Residents discussed how sustainable, energy-saving technologies could be incorporated into Hampstead’s heritage-rich houses at a public meeting on 31 January 2023.
The meeting, attended by about 50 people, was held at the Hampstead Community Centre to launch a public consultation on possible revisions to the Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan.
Alex Nicoll, chair of the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum, recalled that the Forum, a group of volunteers, had written the Plan under the remit offered by the Localism Act, which gave communities a bigger say in shaping their areas. The Plan derived from public consultation and was approved in a referendum in 2018 with 91% support. It carries the same statutory weight as Camden’s local plan.
However, the demand for sustainability has since intensified so much that the Forum felt bound to explore areas where the Plan could be strengthened.
Janine Griffis, the Forum’s planning chief, gave a presentation that highlighted the urgency of the climate crisis. In London, vegetated garden land was being lost at a very fast pace, substantially reducing biodiversity — the variety of plant and animal life. The UK had lost more biodiversity than any other major industrialised country.
There was growing awareness of the damage being done by pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide emitted by vehicles, and particulates — which, Griffis noted, were especially produced by construction sites.
Turning to how the Neighbourhood Plan could be amended to better address these problems, Griffis highlighted three areas: firstly, providing more protection for gardens and trees, and biodiversity as a whole; secondly, giving stronger support to sustainable development and clean energy; and thirdly, prioritising the retrofitting of existing houses over replacing old houses with new ones.
In addition, there were some parts of the Neighbourhood Plan where better guidance could have been given, for example on dormer windows, bin stores, and establishing new green spaces.
Griffis argued for a ‘whole building’ approach under which Hampstead’s heritage could be protected while also incorporating innovative technologies such as new forms of solar panels and insulation, as well as air- and ground-sourced heat pumps.
These ideas prompted considerable support from residents in the ensuing discussion with Forum committee members including Stephen Taylor, vice chair, and Vicki Harding.
John Vedelago issued an impassioned call for stepping up sustainability in Hampstead’s homes while respecting the area’s heritage. Tim Jervis agreed that Hampstead wanted both to conserve its heritage and save energy: he said the tension between these pressures needed to be acknowledged. Another resident believed that the climate crisis justified permitting greater changes to conservation areas.
Several people, including Roger Hayward and Stefano Filippi, said that guidance from Camden on modern energy-saving methods was lacking or unclear, for example on the types of solar panels and double glazing that were permitted. Some residents said applications had been rejected, while others said they had been allowed to install triple glazing and other energy-saving solutions with no problem. Good insulation and good windows were the most important factors in creating a sustainable house, one resident said.
Some residents noted the heightened danger from flooding, especially in South End Road, as a result of heavy storms. Harding said the problem was caused partly by developments upstream from the flooded areas. Thames Water rarely objected to planning applications. She hoped to have stronger language in the revised Plan, for example on water attenuation tanks and permeability.
Peter Ratzer asked how the Forum measured the effectiveness of the Neighbourhood Plan. Nicoll pointed to the Planning Watch webpage, which records the Forum’s comments to Camden on planning applications, as well as the eventual outcomes. The webpage shows that in the vast majority of cases, the Forum considers that the Plan was properly taken into account. Sometimes the Forum objects only to a particular aspect of a proposal, which is then modified. Overall, Nicoll said, the Forum felt that the Plan was having a positive influence on Camden’s planning decisions.
One resident wished that language of the Plan could be stronger in some places so as to prevent, for example, disruptive basement projects.
Jervis asked what was unique about Hampstead’s Neighbourhood Plan. Committee members pointed to innovative policies regarding air quality, biodiversity corridors, local green spaces, ‘character areas’ and shopfronts. The entire vision and content of the Plan, they said, sprang from extensive public consultation with Hampstead residents.
This meeting will be followed by further public consultation exercises as the Forum works on a revised draft of the Plan, which will be subject to independent examination, approval by Camden and possibly a new referendum.
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