O2 Centre application objection

Below are a number of key arguments in objection to the O2 Centre application. You can read the application here. The 'formal' deadline has passed, but you can still object by emailing the case officer david.fowler@camden.gov.uk (you must quote reference number 2022/0528/P). If you’d like to contact us as councillors about this, please email o2@hampsteadcouncillors.com.

The development must be assessed against:

Although it is not in a conservation area, also of relevance are the Fitzjohns & NetherhallBelsizeSouth Hampstead, and West End Green conservation area statements, which protect the areas surrounding the site.

Tall Buildings

London Plan policy D9, paragraph B states, “Tall buildings should only be developed in locations that are identified as suitable in Development Plans.”

While Camden has not designated anywhere in the borough as suitable for tall buildings, it would be reasonable to assume that if it did, it would designate this area as unsuitable.  This is based on the factors specified in paragraph C:

  • Where harm is done to heritage assets, there must be a “clear and convincing justification”.  It does do significant harm to the surrounding conservation areas without such a justification.
  • It must be demonstrated that the capacity of the transport network nearby is “capable of accommodating the quantum of development”.  It clearly would overburden the local Underground stations, which are already stretched in capacity and limited in access.

A common theme in the feedback to Camden’s recent consultation on its Site Allocations Local Plan is that the area is not suited to high-rise buildings.  Furthermore, a recurring theme was that in the local area, 10 storeys is considered the maximum height for a building in the area.

This public view is in-keeping with the tallest buildings in the area:

  • The 11-storey Lessing building is the tallest building in West Hampstead ward.
  • The 12-storey Ellerton tower is the tallest building in the Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan Area.

This development contains several buildings that are taller than either of these.  It is therefore extraordinarily tall compared to the surrounding area.

As a result, while Camden has been derelict in not designating areas as suitable or not, the factors specified in the London Plan would lead an objective observer to conclude that the area is not suitable to tall buildings and that a ‘tall building’ is defined as anything taller than 10 storeys.  As a result, the development should be limited to 10 storeys under London Plan policy D9.  As it is not, it should be refused.

Conservation

The development is sandwiched tightly between the Fitzjohns & Netherhall, Belsize, South Hampstead, and West End Green Conservation Areas.  These conservation areas are defined by similar characters and development typologies:

  • They are low- and medium-rise, with the most typical building being three storeys above ground with a lower ground.
  • Primarily red- or yellow-brick terraces and mansion blocks.  Unrendered brick is the absolutely dominate material in the conservation area, and both palette and materials are traditional in nature.

Furthermore, while it is not located within a Conservation Area, is it located in the Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan Area.  This contains ‘Conservation Area-like’ protections in Policy 2, namely development that:

  • “Is human in scale”
  • “Has regard to the form, function, structure, and heritage of its context, including the scale, mass”
  • “Is sensitive to the height of existing buildings”, including that tall buildings should “avoid any negative impact” (emphasis ours) on the West End Green or South Hampstead conservation areas.
  • “Has regard to the impact on local views” identified in A11 of the Neighbourhood Plan.  This designates views southwards, out of the Neighbourhood Plan Area across South Hampstead: views that would be obliterated by the development.

Given the above requirements, more careful consideration should be given to the impact on conservation. Instead, the developer has acted as though it being located a few metres outside these conservation areas means that it does not have to have regard to conservation.  It should therefore be refused.

Affordable housing

The 35% of housing provided on site that is affordable is significantly below the policy target of 50% specified in Local Plan policy H4.  This requirement specifically strengthened by Policy 1(i) of the Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan.

While we recognise that Camden’s Cabinet member for planning has admitted that few developments within the borough hit this target, it is still the policy target, and divergence should only be justified by compensatory factors.  The London Planning Authority should not accept being short-changed.

