Residents of Gospel Oak and West Kentish Town have received an invitation to take part in consultation about the future of the area. Unfortunately the on-line survey does not appear fit for the purpose, as explained below by an informed resident. In summary:
- The claim that the “Haverstock & Gospel Oak” survey supports the production of a planning framework cannot be accepted.
- The survey does not properly address Climate Change, economic development, demographic change, schools, policy to protect open space or housing need.
- The survey is repetitious and narrow in scope. It is dissociated from the place it purports to be about.
- The ragbag of options offered to respondents to select from reflect the authors’ failure to organise and understand their own material.
A PLANNING FRAMEWORK FOR THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
- The survey page titled “A Bit of Background” says “The Community Vision for Gospel Oak & Haverstock will be a planning framework ”. The “planning framework” is the point of the survey, yet how it works as a guide to neighbourhood development, over what timeframe, and how it fits in with existing planning policy and its formal status is not discussed. All it says is “The Community Vision will help set out what kind of place you think Gospel Oak & Haverstock should be in the future”. What “community” or a “community vision” mean is not set out, nor the need for a vision or planning framework explained. The authors of the survey do not say that a strategic plan for the neighbourhood has been promised several times including at the outset of Camden’s Community Investment Programme in 2010 . This is typical of the survey as a whole: important & relevant background is left out.
- “The Gospel Oak & Haverstock Community Vision” area is outlined on a map at the start of the online survey. Gospel Oak & Haverstock are the two adjacent wards either side of Queen’s Crescent but significant bits of both aren’t actually in the survey area. Parts of the area around Parkhill Road and Savernake Road have little to do with the distinct neighbourhood for which Queen’s Crescent is the high street. As published, the vision area shown in the survey is not “the neighbourhood” centred on Queen’s Crescent.
- Queen’s Crescent is the only real neighbourhood place reviewed in the survey: other parts of the neighbourhood are ignored. Despite the claim on the first page of the survey that “Homes and Housing” is one of the “priority themes” derived from “previous engagement”, the well-advanced plans for comprehensive redevelopment of neighbourhood estates are not a survey topic. They will have a huge impact on the future shape and society of the neighbourhood.
- The questions asked in the survey cover:
- different kinds of open space
- a wishlist of Queens Crescent services and public spaces in new buildings anticipated nearby, including a possible youth centre and jobs hub
- reusing redundant space as workshops plus (possibly) co-working space with free wifi
- a list of green projects touching on energy, planting, cycling & retrofit
- The options each question lists for respondents to choose from are repetitious, eg:
- intergenerational facilities for all ages”(2c), “affordable activities for all ages”(5h)
- “a more walkable…neighbourhood” (2b), “a better connected & integrated neighbourhood”(2d)
- “community gardens & food growing”(3), “creating more allotments” (8).
- “free wifi” is used as options (4h) and (5b)
- “Workshops & facilities for art, music, mending & making” (5g), “new workshops to learn skills/maker spaces” (7d)
- “Smaller units with lower rents suitable for small businesses & startups”(4f), and in relation to workspace “making use of disused garages, ground floor and basement spaces” (7b)
- “Expanded market offer” (4a), “More space for browsing products outside”(4b): i.e a street market offers “outdoor browsing” anyway.
- Question 3 asks “Which types of open spaces are most important to you and how would you like to see them prioritised?” The question is ill-formed because it doesn’t offer the option that all the kinds of open space listed should be provided. Prioritising implies Camden thinks hard choices have to be made i.e the choice between building on neighbourhood open space and not doing so.
- Question 4 lists ways to improve Queen’s Crescent as a shopping and service frontage. It is somewhat random e.g “a bigger…supermarket”, “Additional…restaurants & bars”, “free wifi” etc. The wish-list approach ignores what everyone knows: Queen’s Crescent is a tertiary frontage wholly reliant on immigrant shopkeepers and retail staff to keep it going. It is insulting that Camden do not put the Queen’s Crescent retailers front and centre of their thinking about the street’s development.
- Question 8 asks “Which of the following climate actions do you think are the highest priority for the neighbourhood?” The question invokes the climate emergency but in the blandest way by making it seem tractable via personal preferences about a ragbag of tokenistic green initiatives. This is not a responsible way to get people in the neighbourhood to address climate change or to prepare a planning framework.
- Proposals are put to the respondents without reference to related history e.g.
- the Queen’s Crescent proposal for “improved shopfronts” (4i) ignores the fact the same project was attempted under the 1996 Capital Challenge funding.
- The proposals around “boosting jobs” say nothing about the massive reduction in workspace in the neighbourhood over the last 25 years or what the area’s potential economic strengths might be.
- Nothing is written about immigration- a very important demographic fact of the recent past with significance for the neighbourhood generally, Queen’s Crescent and possibilities of economic development.
- All the ideas put forward in the survey could be helpfully framed with context but none at all is actually provided.
- The inadequate framing of questions creates a divide between the authors and respondents who know the neighbourhood and the role of the private sector in deciding things. It is difficult to trust a survey that ignores the neighbourhood’s history or current context e.g Camden’s existing plans for very large scale estate redevelopment on three sites in the neighbourhood.
- It is equally important that the survey should not be a furtive attempt to garner support for existing or anticipated interventions led by the Council e.g the cycle-lane programme, converting underground garages under Ludham into artist workspaces, the redevelopment of the Weedington Road play space building and its commercial spaces etc. To a well-briefed local campaigner, many of the choices put before survey respondents seem to be aspects of current projects or plans.
- Question 3 about open space can be readily understood as an attempt by Camden to advance its plans to build on neighbourhood open space. In fact, Camden has already marketed or sold off neighbourhood open space to be built on at 3 Malden Road, Lawn Road and the Grafton Road Three Sisters sites. Its comprehensive redevelopment of West Kentish Town Estate entails a huge loss of open space whilst the so-called “enabling sites” are open spaces around the Malden Road pitches and Queen’e Crescent Community Centre, which Camden has earmarked for residential development. Nb. In Somers Town, Camden has adopted a whole new category of open space known as “incidental play” space to validate its claims that its building programme is not depriving the neighbourhood of open space.