People in West Kentish Town have been lobbying Camden Council about the need for a strategic plan to guide the development of the neighbourhood. Some of the issues are covered in other posts on this website (West Kentish Town Update December 2019; Kentish Town Framework). This post is a summary of recent history of the development of a plan and attempts by local people to engage with elected members about the important issues that will effect the lives of everyone living in West Kentish Town and Gospel Oak.
EARLY CONSULTATION IN GOSPEL OAK, 2013
Discussions with residents of the 6 estates located within the ‘inner Gospel Oak development area’ and Maitland Park began in 2011. In 2013 the Council committed to take a lead in the regeneration of Gospel Oak, by discussing estate regeneration with individual estates and progressing a strategic framework alongside this with the community as a whole. Consultation of residents, local businesses and stakeholders at this time was reported to have generated seven priorities for regeneration in the Gospel Oak area:
- Invest in housing
- Improve public spaces
- Community safety
- Make it easier and safer for people to get around
- Community provision
- Jobs and enterprise
- Queen’s Crescent
PREPARATION FOR A PLAN FOR GOSPEL OAK: CONSULTATION NOV 2015- JAN 2016
Camden Council further consulted residents, community groups and local businesses to learn about their priorities and how to make the Gospel Oak a better place to live and work. Feedback as reported by Camden Council:
- Most people agreed with the 7 priorities resulting from the previous consultation
- There was a strong response from the Muslim community. They would like to have a larger mosque and education centre
- People want us to keep The Dome and other youth and sports services
- People like the idea of the Council working in partnership with another organisation to provide more affordable housing and support the idea of new homes being built on most of the suggested sites
- People want to see an improvement in the quality and variety of the Queen’s Crescent shops and market
- Many people like the idea of improving the way the library is used as a community resource
- There is a lot of support for a new health centre in Queen’s Crescent
- Gospel Oak open space came top out of the suggested sites for new housing development
- Many people also like having Gospel Oak open space as an open space and this is the community’s top priority for improvement
- People want better shopping areas with better shops, cafés and restaurants
- People want better street cleaning and a successful market in Queen’s Crescent
- More community safety by having more police, security staff and better lighting
- More green open spaces that are looked after properly – including protecting trees
- Re-opening the Arctic Street passageway for better links to Kentish Town
- Traffic calming schemes
- Better enforcement, ie. controlled parking and traffic wardens
- Better cycle routes and bike facilities, ie. lock ups for bikes on the street
- A plan for how having more housing and more people will affect schools, doctors, transport and sewage in the local area
Read the full Consultation Report here: Gospel Oak Consultation report 2016
above: addresses of people consulted
above: the ‘Inner Gospel Oak development area’ showing proposals as of 2016
above: the emerging Gospel Oak Strategic Framework
CONCERNS RAISED BY THE DISTRICT MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE, MARCH 2016
Gospel Oak District Management Committee, representing the interests of council tenants, asked why the consultation had involved the wider community. Council officers explained that consultation concerned the strategic framework, which meant looking at the whole of the Gospel Oak area and specifically at spaces and places outside of the estates and the community provisions that people living in the area share. Therefore everyone who lives, works and visits Gospel Oak has a right to contribute to the consultation.
CAMDEN’S PROPOSALS FOR A STRATEGIC PLAN FOR GOSPEL OAK, 2018
By 2018 Camden Council’s intention was still to develop a strategic framework for Gospel Oak, to reflect local needs, opportunities and priorities and to deliver improved socioeconomic opportunities for all local residents. A draft plan was proposed to be produced by the end of 2018. Gospel Oak was also one of the areas listed under Camden’s proposed Place Plan development (below).
above: extract from LB Camden’s website 2018
A strategic plan has not yet been produced to date. One explanation for this is that the negative reaction of the DMC to the 2015-16 consultation has resulted in the Council choosing to put on hold strategic planning to avoid potential conflict with tenant leaders. This prevents the planners from being able to do their job, which is to represent the needs of the wider society. It has been suggested that the Council’s Regeneration Team is taking advantage of the situation by hurrying on with their own development without consideration of the wider impact.
CALL FOR A PLAN FOR THE WIDER AREA INCLUDING WEST KENTISH TOWN, 2018
By 2018 it had become apparent that the lack of a Strategic Plan risked losing the opportunities offered by large scale development. It was also felt that the plan needed to encompass a larger area, including south of Queen’s Crescent around West Kentish Town estate. A letter to the Camden New Journal in March 2018 encapsulates these concerns:
“As a member of the community who has lived happily next door to the West Kentish Town estate for 30 years, I read with interest the letter from Labour’s Haverstock ward councillors regarding its regeneration (Better homes, February 22).
