Pictured, top, are opponents to the Hawley Wharf development at last night's (Thursday) meeting; and the long queue of residents attempting to witness the planning committee proceedings in the Town Hall Chamber
Published: 16 March, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
DEVELOPERS who had hoped to launch a multi-million-pound building project in the heart of Camden Town have been told to go back to the drawing board after the Town Hall’s planning committee threw it out.
At a planning meeting last night (Thursday) councillors voted seven to five against approving the scheme, which would have radically altered the face of the Hawley Wharf area close to Camden Lock. They said the project did not respect the heritage and history of the site, had buildings that were too tall and bulky, offered no real mix of shops and had public spaces that were called “mean”.
In a passionately debated meeting, more than 100 people who had wanted to watch the proceedings were locked out of the Town Hall’s Chamber due to sheer numbers.
Deputations from councillors in the Camden Town ward spoke out against the scheme as did architect Paul Whitley, on behalf of the Hawley Wharf Working Group. Speakers in favour of the scheme included the developer Stanley Sidings, Sir Stuart Lipton, Hawley Infants School headteacher Anne Fontaine, the council’s head of finance Cllr Theo Blackwell and market trader Justin Dickens.
The land earmarked for development had been split up into four different areas. One, the Hawley Wharf site, was the market area that suffered a catastrophic fire in 2008. The site includes the southern side of Hawley Road, and the area sandwiched between the train viaduct and Hawley Road, currently home to a number of small independent businesses.
The plan would have seen a four-storey market-style development alongside the canal, new shops and homes by Hawley Road, a cinema with small screens aimed at an arthouse audience, an outdoor space to use for a farmers market, and housing.
Sir Stuart laid out his view that the development would bring huge benefits to the area and attempted to allay fears that the market would simply be an extension of what was there already.
He said: “I know Camden well – I have lived and worked here for more than 50 years. I have listened to many groups and we have produced many various proposals. We have produced interesting and attractive spaces and we have a track record in doing this.”
He said his designers had worked “very carefully” to bring a clear line between facilities for tourists to the southern end of the site and markets, and shops aimed at the people who live in the Hawley area.
Sir Stuart said that the scheme would generate 900 jobs and offer 22 young people apprenticeships in the building trade.
“This will generate economic growth,” he said.
He said that it was no longer an option to leave the market and its surrounds as they were.
He said: “Camden Market is a worldwide brand. People who know London know of the market. It needs redefining and improving. The new market will be different.”
He described the new market area planned as taking its cues not from what was in Camden at the moment, but a more high-end style of market such as Spitalfields, Borough or Covent Garden.
Sir Stuart said: “We want a lovely mix that we will control carefully. It will not be tacky or dirty. Millions come to Camden each year. We do not want more visitors but we do want there to be a better visitor experience.”
He said that if permission was granted, he would have the site ready for work to start within the next 12 months and predicted it would take around two and a half years to complete.
Stallholder Justin Dickens, who runs a vintage shop in the market, said he had worked in Camden Town for 18 years and the work was long overdue.
He added: “It will clean up this area. We have seen lot of crime and mismanagement and it should now stop. This plan will raise the area and help the people who live here, and also help the people who come here to shop.”
Hawley Road resident Michael McDermott said: “I don’t know anything about designing urban landscapes – but from my window I see urban decay.
“I believe in community and I believe in a new school. I believe we need local jobs and I’d like to have new shops and spaces. People who live here know this needs to be done.”
Hawley School in nearby Buck Street was one of the key issues in the debate. The developers had been asked by the council to use some of the land to build a new primary school for their children.
It highlighted the sharp divisions in the community as many said they wanted more social housing and that by providing a primary school the numbers of much-needed affordable homes would drop to a tiny amount. However, others said this was a brilliant opportunity to get a new school from a developer – and it mustn’t be wasted.
Some who didn’t manage to get inside the chamber watched the proceedings on a webcam in a committee room. There were allegations that the public galleries had been packed with people supporting the scheme – scores of parents of children from Hawley School came to show their support, and, as they got to the Town Hall early, were first in line for the limited seats.
