Duplicity

Several months before the planning application for 156 West End Lane was submitted to Camden by a2dominion, a separate planning application was lodged for a site at 11 Blackburn Road, just across the railway lines from 156WEL. The proposal was to demolish an old warehouse adjacent to Billy Fury Way and build seven four-storey townhouses behind the former Asher House offices which have since been converted into flats. Both the NDF and WHAT submitted objections.

Both WHAT and the NDF’s comments on the Blackburn Road proposal make for interesting reading, particularly when compared with the comments submitted by both groups to the proposals for 156WEL. Bear in mind that we’re comparing Blackburn Road proposals for just seven four-storey townhouses with the proposal for 156WEL for 164 units in seven storey blocks immediately adjacent to the back garden walls of Lymington Road houses that are within the West End Green Conservation Area, and that the blocks would overshadow homes and gardens and the precious designated open space and children’s play areas in Crown Close.

Below we compare some of the statements in the comments of both groups.  Included are the NDF’s objections to Blackburn Road proposals and their comments with regard to 156WEL, which at least they objected to in a diametrically opposite way to WHAT’s sycophantic support.

WHAT’s objections to four-storeys on Blackburn Road:

4 storeys would dominate the neighbouring houses and Asher House on Blackburn Road and not be the requisite distance from neighbouring properties to avoid overlooking.

We would prefer the site to redeveloped to provide employment use only, not residential. If residential is considered appropriate, then it should be restricted to flats above the employment space. If townhouses are deemed appropriate then there should be no more than 4 of no more than 3 storeys.

WHAT’s support for seven-storeys at 156 West End Lane:

Members of WHAT understand the concerns of residents of the 14 houses on the South side of Lymington Road. The closest distance at 30 metres is opposite the six floor block while the 7 floor block appears to be around 32 metres away according to p.48 of the Design and Access Statement. The East Block will have a negative impact on the views from their houses which are in the West Hampstead Conservation Area. This is even after the new design has lowered the building on the northern end. That said we note that this site has been long since between allocated for intensive development under the London Plan and Camden’s Local Development Framework under successive political administrations. Members have different views on the weight to be given to the need for affordable housing against the impact on local residents in these 14 houses.

So, WHAT want heights restricted to three-storeys for seven townhouses on Blackburn Road, but apparently seven storeys is acceptable immediately adjacent to Lymington Road homes inside the West End Green Conservation Area? No mention that this has nothing to do with just “views from 14 houses” (in fact, 15 houses, all of Canterbury Mansions and homes and gardens on the Crown Close Estate) but rather the dramatic and drastic effects of overshadowing which will drive many homes below the BRE minimum levels of daylight and sunlight, meaning that the blocks would cast many gardens and homes into deep shadow. Also no mention of the views into and out of the West End Green Conservation Area to which importance is given under National, Camden and NDP planning policies.

When the developer behind the proposal for 156 West End Lane finally released overshadowing diagrams for the Crown Close designated open space and children’s play areas, we sent these to WHAT with the aim of eliciting comments from them on the damaging impact of the proposals on these important amenities. After all WHAT claim to care about “open space… local amenities…. children’s amenities” yet they said nothing, not a word, about the irreparable harm that would be done to these important amenities in their fawning support for the proposals.

Developed-released overshadowing diagram showing the devastating impact of proposed 7-storey blocks on designated open space and children's play areas
Developer-released overshadowing diagram showing the devastating impact of proposed 7-storey blocks on designated open space and children’s play areas

NDF’s objections to four-storeys on Blackburn Road:

5. The height of the new building is excessive. We consider a three-storey building would be more appropriate. We note that the documents submitted with the application fail to reflect the views from the north of the site – and make it extremely difficult to assess the impact of such a modern building (see Neighbourhood Plan Policy 2).

NDF’s support for five-storeys at 156 West End Lane:

We require that the height of the East Building is reduced to a maximum of 5 storeys (ie lower than the ‘West Building’) to ensure that this part of the scheme is policy compliant.

Buildings on the West End Lane street frontage are generally five-storeys (e.g. Canterbury Mansions) and Lymington Road houses are three-storeys. This transition from “high street” to “side street” is a feature of nearly all roads leading off West End Lane and particularly so within the West End Green Conservation Area. Why then does the NDF state that five storeys is acceptable? Acceptable to whom? The NDF hasn’t consulted any local residents’ associations, or indeed any local residents, prior to making this claim. No representation without legitimate, transparent consultation, thank you NDF.

