It will be a whole new neighbourhood! Battle lines over NW5 development site

What do you think should go on the Murphy's yard site?

Monday, 31st January — By Dan Carrier

january20 Image 2022-01-20 at 21.07.38 (11)

The redevelopment site in Kentish Town

THE future of an entirely new neighbourhood is in the balance as the Town Hall and civic groups consider one of the biggest brownfield development projects seen for two decades.

The Murphy’s Yard construction depot in Kentish Town has been earmarked for a mix of housing, businesses and a new public and car-free route from Kentish Town Road to Parliament Hill Fields.

After spending five years honing a masterplan, owners Murphy’s and their partners Folgate Estates had their application verified by the Town Hall last week, kickstarting a bid to win permission for a scheme with price tag of more than £500m.

How the new development could look

Due to the size and scope of the application, the council has granted an extra three weeks for civic groups and individuals to draw up their comments – but stark differences of opinions are already apparent.

With weeks of debate about this rare development opportunity ahead, in this week’s issue we publish the views of the scheme’s supporters – and its critics.

‘Towers are squeezing too much onto the land’

AFTER nearly five years of meetings, exhibitions and questionnaires, civic groups responding to the Murphy’s Yard plan believe the project needs radical changes and will be laying out their objections to the Town Hall.

The site cuts across two Neighbourhood Forums in Kentish Town and Dartmouth Park, and members of the DPNF have been vocal critics of what could be in store in the near future.

They fear building three towers stretching between 16 and 19 storeys up will not help foster a genuine new community.

They say it threatens to make transient neighbour­hood where flats are bought to let to temporary visitors and do not respond to what is needed.

Forum chairwoman Maya De Souza said: “The high rise towers mean that the development will be flooded with one- and two-bedroom flats, which the developers say will make up 88 per cent of the homes – almost double what Camden’s housing studies show is needed.”

She added: “All these small flats may be a dream for investors and Airbnb landlords but not so much for families hoping to stay in the area or retired people seeking to downsize from family houses.”

Ms De Souza added that despite in-depth discussions, the fundamental problems remained – and the towers were only necessary because of overdevelopment.

She said: “The basic problem is they are trying to squeeze too much onto the site.  “Squeezing 825 homes plus up to 95,000 square metres of commercial floorspace, which is more than 13 football pitches, is forcing them to build up.

“This is leading to densities way in excess of anything for miles around, with unacceptable impact on surrounding neighbourhoods and the cherished views from the Heath.”

Countering Murphy’s claims that the towers will have an acceptable impact and are lower than many blocks in the City, safeguarding views from the top of Parliament Hill, the Forum say it ignores the impact on everything but the views from the summit. Their fears over density have been echoed by the Camden Design Review Panel – an advisory body made up of architects, planners and other experts.

The panel said it is supportive of the “…aspiration of the Murphy’s Yard development which has the potential to create an exciting new neighbourhood, providing much needed new living and working accommodation in the borough.”

But it added that it had “significant concerns about a number of aspects of the proposals”.

The panel has called for designers to look again at the balance between fulfilling their aims for housing numbers and the space available.

“The bulk, height and massing of residential blocks is excessive and…have a significant and unacceptable impact on important views from Parliament Hill,” it added. “The amount of accommodation should be reduced or redistributed.”

The Kentish Town Neighbourhood Forum’s chairman Roger Winfield said: “We are pleased to see the masterplan application published. The forum supports the main planning application as it accords with the principles of the Kentish Town neighbourhood plan.

“There are, however, a number of issues the Forum is still unhappy about. KTNF have several concerns that need resolution before consent is granted.” They include the heights of the towers and an increase in proposed homes from 750 to 835 and further details on community facilities planned.

Mr Winfield said: “We appreciate this application is an outline. We will continue to monitor the detail design as reserved matters are applied for.”

‘Open a site that’s been private for 200 years’

THE masterplan has been filed for six hectares of land in Kentish Town which has been owned by the Murphy family for five decades – and remains the construction company’s headquarters.

Used as a depot, workshops and garages for the firm’s iconic green vans, more than 800 homes, a range of businesses, a health centre, gardens and a raised green walkway and public space have now been earmarked for the site. Building work could begin as soon as 2024 if the Town Hall’s planners gives the proposals a green light.

Paul Brosnahan, from Folgate Estates, which has been working with Murphy, said the application is the culmination of many years of detailed planning and would open up land that has been private for 200 years. He said: “When I first stepped foot in here in 1976, I could see its potential.”

At the heart of the project is the creation of a raised pedestrian and cycle route called The Heath Line, which will snake northwards from a new opening opposite Kentish Town Tube station.

The garden path will curve on a bridge through the upper floor of what was once a Victorian railway turning shed, used by Murphy mechanics since 1964, before levelling out on to higher ground as it reaches Gordon House Road. Elsewhere, Victorian buildings will be restored, with the original ironwork saved.

Other plans include forming a partnership with the nearby Kentish Town City Farm, creating paddocks for goats and ponies.

Mr Brosnahan said the site’s industrial past had guided the designs, with a railway tunnel running beneath one section and a drain carrying a Fleet tributary also beneath the ground.

Inside one of the yard’s buildings

The scheme’s most controversial aspect is the inclusion of three towers, the tallest of which will reach 19 storeys.

Folgate’s development director Kate MacMillan said the towers had been carefully placed to minimise impact on views, and allowed them to meet requirements laid out by the Council and the Greater London Authority.

She said: “We wanted to create something in accordance with the planning framework. We looked at it time and again and came up with a scheme that is sensitive to local issues. We have had intensive discussions and feel we have listened and taken on board constructive comments. The scheme reflects many of them.”

Architects Studio Egret West added that calls during consultations for the designs to be based on Victorian mansion blocks and Gospel Oak’s low rise housing did not create enough homes.

“We believe tall buildings have a role within well connected development, and have proposed the buildings where they form a well located cluster, alongside lower rise regeneration across the rest of the site,” the studio said. “This approach opens space elsewhere and allows for the accommodation of a key piece of public realm – The Heath Cliff – at the centre of the site.”

Kate MacMillan and Paul Brosnahan from Folgate

Mr Brosnahan added: “Schemes like this are shaped of course by viability assessments and it is a major site of significant value. The costs of creating this 1.7million square foot scheme are significant.

“But above all, we want to create something that is a legacy of our longstanding in Kentish Town and marks our on going commitment to the area.”

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