Election is a ‘referendum on 02 Centre', hustings told

Labour candidates want positions on the planning committee

Wednesday, 27th April — By Richard Osley

Screenshot 2022-04-26 at 20.24.40

Izzy Lenga appears online at hustings organised by CRASH

LABOUR candidates in South Hampstead said last night (Tuesday) that they had been cautious in their response to the 02 Centre redevelopment because they did not want to be banned from sitting on a future planning committee ruling on the scheme.

In hustings set up by CRASH, the Combined Residents’ Associations of South Hampstead, the Tories laid out their opposition to developer Landsec’s proposals for the shopping centre site in Finchley Road and said next Thursday’s [May 5] election was a “referendum on the 02 site, a referendum on our future”.

The plan to bring in the bulldozers and create nearly 2,000 homes in a new complex which could scale 15-storeys has emerged as a key election issue, with sharp debate on what Camden Council has done – and should do – in response to the designs.

The opposition Conservatives at the Town Hall have pushed for the council to pass planning guidelines effectively banning all new high rise buildings in most of the borough; a motion which was defeated earlier this month in the council chamber.

They argued this was the best way to protect the neighbourhood, but the South Hampstead Labour candidates said they could be the voice of residents by actually sitting on the committee which will have the final vote.

Anybody who makes comments directly opposing the application risks being unable to sit on this body beyond the elections, although the Conservatives say they are willing to give up their vote to directly campaign against the skyline-altering proposals.

In the hustings event held over a Zoom videocall, Labour candidate Izzy Lenga said she would rather have a “voice at the table”.

She said: “I grew up just across the border in Barnet. Barnet Council, a Conservative Council, has 28 tall buildings in the pipeline for construction compared to just two in Labour-run Camden. I appreciate that it’s quite a hot topic at the moment, but I think that we can’t just think the Conservatives are completely against high rises.”

Marx de Morais answers the questions

Labour was represented at the hustings by Ms Lenga and Nina de Ayala Parker, while the Conservatives had Marx de Morais and Calvin Po answering the questions. The new ward is the closest thing to the old Swiss Cottage boundaries. Neither the Liberal Democrats or the Green sent anybody to speak at the meeting.

Ms Lenga told her Tory rivals that their election stance had meant “you’ve barred yourself from sitting on the planning committee where the decisions are made”, adding: “You won’t be able to be in the room. You will not be able to vote against it. That’s the same with all the all the other Conservative candidates putting out the same kind of stance in different wards across the borough.”

The Conservatives say Camden Council would not have to wait for a final planning committee meeting vote to force a reduction in the height of the scheme if all councillors backed their suggested guidelines against tall buildings.

Mr De Morais said: “You can sit where you want, it doesn’t need anything else if a simple majority should vote to ban high rises. It’s not complicated. It’s not difficult to understand. It’s the most easy thing to do.”


SEE ALSO CAMDEN COUNCIL ELECTIONS: WHO ARE THE CANDIDATES IN SOUTH HAMPSTEAD WARD?


He told the hustings: “Local conservatives are the blue line between Camden and a one party state without democratic accountability. This time, it’s about the future of a neighbourhood. We could be living on a building site for the next 20 years amidst rubble, dust and noise facing a horrid future where our homes are in the shadow of concrete monstrosities. Or we can maintain our neighbourhood as one where we all enjoy living with new residents which we would which we are all happy to welcome.”

While the 02 Centre row has many elements including debates over the level of affordable housing and what services and shops will be available for an influx of new residents, the height of the scheme has been major flashpoint.

Ms de Ayala Parker said she lived in a block of flats that was six storeys high and that “feels tall”, adding: “Fourteen to 15 storeys is way too tall… That height is not the answer to affordable housing. We need affordable housing, but not at the risk of having a very, very tall, tall building. That’s why we want to push back and see if we can reduce that height as much as we can.”

She added: “I think that 14 stories is far too high. I think 10 stories is a more manageable height, but I think there’s different ways of doing things.”

The Conservatives, however, said Labour is late to the argument on height and could have resolved concerns by passing their motion and publishing tighter rules for developers.

How the new scheme could look

Mr de Morais said: “I just can’t shut up on this. Both Labour candidates are saying now that the 02 plans are too high. They are crocodile tears. Every single Labour councillor but one voted against allowing heights to even be considered – and that one was deselected.”

He was referring to Labour councillor Paul Tomlinson in Somers Town who voted in support of the Conservative motion in the chamber earlier this month – but is among seven councillors who have been blocked by his own party from standing again at next week’s polls.

“I think that they are crocodile tears they just told us right now,” said Mr De Morais.

“They will not give us an answer. We know that every single one of their colleagues in the chamber does not even want to discuss the height. You just can’t buy me at least.

“As a resident – I’m speaking here as resident not as a candidate – you can’t buy me as a resident with your crocodile tears when I see all your 60 or 50 councillors in the Town Hall who will not even want to consider the height.”

Housing targets

A WIDER hint over Camden’s approach to development came up at the CRASH hustings when the 02 Centre plans were linked to national targets.

Labour candidate Izzy Lenga said: “The Tory government has set a housing delivery target and set them out for each borough. Camden’s [target] is around over 1,100 homes a year.And if we don’t meet 75 per cent of that level, we lose our planning powers.”

She added: “This isn’t just a local issue. This is intrinsically linked to what’s happening nationally and I think it’s a bit disingenuous to be just kind of removing yourselves completely from what’s the national housing policy led by the Conservative government.”

The 02 Centre in Finchley Road

But Tory candidate Calvin Po said: “You’re right that the Labour Council does have housing targets nationally. But it’s actually quite interesting that in choosing to meet that, the overwhelming majority of them [schemes] are in the northwest part of the borough where a core vote is not located, i.e where people are willing to not vote Labour.”

He added: “So it’s quite interesting that they’ve chosen to have massive housing development here, while in areas such as where the Labour cabinet members in the centre of Camden are, they have not seen many housing developments.”

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