The NDF also fail to mention that even five-storey blocks would overshadow the Crown Close designated open space and children’s play areas, as well as damage the scene and setting of the West End Green Conservation Area.

WHAT’s Blackburn Road density objections:

The accommodation for an additional 50 residents on the site would add pressure on local services such as schools and medical facilities which are already under provided.

Fair point. What with the raft of other developments underway in West Hampstead, which have yet to be completed much less populated by the many hundreds of residents they could contain, further increases in residential populations must be carefully considered. However…

WHAT’s support for 500+ residents at 156 West End Lane:

The applicant has exceeded the density guidelines of the London Plan by 2%, i.e. by 9 out of 457 habitable rooms. This is on the basis of providing much needed housing units because of the site’s excellent public transport links. There is concern this density may have a cumulative effect on local services in relation to the other nearby developments currently under construction which are not in the Council’s Site Allocation Plan nor in the Growth Area. However, the Department of Communities and Local Government is currently consulting on increases in density around key transport interchanges.

So, 50 new residents in West Hampstead is too many and would unacceptably increase pressure on local services, but around 600 new residents at 156WEL possibly “may have” some sort of effect on local services? The duplicity, stupidity or unstated other agenda required to follow such ‘logic’ beggars belief. Worse yet, WHAT seems to be welcoming an increase in intensification and density around the West Hampstead Growth Area, so where now are their concerns for West Hampstead amenity and transport?

WHAT on Blackburn Road floorspace:

The need for 4 storeys for a 3 bedroom dwelling suggests the individual units are too narrow to meet Camden’s space requirements with the aim of squeezing as many units as possible on a constrained site.

Ironically — although we suspect the irony will be lost on some members of WHAT — the floorspace for the proposed townhouses far exceeds minimum requirements. Meanwhile, in the real world, all of the 2-bedroom 4-person ‘affordable’ units and a 3-bedroom 5-person unit (30 units of the 78) proposed for 156WEL fall below Camden’s own minimum floor-space requirements!

WHAT’s Car-Free Blackburn Road objections:

As the development would be car-free, there would be additional pressure on out-of-hours parking on neighbouring streets.

Compare this with their comments in relation to 156 West End Lane.  None; not one word. No pressure on out-of-hours parking in neighbouring streets from 600 proposed new residents? How strange.

WHAT’s Comments on the Dangerous Proposed Relocation of Access Road at 156WEL:

6. Road access: We welcome the removal of the unsafe lorry exit from the Travis Perkins site on to West End Lane. However, some committee members have expressed concern that the replacement exit on the northern end of the West block will also cause problems for pedestrians, even though vehicle movements will be much lower in number. It has been suggested that some form of traffic lights or barrier could be installed.

The statement regarding the proposed new access road suggests a blatant disregard for the safety and amenity of the hundreds of residents who use the already heavily-congested pavements every day.

NDF’s Comments on the Dangerous Proposed Relocation of Access Road at 156WEL

Strangely, the NDF had nothing at all to say on the proposed relocation of the site access road. When challenged for an explanation as to why they failed to pick up on one of the primary concerns of and dangers to West Hampstead residents from the proposals, the excuse given was that a hastily put together counter proposal worked on by Policy Exchange’s Create Streets on behalf of the NDF also featured a dangerous concealed access road located at the north of the site.

Thankfully, many hundreds of West Hampstead residents have told Camden in no uncertain terms that the proposals for 156 West End Lane are totally unacceptable.

If WHAT and the NDF wish to retain any sort of credibility as entities that purport to represent the interests of West Hampstead residents, they need to consult with, engage, listen to and actually represent the views and sentiments of the people who live here.

Opening up the debate

Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” have taken up the debate with WHAT in the local press however, to date, we have been unsuccessful at eliciting legitimate replies.  Furthermore, WHAT’s responses have carefully avoided answering the questions posed in favour of championing WHAT’s long history and attacking us for endeavouring to hold them to account.  Links and screenshots of the debate so far are included below.

A similar debate has taken place in the Hampstead & Highgate Express — complete with WHAT’s consistent failure to answer the questions — and you can see screenshots on the Media Coverage page of the main website or follow the links below to the E-Edition of the Hampstead and Highgate Express.