Election hustings: Tories demand ban on high-rise development at 02 Centre site

Everybody says plans need to be altered - but which aspects?

Wednesday, 6th April — By Richard Osley

jw3hustings Image 2022-04-06 at 9.32.57 AM (2)

Council leader Georgia Gould speaking at the JW3 Centre in Finchley Road

CAMDEN Council’s Labour leader last night (Tuesday) told election hustings that plans for the 02 Centre site needed to be changed, but did not list the height of the building as an area of concern.

Georgia Gould insisted the Town Hall was listening to residents over what they wanted from the opportunity site, but avoided getting into a battle with the Conservatives over how tall the final scheme will be.

She said worries over a lack of affordable housing and services for people who would be moving in had been fed back by the community.

The issue of the height of the development, however, has become an election flashpoint and the opposition Tories have demanded that the council blocks new high-rise developments outside of the very south of the borough.

Developer Landsec has worked up plans to demolish the 02 Centre and build a new neighbourhood of nearly 2,000 homes.

The response has seen a huge postbag of objections pile up in the council’s planning offices.

Drawn together at hustings at the JW3 Centre – just a short walk from away from the development site, Conservative leader Oliver Cooper said: “The fact is that the application for the O2 centre is the worst application that I’ve seen of any sort in any part of the borough in years. It is the largest development that we have, but it’s also a high rise development.”

He said other candidates “seem not to care that we would have a row of 15 storey towers foisted on low and mid rise areas in Swiss Cottage, West Hampstead, Belsize and South Hampstead”, adding: “That is not acceptable and anything taller than the existing tallest building in the area – West Hampstead Square is eleven storeys  – should be refused on the basis of their height.”

Proposed plans for the 02 Centre site

Cllr Cooper, who is standing in the Belsize ward at the May 5 council elections, said: “It is not acceptable to foist tall buildings, regardless of anything that you put in them, on low rise areas. Not just because it’s unfair for people to move there because less they are less habitable, because they are less enjoyable, because they are less valuable, but also because it’s unfair to the existing communities that we’re trying to get development to work with, rather than against.”

He repeated the line which was used in council cabinet papers last month that said Camden had “co-designed” the development site with Landsec. The council’s leadership has said it is natural and normal for local authorities to negotiate over large scale projects of this kind.

“Labour have behind the scenes, and they bragged about it in the cabinet paper last month, ‘co designed ‘the 02 centre development with Landsec,” said Cllr Cooper. “They said that out in the open. So to say that Labour are demanding better is not true. We do need to demand better, and that means we to stop high rises in low rise areas – full stop.”

Councillor Oliver Cooper

Cllr Gould told the hustings: “I think there’s no doubt that Landsec has to go much further to meet the concerns of Camden’s communities that that we’re hearing strongly from: Concerns about the lack of affordable housing that’s being delivered on the site and the current plan, that there’s not enough green space, that the community needs an affordable supermarket that is open throughout the entire development.”

She did not include height of the development in this list, instead telling the audience: ”There’s a number of changes that need to be made to respond to those concerns. I think that that is right that there is some development on the site, but the current plans are not good enough and we’ll be pushing the developer.”

Cllr Gould added: “I think that’s the role that Labour as a council has taken: we’ve managed to get 2,000 genuinely affordable homes out of developers in the borough and always push for them to deliver for their community.”

The 02 Centre will face the bulldozer

She then referenced the hole in the ground at nearby Avenue Road, where developer Essential Living has ground to a standstill on its half-decade attempts to build a skyscraper of luxury flats, with the future of the boarded-up site still unclear.

The old offices of the Ham and High newspaper have already been bulldozed in preparation for work which has now stalled amid financial haggling and an attempt to remove all affordable housing.

“I think it’s important that we we don’t forget that it was this council, Camden Council, that turned down the Avenue Road tower, and it was a Conservative Secretary of State who overturned that decision.

“Our Labour Council had to then push for the development to have affordable housing, and as a council we would always be on the side of our communities in standing up to developers and pushing for the maximum benefit for our communities.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Tom Simon said:  “The planning application that has been submitted by Landsec in its current form is not good enough, We would not support that. On the other hand, that site represents an incredible opportunity for tackling the huge acute shortage of housing that we have in the borough.”

Lib Dem councillor Tom Simon, right

He added: “So this is a question of balance. We need more homes. We need more affordable homes. We need more family homes, and we can do better, for that site than a huge car park. I don’t think that’s controversial to say that myself.

“However, this not just about housing. If there’s going to be housing there that needs to be services to go with that. That needs to be green spaces. There needs to be a GP surgery, there needs to be disabled access to the stations. And there also needs to be a suitable retail and leisure offer to go with that – and the planning application, as it currently stands, does not answer those points sufficiently well.”

Cllr Simon told the audience: “The job is for Camden Council is to negotiate with the developer to get the best possible deal for the people of Camden and if they can’t get a good deal with the borough, then the application needs to be rejected.,”

The Green Party’s David Stansell, a candidate in Highgate deputising for the two Green councillors Sian Berry and Lorna Russell, who have have both been struck by Covid, questioned the demolition plan. 

“There are two planning applications in they’re going to be shows. I nobody is disputing that development is desirable on two sites, not just the 02 centre but also Murphy’s Yard [in Kentish Town]”, they told the hustings.

“But I think it’s also indisputable, there’s a lot of community concern about the nature and size in particular, and also our very big concern to do with the 02 Centre is the fact we are flattening the building which is actually not that old and is a valued resource by many community members. “

David Stansell

Mr Stansell added: “We believe they [the plans] should be withdrawn, but they should be resubmitted with acceptable conditions and a large part of those exceptions is not allowing them to be so high rise because those buildings as planned will have a huge impact on the surrounding areas.

“They are so high. With the 02 Centre the largest building planned is 15 storeys high, so that will cast a large shadow of a large part of the community and also it’s planned to have just a single stairwell, which I believe is unacceptable, partly for just purely security and fire risk reasons.”

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