Sunday 28 November 2010

West Hampstead and Fortune Green Area Forum Monday 29 November

Some of you have been asking what's happened to the West Hampstead/Fortune Green area forums that you found so helpful. The answer is that the Council is changing the way it involves local people in decision-making by launching “area action groups” across Camden this autumn.

The good news is that one of the options under the area action groups model is essentially to continue with area forums much as before, which gave you an opportunity to discuss important local issues with your councillors and neighbours, and speakers for relevant outside organisations, and to influence decisions about the West Hampstead area’s future.

As the area forum model was very popular in our two wards, your Fortune Green and West Hampstead councillors have decided to continue with this, while also looking at other ways of involving local residents, such as the use of social media - which we're using to advertise this meeting. The first meeting will be tomorrow on Monday,  29 November, and those of you who regularly attended area forums will already have been notified about it.

Sadly, individual wards will no longer have a pot of money to spend, and the cost of meetings is to be reduced by streamlining publicity and the way meetings are organised. So there will unfortunately no longer be a budget for full refreshments, but Chez Chantal on West End Lane are providing tea and coffee. Thank you!

The agenda for the meeting on 29 November is as follows:

·         7 - 7.30pm: an opportunity to meet ward councillors informally over tea/coffee
·         7.30pm: start of meeting
-         introduction to area action groups
-         update on new Thameslink station on Iverson Road and associated highway improvements
-         councillors’ work on West End Lane and Mill Lane shops
-         impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review on council budget and our area
·         9.30pm: end of meeting

We look forward to seeing lots of you on 29 November, despite the tube strike and possible snow!

Friday 26 November 2010

No extended opening hours for kebab shop

The application by Karahi Master on West End Lane to extend its opening hours to 5am 7 days a week was turned down by the Council's Licensing Panel on Thursday 25th November. There were strong objections from the Metropolitan Police, Camden Environmental Health, local residents as well as my fellow Councillor John Bryant and me The objections were concerns about the potential of an increase in public disturbance and crime and disorder that a takeaway shop open through the night might attract, as has happened in other parts of London. I attended the panel hearing in support of the residents.

I pointed out that West End Lane did not have a vibrant night-time economy, the pubs closed at midnight and questioned where customers would come from, other than outside the area. The applicant claimed that "there are many middle class customers such as minicab drivers, shift workers and elderly people" who want to buy food between 2am and 5am! Who are they?

I am very willing to support all the traders on West End Lane, but not at the expense of the peace and quality of life of local residents.

Saturday 30 October 2010

West Hampstead Christmas Community Market

With support from Camden Council, we can now confirm that a Christmas Community Market will be held on Saturday 11th December from 11am - 3.30pm on West End Green, West Hampstead. The aim of the event is to provide a festive focus in the West Hampstead community as well as providing support for local shops and crafts people to sell their wares. . Local shops on West End Lane and Mill Lane will also be encouraged to support the Market, either by having a stall or by providing special festive promotions on the day.

The event is being organised by a small group of local businesses and enthusiasts who would welcome other volunteers to help with the organisation and promotion of the event. This would provide an excellent opportunity for people to gain skills in event organising and who wanted to work in marketing or public relations.

To register your interest, either as a stall holder or volunteer organiser, please email


Tuesday 26 October 2010

Latest on new Thameslink Station in Iverson Road and West End Lane improvements

This week Network Rail and Camden's Culture and Environment Department held a very helpful briefing for local councillors and residents' groups (WHAT, LCG and CRASH) about progress with the new Thameslink Station on Iverson Road and Camden's associated improvements in Iverson Road and West End Lane. First Capital Connect representatives were also on hand to field questions, and as Georgia Graham from the Ham and  High was there too, I'm sure we can expect a good piece on this in Thursday's edition.

The first things to say is that the new Thameslink station (image above is from Network Rail's website) isn't scheduled to be completed until December next year, as some pretty difficult engineering is involved, although further work has now started with the final section of the new bridge finally in place.