However, the related factors are all, at best, the minimum that is required under Camden’s policies:

  • Policy H4 specifies a balance within the affordable housing component of 60-40 between social-affordable and intermediate, which this barely scrapes, being exactly 60% social affordable by both habitable rooms and floor areas.
  • Policy H4 specifies that London Affordable Rent is a ‘social-affordable’ rent levels.  However, it is clearly the least preferred of social-affordable (being on average 30%-55% higher than social rent and being available only to households that are eligible for those – lower – social rents).  All social-affordable units proposed are London Affordable Rent: thus meaning the offer is the least preferred under the Local Plan.

The development falls far short of the affordable housing target, and – furthermore – provides the bare minimum in both mix of affordable housing and affordability of that housing in a way that might compensate or mitigate that.  It should therefore be refused.

Car parking

This application fundamentally misunderstands Camden’s policy of car-free development, and in doing so, cannot provide for the amenities that it states.

Camden’s policy of ‘car-free development’ is defined for redevelopments at paragraph 10.20 of the Local Plan.  This paragraph states that:

  • The council will consider retaining or reproviding existing car parking where it can be demonstrated that the existing occupiers intend to return to the development after it is redeveloped.  The applicant has said that it intends to retain a commercial involvement and management of the site, so it is a redevelopment.
  • This is particularly the case where the car park supports the functioning of a town centre.  In this case, the O2 Centre is within the Finchley Road & Swiss Cottage town centre.  The existing (2013) site allocation states that the redevelopment of the car park is permitted ‘provided it does not result in a detrimental impact on the surrounding area and the functioning of the Town Centre’.

The O2 Centre fulfils an essential function for shoppers at both the O2 Centre and Homebase.  Furthermore, Transport for London has recently designated the red route along Finchley Road as applying at all times on a permanent basis, rather than just within controlled hours, as had been the case before 2020.  This has put greater importance on the car park for shoppers at commercial premises other than the redevelopment site.  the loss of car parking should therefore be resisted.

Loss of large supermarket

The loss of a large car park will have a particularly harmful effect on the sustainability and viability of amenities.  The large supermarket currently provided by Sainsbury’s is an important destination for shoppers across north-west Camden, being the largest supermarket in the area.  In the absence of being able to park at the site, Sainsbury’s have been clear that they do not intend to take on a large store.

This makes the commitment to provide a supermarket meaningless, as there is both a quantitative and qualitative difference between large and small supermarkets.  For example, smaller branded supermarkets are permitted to charge higher prices than larger supermarkets of the same brand (which costs up to £320 extra a year for the same products).  Furthermore, the failure to provide a large supermarket or DIY merchant on site would lead necessarily to trips being made by Camden residents to Brent Cross or similar locations: increasing, rather than reducing, traffic and climate change impact.

The loss of parking therefore will lead necessarily to harm to the town centre, make the amenities provided for in the outline permission unviable, and harm mitigation and prevention of climate change, and thus should be refused.

Community facilities

As well as commercial premises that would be harmed by the application, the commitments on community facilities are insufficiently strong.  The development at Kings Cross promised health facilities in identical terms, but 18 years later, there is still no GP's surgery there: leading to nearby surgeries being overwhelmed.  Read more here.

Policy C1 of the Local Plan states that Camden "will support the provision of new or improved health facilities, in line with Camden’s Clinical Commissioning Group and NHS England requirements".  Policy 10 of the Fortune Green & West Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan says that there should be additional "primary health care facilities, particularly in or near the West Hampstead Growth Area".

However, despite the growth of the population, there is no health provision within the detailed application for the site (i.e. the first part to be developed).  There has only been a vague statement that a healthcare facility may be provided in the non-detailed, outline permission (i.e. the later stages).

This commitment is insufficiently strong, as the failure to provide facilities in King's Cross shows.  Furthermore, even if it is eventually delivered, unlike King's Cross, there would be 10-15 years between 700 flats being built in the initial part of the development and the surgery or other facilities being opened in the last stage.  This would put unbearable strain on local services in that time.

Any development that does not include the provision of a GP surgery in the detailed part, which will be built first and which is the strongest protection, must be resisted.  As this does not, it should be refused.