Keeping Hampstead Special
In the late 1980s developers applied for permission to raze New End Hospital to the ground. Once again a fine Victorian building seemed doomed to destruction by Camden’s wholesale neglect of planning law.
But not this time.
New End Hospital’s classical form still graces the streets of Hampstead.
Because a long, hard and ultimately successful battle was fought to save it by a working group of our members.
From that group the Town Committee was born. A dedicated group of volunteers whose work focuses exclusively on the interests of Hampstead Town.
In 2008 the Town Committee was divided in two in order to accommodate the huge workloadfacing it. A committee known as the Planning Committee was established dealing with all matters relating to planning applications and the closely related issue of trees conservation. The other committee, still known as the Town Committee dealing with everything else.
Here in NW3, as in the rest of London, congestion blights our streets. Hampstead has a high car ownership ratio among residents, and it is one of London’s most popular destinations for visitors.
But chance and planning failures have left the roads of Hampstead and neighbouring Belsize Park with a further burden to bear. A problem unique in London, if not the country! That of 8,000 children travelling to and fro during term-time to no fewer than 32 schools.
Not surprisingly no subject seems to exercise Society members and local residents more than traffic.
There are no easy solutions to urban congestion, but the Town Committee has worked intensively with our local authority, the London Borough of Camden, to alleviate some of the worst problems.
For example, it was instrumental in devising a policy on school travel, adopted by Camden, now making a real impact. And the Town Committee continues to work on the maintenance of this policy with Camden.
We also count members of the strong local cycling groups amongst our number. Their views and activities the Society largely supports, but we strongly disagree with the campaign for more cycle routes on Hampstead Heath, which we firmly believe would spoil the quiet enjoyment of walkers.
Another insuperable problem for Hampstead is the lack of parking. Visitors, residents and businesses all fighting over a scarce supply. Inevitably, Camden’s parking control regime is unpopular. The Town Committee works to ensure that the enforcement regime is at least fairly administered and that changes to the scheme are fairly debated. Not easy.
To help to take the pressure off Hampstead’s roads, the Town Committee is also engaged in promoting improvements in public transport. Our area has four underground stations, a mainline rail station and ten bus routes, which taken together give most residents reasonable access to the network .
The prosperity and popularity of Hampstead as a shopping destination and a business area is important to the community as a whole, and the Town Committee works to promote these commercial interests with the Chamber of Commerce and others.
The Society has supported a number of important local community projects, such as the saving and renovation of Hampstead Town Hall as an arts and educational centre, civic improvements to the South End Green area, and the restoration of S.S. Teulon’s masterpiece, St. Stephen’s Church, as a community resource.
The Town Committee has also initiated projects to improve the Whitestone Pond area and renovate Hampstead’s distinctive tiled street nameplates.
The recent radical changes in the laws on licensing of public houses and bars, opening the way towards all-night drinking, caused widespread local concern.
The Society, through a special Town Committee task force, took a leading role in helping local residents present evidence at several licensing panel hearings. (A society or residents’ association may not do this directly.)
As a result, many demands for excessively extended opening hours were refused. Pub and bar drinking are important social activities, but must be balanced with the rights of nearby residents to have an undisturbed night’s sleep.
Engaging with the Police
Town Committee members work closely with the Metropolitan Police and its Safer Neighbourhood panels to improve community safety and combat anti-social behaviour in Hampstead. The Town Committee has also contributed to discussions on the future of Hampstead Police Station, a listed building now largely surplus to police requirements.
Traffic, air, noise and light pollution, sustainable construction and waste recycling are at the forefront of all new thinking by the Town Committee and the Society generally. A green approach is taken wherever practicable.
The fascinating history and unique geography of Hampstead are of great importance to many aspects of the work of the Town Committee, especially on planning matters.
Many notable men and women have lived in Hampstead over the years, some of whom are commemorated by plaques. The familiar blue plaques, of which there are many in the area, are the sole responsibility of English Heritage. What is not so well known is that the Society has for some years had its own programme of plaques.
There are 29 of these oval-shaped black plaques in Hampstead. The Town Committee has initiated a new programme to repair and renew these 29, and will consider in due course whether to install new ones.
The Town Committee will also be considering whether a further programme of plaques with information on Hampstead history and architecture could be fixed in the High Street/Heath Street area. Bringing to a wider audience further insights into the history of this very special place.