Abbey Area development – Eight questions about an August application

26 Aug

Abbey development Jan 12 012It may still be the holiday season, but Camden Council has landed residents of Kilburn ward with a tricky August challenge if they want to influence the most important planning application we have seen for years.

As I have blogged about before, discussion regarding the development at the Abbey Road/Belsize Road junction has been going on for 6 years, and an outline application got planning approval last year. But having appointed a new architect, the Council apparently requested a ‘comprehensive review’ of the outline parameters and ‘as a result of that exercise it was agreed that the extent of the changes necessitated a resubmission of the proposals’. That’s Council speak for ‘we have made a mess of it’ and we are on to Plan B.

Overview of development

In summary, the planned development involves three phases:

Phase 1 – Demolition of the Belsize Road car park which also houses several businesses. Construction of a 14-storey tower at the junction with private flats, a small supermarket space at the ground floor and an ‘energy centre’ in the basement. This will be attached to a six storey housing development with further private housing and new council properties. More shops and commercial office space will be provided on the ground floor.

Phase 2 – Construction of a health centre space at the base of Casterbridge tower block and a new community centre at the base of Snowman tower block. This new building will also include a covered courtyard connecting the two tower blocks.

Phase 3 – Demolition of the Emminster and Hinstock council housing blocks, the Abbey Community Centre, Belsize Priory Health Centre, shops and the Lillie Langtry pub. A new 6-7 storey housing block will be built around Belsize Road and Abbey Road, with shops opening out onto a ‘central urban realm space’. 15 ‘mews style’ houses will run alongside the back of Priory Terrace.

This fresh application provides detailed proposals for Phase 1 only, and seeks ‘outline’ permission for Phases 2 and 3. So we can expect further applications although it is important to look at the development as a whole to assess it. The last I heard the development is not expected to be completed until 2018, and that was before the further slippage that we have experienced this year.

There are over 100 documents online associated with this complex application and the best overview is probably the Planning Statement. It is very challenging to get your head around how the documents inter-relate, not least because many of them take an age to download and there is frankly a lot of consultant guff. While there have been lots of exhibitions and meetings regarding the development over the years, the Council hasn’t organised an opportunity for people to scrutinise the proposals now that the critical planning process has commenced. All credit to some particularly tenacious local residents who managed to get a single hard copy of the documents out of the Council and hosted a couple of last minute meetings last week. But this really isn’t good enough, and people are understandably suspicious that the Council is slipping through the application during the summer holidays when people are less engaged.

Key questions

Anyway, on the basis of looking at the documents, and talking to local people, I have put together a list of eight key questions below:

  1. Will enough new homes be provided to justify the disruption of this development?  We are now promised 241 flats/houses, a sharp reduction on the 296 residential units in the 2012 application. Given that 71 flats will be demolished as part of the development, this is not the significant housing gain that might have been expected from such an ambitious and disruptive scheme.
  2. Will this development help young families to get on the housing ladder?  Very disappointingly, the number of shared ownership units has been scaled back from 25 to 12. Ironically, Camden Council recently published an Equality Taskforce report which highlighted the importance of intermediate housing in keeping our communities balanced.  I agree, and I fear this development will not be of much help to young families on average incomes who would like to stay in NW6.
  3. Why is the tower building now rising to 14 floors?  The Council appears to have quietly added another couple of floors to the tower building which was put forward last year. This was a controversial aspect of the development.
  4. Is the design of the Belsize Road building the best they can do?  Many people are disappointed by the design of the new housing block, which looks distinctly, well ‘lego- blockish’. It seems to face away towards the railway, rather than towards the road.  It is also rather imposing, and there is a lost opportunity to make better use of the under-utilised green space between the car park and the pavement.
  5. Why are we losing so many trees?  This isn’t clearly spelt out in any of the documents that I have looked at, but a close examination of this ‘Tree Impact’ map suggests that over 40 trees are earmarked for the chop, including most of the trees at the Abbey/Belsize junction and in front of the car park. This feels like lazy design.
  6. What is this new ‘energy centre’ all about?  Local residents are understandably anxious about talk of a local energy centre to fuel the development. This isn’t my area of expertise, but the plans seem to involve a Combined Heat and Power system and the use of solar panels. This requires more explanation from the Council to help interpret the Energy Statement.
  7. Is this development good for local businesses?  The Abbey Area project started life as a ‘regeneration’ project, but all the local traders I have spoken to feel excluded from the discussion. The Belsize Road car park may lack architectural merit, but it does provide a base for a number of valued local businesses. Meanwhile, the impact upon the shops further up Belsize Road seems to have been overlooked.  Given that we have many supermarkets in Swiss Cottage, West Hampstead & Kilburn already, it is questionable whether another one is needed in this development.
  8. Has the NHS committed to Phase 2?  I haven’t focused here on ‘Phase 2’ because the details about that are sketchy in this application. But information regarding the proposed new health centre is conspicuous by its absence. Given the recent overhaul in NHS commissioning, it would be helpful to know if the NHS has committed to transferring the Belsize Priory Health Centre to the new site. Otherwise, there must be a risk that the new centre will turn into a ‘white elephant’.

These questions give just a flavour of the issues arising from this application and the wider development plans. The deadline for responding to the planning consultation is this Thursday (29th August) and you can comment online here. Views about the developments also very welcome below.

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2 Responses to “Abbey Area development – Eight questions about an August application”

  1. Beth August 26, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    Fantastic summary, James, with some great plain-speaking. There seems to be quite a lot of planning and building-related paperwork shuffled through when residents are conveniently on summer break. Keep up the good work on behalf of your residents. Beth

  2. Martin Hayman October 30, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    Sound work James. Those planning docs really take a lot of time to master, thanks for the digest.

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