Forum’s high streets survey

Hampstead High StreetHampstead High Street

Results show changing needs

by Alex Nicoll

Nearly a third of Hampstead residents are expecting to spend more time operating from home than they did before the Covid pandemic, according to the results of a survey by the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum.

Only 12% said they were likely to go back to full-time work somewhere else when the effects of the pandemic have passed. Reflecting the high proportion of retired residents, more than half of respondents said they had already been operating from home and expected to continue doing so.

The survey carried out by the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum in April 2021 received well over 300 responses. The purpose was to assess whether the community will have changing needs from Hampstead’s two village centres, in light of the Covid pandemic and the rapid pace of change, with some 20 shops and restaurants having departed since March 2020.

As a result of the shift to home working and online shopping, 59% of respondents believed that the community’s needs in Hampstead village and South End Green would change. Among the things that respondents thought were missing from these centres were services to support home working, such as places for meeting and co-working, and office supply and IT shops.

Overall, residents viewed the pace of change on their high streets with equanimity. While 44% saw it as worrying, 30% were not worried or pleased and 26% were unsure.

A principal concern was the potential loss of small independent shops, which were seen as less able to pay high rents and rates than chains. However, it is worth noting that almost all the shops and restaurants that have closed in Hampstead since the March 2020 lockdown have been chain outlets, and that at least half of the new arrivals are freshly-established independent businesses.

Many residents viewed the departures of shops and restaurants, coupled with the arrival of new businesses, as a process of inevitable and healthy evolution.

The survey showed that by far the most serious concern of residents was heavy traffic, along with associated air pollution.

Asked to name three bad things about the village centres, over a third of respondents mentioned traffic, and a significant number were concerned about litter and uncollected rubbish. The balance between chain and independent shops was seen by many as skewed too far towards the former, with complaints that there were too many outlets that were similar to each other.

However, those concerned about imbalances in the retail offering were far outweighed by those who commented positively on the range of shops, cafés, restaurants, food stores and pubs in Hampstead. Residents commended the village atmosphere, the sense of community and belonging, as well as the beauty, charm, leafiness and historic heritage. They appreciated having, within easy walking distance, independent shops selling fresh produce. They liked the buzz and liveliness, the easy availability of public transport and the proximity of Hampstead Heath.

The answers showed that, in spite of concerns about the present state of Hampstead and the future, residents highly valued it as a place to live, and appreciated the wide range of goods and services available to them.

For the future, they wanted a greener Hampstead, with curbs on car use and more pedestrianised streets. As well as facilities to support home working, they wanted more spaces for community and cultural activities, and for sitting outside and meeting people. The idea of developing a shared vision for the future of the village centres was backed by 72% of respondents.

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