Greed casts long shadows: Help us save Crown Close Open Space

Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” is requesting that Camden Council commission a fully independent lighting study based on the proposals for 156 West End Lane. We’re asking all West Hampstead residents to join us in this call in a bid to protect the only public open space in the area.

In this article we explain why a fully independent daylight and sunlight study is required. At the end of the article is a list of contacts to email and a brief template letter. Please help us save Crown Close Open Space.

“Not all parents want their children to play in the sun”

Such was the jaded and cynical response from a representative of A2 Dominion (A2D) when challenged by West Hampstead residents about the deep shadow that would be cast across the two children’s play areas on Crown Close by A2 Dominion’s proposals for the publicly owned land at 156 West End Lane.

While it may be true that some parents might not want their children to play in the sun, it doesn’t follow that developers are automatically granted the right to remove any choice from all parents by erecting seven storey private gated blocks between people, public spaces and the sun. Nor does it grant them the right to remove from adults the choice of whether or not they too wish to maintain their access to sunlight from existing, long-standing public spaces, homes and gardens.

The sun is our primary source of Vitamin D — known as “the sunshine vitamin“. Vitamin D deficiencies among the general population are increasingly well documented and reported. Recent research and government figures suggest that as much as 25% of the population suffers from a deficit of Vitamin D. The many serious health consequences that arise from a Vitamin D deficiency are so great that it has for some time been the case that Vitamin D supplements are “advised for everyone“; or at least everyone that can afford them.

Meanwhile, the many health benefits of Vitamin D, including its anti-inflammatory properties and its necessity in the prevention of a recent alarming increase in rickets and ostomalacia,  as well as its role in the mitigation of cancer risks, heart problems, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma amongst others.

The health benefits of sunshine and its key role in maintaining adequate levels of Vitamin D place a greater burden of responsibility on developers and Council planners alike to secure for all the right to sunlight.

While Vitamin D isn’t a material planning consideration itself, overshadowing by any proposed development and the resulting loss of light definitely is.

Daylight is the source of all life on earth. It is fundamental to our quality of life. How we plan our buildings to ensure access to good levels of daylight is an extremely important but often overlooked part of planning.

The impact of poor quality daylight on health has been known about for hundreds of years. It is a cause of disease such as rickets, which used to be common in London and many other urban centres. Because of this, legislation from the early 20th century progressively sought to improve the access to light and air by laying down rules for maximum heights of buildings, and the minimum distance they must be set apart.

George Turner, OurCity.London

Greed casts long shadows

November/December 2015 Planning Application (2015/6455/P)

Camden Council planning documents identify West Hampstead as being “deficient” in Open Space. In the immediate vicinity of 156 West End Lane, there exists only the Crown Close Designated Open Space that benefits from having two heavily used public children’s play areas. The Open Space currently benefits from full daylight and sunlight, with shade offered by mature trees as the sun follows its path across the sky.

During pre-application advice provided by Camden Council, almost totally ignored by the developer, A2 Dominion were informed that overshadowing diagrams should be submitted along with their application (2015/6455/P). A2 Dominion chose not to provide the requested information.  The advice provided by Camden planners, obtained by Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” via a Freedom of Information request, offered A2 Dominion a means by which they could make contact with those most affected by their proposals — an offer which A2D refused — and expressly stated the following regarding the importance of the daylight/sunlight analysis:

In terms of amenity, I mentioned the importance of the daylight/sunlight analysis, particular for the properties along Lymington Road.  In order to fully assess this situation, all of the affected properties will need to be visited and the habitable/non-habitable rooms identified prior to the report being undertaken.  I accept this is an onerous task but a necessary one and I would think that once you begin the public consultation process, the vast majority of these neighbours would come along so contact could maybe be made with them in this way.

Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” campaign supporters lobbied Camden Planners for comprehensive overshadowing diagrams for all times of the year, including overshadowing effects for the surrounding areas such as public spaces and residential properties.

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

Following a long and protracted battle with A2 Dominion, predominantly via Camden Planners, a daylight/sunlight overshadowing diagram was eventually released. The overshadowing diagrams showed the damaging impact on the Crown Close Open Space and MUGA (Multi Use Games Area/Football pitch) on only March 21st, and only at two hourly intervals between 8am and 4pm. From football pitch to pitch darkness.