Camden's work on the adjoining part of Iverson Road, which will make it easier for passengers to cross the road well away from the junction, should be completed in a couple of weeks' time.

As I've already written here, Camden's improvements to the pavements in West End Lane between Sumatra Road and Broadhurst gardens won't start until after Christmas to give us all a breather from roadworks, but I fear it will be pretty disruptive when they do start.

Network Rail explained the various changes that have been made to the new station design since it was first improved, including changes to the new wall running from the station to the corner with West End Lane. It's all about saving money of course, but I think the general verdict was "it's disappointing in some respects, but we can live with it". The most exciting aspect of the whole plan is the way the pavement on the north side of Iverson Road between the new station and West End Lane will be dramatically widened, with the trees in the middle of the pavements rather than tucked away behind a rather grotty fence as at present.

And the demolition of the two buildings on the corner (formerly Joule - and before that Diana Frost's antique shop - and the kebab shop) while a sad loss to the local streetscape will make that corner far safer.

In short, there's still a lot more to be done, including a lot more disruption at various points, which none of us will welcome, but it should all be worth it in the end.

Saturday 9 October 2010

Naming Granny Drippen Steps

Some readers will have followed the saga of naming three footpaths in West Hampstead over the last year, resulting in the Billy Fury Way signs being stolen by souvenir hunters on three occasions.

Well the latest version of the sign is so high up the wall only the most intrepid will try to remove that one - but that is NOT a challenge!

The new challenge for me is to find a way of officially naming the footpath and bridge which connects Blackburn Road and Broadhurst Gardens. Several times since being elected in 2002 I have had the graffiti painted over and the lighting restored. Network Rail own the bridge although in more recent times they have disputed this. Transport for London shake their heads too, so Camden Council officers have found ways of getting clear ups done because the railway authorities are clearly reluctant to take responsibility. The latest clean up took place last weekend.

I have known for some time that the bridge itself has been called "Granny Drippen Steps" by long-standing locals. My Liberal Democrat colleague Flick Rea has confirmed that the name "Granny Drippen" refers to the flower-seller who had a stall at one end of the bridge selling her produce to commuters. If readers of this blog can tell me in which decade Granny Drippen was operating and at which end of the bridge the stall was located that will help me build up the case for getting the bridge officially named.

My further challenge is to comply with the overly bureaucratic process that I need to follow to get the name secured. I am informed that the option of THREE names has to put forward to the Fire Brigade in the first instance to see if there are any objections from them. (I know this might see strange but they have a veto..) Once that hurdle is complete we then have to consult people locally. One suggestion I know will be vetoed would be Billy Fury Steps, because we cannot have two paths with similar names, and in these straightened times we cannot afford to waste money on more souvenirs prised off walls...

So if anyone has a suggestion for an alternative to the obvious first choice please let me know.

Thursday 7 October 2010

Thames Water works on Finchley Road

I've just heard that Thames Water will be doing work this weekend (Friday 8 October to Sunday 10 October) on Finchley Road by Burrard Road. The works are to repair a water main.

Here's what it will involve:

· Finchley Road will be reduced from three lanes to one lane southbound, between Weech Road and Croft Way

· No right turn into Finchley Road from Burrard Road

· No right turn from Finchley Road into Burrard Road

· The pedestrian crossing will be closed

Apparently the works will be going on 24/24 to get everything completed on time.

Monday 4 October 2010

New student accommodation and workspace in Blackburn Road approved on appeal

I see that the proposal to build a new development combining workspace with accommodation for 350 students on the site of the old Mercedes garage on Blackburn Road has been allowed by the national planning inspector – Camden’s planning committee turned it down a few months ago.

The main concern of some local residents at the time was the fact that the building goes up to nine storeys in parts which is pretty high for that part of West Hampstead, although as it’s set back from West End Lane and next to the railway line the visual impact won’t be as great as it might be otherwise.