Hawley headteacher Anne Fontaine spoke in favour of the plans, and told the chamber of the daily problems she has trying to manage a school shoe-horned into a Victorian building.
“We are a popular school and we are over-subscribed,” said Fontaine. “We are right in the heart of Camden Town. It is surrounded by the constant interruptions of our neighbours. Our school is not fit for the 21st century.”
She said that because the school could not provide a junior department for their infants to move on to, at seven years old her children were dispersed to 10 schools around the borough.
“It would mean our children could stay with us,” said Ms Fontaine.
She described how the school hall was used for a variety of uses and how space was so limited that dinner ladies preparing lunch-time meals had to wheel their trolleys laden with the day’s food through a nursery class to get to the hall – which had been used for assemblies and PE lessons as well.
“Our teachers can only dream of what it would be like to take a lesson that is not interrupted,” she added.
Finance chief Theo Blackwell said that the development offered a golden opportunity to provide a new school in a time when such investment was virtually impossible.
He added: “It would mean we are able to provide a bigger, better and more modern school for people in the area.”
A letter in support was sent in by Lord Treisman, the former chairman of the Football Association, who lives in Camden Town.
He said: “The details are every appealing. They retain the attributes of Camden Town whilst creating a new energy. The generation of jobs will have have a huge benefit and will start during construction. The focus on creative industries will support a key driver for local economic success.”
Architect Mr Whitley, who has worked on providing an alternative design for the area on behalf of the Hawley Wharf Working Group, said that 12 residents’ associations and some of the UK’s leading heritage groups had all spoken out against the scheme. He said it threatened the character of a conservation area, it had a lack of affordable housing and a lack of facilities for residents.
He told the committee that the Greater London Authority, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, English Heritage, the Greater London Archaeology Society and the Camden Railway Heritage Trust did not back the plans.
“We have been arguing our points for three years,” said Mr Whitley. “It will be a tourist-filled ghetto by day – and hidden behind locked gates at night.”
He also suggested Hawley School be moved to a soon-to-be vacant site on Camden Road. He added: “It was 10 times the size of the space offered here and would be much more suitable.”
Camden Town ward Labour councillor Pat Callaghan gave told the chamber the scheme should be thrown out as it offered little to those living nearby and could create crime hotspots.
She said: “The developers want to build on everything and we are left with two, small, mean spaces. These are mean streets and alleyways. The developers have crammed whatever they can in, while the community have been entirely ignored.”
She said that they had asked for a Borough Market-type area – but what was provided was too small and would not work in the guise they have offered.
Cllr Callaghan said that rather than be a market packed with fresh food sellers offering something different, she believed it would simply be used to sell more hot food to take away.
She added: “It will simply be like the takeaway stalls across the road.
“This is a thriving and bustling area and you will change it for the worst, forever.”
Councillor Matt Sanders, who has worked on the Hawley Wharf scheme for four years, chairing meetings and considering the plans, said the developers should provide more social housing and not a new school.
He said that while he understood a school was needed, it was not an ideal site for it.
“We do want to see new a primary school and hope an alternative plan will include one,” said Cllr Sanders.
He also slammed the canal-side development. He said: “This is a shopping centre with a restaurant stuck on top. It twists our heritage and is basically a sanitised, Disney market.”
He also disputed the developer’s claim that they did not want any extra people coming to Camden Town, but merely wanted to give them more to do.
He added: “This is four new floors and a restaurant. It will bring in more people. The only market designed for local people will be crammed into a small site. This is a theme park at the heart of, yet divorced from, the heart of Camden Town.”
Primrose Hill ward Lib Dem councillor Chris Naylor told the committee that Camden Town’s industrial heritage should be respected.
He said: “We feel this does not match up to our expectations. We are not against development or developers but this is not the right scheme.
“We want them to go away and work on it again. Can we say, hand on heart, that this is scheme that will preserve or enhance our heritage?”
Stanley Sidings will now consider whether to appeal against the decision or go back to the drawing board.