It was clear from overshadowing diagrams that the impact would be hugely severe, especially during Spring and Autumn afternoons and evenings when children return home from school and play outside.  The same applies for residents returning home from work who can often be found sitting outside enjoying the early and late evening sunshine.

Crown Close Open Space, 1st September 2016 at 5pm
Children and families enjoying the sunshine in Crown Close Open Space, 1st September 2016 at 5pm

In our comments on the first version of the planning application, we highlighted the flaws in the overshadowing information:

Little faith can be placed in the daylight and sunlight figures provided by the applicant. It is not clear what measurements and methods, or the accuracy thereof, were used to create daylight and sunlight reports.

Interestingly, neither of two prominent local groups that like to portray themselves as the great defenders and protectors of West Hampstead saw fit to raise any objections to the proposals on the grounds of the damaging impact on the children’s play areas and the Crown Close Designated Open Space, in spite of their stated aims or policies claiming to protect amenity, open spaces and children’s facilities.

One of these groups is West Hampstead Amenity and Transport (WHAT) which failed to make any effort to protect the ‘amenity’ contained in its title by not raising objections to the impact of overshadowing; even after a detailed Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” presentation to their committee about damaging impact of the proposal to these valuable West Hampstead amenities.

The second group is the new semi-official, pseudo-legitimate quango known as the Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) which also failed to comment on or object to the drastic overshadowing and loss of public amenity. Yet NDP “Policy 16: Local Green Spaces” lists Crown Close Open Space for protection and expressly states:

In a relatively densely developed urban community, these sites have a vital role in providing an essential amenity, as well as space for exercise, relaxation and the appreciation of nature. They all have a high environmental value, are local in character, are in close proximity to the community they serve, and provide important benefits to the biodiversity of the area. They therefore fulfill the requirements set out in Paragraph 77 of the NPPF.

This plan uses the additional protection afforded in the NPPF to designate [this] site as Local Green Space.

June 2016 ‘Revised’ Planning Application

After the first application was determined for a variety of reasons to be unsuitable to progress further, A2D submitted a minorly ‘revised’ proposal in June 2016.

An overshadowing analysis of sorts was included for neighbouring properties for three seasons, Spring (21st March), Summer (21st June) and Winter (21st December).  Note that Autumn/21st September figures are the same as Spring/March 21st figures.

Once again, the diagrams only covered the time period between 8am-4pm, meaning that no overshadowing information was  provided for any of the times at which the play areas and open spaces are most used most of the year.  Additionally, no overshadowing diagrams for the Designated Open Space were included. This is an interesting ‘omission’, as the Designated Open Space has planning policy protections at local, borough, London and national levels.

Crown Close Open Space, 6.35pm, 7th September 2016 - Overshadowing information from A2D’s 156 West End Lane proposal indicates that this well-used public open space — the only local open space – would be in total shade at the time shown.
Crown Close Open Space, 6.35pm, 7th September 2016 – Overshadowing information from A2D’s 156 West End Lane proposal indicates that this well-used public open space — the only local open space – would be in total shade at the time shown.

The Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” campaign immediately contacted Camden planners to request that A2D’s diagrams should show the full overshadowing impact from Sunrise to Sunset and, further, the impact during the summer months to both the Crown Close Designated Open Space and the two children’s play areas that are well used in the long evenings, as well as neighbouring properties that surround 156 West End Lane that will all at some point in every day of every year be negatively affected by overshadowing from the proposed development.

A2D has not yet provided this information and so the official re-consultation period on the ‘revised’ proposal has not yet officially commenced.  However, comments on and objections to the revised proposal can still be sent to Camden planners even though the official re-consultation has yet to start.  In fact, most councils will accept comments on planning applications until the point at which an application is put before the planning committee.

“Not all parents want their children to play in the sun” – the reprise: A2D aims to ensure there is no choice about access to sunlight outside or inside their development

Reading through the documents in A2D’s planning application, much is made of their proposed “central courtyard”.  The stark reality is that the “central courtyard” is a few square metres of space which — while pretending to be a new “public open space” — only serves to separate the “affordable” block from the private sale units.  However, their approach to this and ‘open space’ within the proposed development also testifies to A2D’s equally scant regard for the amenity of children and families that would live within their proposed scheme; a demonstration of their scant regard for the amenity of current West Hampstead families.

