Community tea: ideas on Living Hampstead

S_Web_7961.jpgAbout 120 people came to our community tea party at St Stephens, Rosslyn Hill. There was lively discussion around tables on conservation and housing, community and business, and trees and transport. Many people contributed their views verbally and on Post-it notes. 

Thank you to St Stephens and to Gail’s Artisan Bakery.

About 120 people attended the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum's community tea at St Stephens, Rosslyn Hill, on 27 April 2014. All were invited to offer their ideas for the future of Hampstead, and to express their concerns about the neighbourhood. They moved between tables at which discussions centred on conservation,  housing, business, the community, transport and traffic, and green and public spaces. What follows is an attempt to capture the many thoughts expressed. 
 
The community tea, like other similar Forum events, forms part of an effort by the Forum to understand what is important to local residents and businesses. This report reflects the thoughts expressed by many different people, who may not agree with each other. Including particular opinions in the report does not represent endorsement by the Forum.  In the coming months we will seek to distil the many opinions we have heard into themes and policies that will form the heart of the future Neighbourhood Plan. 
 
Thank you to St Stephens, Rosslyn Hill and to Gail's Artisan Bakery
 
Green and Public Space 

A. There was a lot of concern expressed about the change in the mix of housing in Hampstead, toward larger more expensive homes where wealthier buyers are forcing out less wealthy people 
  •  Lack of restrictions on basements and extensions has reinforced this trend and has played into the interest of developers who want to develop larger houses.
  •  Can there be restrictions created on developers who buy houses as an investment rather than their own residence?
  •  Stricter restrictions on basements and protections on private gardens could help maintain Hampstead's diversity.
  •  One suggestion was to increase Council tax (creating a new band) payable by householders that have developed down or out (basements/extensions) or otherwise created a loss of green space. 
  • Can restrictions be imposed to restrict the sale of public housing to private housing? 
B. Developments should be restricted around the fringes of the Heath 

C. A couple of people expressed their wish to create play time areas/times on Hampstead streets for after-school play – one mother said that she has tried to organize play time on her street but she faces significant resistance from motorists and neighbours, so feels that she and others like her need support from a neighbourhood institution 

D. A concern was raised relating to the Corporation of London's management of the Heath, in particular to the lack of accountability – that the Corporation of London does not seem to represent residents and that it is difficult for residents to get their views heard effectively by the Corporation 

E. There was significant discussion about basement developments and paving over of gardens, with many people expressing their view that garden and paving developments should be restricted. 
  • In particular, water risks were raised: increasing risk of flooding when green spaces are paved over and the risk of diverting groundwater as a result of basement developments, with unforeseeable effects downstream 
  • Threats of structural damage to neighbours’ properties caused by basement developments 
F. A question was raised as to whether there was a lack of awareness of open spaces owned/managed by Camden, and that it would be useful to do a survey of Camden owned open space and communicate this to residents in a map or otherwise. One person asked whether the triangle next to St. Stephens Church was owned by Camden and if it could be used as a playground 

G. Similarly, there were concerns expressed that there is a need for better awareness of all open spaces that residents can use (examples mentioned were the observatory by Whitestone Pond, the Fenton House garden, the Pergola hidden garden and available allotments) – suggestions mentioned were to create a map of all open spaces in Hampstead available to residents 

H. General concerns were raised about cleanliness and litter on streets and in the Heath, including one suggestion that more street rubbish bins are needed 

I. There were several comments relating to the Heath: 
  • One resident raised a concern of pests in the Heath – specifically an increase in rats located close to the Priors/children's playground that may have arisen from water-logged ground – that there is a need for better pest control 
  • Another concern was raised relating to unsociable behaviour on the fringes of the Heath and open spaces in South End Green, with men drinking heavily and causing a nuisance and threatening to residents – perhaps there should be tighter controls over alcohol sales at certain times of the day (late afternoons) that aggravates this behaviour and/or restricting unsociable alcohol consumption on the Heath, especially on Heath walkways 
  • The Heath should be mowed more frequently, to be more people friendly 
  • The proposed dams on the Heath ponds were opposed 
  • Trees in the Heath should not be cut down, in particular the trees around the women’s bathing pond 
  • There should be greater awareness and protection of wildlife – in particular, dogs should not be allowed to swim in Heath ponds during cygnet nesting periods 
J. There were several comments relating to the use of public space in Hampstead: 
  • There should be more weekend days when Hampstead High Street is closed to traffic, creating a pedestrianised shopping street (this comment overlaps with Traffic) – perhaps once a month or quarter. Questions were raised whether regular pedestrianisation would be a positive or negative factor for local shops.
  • Re-introduce the weekend arts fair on the pavement next to Queen Mary’s site by Whitestone Pond.
  • The Community Centre makes a positive contribution and is a valuable local amenity, including providing good local courses and the Card Aid Shop at Christmas time.