Those of you who regularly walk down Blackburn Road on your way to the O2 centre may well think that anything that bring this rather barren area alive and makes it feel safer will be welcome. The arrival of nearly 350 students in West Hampstead will certainly have an impact - including extra trade for the area's businesses.

Thursday 23 September 2010

West End Lane - just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water...

I was asked on Twitter this week when the “Billy Fury traffic lights” (nice name, I guessed it meant the pelican crossing by the West Hampstead Overground station near Billy Fury Way) would be switched on again now that the combined works by Thames Water and the National Grid on West End Lane had finished.

I’ve been checking it out with the Camden officers who are valiantly trying to coordinate all the work and the news isn’t great for those of us looking forward to normal service being resumed in West End Lane.

First of all, Thames Water are going to be carrying out works in West End Lane to lay on new supplies to the Post Office next week (week commencing 27 September) – work that should take one week.

But following that, Camden will be closing Iverson Road as from 4 October for six weeks as part of the “streetscape” project there to tie in with the new Thameslink station being built on Iverson Road and the associated work being done by Network Rail.

That’s not great news for people who want to drive in and out of Iverson Road, but it does mean that the notoriously dangerous West End Lane/Iverson Road junction will be easier to cross for the duration, and we can look forward to permanent improvements when Iverson Road reopens.

But the temporary Iverson Road closure also means that the traffic lights in that part of West End Lane will have to be “thrown dead” as the techies say, and temporary traffic lights installed once again.

We’ll all benefit from this work in the end but the continuing disruption is hard to live with. So it’s a relief to hear that Camden have listened to our pleas to take pity on the long-suffering users of West End Lane and have decided to delay the West End Lane part of the “streetscape” project until after Christmas to give us a break from constant roadworks.

Friday 17 September 2010

Refuse Collections - still two a week for awhile

The reports in the local papers this week that refuse collections in Camden are already being cut from twice to once a week are premature. Although the change has been approved in response to increased recycling levels and cost savings, it has been confirmed by Council officers that much planning has to be done before such a change can take place and is not likely to happen before June 2011 at the earliest. And in any case, the change won't be applied to large blocks of flats and other dwellings where twice weekly collections will still be necessary. We'll keep you posted on developments.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Trouble at Secrets Night Club

A constituent has been in touch who witnessed an act of violence on the corner of Rosemont Road and Finchley Road on the evening and the following early morning of 29th August.

An incident first occurred at Secrets night club. The police have recently told me about two separate crime reports.

First there is an allegation of criminal damage by customers at the club made by club staff, and an allegation of an assault by a customer. The damage took place in and around the club.

The second crime report relates to an assault in Finchley Road near the junction of Rosemont Road. Following the initial investigation at the scene three arrests were made, all door staff from Secrets. These suspects are currently on bail, whilst statements are being taken from various witnesses.

At my request our local Police Sergeant Dave Timms has confirmed that he is making the Police's Licensing Unit aware of these incidents. The Police can decide to ask for a Review of the club licence by the Council. If anyone locally can add anything as a witness to these incidents please let our local Police know.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

West Hampstead - short-changed again?

While I've been away on a week's holiday (writes Keith), my colleague Flick Rea has been busy writing about West Hampstead issues in her Fortune Green blog. Here's the latest on the West Hampstead Interchange from Flick:

Just when we thought that plans were all falling into place to improve access to West Hampstead Thameslink and to make it safer for pedestrians around Iverson Road it seems that the plans, if not derailed, are most certainly being downgraded!

West Hampstead Thameslink Station Upgrade

Network Rail's planned improvements included platform lengthening to fit 12-carriage trains, a new pedestrian bridge with step free access linking to a new station building on Iverson Road and a new "public space" between West End Lane and the station building. In December 2009,the Council gave Prior Approval (a form of planning permission) toNetwork Rail for the station building and public space. The shops along from the corner were demolishd as part of this process (see blog post July 13th) but things have slowed down.

Network Rail recently decided to review the detailed design of their proposals to make “efficiency savings”. They say they don’t plan to makefundamental changes but have “identified ways to reduce cost through adapting the design and construction methods to best suit operational requirements.” In real terms that means they are still doing it but it won’t look as good!

