Our correspondent reports on the exhibition held by Camden Council to show the proposed design of the redevelopment of West Kentish Town estate, held on 11th May 2019 at Althone Hall, Athlone Street.
During the exhibition, no-one referenced an existing overall plan for the area because none exists. The only guidance explicitly acknowledged was “what residents want”.
Planning policy was mentioned but in passing as something related to a planning process that’s a long way off. There were no panels on display, for example, setting out relevant planning policy produced by the Borough, by the GLA or by central government. A very unbalanced picture of the development process was presented.
Planning recognises the complexity of a good decision. Development has to be squared with policies coming from at least three different overarching bodies i.e national government, city government and local government. A good decision is not encompassed by just what money can buy or by what “the residents have told us they want”. That is a gross simplification which ignores what planning recognises: that there are many interests, values and goods implicated in planning decisions
Large-scale housing redevelopment in West Kentish Town and Gospel Oak, as it is being now managed by Camden Council, is not properly related to the existing neighbourhood, primarily because Camden understands the area, for all day-to-day purposes, as a “housing district”, and not a neighbourhood whole with a historic identity enduring through time or a set of identity defining settings and activities, as well as an established people belonging to diverse communities and classes.
Discussion at the consultation event was intense and sometimes heated. The event was useful so far as it demonstrated Camden is doggedly pursuing a limited information strategy and so failing to represent development properly. Actual planning policy, the history of site development, comparable scale development precedents, up-to-date thinking about city development—all of these topics are relevant to understanding West Kentish Town estate regeneration. They are hidden from view because intellectual narrowing and restrictiveness is being practised by Camden in the guise of doing “what our residents tell us they want”
The indifference to planning policy is suggestive of Camden’s real intentions: to streamline the planning debate after a planning application is made so that between now and then, we move from everything being open to everything being, as it were, “too late” and in any case in accordance with “what our residents want”, without a real (planning) discussion taking place.
If we add to this, the fact that questions around the funding model have been closed down, we are in a situation when real inquiry and interrogation of what’s happening is difficult. One must presume the difficulties have been cultivated by Camden for their own purposes rather than those of the larger neighbourhood. We are witnessing a fake performance of planning which is a wholly improper response to the once-in-a-generation opportunity before all of us
above: consultation model showing the proposed total redevelopment of WKT estate
TOPICS DISCUSSED (with local residents A, B and C)
1 State of development process
Camden stated again and again that the designs on show are not final; they are Stage 1 designs.
They said designs would have to conform to planning policy, the implication being that they may not do at present.
2 Additional affordable housing
Camden said there would be a small uplift in number of affordable homes although they did not have any figures.
3 Family accommodation
- A outlined the problem of falling primary school rolls in the area and related need to renew local society/community by providing homes of the right kind for families to put down roots.
- Camden rehearsed points about overcrowding in the existing estate and their plans to rehouse existing tenants in larger, family homes but didn’t answer A’s points.
- Scepticism that the proposed high-rise towers will offer much in the way of family homes was expressed. Camden said there would be some but didn’t know how many.
4 Community facilities and workspace
- B asked where new community facilities, including workspace, would be sited.
- Camden thought workspace would go near to Queen’s Crescent to consolidate Queen’s Crescent’s status as a “hub”.
- No particular buildings were formally identified for community uses or workspaces in the model or drawings.
- B was dubious about the proposed mews arrangement off Queen’s Crescent, and called for a separate block fronting Queen’s Crescent, the ground floor of which would provide lots of space for community groups, enterprise and business.
5 Funding model and risk
- A, B and C were adamant that the funding model should not be taken as final. They do not accept it is a reason to undermine and compromise good planning.
- C emphasised how the funding model exposes the whole project to delay and mishap because of the vagaries and volatility of the “London residential property market” on which the whole adventure relies.
- B asked for proposed density figures from Camden, who did not have any.
- B stated this seems to contradict the general idea that private home sales are fundamental to the development. To have a good idea of the number of homes needed across the development area to fund rebuilding existing residents homes, a good idea of required density would have to be available
- It was noted that Bacton tower was left out of density calculations for the Bacton redevelopment although the tower is part of the estate, which distorted the perceived density calculations. See end of this post.
- A, B and C emphasised that density is a “planning consideration” and it seems the West Kentish town is a “planning-free” zone.
7 Commitment to residential high rise
- The design includes residential buildings that are 10, 12 and 15 stories high.
- B said there is scepticism about high-rise living (Hawkridge tower, for example, was deemed better for UCL students than families). Many do not believe it is an appropriate building form for the area or family housing.
- See note below about the acknowledged inconsistency of planning for a legible or ordinary streetspace and high-rise development.
- The massing of the three tower blocks proposed by Camden appears around double that of Hawkridge (the floorplate is approximately double the size): in other words, they are much more massive buildings than we already have in the area.
- C alerted Camden to Levitt Bernstein’s remarks on the shortcomings of high-rise residential buildings provided to the GLA’s Examination in Public of the London Plan in January 2019.