Conservation 

Things people like 
  • Character of the area: diversity of architecture, interesting walks in tiny lanes, leafy roads. 
  • Hampstead’s beautiful landscape and many green spaces; well-kept Heath. 
  • Rich cultural scene with good use of historic buildings for cultural events: interesting exhibitions, lectures, courses, drama, at Burgh House, Keats Library, U3A (Old Town Hall), Pentameters Theatre, Fenton House, St Stephen’s. 
  • Positive community feel to area. Hampstead Community Centre, with its markets, charity Christmas card shop, and daily activities, provides a real service to the community. Lovely Peace Garden in South Hill Park, created by the local community. 
  • Binmen do a great job in the village (but see below). 
  • Regulation of fairs on the Heath has made noise level more community-friendly. 
  • Sports facilities, running track, playground on Parliament Hill good and much used. 
  • Good conservation area planning constraints 
Things that could be done 
  • Hampstead needs more useful/real shops and businesses, so Camden to be asked to use discretion and reduce business rates for useful shops and businesses to make Hampstead more business-friendly. Raise money for this by introducing new banding on Council Tax so that large/empty/investment-only properties are correctly and fairly taxed. Camden to sell commercial properties it owns in Hampstead. 
  • Shops/restaurants to take responsibility for their own rubbish rather than leaving it on pavement. 
  • Royal Free to fund appropriate areas for smoking, and to provide bins/posters, to prevent street litter. 
  • Camden to provide more dog waste bins; raise money by charging for dog waste bags. 
  • South End Green bus terminus area: drivers to be encouraged to keep area tidy and not litter with cigarette butts. 
  • Public notice boards/monthly directory to inform people of all the good things happening in Hampstead. 
  • South End Green beautification: working fountain, hydroponic roof to listed public toilets; more planting on Green; 
  • Bring back: 1) weekly affordable art fair/art display at Whitestone Pond/Upper Heath Street; 2) rat catchers; 3) hanging baskets to South End Green 
  • Bring in: 1) guidelines for community-appropriate shop signs; 2) original fence/wall outside Keats House; 3) Hampstead-appropriate rubbish containers 
  • Reduce: 1) street furniture and street markings; 2) wheelie bins 
  • Improve: maintenance planning 
  • Maintain: conservation zones 
Things that should be stopped 
  • Plastic replacement windows/removal of Victorian leaded windows 
  • Concreting of front gardens and/or turning front gardens into parking areas 
  • Security lights that are light pollution for others 
  • High fences/fortresses/security gates which impact on streetscape 
  • Camden imposing market rents on retail property 
Housing 

Things people like 
  • Diversity of architecture/good modern architecture 
  • Camden’s planning system works well – most of the time 
  • Planning restrictions 
Things that could be done 
  • Allocation of empty council-owned buildings for affordable housing 
  • Turn former police station into nurses’ home 
  • Camden planning to emphasise/support affordable housing for key workers in Hampstead 
  • Bring back rent control 
  • Public funding for objectors to unreasonable planning applications 
  • Fine owners who lie/obfuscate in planning applications 
  • Impose taxes on empty houses; introduce time limit for development or time houses remain empty 
  • Limit planning applications to 3 years, with no renewals allowed 
  • Allow higher density housing/reduce excessively tight development controls 
  • Retention of mixed housing economy 
  • Involve children in discussions about the future of Hampstead – they are the future 
  • Extend conservation area 

Things that should be stopped 
  • All basement development 
  • Concreting of front gardens/making gardens into parking areas 
  • Plastic replacement windows/removal of Victorian leaded windows 
  • Modern architecture in heritage site 
  • Over-high fencing/security gates/fortresses 
  • Mansion tax – a lot of people would have to sell if this was brought in 
  • Stop people interfering with householders’ rights to build a basement; they help extend housing space and even help older generation + younger generation stay with family 
  • Demolition of houses that suit the environment to replace them with ‘modern glass cubes’ 
  • Property/land hoarding that blights the neighbourhood 
  • Camden’s inadequate descriptions on planning applications, as well as letting through too many applications 
Transport and Traffic 

A. Concern was raised about balancing safety and movement among cars, cycles and pedestrians 
  • Cars and cyclists jumping red lights causing safety problems for pedestrians 
  • Would use of "yellow box" (criss-cross lines) on roads be helpful to slow down traffic? 
  • There should be a cross-Borough review of cycling paths and streets to make cycling safer 
B. There was a sentiment that motorists are being given precedent over cyclists and pedestrians, when the priority should be the reverse (motorists should have lowest priority) 

C. There was a discussion that many particular traffic issues (such as blocked views by parked cars on particular corners, such as Fitzjohn's Avenue and Prince Arthur Road) are outside planning issues that can be dealt with in a Neighbourhood Plan, yet residents do not know who at Camden Council to contact about these issues or that the Council is not responsive to individual concerns – can the Forum be helpful in educating residents on how best to deal with the Council on their particular traffic issues? 