Network Rail will resubmit a "Prior Approval application" shortly after which the public will have 3 weeks to comment before a decision is made by Camden.


West Hampstead Interchange Streetscape Project

This was designed in some detail and is due to start as soon as the current utility works are completed in West End Lane (hopefullymid-October.) But the new “raised crossing” on Iverson Road will no longer be smartly carried out in granite paving slabs but done in asphalt (its apparently quicker and cheaper!) Any money saved may go to improving some poor paving north of Sumatra Road. Or it may not.....!

Tuesday 17 August 2010

John Ceconi

Many West Hampstead residents will have been helped by John Ceconi, an extremely likeable and helpful Camden street environment officer. I'm sorry to have to report that John passed away at the weekend after a period of illness. We'll really miss John - he was an example of Camden officers at their very best.

Thursday 12 August 2010

Coming to a bus stop near you - or not!

Countdown is the electronic information display system that provides real time bus arrival information at bus stops throughout London.

TfL is proposing to replace the old Countdown system with an entirely new system, using improved technology that updates the location of the entire bus fleet every 30 seconds. The original Countdown system was implemented at stops on a piecemeal basis rather than strategically, and with land uses and demand changes that have occurred over the last 20 years, existing Countdown signs may not be located at the most appropriate stops.

The criteria that TfL is using to assess the suitability of locations to install the new Countdown signs includes:

• Number of passengers using the bus stop
• Proximity to centres of population
• Proximity to transport interchanges
• Proximity to key local services
• Number of low frequency services
• 24h routes serving stop

Some stops that already have a Countdown may be included in the new system or not and some that have not got one now will get one. If new locations are identified, they will have replace some already proposed.

On West End Lane there will be a new sign southbound at West End Green and a new one at the stop near Fawley Road. The stops northbound at Sherrif Road and Dennington Park Road are not due to be included in the new system, but could be considered.

What is odd is that on West End Lane, none of the bus stops south of Fawley Road appear on the proposals, even those by the stations or those that already have Countdown displays. I have challenged this with the Council Officers who will investigate. It is all down to TfL’s view of passenger usage, but I would have thought near the stations would have more use than those farther away and should be included in the new system.

We were only notified of these plans last week but Councillors have been asked for their comments by Monday 23rd August, so do contact us before then if you would like your views considered on which stops should be included.

Friday 6 August 2010

Three Camden schools get go-ahead

Artist's impression of the new academy
Great news for Camden parents and children today, both in the north and the south of the borough.

The coalition government has just announced that three key schools projects are going to go ahead – the UCL sponsored academy on Adelaide Road, the rebuild of South Camden Community School and the rebuild of the outstanding Swiss Cottage school for children with special needs. And last night Camden’s planning committee gave planning permission for the new school on Adelaide Road.

A new school in the north-west of Camden, with a respected partner like UCL, was one of the first priorities of the Liberal Democrats when we were elected four years ago. The previous Labour administration had simply ignored the shocking fact that fewer than half of Camden’s children get a place in Camden secondary schools – and many in Camden’s Labour party did everything they could to stop the new academy going ahead.

It’s fantastic that the new school has now got both planning permission and the government money it needs and building can start. Together with the go-ahead for the rebuild and expansions of South Camden Community School, which will provide extra secondary places in the south of the borough, and the Swiss Cottage school rebuild, this really is great news for Camden children.

Meanwhile, we look forward to hearing more about the other Camden schools that were to get improvements under the building schools for the future programme, including Hampstead School.

If you want to see all the details, the Department of Education Press Release is at

West End Lane Shops

I am taking a keen interest in the difficulties currently facing retail shops on West End Lane (writes Gillian), and I am concerned that four have closed in the past few months with the possibility of another two closing shortly.  Jubilee Line closures at weekends and the road works are seriously affecting business and I raised this as an issue in my “maiden speech” at the full Council meeting on 28th June.

