by Douglas Maxwell
As I was writing this report the news came that the appeal on Athlone House had been dismissed.
The decision document is a long one and will repay study as we consider what may follow. But for now, a great triumph for the Athlone House Working Group and Jeremy Wright and Martin Humphery of the Society. Congratulations to them all.
I accompanied Jeremy Wright, the inspector and the appellant’s advisers on the site visit at the conclusion of the inquiry. This was my first visit and I found the house in better condition than I expected, with – on the face of it – few problems that could not be put right.
Some more good news
We have recently reviewed the first three draft volumes of the new Camden Planning Guidance which accompanies the Local Development Framework. These are more detailed than the supplementary guidance they replace, and include improved treatment of basements and construction management plans.
We have also been encouraged by a well-reasoned refusal by Camden for an application in Pilgrims Lane which included a basement. The refusal included specific reference to policies on sustainability, water and the impact on adjoining properties and the neighbourhood generally.
This new guidance, and the precedents set by this and other decisions, will assist us in the future when objecting to inappropriate planning applications. Camden too deserve recognition for their significant policy-making work in this area.
BT Telecommunications Cabinets
Following the appearance of several of these cabinets on our streets, we have now been able to obtain some guidance from Camden on the planning position, thanks to Martin Humphery who took the matter up with the council. In essence, the installation of cabinets in conservation areas is subject to a modified planning process under which the council can control or influence the siting and appearance but not the development itself.
A few cabinets were installed without BT going through this process with the council. These are supposed to be removed.
The Society was recently contacted by property journalist Mira Bar-Hillel who has taken up the issue – which has parallels in other conservation areas across London – and we provided a piece for publication.
The Localism agenda
We’ve all heard of it by now, but no-one quite knows yet what it means for them. The society has met with Camden council to explore how it might apply to the society’s work. One theme which has started to emerge is that localism is about facilitating development in rural areas, rather than controlling it in towns and cities. So perhaps not for Hampstead, then!
The decision was taken with Camden not to seek pathfinder status but to keep the situation under review as the bill passes through the legislative process. Since then, the government has announced 17 initial schemes, of which only one is in London. We have also looked at one or two individual planning and conservation matters for consideration under the new powers – when they are enacted.
Membership and planning
We receive a number of requests for information from those who are not yet members, and hence we are starting to ask for membership details with enquiries.
Occasionally the Society is asked to advise in specific cases. Unfortunately this is something we are not able to do, as formal advice is quite properly the sole preserve of professionals in the respective fields; law, surveying, architecture or whatever. We may be able to suggest firms who can provide such advice, and of course in most cases they will charge a fee.
We are looking at the possibility of providing factsheets with information on the more commonly encountered issues in planning and conservation. If this project goes ahead it will be announced here, and the factsheets will then be available to our members on request.
New Planning Committee members
We welcome two newcomers to the planning committee. Gesine Junker is an urban designer and planner who works for a firm of consultants in central London; Stephen Stark is a chartered structural engineer in private practice in Hampstead. The society is very fortunate to have qualified and experienced people who are willing and able to help in its work.
The daily round
In the last three months, the planning committee has reviewed some 125 planning applications and objected on the Society’s behalf – that is, on your behalf – to around 40. These range from multi-million pound developments to relatively small proposals which nevertheless have the potential to harm our conservation area and – this is the important bit – can have a cumulative effect just as great as the headline making cases. We are indebted to Gordon Maclean who continues to lead on this important work, and to Vicki Harding who does the same for tree applications.
by Douglas Maxwell
In planning terms, the last few months of 2010 resembled the well-known curate’s egg: it was good in parts.
There have been unsatisfactory planning decisions at appeal, but there have been good ones as well; and some issues that have been rumbling below the surface for some time are now being addressed in conjunction with the Council.
New planning policies in force
You will have read in the last Newsletter of two important new items of local planning policy, which are now fully in effect. The first of these is the programme of Article 4 Directions for the Hampstead, Belsize and Swiss Cottage conservation areas. These control smaller scale changes which can have a significant effect on the appearance of the conservation area, and came into effect on 1 September 2010.