The councillors focused on existing estate residents to the exclusion of anyone else; which begs the question why they sent their letter to the New Journal. Their letter in a newspaper ought to have acknowledged Haverstock’s general public as well as WKT estate residents. Our councillors represent all the people living here and should be candid with them that WKT estate regeneration is a massive scheme that will inevitably cause considerable disruption.
It is also a huge opportunity for improvement in the area. Detailed thought at planning level is necessary to take full advantage of the potential to achieve long-lasting benefits for everyone. It’s not just about flat lay-outs for existing residents and which architect designs them. Well-defined planning objectives should be discussed and agreed with the community before design begins. They should cover the scale of new buildings, how local streets like Grafton Road, Warden Road, Athlone Street, Allcroft Road and Queen’s Crescent can be improved, and how to introduce a diversity of uses, including employment space. How one can appropriately vary the style of the new buildings – to avoid the estate being completely recast in beige brickwork – and how we can keep some existing estate trees should be discussed too.
Hopefully West Kentish Town estate can be re-formed as a pleasant, well-integrated part of our neighbour-hood. At the moment, there is a danger the regeneration process planned for Gospel Oak and West Kentish Town will repeat the pattern of piecemeal regeneration of 50 years ago, which was carried out estate-by-estate.
As Camden Council’s own consultants have written: “The estates themselves give the impression that each is a separate entity, completely isolated from its surrounding context, with little need to make any positive connection with the wider urban fabric” (Scott Wilson, Gospel Oak Options Review, 2010). To avoid repeating past mistakes we must engage the whole community and involve planners in the process of drawing up a planning framework for the general area and west Kentish Town.”
RISKS OF PROCEEDING WITHOUT A PLAN
In Gospel Oak some new buildings have already been designed and some cases built without the benefit of a strategic plan. These include the Wellesley Road care home and the Bacton estate redevelopment. The potential benefit of these developments has been significantly reduced because there is no strategic plan, resulting in the following negative outcomes:
- the buildings are rebuilt on the same footprints, with no benefit gained from reconfiguring roads and reconnecting the area with the wider neighbourhood
- there is a massive increase in population density, which will result in overcrowding of open spaces
- amorphous building typologies with some single aspect flats and poor natural lighting
- gated development with poor relationship to the street
- loss of existing employment space (16no. commercial units lost at Vicars Road and existing businesses displaced)
- loss of semi-mature trees
A strategic plan could have helped mitigate these negative features, which are now ingrained into the area and are obstacles to be overcome as part of the next phase of the regeneration.
above: existing plan of Bacton estate and Wellesley Road care home
above: proposed plan of Bacton and Wellesley Road care home: no improvement to the road layout and poor visual connection to Lismore Circus.
above: chaotic street elevations and building massing
above: gated access to homes means that there are is little passive surveillance of the street
above: poor relationship to the public realm. This corner site was an opportunity to reintroduce some commercial use that could help overlook the street and improve public safety. Instead the ground floor provides a poorly lit flat with an unusable external amenity space.
above: crime scene April 2019
above: the proposed scheme results in the loss of existing workspace, an integral part of the 1970s development. There are only 3 employment units proposed to replace the 16 lost.
above: London Plane trees cut back during construction, before being removed altogether. These semi-mature London plane trees were subsequently replaced with poorly sited trees which will need to be removed when they grow larger, as there is insufficient space for them to grow.
above: poor relationship with Grade I listed church and adjoining 4 storey flats
above: redevelopment of Bacton estate. Since the original planning application a further 20 flats have been added (total 367) increasing the density to 277 units per hectare.
‘Bacton Low Rise estate’ is a misnomer that confuses the fact that Bacton estate was built as a ‘mixed development’ comprising a high-rise, high density part, ie. the tower with 120 flats, and a complimentary low-rise part, comprising 99 family homes (see here). Together these combined to create a medium density estate with variety of built form and low density areas for the benefit of families. Choosing to split off part of the estate and label it as low density whilst ignoring the tower immediately adjacent is a purposeful attempt to disguise the impact of the proposed overall increase in density in this part of Gospel Oak. Camden say in their planning documents that the density of the development is 166 homes/ hectare; it is in fact 277 homes/ hectare.
above: poor relationship of the entrance of the new care home to Malden Road. Better use of council owned land could have avoided this.
above: poor relationship to public open space
The Bacton estate redevelopment may meet targets for the number of new homes, but fails in terms of urban design. The lack of a planning framework has resulted in a scheme that misses key opportunities: ie. opening up sightlines into Lismore Circus, and from Vicars Road to Haverstock Road, and reconfiguring Wellesely Road so that it can act as a proper street rather the service road it is now. Urban design has a key role to play in improving the safety of public places, but needs a strategic plan to achieve it. The development also fails to provide for new or even replacement uses that are required to meet social need.