I am aware that the closure of independent retails hops on West End Lane has been raised as an issue of concern by residents for many years so I am aware that I am not highlighting anything new, but would like to see what might be done now.

As the new Councillor for West Hampstead, I’ve made an effort to talk with many of the businesses in West End Lane, and this has confirmed that high rents and business rates as well as the recession are particularly burdensome for independent shops.  This has led to the arrival of big national chain stores, such as Nandos and recently Tescos - which until recently were pretty much absent in West Hampstead -  that can afford the high rents and rates.  I am also concerned about retail premises being taken over as offices, which reduces retail opportunities even further.

At the WHAT public meeting on 7th July several long term residents lamented the demise of traditional food shops such as butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers in the road, It has long been  recognized that these have been replaced not only by the national chains but also by businesses that only need to invest in stock that has a short shelf life in order to pay the high rents, such as convenience stores, cafes and restaurants, takeaway outlets or charity shops or services with no stock at all such as dry cleaners, estate agents and hairdressers.  In my view, this means that WEL currently offers little of interest or variety to buy beyond the basics of life and convenience. Perhaps this is all that West Hampstead residents want. Tesco – despite complaints about the traffic problems it causes with its deliveries – is proving very popular although harming other businesses.

Personally, I find this trend rather depressing.  A lively and interesting “high street” not only provides a focus to the area where locals of all ages come and meet to support the businesses, but also attracts visitors as a destination to come to shop too.  A healthy local economy provides employment and benefits all residents.  Whilst the cafes, bars and restaurants on WEL contribute to this, the variety of choice in shops to meet local needs seems to be limited.   I do not buy the argument that people nowadays prefer to shop online or visit big shopping centres such as Brent Cross, Oxford Street or Westfield.   Many people still want to shop locally and get personal service or visit areas with interesting offerings. The independent shops we have selling books, flowers, pottery, clothes and gifts and much loved and make West Hampstead special.  It is encouraging that the two new arrivals, Blue Daisy and The Kitchener, and the new delis, Love Food and Gustoso, demonstrate that West Hampstead is still an attractive place to do business and we need more like them.

I am encouraged by my fellow LibDem Councillor Linda Chung in Hampstead Town ward who has been working with and supporting traders there.

I have yet to get to the bottom of why the retail offering in West Hampstead has not kept pace with other areas in London with similar demographic profiles where shops are thriving, despite the recession.  So far my research enquiries have focussed on traders, estate agents and Council Officers, but I would also like to get the views of residents.  In particular, it would be useful to know what types of shops they would like to have in the area that they would be willing to support.  Please send any thoughts to me at (or comment to this blog).

Thursday 22 July 2010

"Pavement politics" in Dennington Park Road

As a councillor who started his career in West Hampstead in "pavement politics" it seems fitting that my first real posting on this blog is about the repaving of Dennington Park Road, which quite a few residents have been in touch with me about. They're raised  concerns about the quality of the repaving work being done there.

One issue was that the same paving stones were being relaid instead of being replaced with new ones. This is part of the contract and the idea is to save both council tax payers' money and also help the environment, as otherwise the old paving stones have to be ground up and transported to a landfill site, which is pretty unenvironmentally friendly.

But a lot of other aspects of the repaving aren't acceptable, particularly the ragged edges of the paving stones and gaps between the edge of the pavement. I've complained about this to Camden's highway engineers - and would also like to thank those public-spirited residents who've talked to the workers on site about the substandard work.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

The Billy Fury Way signs will be replaced....again

Those local residents who have been following the saga of Billy Fury Way for some time will know that since naming three local footpaths in our area, the signs actually showing the location of Billy Fury Way have disappeared four times now - twice at either end of the footpath.

I suppose this demonstrates that naming footpaths after a rock legend will attract his fans who collect rare memorabilia, and they include those who are prepared to steal the signs. It is pity that they do not simply have their photographs taken against them.

Anyway the latest news is that more substantial signs have now been ordered which should be robust enough to withstand the vandals. They should be up in about 3 weeks time.