The much vaunted “central courtyard” would itself be overshadowed most of the day for most days of the year by the proposed bulky seven-storey blocks to the east and west, while a proposed ‘open space’ for private residencies (Garden 3 in the table below) is blessed with receiving zero percent sunlight at all times!

Worse yet, while jeopardising the existing amenity of Crown Close, it’s Multi-Use Games Area, children’s playground and Designated Open Space, the proposals include a “podium deck” designed as the open space for families within the so-called “affordable” accommodation (Garden 2 in the image and table below).  As shown by the developer’s own data, this fails to meet even the basic BRE minimum requirement of two hours of sunlight on 21st March!

Football pitch to pitch dark
Destroying amenity: The June 2016 proposal from A2 Dominion includes open spaces that receive 0% sunlight and just 10% of the proposed play spaces for families in so-called “affordable” accommodation would receive the BRE minimum of two-hours sunlight.

Just 10% of this space would receive the bare minimum of two hours sunlight in Spring, meaning 90% of this area for less well-off families would be in total shade and devoid of direct sunlight. As with other amenity areas it will be in almost constant shade throughout the year. Elsewhere within the development, the abject lack of light designed into the proposal is demonstrated by the over-abundance of proposed “shade tolerant planting”.

Taken along with the irreparable damage that would be done to the long existing amenities at Crown Close — amenity that is precious to all families in the area and particularly those without access to their own gardens or outdoor spaces — it is abundantly clear that the proposed development would be an utter disaster for residents within the proposed development, the wider area, its people, families and children in both the short and long-term. As we have stated from the outset of the campaign, if planning policies and the upholding of planning policy has anything to do with this development, it must absolutely be refused permission.

The impact on sunlight and the lack of residential amenity arises predominantly from the extremely high density of the scheme, which exceeds density guidelines outlined in the London Plan.  Concerns about these issues were expressed in the GLA Stage 1 Report, as highlighted below.

GLA Stage 1 Report - 2015/6455/P
GLA Stage 1 Report, expressing concerns about density and the lack of residential amenity within the proposed development and requesting further information on access to Daylight & Sunlight in Open Spaces

In the June 2016 revised proposal, further insult is added to the threat of injury by the inclusion of a sun-drenched roof terrace on the eastern block — the very block which most damages light to the existing, genuinely public open spaces.  This new proposed space is claimed to be ‘shared’ in an attempt to address concerns raised by the GLA regarding lack of amenity within the proposed development.

Yet no indication is given in the plans of how the roof terrace might be accessed, nor who might be allowed to access it. It is highly unlikely to be a ‘communal’ space for all residents of the proposed scheme nor the West Hampstead community that currently enjoys the existing Designated Open Space as it sits on top of the private block. Furthermore, the plans don’t show any play equipment for children, just green space and benches.

Artist's Impression of the sun-drenched seventh floor exclusive private roof terrace that would destroy the amenity of Crown Close Designated Open Space public facilities and children's play areas
Developer image of a sun-drenched seventh floor exclusive private roof terrace that would destroy the amenity of Crown Close Designated Open Space public facility and children’s play spaces. Note that the developer also seems to have cropped at least half a person out of the open space.

If you can’t make it work, FAKE IT!

Although the Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” campaign queried the original methodology used to obtain the Sunlight/Daylight/Overshadowing figures and diagrams, what wasn’t anticipated was that figures in the ‘revised’ application would show marked reductions in the amount of sunlight available to locations that are currently overshadowed by nothing.

It is notable that locations which suffered the greatest reduction in sunlight in the original daylight and sunlight studies — reductions that resulted in them falling below the BRE minimum guidelines — are now claimed to receive significantly less sunlight ‘before development’ in the June 2016 report than they did in the December 2015 report. One example of this discrepancy — and there are many others — is shown below:

Save West Hampstead "Stop the Blocks!" Daylight/Sunlight dossier outlining apparent manipulation of lighting figures in favour of the proposed development
Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” Daylight/Sunlight dossier outlining apparent manipulation of lighting figures in favour of the proposed development

No reason nor any explanation is given for such dramatic differences between the before development figures in the June report and those contained in the December 2015 report. What is evident is that, if the June ‘After development’ percentages were subtracted from the Nov/Dec ‘Before development’, these windows would all fall well below even BRE minimums.  It is difficult to interpret this manipulation of the figures as anything other than the developers attempting to conceal the true impact on neighbouring properties and public spaces.