LOCAL LABOUR PARTY ACTIONS, JULY 2018
July 2018: Haverstock Branch Labour Party passes a motion calling for a Strategic Plan for the neighbourhood:
A STRATEGIC PLAN FOR GOSPEL OAK AND WEST KENTISH TOWN
We resolve to call upon Camden Council to produce a planning framework for Gospel Oak and West Kentish Town, covering the area bounded by Prince of Wales Road, the Overground railway, Mansfield Road, Southampton Road and Maitland Park Road.
In light of the ongoing and future regeneration of the area by the Council, it is vital that there is a strategic planning framework, drawn up in consultation with the community, to guide the overall development. Strategic planning is needed to address the wider social and economic issues in the area, and to gain maximum benefit for the neighbourhood as a whole – housing is not the only factor that needs to be considered.
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. An urban design plan will be able to look at the whole area, and tie together the developments which 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. The risks of proceeding without a plan are apparent in the redesign of Bacton, where major opportunities for improvement of the public realm and community safety have been missed. In the absence of a response from the Council we call on the London Mayor to provide the necessary guidance.
above: plan area as proposed by the Haverstock Branch Labour Party
MEETING CLLR BEALES, CABINET MEMBER FOR PLANNING AND REGENERATION, APRIL 2019
Due to the lack of progress a meeting was held with Councillors Danny Beales and Alison Kelly on 1st April 2019 to raise the pressing need for a plan to address the systemic problems in the area. The matters raised included:
- falling school rolls due to families not being able to afford to live in the area
- the need to tackle the chronic problems such as youth violence, lack of employment opportunities, overcrowding and poor health.
- local priorities pointing decisively to the need for an area plan and joined up local government
- more ‘conversations’ are not the answer: the facts and data regards these problems are clear and can only be dealt with by a strategic plan
- It is the Council’s moral responsibility to use the statutory instruments at its disposal to improve the lives of people in this area.
CABINET DECISION TO PROCEED WITH DESIGN OF WEST KENTISH TOWN AND WENDLING ESTATES, JULY 2019
At the July 2019 Cabinet meeting, Camden Council decided to proceed with the redevelopment of the two estates, procure design services for Stage 2 design and develop the ‘business case’. Despite the recent engagement with Cllr. Danny Beales here is no mention of the need for strategic planning to guide the design process. Instead the Council’s report states that:
” 2.31 It is really important to create a coherent plan for the wider area and we are keen to talk to neighbours of the Estate to understand the wider priorities of the area and to ensure all necessary local infrastructure is in place, to support the scale of this proposed new development. Working closely with local stakeholders will be key to delivering a Community Vision to make Haverstock a better place to live in, work in and visit.
2.32 The intention is that the Community Vision work will be carried out at the same time as the design proposals for the Estate are developed; it is envisaged as the precursor for future planning applications. It will ensure that the development proposals sit comfortably in their existing surroundings and that the vision for the area meets the aspirations of Camden’s design and planning policies.”
The stated process for creating a ‘coherent plan’ is not the same as preparing a ‘strategic plan’. In order for it to be a meaningful plan, it cannot- by definition- be produced in tandem to the Stage 2 design. Any ‘visioning’ should form the first phase of the work following which the masterplan can be developed. It could possibly be produced in tamdem to the initial Stage 0 survey work. This would provide a clearer picture of the objectives of renewal and regeneration, and would be able to inform both Stages 1 and 2 design development.
In the absence of a wider masterplan or planning framework the “community vision” is offered as a stand-in and to form part of the brief for the masterplanning team. There is no definition of what a “community vision” is, but it is clear that it is not a substitute for a planning framework. Vague statements about consultation, community and “wider conversations” obscure the planning challenge, which is a serious job of work for well-qualified people with a good knowledge of historic trends in urban development, local development over the last 100 years, up-to-date thinking about use-planning, greening, sustainability economic development and alternative forms of housing delivery.
DEPUTATION TO THE COMMITTEE BY NEIGHBOURS OF WEST KENTISH TOWN, JULY 2019
Neighbours of West Kentish Town Estate, a local group, made a deputation to the Committee as follows (read the full text here):
“In brief we
- Support, the wholesale redevelopment of the estate to provide new homes for the current residents (currently in substandard accommodation), future residents and new family homes;
- Recognise the opportunity to address neighbourhood level issues, such as crime and anti-social behaviour.