Friday 16 July 2010

Our local police are making progress...

At the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood Police Panel meeting on the 15th July the panel members heard about the latest successes achieved by our local police team.

The panel's newest priority is to reduce the total amount of crime occurring at the O2 Centre. Happily the panel's newest member, Mark Packer the O2 General Manager, was also present. So much of our debating time was used to find out about the interface between the various stores' and restaurants' security teams and the Safer Neighbourhood officers.

One interesting fact that emerged was that it was Sainsburys' policy not to record shoplifting offences to the police where the value of goods was less than £50, preferring instead for their own security staff to intervene, recover the goods from thieves immediately outside the premises, and then to ban shoplifters from the store.

As the Safer Neighbourhood Panel was being asked to set a target of reducing crime at the O2 Centre by 10% over 12 months, I felt that we should also expect a 10% reduction in the separately held records of minor shoplifting offences at Sainsburys too, otherwise we could not judge whether the extra focus of our police team had had any effect over the year.

One interesting anecdote was the story of an arrest by one of our constables of a shoplifter who attempted to push a trolley out of the store without paying, piled high with over £450 worth of meat and cheese. Back at the station he was tested for drugs in which he proved positive for opiates and heroin. It appeared the attempted theft was to sell the goods to fund a drug habit. The interesting end of this story was that the thief appeared before a magistrates court and was sentenced to prison for 4 months the day after the offence, the fastest result recorded for our team in recent years.

Other measures being promoted by the team to reduce the number of bags stolen in restaurants is to encourage the proprietors to fix "Chelsea Clips"under tables to allow bags to be hung from them, rather than their customers take the risk of placing bags on the floor.

The meeting also studied the statistics for offences like affray and actual bodily harm within the Centre. One conclusion was to encourage the O2 Centre's new owners, Land Securities, to consider finding a different tenant for the unit currently occupied by the Walkabout chain.

One other interesting anecdote was that a brothel has now been closed in Wedgwood Walk on Lymington Road after officers posed as potential clients to a woman who rented a leasehold flat there. After a warning failed to stop her activities contact was made to the leaseholder who lived abroad. The place is now sealed.


Wednesday 14 July 2010

Life as a new councillor - from Gillian Risso-Gill

I am delighted to have been elected LibDem Councillor for West Hampstead on 6th May and would like to thank the 1,688 constituents who voted for me, as well as my fellow ward councillors, Keith Moffitt and John Bryant, for their support and guidance.

Although we're no longer in administration, the Lib Dems are the second largest party on Camden Council and the official Opposition, so we can challenge the Labour Administration on behalf of our constituents in what will be challenging and straitened times.

As a councillor I'm a member of a variety of committees - Development Control (or planning in plainspeak), Licensing, Health Scrutiny, Standards and Staff Appeals, which is keeping me busy, in addition to case work and surgeries for constituents on alternate Fridays at 156 West End Lane. I'll also be a Governor of Beckford School.

As a Councillor I have learnt that I need to:

- be able to read vast amounts of paperwork that is delivered to my home twice a week as well the dozens of daily emails
- give up on a social life on weekdays as there is a Council or community group meeting nearly every night!
- get used to eating supper at 10.30pm
- become as agile as a mountain goat in navigating the stairs and steps of West Hampstead properties when delivering Spotlight.

I'm very much looking forward to being a councillor for such a fascinating area. More soon!

Welcome to the West Hampstead Spotlight blog

This month your three West Hampstead ward Lib Dem councillors - Gillian Risso-Gill, Keith Moffitt and John Bryant - are launching their blog on West Hampstead issues - and we'll occasionally pop in some other "big picture" posts as well.

Our fellow Lib Dem councillors in Fortune Green - Flick Rea, Russell Eagling and Nancy Jirira have their own blog (see the links) and we'll occasionally cross-post stories of interest to the whole West Hampstead area.

Our first post is some first impressions from John and Keith's new colleague Gillian on life as a councillor.