On 18th December Camden held a meeting in Rhyl Primary School’s community space to update neighbours of West Kentish Town estate on progress following the Cabinet decision in July 2019 to proceed with the full development of the estate. The following observations are made following the meeting.
Camden has not yet set about producing a Plan for the whole neighbourhood. This has been requested for over 18 months, with a motion being passed by the St. Pancras and Holborn Constituency Labour Party in July 2019 calling for this to be brought forward:
- ‘Strategic Plan for Gospel Oak and West Kentish Town
This GC calls upon Camden Council to produce a planning framework for Gospel Oak and West Kentish Town. In light of the ongoing and future regeneration of the area by the Council, it is vital that there is a strategic planning framework, e.g. a Community Plan done in consultation with the local community, to guide the overall development. Strategic planning is needed to get maximum benefit for the neighbourhood as a whole. We propose a plan that includes the area bounded by Prince of Wales Road, the Overground railway line, Mansfield Road, Southampton Road and Maitland Park. This will tie in with work currently being undertaken by Camden to develop a planning framework for Kentish Town. It is not intended to replace or work against the current work on West Kentish Town and Wendling estates, but to feed into this process with strategic oversight of the restructuring of the area. A plan is necessary in order to address the wider social and economic issues in the area; housing is not the only factor that needs to be considered. A Strategic Plan will be able to look at the whole area, and tie together the developments that will otherwise proceed on a piecemeal basis. It is the responsibility of the Council to provide planning oversight, and we call on them to do so. In the absence of a response from the Council we call on the London Mayor to provide the necessary guidance.’
This requires the involvement of the Planning Department. Camden officers propose “estate master-planning” and a “community vision”, but do not mention a proper planning process for the whole area. Planning provides a long term framework to guide development. Without this the future well-being of neighbourhoods cannot be protected. Unfortunately the tendency for major projects to precede or supplant proper planning is not new, as real estate developers have become the key drivers of the production of space, for example as at Kings Cross. This has contributed to planners in local government departments being more focused on ‘market facilitation’ than on engaging with urban design and the creation of public value through planning.
The lack of a Plan shows inadequacies in the current discourse. For example, there is no acknowledgement that “12.7% of land area in Gospel Oak is public green space compared to 24.8% in Camden”. The open space around buildings on the West Kentish Town estate is valuable in light of this. Without a planning framework setting out compensations for the densification of the estate area, West Kentish Town comprehensive redevelopment will not be co-ordinated with other goals for the neighbourhood.
AGAR GROVE ESTATE
The current redevelopment of Agar Grove estate is held up by Camden as a model for West Kentish Town estate. However, the proposals for the West Kentish Town estate are of a different scale. The number of additional homes provided by the Agar Grove estate redevelopment is 98% of the existing. Applying the same increase to West Kentish Town estate would result in a total of 630 homes. This would be a reasonable number of homes for West Kentish Town, however Camden is proposing a total of 800-880 homes, which is a dangerously high number; the resulting density is likely to be harmful to the neighbourhood and the people living in the estate area, due to overcrowding and the difficulty of providing humane family homes within building typologies that result.
Recent redevelopment of Agar Grove Estate, 2019
No information is provided about the existing social infrastructure of the area and how this will be protected. Some residents of the estate have lived in the estate for many years, establishing links within the estate and the neighbourhood.
- How does Camden intend to avoid the displacement of existing communities?
- How does it intend to protect the existing social connections of the residents of West Kentish Town estate?
- How does the redevelopment address social needs?
These considerations are important for the social cohesion of the whole neighbourhood. Current plans are at risk of repeating the social disruption caused when homes were compulsorily purchased and demolished in the 1960s and 70s. Camden offers no commentary on the profound alteration to the social mix that the current plans for the rebuilding of West Kentish Town estate will produce because of the Council’s dependency on the sale of expensive flats to finance the construction.
The visualisations of the rebuilt estate exhibited in Spring (consultation report May 2019) demonstrate the radical change to the kinds of blocks residents will be housed in. The existing estate, like the former Agar Grove estate, consists of relatively small blocks. The illustrations suggest residents will be moved into far more massive edifices which will change the relationship of the home to the neighbourhood for many people in a way which is not explored.
CLIMATE AND ECOLOGICAL EMERGENCY
In October 2019 Camden Council declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency. This has not yet informed the development of proposals for West Kentish Town estate. There is, for example, no reference to reducing the carbon emissions caused by construction by using low-carbon forms of construction.
Architects Declare and the RIBA call on clients to upgrade existing buildings for extended use as a more carbon efficient alternative to demolition and new build whenever there is a viable choice. The option for retrofitting the existing buildings on West Kentish Town estate has not been examined.
Camden do not currently prioritise embodied carbon in construction; this will hopefully change as Camden addresses the climate crisis. For example, the design for Agar Grove estate addresses operational energy but does not attempt to reduce embodied carbon of the construction, which has therefore caused a large quantity of upfront carbon emissions.
High embodied carbon construction at Agar Grove estate, 2019: much of this building could have be built using timber for the main structure.
Low embodied energy: Cross laminated timber frame at Dalston Lane development, 2017
Camden has not considered the green infrastructure of the area, nor the biodiversity and other environmental services provided by the trees and green space on West Kentish Town estate (see Transition Kentish Town’s website).