- C said Camden appears willing to be ignore the fraught history of tower blocks in order to pursue its particular comprehensive redevelopment strategy for West Kentish Town estate.
- There was an exchange about the ugliness or intrusiveness of towers in the neighbourhood – “plonking down” of alien forms in the neighbourhood.
- Camden said the two southern-most towers shown in their model aim to create a density hot-spot at a point in the development area where they can take advantage of local transport.
View of the 15 storey tower looking south down Grafton Road (with the full redevelopment scheme there is 12 storey tower immediately to the west of it).
Model view showing the two towers (left) at the junction of Warden Road and Grafton Road
There was a review of the scale of blocks along the following streets:
Coity Road- unfairness
- A 4-storey block built up to the pavement is shown in the model, entailing the loss of the beech tree (see model photo above).
- A commented that householders and others in the area are not permitted by Camden’s own policy to build roof extensions, but Camden is able to replace existing 3-storey structures on the street with new 4-storey ones. She noted roof extensions to existing houses are an economic contribution to meeting local housing need.
- A emphasised that Camden appears to license its own development whilst blocking the sensible plans of local people wanting to improve their homes to better accommodate extended families (overcrowding). This seems to her and others as unfair
- A mentioned families who had already left the area because their extension plans had been thwarted by Camden.
Grafton Road- massive disjuncture of scale
- The block along Grafton Road, as represented in the model above, is plainly much more massive than the existing housing it faces. The mismatch of scales is very striking in the model.
- The mismatch in scale is occurring in plan as much as in section. This aspect of the alien nature of the new development points us in the direction of the failure to define a building type that relates to a plot which in turn is an appropriate or reasonable subdivision of the general site
- According to C, the new blocks- the Grafton Rd ones are good examples – do not show any sign of relating to the house typologies and site plotting of the background stock of 19th century buildings. In other words, we are repeating the anti-historical architecture of the first round of housing estate development from the 60s & 70s.
- C pointed to the work of Neave Brown as the last serious attempt to address the site-plot-building type question.
Warden Road and Athlone Street- blight of towers
Model view looking east to Grafton Road, Warden Road on the left, Athlone Street on the right
- Camden acknowledged the proposed tower blocks on these streets do not uphold their avowed principle of creating normalised streets.
- The impact on residential blocks of Athlone Street will be particularly unfortunate, given the history of this street.
- The loss of the beech tree on Coity Road is implied by the redevelopment scheme shown in Camden’s model.
- The loss of mature trees across the site is a major cause of concern.
10 Urban design in general
- Camden’s site development principles are not stated anywhere let alone reconciled visibly with their own planning policies or those of the GLA or national government.
- Camden said the plan is to re-introduce conventional streets so residents enjoy the straightforward benefits of easy-to-find street addresses.
- When questioned, they said their plan depends on creating “perimeter blocks” with many stair cores i.e without gallery access.
- The blocks will be double-facing. It is not clear whether this means they have dual aspect or flats facing front and back.
- Each perimeter block will have a green area in the middle.
- Camden want to create “permeability” across the site, with safe, overlooked routes. They emphasised residents do not like existing unsafe, non-overlooked routes across the estate. To improve permeability they propose an east- west link between Allcroft Road and Grafton road, structured as a series of public spaces.
11 North-South route between Queen’s Crescent and Talacre
- B said that the proposed north-south route replacing Weedington Road should be realigned so that it is more direct, clear and safe, and not be diverted via Rhyl Street as proposed.
- In order to provide a more direct route the eastern-most block replacing Langridge should be set back or amalgamated into the block that is proposed for area now occupied by Cannington.
- The ugly 2-storey building at the foot of the Hawkridge Tower should be redeveloped by UCL to improve the streetscape; Camden said that discussions were under way.
12 Warden Road
- Camden said the initial intention is to allow vehicular traffic through Warden Road, although they said that this is not a final decision.
- A and B have grave doubts about opening the street up to traffic, because it will create a rat-run for traffic, reduce safety adjacent to Rhyl School, and increase noise and air pollution.
- This proposal goes against Camden’s proposals for new neighbourhoods to be developed to be car-free, as set out in Kentish Town Framework.
13 The idea of recovering the 19th century street patterns
- Camden said some of their thinking relates to recovering the original 19th century street pattern.
- B pointed out that this objective is only partly plausible. The original street layout in this area was very poor – houses were shoehorned in with tiny yard gardens or no garden at all. The compression of the house-type on its plot was clearly driven by lack of imagination and pursuit of money, and blighted the whole of west Kentish Town.
- The mews-type housing off Queens Crescent proposed by Camden and shown in the model is an example of 19th street-plan recovery which does not work because the mews doesn’t allow for sufficient housing or development land on its west side.
- The mews proposal does not create an appropriate frontage onto Queen’s Crescent at this point, where there is an opportunity for community and workspace uses to combine in an interesting form, for example a deep plan around a courtyard.
View of mews running south from Queen’s Crescent: this proposed street does not tie in with the urban fabric to the north of Queen Crescent, as do Weedington Road, Allcroft Road and Bassett Street.