Balancing new technology and Hampstead’s heritage

In a column in the Ham&High, Forum chair Alex Nicoll wrote about clarifying the options available to homeowners wishing to improve their properties:

The full text is below.

I have written previously in the Ham&High about our project to revise the Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan so as to place even greater emphasis on enhancing biodiversity, sustainability and energy efficiency in our area. This is proceeding at some pace.

At a public meeting held by the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum on 31 January, many residents spoke of the need to encourage the use of new technologies when making alterations to houses and other buildings, while respecting their heritage.

There is a lack of clarity about what is and what is not allowed, especially in conservation areas. Personally, I am learning a great deal as we discuss the possible changes to the Neighbourhood Plan.

What are we talking about here? Basically, it’s the things that can enable our houses to use less (or no!) fossil fuels. These include better insulation and windows; solar panels; new forms of heating, especially air-sourced and ground-sourced heat pumps, which remove the need for traditional gas boilers.

Some of these require planning permission, others do not, or only in some circumstances. One outcome of our revision of the Plan must be to help everybody (including me) understand more clearly what we can do to combat climate change and reduce our energy bills, while making sure that our beautiful heritage is preserved. These goals do not have to be contradictory.

Another key element of our revision is to increase biodiversity by preserving gardens and trees. The existing Neighbourhood Plan sets out biodiversity corridors and local green spaces which provide benefits both to wildlife and to humans. But we would like to strengthen these further and ensure that they connect to our area’s most important asset, Hampstead Heath.

Here, new legislation is on our side: the Environment Act 2021 stipulates that all planning permissions from November this year must deliver a 10% net gain in biodiversity — plant and animal life. Precisely how this works will depend a lot on how local authorities interpret it. But Camden can be expected to be proactive, as it has already issued a Climate Action Plan with ambitious goals.

The challenge for the Forum is to adapt the existing policies of the Neighbourhood Plan in a manner that is effective and carries the support of Hampstead residents. If you have thoughts, please email us on

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