The second is the new Local Development Framework or LDF which replaces the Unitary Development Plan. After a lengthy passage through its public examination stages the Core Strategy and Development Policies were approved by the Council on 8 November 2010 and now apply to new planning applications. At the time of writing, the Council is consulting on the first of the supplementary planning guidance to accompany the LDF, and we expect to file our comments on this during January 2011.
The progress made on these fronts has been partly undermined by claims that some basement development falls within the definition of permitted development ie. it does not require planning permission. A recent consequence has been that, acting on legal advice, the council has granted a Certificate of Lawfulness for works including a basement at The Garden House. Many of you will remember that a decision to grant planning permission for an earlier scheme was overturned by a judicial review brought by the Society in 2007.
One effect of this decision has been to throw into sharp focus how the current legislation can be interpreted in ways that were probably never intended; and the Society is working with the Council with the aim of closing these loopholes so as to restore the position.
The development proposals at 94 South Hill Park, 3 Kidderpore Gardens and 9 Downshire Hill all went to appeal following refusal by the Council. All of these are basement schemes, and while the first was allowed, the second -involving a very large basement under almost the whole of the curtilage, was dismissed.
The decision on 9 Downshire Hill is expected as I write and if announced, it will be recorded elsewhere in this issue. Our thanks are due as always to Tony Hillier, for his unstinting efforts on all these cases, particularly the last.
South Hampstead High School
A well-attended Development Control Forum organised by Camden on 6 September saw a revised scheme presented at the school by Andrew Barnett and his colleagues from Hopkins Architects. The proposals were for the most part favourably received by those present.
A planning application has now been made and was considered in detail by the planning committee which, in its response to consultation on behalf of the Society, supported the proposals in general terms. This is in line with the views expressed by local residents’ groups. However there were two main caveats to this; the basement proposals and the arrangements for coach parking at the school. We have received a response to our comments from the school’s planning advisers, which at the time of writing is under consideration.
The Athlone House Working Group, a consortium of local bodies including the Heath and Hampstead Society, has been working to secure the preservation of this important house by way of the implementation of the original planning agreement, which the current owner wishes to set aside. Instead he has proposed to demolish the property and build a new house of much larger size in a style which the Society finds wholly unacceptable in architectural terms. For more details about the pending appeal see the Chairman’s report.
The major cases described above are only part of the planning committee’s work. It also reviews all planning applications made in the Hampstead area and comments or objects where appropriate. I would like to thank Gordon Maclean who continues to lead on this important work; and also my colleagues on the planning committee and the main committee, our local councillors, and especially all of you reading this – the Society’s members – for your support.
So what will 2011 bring? On 13 December we saw the first reading of the Localism Bill which promises to devolve more powers to councils and community groups – including planning powers. Too early to say what the practical consequences will be, but it could represent an opportunity for the Society to contribute more to the planning process; and we have already opened discussions with the Council. Watch this space!
by Douglas Maxwell
When I took over from Gordon Maclean as Chairman of the Society’s Planning committee in the spring, I was conscious that his determination, vigour and formidable powers of analysis would make him a hard act to follow
Suffice it to say here that it has needed three people to replace him – and one of the other two is Gordon himself, as he continues to analyse and comment on every planning application made that relates to Hampstead and its environs – and last month there were seventy-four of them. In addition, Jenny Alderman has kindly agreed to act as secretary to the committee on an honorary basis.
In planning terms it has been a significant and demanding few months. We continue to see a large number of new basement proposals, some of considerable size, either alone or as part of larger developments. A new twist has been that the Council is now acquiescing in some basement works on the grounds that they are permitted development; a view which we consider is entirely wrong and which we are challenging vigorously. We are very fortunate in that the Society’s Chairman, Tony Hillier, is combining his main role with leading the charge on this important issue.
Article 4 Directions Imminent
Some of our campaigns have at last borne decisive fruit; following their approval by the Council in the spring, Article 4 Directions are expected to come into effect at the beginning of September in the conservation areas of Hampstead, Belsize and Swiss Cottage. These remove certain householder-permitted development rights to the front of houses and their front gardens and front walls, fences and hedges, and will make a great difference in our efforts to maintain the character and appearance of the conservation area at a detailed level.