- Think the current masterplan, as seen, is not fit for purpose, fails to meet the Residents Brief, and will fail to deliver an area appropriate or planning policy compliant scheme;
- Are opposed to delegated authority being given to the Executive Director Supporting Communities to progress the project in the absence of a planning framework for the wider area.
- Request instead that Cabinet should commission the Planning and Regeneration Department to prepare a Planning Framework for the area, which will statutorily entail appropriate consultation with residents and neighbours of the wider neighbourhood to address the issues of deprivation, transiency and antisocial behaviour faced by the apparently forgotten Haverstock and Gospel Oak wards and set west WKTE within, and connect it to, its wider context. We believe this approach will ultimately deliver a cohesive approach for the area to serve both residents, neighbours and the wider community. Whilst we acknowledge it will take time to produce a Planning Framework, we believe that to proceed as currently proposed misses a number of opportunities and will not be a quick solution. It will be challenged every step of the way, wasting tax payers’ money and ultimately fail to deliver in full the social, environmental and economic benefits this potentially pioneering project should have. Given the scale of the funding set out in the accompanying report to this item, this would be a staggering failure in the use of public funds with long term repercussions.”
DEPUTATION TO THE HOUSING SCRUTINY COMMITTEE, SEPTEMBER 2019
At this meeting the Council’s Community Investment Programme was scrutinised by the Committee, following a number of concerns raised about its effectiveness. A Camden leaseholder made a deputation regards the shortcomings of the CIP programme as it affects the redevelopment of West Kentish Town estate. The key points were:
- There has been no response to NOWKTE’s deputation made to the July Cabinet committee.
- Complaint regards the lack of consultation in the West Kentish Town area prior to preparation of the masterplan for the redevelopment of West Kentish Town estate.
- Inadequate briefing of the architects commissioned to prepare the masterplan for West Kentish Town estate.
- Failure of the masterplan to address planning policy or the needs of the area.
- Failure to co-ordinate the plan with the emerging planning framework for the Regis Road industrial estate that is immediately adjacent.
- Lack of a proper Planning Framework for the area
- Urban design failings of previous CIP schemes, including Agar Grove and Bacton Low Rise.
COMMUNITY VISION 2020
In January 2020 residents of Gospel Oak and West Kentish Town were leafletted with a letter from Cllr. Danny Beales, setting out the Council’s proposal to develop a ‘Gospel Oak and Haverstock Community Vision’, including setting up a neighbourhood assembly to inform this process. Again there is no explanation of what a community vision is, other to say that it includes:
- proposals for improved community, school and health facilities, parks and open spaces
- improvements to roads, footpaths and cycle routes
- proposals on where to locate new affordable housing
- opportunities for new job opportunities and shops
This sounds like a plan of some sort, maybe the ‘coherent plan’ referred to the July 2019 cabinet report, but there is a lack of clarity regards its scope, status in planning terms and the area covered. It seems likely that this will not provide the benefit of the Strategic Plan promised in 2013- 2018.
COMPLAINTS TO CAMDEN COUNCIL, FEBRUARY 2020
In February 2020 a number of complaints were submitted by the Neighbours of West Kentish Town to Camden Council. These focussed on:
- The ballot of West Kentish Town Estate residents held Feb-March 2020 regards the full redevelopment option. This was felt to be flawed due to lack of clarity regards what would happen in the event of a ‘No’ vote- the implication in the ballot that nothing would be done to improve the existing estate- and reports of residents feeling ‘strong armed’ by Camden. Many families who bought under the ‘right to buy’ did so in the belief that it would provide more security, but the opposite has come true.
- The lack of additional social homes to be provided by the proposed redevelopment of West Kentish Town estate; these are required to reduce current levels of deprivation in the area due to lack of decent housing.
- Gross densification of WKT estate out of harmony with the surrounding area, based on a cash formula for private flats rather than actual housing need. As this formula is subject to fluctuations in financial markets the number of new flats has to be adjusted to suit them (as at Bacton estate where additional units had to be added), rather than what is best for the area.
- Scepticism regards whether the neighbourhood assembly process will be respected.
- Problems with the Council’s Community Investment Programme: in reference to the report to the Housing Scrutiny Committee in September 2019, which stated that “While the total programme is forecast to end in a positive financial position – highlighting the success of the cross-subsidy model in generating income for reinvestment – the scheme is currently in deficit due to a strategic decision to prioritise spend on community benefits within early stages of schemes and the programme overall, and it is therefore important that the projected income is generated in the next phase of the associated projects”. This strategic decision appears to be responsible for burdening Gospel Oak and West Kentish Town with a high proportion of small private flats for sale, no additional social affordable homes and a resistance to proper planning.