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.
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Now push off you workers, by Neil Fletcher

Neil Fletcher’s article reproduced below was originally published in the Camden New Journal on Thursday 6th August, 2015.

Neil Fletcher was elected to Camden Council in 1978 along with Ken Livingstone. He served as Deputy Leader of the Council from 1982 to 1984. From 1979 he was chosen as Camden's delegate to the Inner London Education Authority.
Neil Fletcher was elected to Camden Council in 1978 along with Ken Livingstone. He served as Deputy Leader of the Council from 1982 to 1984. From 1979 he was chosen as Camden’s delegate to the Inner London Education Authority.

It is July 2035. I am wandering up Fortune Green Road with my great-grand-daughter. The sun is shining and reflecting off the shutters on the 50 or 60 blocks of apartments down the hill in West Hampstead. Queues of smart cars are crawling down to West End Lane, passing a massive tower block called Library Heights (in recognition of the council library that was sold off in 2016) and casts its shadow over the shoppers, while residents can see the Manhattan-style spread of sky-scrapers half a mile away marking the oh-so-fashionable Harrods Square at the back of the O2 Centre. After parking in the massive underground car park they will be free to enjoy fun-time, buy clothes, phones and e-junk, in-between popping into the 24-storey swish blocks of exclusive apartments for drinkies with their mates.

My great-grand-daughter asks a question that takes me back: ‘’Great grand-dad, what did West Hampstead use to be like?’’ What can I say? Resident in West Hampstead since 1970 I remember the splendid mixture of homes and businesses, scarlet skies in summer evenings as the sun fell to the west, Victorian terrace houses lining the roads, rented Council housing accommodation and a diverse range of private apartments. That was before the Camden’s Labour Council began its policy of social cleansing in the years after 2012.

“West Hampstead used to be a really diverse community” I said. “There were great schools, plenty of families, loads of jobs, openings for youngsters as well as retired folks who had lived all their lives in the area. And some good bars. Then the council began to sell off sites they owned and gave unquestioning planning permission to foreign developers looking for overnight profits from throwing up ugly, square, tasteless blocks that dwarfed and shadowed the rented accommodation where working people traditionally lived. Blind to the consequences of its love affair with developers, Quisling Labour councillors turned West Hampstead into a gated community for bankers. And the locals were forced out.”

At this point I wake up. It is still 2015, but London is being changed into a bland confection of characterless apartments. Today the Council I used to be Deputy Leader of, and which in the 70s and 80s could boast of building more council dwellings each year than any other English council (even more than large Midlands and northern city councils), has been betrayed.

My anger is not just about a solitary decision taken by a group of degraded councillors playing a perverse kind of Monopoly with our borough. It is the product of a creeping leprosy that is condemning inner London to turn itself into junk apartments for the wealthy few, at the expense of the homes and jobs that up till now have made West Hampstead a genuine, rounded community of all talents and races.

I hear rumours on the grapevine. Perhaps they are merely rumours, but where do they start? Perhaps in the city, in the bars where foreign investors meet and plan the next big deal, or among the estate agents (there are over 20 clustered along West End Lane – they must know something is happening).

The rumours devastate me. We have already seen a Labour Council trashing the Liddell Road industrial estate and the 150 jobs that went with it to allow an 11-storey tower block of apartments to be built of which only 4 units will be for social housing. Push off you workers! You are not wanted round here.

But to follow we have now seen plans for the 156 West End Lane site that will make Liddell Road seem like a workers’ paradise. An excrescence of unsightly housing reaching up to 6 or 8 stories, transforming the elegant streets currently alongside Lymington Road will put the Conservation Area into the shade – to help foreign investors looking for a quick buck.

Labour Camden may argue that it is investing the proceeds back into the council and the borough. Apart from being a hollow claim, large areas of the borough will become residential zones for young bankers and City ladies and gents. Labour is giving Camden’s existing residents the bum’s rush.

And that is not all! The Library on Dennington Park Road is already being ear-marked for closure. The council calls it a public consultation – but anyone who has been close to local government knows that you have one of those before you go ahead and do the outrageous thing you were going to do anyway. Once closed it becomes a gold-mine. The council-built housing to either side of it and the open space behind it could bring in £30million or £40million from developers who could throw up a large housing block of 12 or 14 floors. The destruction of a book shop, a bike shop, a dentist, bars and restaurants would count for nothing. The synagogue and the elegance of the roads on either side would be dwarfed by the monster. Communities would be destroyed and traditions lost for ever.

I can also see more jobs going down Blackburn Road off West End Lane, on top of the loss of 30 jobs at Travis Perkins, as the developers scramble to buy up yards of spare land along railway lines.

And where would the proceeds be spent? On facilities for residents? Play areas, drop-ins and tennis courts? No way! Any funds for investment would no doubt be directed to the south of the borough and the lifestyle of West Hampstead destroyed for good.

The piece de resistance is still to come, perhaps 4 or 5 years away. The vast parking area at the rear of the O2 centre on Finchley Road has an immense potential for the developers. A large site of 4 or 6 football pitches will be put out to developers, and we will see sky-scrapers of luxury homes, and a fashionable shopping centre boasting its links with Finchley Road stations.

I am sorry that my grand-children will have to adjust to the ruination of West Hampstead. Perhaps even more sorry that they will associate the obscenity of housing bubbles and the disposal of community assets with a Labour Council. Its not too late, though, for the local politicians of all parties to come together with the community to defeat the Builders of Blocks.

The consequences of not listening to raised voices will degrade the important principle of accountability that has defined Camden’s government for over 51 years.

Neil Fletcher
Email: neil@neilfletcher.org.uk

Author Bio: Neil Fletcher was born in Blackpool, taught in Leeds and moved to West Hampstead in 1971. He was a trade union officer, became a Camden councillor (Chair of Building, Works and Services, and Finance Committees, and Deputy Leader of the council) and was also a member of the Inner London Education Committee (ILEA) for 11 years. He was Chair of the Further and Higher Education Committee and then Leader for three years before it was abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1990. He subsequently became Executive Director (Education, Culture, Libraries, Sport) at the Local Government Association (LGA) and now works as a consultant on education and public services in England as well as in Africa.