Local Development Framework
As well as this, the new Local Development Framework (LDF) which will replace the Unitary Development Plan (UDP) has now progressed through its public examination stages, some sessions of which were attended by committee members to maintain a watching brief on coveted policies. These new policies covering basements, groundwater and other issues are now being accorded weight in planning decisions, and the LDF comes into full effect later this year.
The Garden House saga continues
A few days ago we received the welcome news that the appeal against refusal of planning permission for the second scheme for The Garden House has been withdrawn. However application has now been made for a Lawful Development Certificate for basement construction. The society has issued a vigorous objection on several grounds, including that a basement of this size and arrangement cannot be considered permitted development.
South Hampstead High School
Many of you will know that a new scheme for South Hampstead High School located off Fitzjohns Avenue is in preparation, and a planning application will probably have been made by the time you read this. The Society is well aware of the differing views held by members on this proposal, and its Planning Committee intends to consider all aspects of the application carefully before coming to a view, which will then be referred to the General Committee for a final decision. We also understand that the Council will be arranging for a development forum later in the year, over and above its normal consultation process; so there is every opportunity for individuals to make their views known in the decision-making process.
A tree survey
The Planning Committee also deals with trees, and Vicki Harding continues to work with great energy in reviewing applications for tree works or built development affecting trees. The Committee is currently looking at carrying out a tree survey in conjunction with Camden and possibly also a volunteer tree warden scheme, as well as seeking to move the issue up the agenda with the GLA.
Those of you who came to the Annual General Meeting will have heard Tom Oliver remind us that it is the detailed work which underpins the pursuit of our objectives; and I would like to thank all the Planning Committee members for their various contributions to this. I’d also like to thank the various officers at Camden for their hard work, particularly on the Article 4 Directions and Local Development Framework adoption process; and of course our councillors, who have been unfailingly supportive and helpful with planning issues.
The committee continues to be preoccupied with the major planning issue of the day; the impact of basement construction in Hampstead. But there have also been other issues to keep us on our toes
We continue to present a professionally prepared case on the clear hazards inseparable from deep and/or extensive basement excavations in Hampstead, why this needs control, and why this justifies urgent action. The hydrogeological and legal facts are plain. Our Planners do not, it seems, accept this, and continue with what to us is a complaisant stance on dealing with applications for basement excavations.
This is puzzling to us, especially in view of the new Planning policies set out by Camden themselves - with our support - in their new Planning Policy document, the Local Development Framework (LDF), now going through its ratification process with the Ministry. As we have explained previously, these new policies present a reasonable control system on basements, which will prevent at least the more outrageous proposals we are now seeing. But Camden will not take account of these policies, and say they won’t until the last i has been dotted and t crossed in the Ministry ratification process, despite legal opinion insisting that these so-called “emerging” policies must be considered.
However, we must emphasise that all is not universally black on the basement front. It is becoming clear that our Councillors, particularly in the form of the Council’s Development Control Committee, do not always see eye to eye with their officers. Two recent decisions, in respect of potentially extremely damaging applications for basements in South Hill Park, close to one of the Heath ponds, and in Kidderpore Avenue, have resulted in refusals. This has pleased us considerably - but one has already gone to Appeal. We will be presenting our evidence to the Inspectorate.
Following the long-running and widespread campaign of opposition to this application it was recently refused; this time, on officers’ recommendation. Thus, good news - but an Appeal is likely to follow.
Article 4 Directions
These proposals, for use in Hampstead, Belsize and Swiss Cottage Conservation Areas, have now been approved by Camden, and are at the Ministry for ratification - expected in a month or two.
We of course welcome this - we did after all campaign for them ourselves - but now have proposed that more of our local Conservation Areas are added, in particular Fitzjohns/ Netherhall and Redington/Frognal. Camden are sympathetic, but money is involved and, as you may know, there is not much of this around just now.
You will have noticed the large, obtrusive and vulgar estate agents hoardings around this important listed house opposite Jack Straw’s Castle. Estate agents boards have been forbidden in our Conservation Area for several years, and we called for their removal by Camden’s Enforcement department. Although
a separate application for more, illuminated, displays was refused, Enforcement have declined to take action. So these offensive advertisements, directly behind the War Memorial, remain.
We are trying to get the decision reversed.
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