D. The new 20mph speed limit could be helpful for pedestrian safety, but this must be enforced to be effective 

E. Cycling 
  • Barclays bikes should be introduced to Hampstead 
  • There is a need for more sheltered bike parking and storage in Hampstead 
  • Could electric cycles be encouraged (better to handle Hampstead's hills), such as subsidies for over 70-year olds to buy/hire electric bikes or for electric “back wheels” (Copenhagen wheels)? 
  • More cycle routes are needed 
  • Create a cycle path around the Heath 
  • There should be strict enforcement of no cycling or skateboarding on pavements and through red lights 
F. There should be restrictions on big lorries and coaches driving in Hampstead 

G. There was a lot of discussion concerning school-run traffic 
  • Could there be designated drop-off areas -- for example, near Whitestone Pond -- where children could be dropped off safely and then have safe walking paths to the schools; this would regulate traffic and drop-off stopping 
  • Another suggestion was to create a one-way system around the streets off Fitzjohn's (at least during school run times) to better regulate traffic (a Camden Town one-way system was cited as an example) 
  • Could a licence fee be imposed for those wishing to drive into central Hampstead to drop off children to schools as a deterrent? 
H. One person questioned the value of electric car charging points, as the current charging points are not used enough to justify the use of these spaces 

I. There were several comments relating to buses: 
  • More buses are needed in Hampstead; the existing buses provide a good service but it would be good to have more buses serving more destinations/routes. 
  • There should be a bus that travels between Belsize Park and Hampstead Tube stops, as part if not all of its journey. 
  • The intersection of South End Green and Pond Street is a mess of bus terminals and pedestrian crossings.
J. A few people suggested that better maps are needed in Hampstead, to help pedestrians to get around Hampstead and the Heath, especially day-visitors who arrive by Tube – this would include better and more accessible maps at the Tube stop, on the streets and in the Heath itself (this suggestion overlaps with Public Spaces, such as the Heath, discussed below) 

K. Several people commented that they opposed the proposed HS2 

L. Hampstead should have more car parking 

M. There should be handrails on very steep paths to prevent falls, such as at Streatley Place 

N. Links should be developed with TfL regarding Dial-a-Ride/Taxi Card to provide more accessible transport 

Business and Community 

1) Concern was expressed about the difficulty of setting up independent businesses in Hampstead. In particular, it is hard to connect people who have ideas with funding. Other obstacles include high and rising rents charged by landlords and rates charged by Camden; poor signal for mobile phones; the large number of estate agents and mobile phone shops. People want more local businesses in the area and fewer chain shops. 

Several possible remedies were suggested: 
  • Marylebone High Street was cited as a model in terms of managing a mix of shops. (It was noted that South End Green has lost a lot of ‘useful’ shops such as the post office). 
  • A local business trust fund could be established to help fund new businesses. This could perhaps be funded by a local purchase tax or similar means. 
  • More networking, for example, a social media site or similar means of connecting possible business partners; a local crowd-funding site; a network of sole traders; a website to connect local available venues with pop-up businesses; a mentoring service to provide advice to local start-ups on business plans, budgets etc 
  • If local people want to see more local independent shops and fewer chains, they need to frequent them to help them stay profitable. 
  • Encouragement of pop-up markets, shops or galleries. 
  • Better advertisement of vacant shops. 
  • Fewer hours of residents’ parking. 
  • Lower rents. 
  • Lower rates. 
  • Better mobile signal. 
2) Many people expressed the view that there is not a sufficient sense of community in the Hampstead area. People do not know their neighbours. It was strongly felt that the community should take action so that people can connect more easily. There is not enough volunteering. Information does not flow within the neighbourhood. People are too cautious about getting involved in things. The Cancer Research shop on Hampstead High Street, for example, has great difficulty in recruiting volunteers in spite of engaging with local schools and other bodies. 

Several suggestions were made to overcome this general problem. 
  • More street parties. The point was made that face-to-face contact and eating together are very powerful ways of connecting people. Mutual trust cannot be established only through IT networks. Some people suggested a regular community shared meal. 
  • Establishing local email and other IT-assisted groups that could help, for example, to make people aware of volunteer groups, and to provide assistance to the elderly. The example of South Hill Park/South Hill Park Gardens was given. 
  • A regularly updated directory list of local events and amenities. 
  • Communication via discussion groups organised through local doctors’ surgeries. 
  • Having street champions. 
  • A more active role for churches in the community. 
  • Better community notice boards. 
  • The example was given of Herne Hill, where a community greenhouse produces food that is shared by the community. 
3) It was thought that there should be more community spaces. The example was given of Mount Vernon, where local people took action to improve a space that had fallen into disrepair and was infested with vermin. (However, the bureaucratic obstacles to showing community spirit in this way were also mentioned.) The space at the corner of Pond Street and South End Green was cited as a place that could benefit from similar action. (And there were complaints about the state of the whole area around the 24 bus terminal, with allegations of littering and other unwelcome behaviour by TFL staff). 






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