Misery in WKT

The on-line presentation on 6th December of Camden’s scheme for the redevelopment of West Kentish Town estate showed how many neighbouring residents will be badly affected by the proposals. This was not acknowledged by Camden, whose consultants assured us that the overall masterplan needed to be approved by the planners and will therefore be compliant. This offers no reassurance. We have many times before seen schemes approved by Camden’s planning committee that reduce daylight to neighbouring buildings beyond the recommended levels, eg. the Crogsland Road development which reduces daylight to flats in the Denton estate (designed by the same architects employed by Camden for WKT estate). Development control in the area has historically been patchy, eg. 74 Queen’s Crescent’s shop unit with no level access. 

Local councillors were not present to offer support. They know that the scheme is indefensible. Even the planners looked surprised that it had got this far. Could the Council really be proposing this?

People are very unhappy about the impact the proposals will have on their lives. Residents of 24 Athlone Street and the old Carlton Pub were scathing of the Council’s complete lack of concern for them. Many people were worried about having the view from their homes being blocked by massive new buildings. When asked which neighbouring home they would least like to live in, the lead architect was unable to answer.

Many questions were unanswered by the council officers and their consultants:

  • The number of homes for social rent was not near the top of their agenda- it took a while for consultants to find the number (31% of the total- 276 homes in total). A scheme that is so far off being policy compliant is obviously wrong.
  • They were unable to answer how many additional people would be living in the area and what improvements would be made to local services. The response was that it would all happen very slowly and that we would adapt.
  • They were unable to say how many children would be living in the ‘estate’.
  • How would people be compensated for loss of value of their homes due to the development?

There were also questions from residents of the estate many of whom were unclear about when and where they would be required to move. There was concern that people who need to use vehicles for work will have to park them a long way from their homes.

The presentation was poor. A few new diagrams showing the concept (a green arrow always looks good), and a handful of sketches:

The first move is to create a big open space in the middle of the estate. What is it for and what will it look and feel like?

It’s telling that the only view of a major new public space is titled ‘Plot G1’. The purpose of the new square seems to be to provide space for a 14 storey, single-staircase tower with north-facing flats. The image presented (above) differed from the image shown a few days ago at the “drop-in” (below). Differences include air-source heat pumps on the roof and a stiffer, more grandiose composition.

The image has the same people jumping about and rainbow street graphics. The architects should instead provide proper visualisation and analysis of the public space to demonstrate how will it work. Kentish Town is not Kings Cross. Public space of this scale is out of keeping with the urban context of the area. When asked about anti-social behaviour, attendees were told that security will be provided by CCTV and very bright lights, a sad contrast to the existing peaceful green spaces.

Move 2: random arrows on a plan with trees. Whilst it is a good thing that not all of the trees will be destroyed, there is no convincing attempt to link this with a rational urban design strategy.

These are not ‘landscape principles’. They are green sausage shapes and dots: what is the green sausage going to Rhyl Street, why are there green dots going up the middle of the road?

Why is there a ‘gateway’ half way along Allcroft Road? Where is the wider context of routes through the area that may help explain this? A major new east-west axis goes against the grain of the street pattern of the neighbouring street plan for no obvious benefit. There is no visualisation of this major east-west boulevard other than this crude overview.

Above: smashing through the urban grain with a new east-west boulevard.

The roofs are coloured green to make it look better in the picture. In reality they will be covered with air-source heat pumps and solar panels.

This result is not legible. Compare the above diagram with the following plan showing the new road through the site and try to mentally overlay one on the other. They don’t relate to each other very well. The service road shown in blue crosses multiple pedestrian routes and has a dangerous sharp turn at the foot of Hawkridge tower, where a playground is located.

The proposed tall buildings on Athlone Street will completely change the nature of the road and make this part of Kentish Town feel like central London. A ‘cornice line’ at 5 or 6 storey height will do little to mitigate the harm. This is an assault on the well-being of people who live in this area. The history of this street is a lesson of the effects of ignoring the need for adequate daylight and outlook. These proposals represent a return to poor planning which will generate slum conditions.

The architect said that the height of the new buildings on Grafton Road was a function of the width of the road and the distance between buildings, and that the 20m distance justified a 6 storey building opposite the existing 3 storey houses, and a slightly wider road justified a 7 storey building opposite existing 2 storey houses. AHMM are dumbing down the discussion to a shocking degree. Urban design needs to take into account a lot more than road widths, including the scale and character of the existing buildings and the need to create a liveable environment.

There is plenty of research on the subject which AHMM should be aware of.

“aspects of the design of cities that have been shown to affect quality of life. Whilst direct causal relationships between physical space and well-being are often difficult to establish, physical space certainly does play a significant part in shaping the way we engage with it, informing the individual and collective sense of attachment to our own environment. This will become increasingly important, with the urbanization process predicted to grow, a significant part of which in conditions of informality…

…Since urbanization is an ongoing phenomenon and life in cities is now the norm for the vast majority of people, the traditional role of design needs to be reconsidered to give way to more collaborative and flexible forms of conceptualization, creation, occupation and management of space. This is important in order to relieve pressure on land and institutions, and instill an overall proactive and reciprocal attitude towards space itself, and space as a form of collective and social life.

…..urban quality of life can be described through on four core themes of: material well-being; emotional and personal development; interpersonal relationships; and physical well-being.”

Urban Design and Quality of Life, Ombretta Comice, Kevin Thwaites, Sergio Porta, Mark Greaves, Gordon Barbour and Paola Pasino, 2016

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