Fortunately, Camden Council’s own planning policy CPG 6.13 states:

“For existing dwellings the Council will consider the overall loss of daylight as opposed to the minimum acceptable levels of daylight.”

As it stands, residents and planners have been presented with two conflicting sets of data in which no one can have any faith.  Analysis differs between the two versions of the documents submitted and, significantly, the applicant has reduced the amount of light available to properties ‘Before Development’ in some of the cases where the ‘After Development’ figures would have the greatest impact and render available sunlight to below minimum BRE guidelines.

While A2 Dominion may flaunt the fact that, following after their adjustment of figures, “minimum acceptable levels of daylight” have been achieved, this is a very different thing to the council’s commitment to “consider the overall loss of daylight” which in all cases for properties and public spaces alike, is substantial and unacceptable.

The applicant has not provided any explanation of the methodology used to create either set of figures, nor have they explained why public spaces, homes and gardens that are not currently overshadowed by anything suddenly have a dramatic reduction in light.  The entire methodology used to compile these sets of figures and the accuracy of the information provided is contentious and questionable.  Furthermore, this would not be the first time that a developer had misrepresented the impact of a proposed development, as explained in a series of articles by George Turner on OurCity.London.

  1. Daylight Robbery – How London’s Skyscrapers are plunging the city into darkness
  2. Daylight Robbery – Part 2 – Meet GIA, the princes of darkness

Publicly-owned land — Demand a Fully Independent Sunlight/Daylight/Overshadowing Analysis

156 West End Lane is publicly owned land, with Camden Council as the custodians of that land.  Save West Hampstead “Stop the Blocks!” has written to the local MP, Tulip Siddiq, our elected councillors, Camden planners and other Camden officers to request that a fully independent study is now commissioned. The grounds and justification for this are clear: No faith can be placed in the conflicting studies that have been prepared by Right of Light Consulting on behalf of A2 Dominion in support of A2 Dominion’s proposal for 156 West End Lane.

Included with our request for a fully and truly independent lighting study is a comprehensive dossier of evidence outlining several examples of instances where it appears figures have been manipulated to weight daylight and sunlight studies in favour of A2 Dominion’s proposal.

We urge all West Hampstead residents and supporters of the campaign to Save West Hampstead and “Stop the Blocks!” to join us in our call and reiterate the demands for a fully independent daylight and sunlight study with comprehensive Sunrise to Sunset overshadowing diagrams to be commissioned and to insist that no official public consultation on the revised application starts until such time as the facts regarding the impacts of overshadowing can be truly and honestly known by all.

Who to write to

Below are some of the key people to contact regarding the call for Camden Council to commission a fully independent daylight and sunlight study and comprehensive Sunrise to Sunset overshadowing diagrams based on A2 Dominion’s proposals for 156 West End Lane.  Please email as many of them as you can. We include a brief template email at the end of this article.

To make this as easy as possible for everyone, all you need to do is click the email address of each recipient and a prefilled email with a subject line and the body text shown below will open. All you need to do then is add your name at the end and send the email. The whole process should take no more than a few minutes of your time.

Elected Representatives

Camden Council Cabinet Officers

Camden Council Officials

Others

 

Sample email/letter template


Re: Camden Council Planning Application 2015/6455/P

The 2015 and 2016 revised applications for the publicly owned land at 156 West End lane contain conflicting sets of daylight and sunlight data and no methodology is outlined that allows anyone to determine the means by which the figures were calculated. As such, I do not believe that any faith can be placed in either the original nor revised sets of figures.

What is clear is that irreparable damage would be done to the Crown Close Open Space.

I request your assistance in ensuring that Camden Council commission a fully independent Daylight and Sunlight study, complete with comprehensive Sunrise to Sunset overshadowing diagrams based on A2 Dominion’s proposals for 156 West End Lane so that it is possible to establish the true impact on neighbouring properties, public amenities and the Designated Open Space in Crown Close.

I also request that you help ensure no official public consultation on Application 2015/6455/P commences until such time as this fully independent Daylight and Sunlight study is made available.

Best wishes.


To date, we have only received a response from councillor Angela Pober.  Updates will be added as and when responses are received from other representatives. If you receive a reply to your queries, please feel free to forward them to SaveWestHampstead@gmail.com

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