Abbey development: £2.3m spent and not a brick in place

29 Jun

Belsize Road car parkHas Camden Council lost its grip on the Abbey development?

The development, at the junction of Abbey Road and Belsize Road, has been on the agenda since 2007. It involves knocking down the Belsize Road car park and the Emminster/Hinstock housing blocks and replacing them with new private and public housing, shops and businesses. After years of working groups, exhibitions, public meetings and consultations, it finally got planning permission a year ago.

So I was surprised to learn recently that the new architects for the project are making substantial revisions to the proposals. These changes were nodded through by Camden Council’s Cabinet earlier this month, and we are promised a fresh planning application later in the summer.

But even that will not be the end of the discussion, because ‘Phase 2’ of the project – which will transfer the Abbey community centre and Belsize Priory health centre across the road to the foot of the Casterbridge and Snowman tower blocks – appears to be particularly unsettled and has been put on hold for now.

I asked some questions and was told that EIGHT different consultants have been or will be paid for their services on this project. £2.3m of public money has already been spent on the Abbey development with nothing tangible to show for it in six years. Not a brick has been laid or dismantled, unless you count the removal of a railway bridge by Network Rail last Christmas Day.

The Council are currently projecting the work will go on until 2018, more than a decade after the discussions started. Compare this to the seven year project to get London ready for the Olympics!

Meanwhile, the recent changes suggest the development could be a missed opportunity to offer much needed homes for families on low to middle incomes. The total number of proposed housing units has been reduced below the low end of the projected figures presented in the 2012 planning application. Disappointingly, shared ownership units in the scheme are being slashed from 25 to 12. This squeezing of the intermediate housing completely contradicts the Council’s own much vaunted Equality Taskforce report which rightly highlighted its importance to the borough’s social mix.

While it is important to get the details of this development right, it seems the Labour Council has lost its grip on this project. It’s wasting money on consultants and causing planning blight for residents and businesses in the area.

29/7/13 UPDATE

A short update to this blog to highlight:

(a) a revision I received from Camden Council with regards to the estimated expenditure on the project so far. The full spend to date is apparently £2.296m not £1.7m as previously indicated (reflected in a revised headline to this post). This only adds to my concern that public money has been wasted in six years of discussion so far…

(b) the Council’s Housing department has now submitted a revised planning application to the Council’s Planning department:

http://planningonline.camden.gov.uk/MULTIWAM/showCaseFile.do?appType=Planning&appNumber=2013%2F4678%2FP

This includes well over 100 separate documents about different aspects of the proposed development from air quality to the economic impact. I hope to write a fuller blog about the application when I have looked more closely at these documents and spoken to local residents, but the headlines are:

– Significant changes have been made to the scheme that went through the planning process a year ago

– The total number of housing units in the scheme has fallen from 296 to 241

– Intermediate – or shared ownership housing – has indeed been scaled back from 25 to 12 units

– The new housing ‘tower’ at the Abbey Road/Belsize Road junction will be 14 storeys, an increase from 12 storeys in the 2012 application

– Design changes appear to improve the relationship between the new buildings and the junction

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