Murphy's Yard: 1,500 oppose towers plan… 12 back it

Scale of backlash to £1bn yard regeneration ‘never seen before’

Friday, 25th February — By Dan Carrier

Murphy's Yard

The opportunity site north of the railway lines in Kentish Town

AN unprecedented number of objections have been lodged at the Town Hall opposing a development which is set to change the face of Kentish Town.

Nearly 1,500 people living on all sides of Hampstead Heath have inundated the council’s planning department with comments against designs for the Murphy’s Yard regeneration site.

Among them were the Monty Python actor Michael Palin, broadcaster Lord Melvyn Bragg and novelist Deborah Moggach, who raised concerns about how the new tower development – featuring buildings as high as 19 storeys – would change the character of the area.

An artist’s impression of how the development could look

Civic groups have also sent in reasons why they think changes must be made to the proposals, while conservation body Historic England has raised concerns.

The New Journal had already reported on how Kentish Town City Farm and users of the Parliament Hill lido fear they will be adversely affected by the construction of new tower blocks.

In contrast, Camden received 12 letters supporting the proposals which will see the creation of a new neighbourhood close to the railway line north of Kentish Town station.

The plans would see 825 homes being built, new offices and a public walkway up to Gordon House Road for those heading to Parliament Hill Fields.

Caroline Hill, chair of the campaign group Kentish Town Road Action, said: “I have never seen or read a community response like this. It would be astonish­ing and entirely undemo­cratic if the council approves the application after the community has demonstra­ted so clearly that the plan is wrong as it stands.”

How the new neighbourhood could look

The application seeks permission for a masterplan, with finer details to be drawn up later. The £1billion project would take 10 years to bring to life.

Outline designs show three tower blocks reaching up to 19 storeys in height.

Developers say the new public space will open up land that has been closed off for private use for some 200 years.

The Murphy family firm moved to the land, which snakes alongside Highgate Road and the rail tracks, in 1964.

They have used it as a depot for their trademark green construction vehicles and now hope to the get the go-ahead to build what they say will be an exciting new development.

The designs were drawn up over five years of consultations but objectors want them to go back to the drawing board.

Deborah Moggach

Ms Moggach, whose hit books include The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, said: “It will blight the views of Hampstead Heath from Kentish Town. These views are a solace for all of us residents. I don’t think most outsiders realise how precious the Heath is to us, to our mental health and general wellbeing. The tower blocks are utterly inappropriate and the proposed ‘green walkway’ is a sham – just a concrete path with some vegetation planted alongside it.

“These things sound great on paper but if one looks at the actual reality, it is very different.”

Mr Palin said Camden Council’s Cherry Court development was an example of how low-rise blocks work better than towers and warned that Gordon House Road would be doomed to extra pollution. He added:

“We would hope that there will be affordable accommodation in the scheme for those who do the work that keeps our neighbourhood going: nurses, teachers, police, transport drivers, etc.”

Michael Palin

The Gospel Oak School Association has also raised concern about pollution and also how much of the new housing would be at a size and price that families can afford.

“Lack of affordable housing is already having an effect on pupil numbers at Gospel Oak, which are falling because of families being priced out of the area,” its statement said.

And Lord Bragg added: “The development would set a totally unacceptable precedent for the building of high-rise blocks on the edge of the Heath. It would be absolutely out of character with the surrounding area and would impact on the openness of the Heath for the lido and the surrounding fields.”

David Castle, the planning committee chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society, said: “The whole development is too high and dense, and will cause increasing traffic through two limited access points.

“The commercial buildings and the line of high flats will cast shadow on to public spaces and routes, and will be very visible from adjacent areas.

“The long wall of high flats will be very visible from the Heath. The proposed development is deficient in many ways.”

The proposed view from Hampstead Heath

Neighbourhood forums in Kentish Town, West Kentish Town and Dartmouth Park have all said the current scheme is not acceptable and want detailed changes that include reducing the heights of buildings, creating more open space and a different mix of businesses and housing.

Historic England warned that Parliament Hill’s views “enjoy unrestricted public access, and are perhaps the best places from which to appreciate the topography of London” as it raised objections to the use of high-rise.

“The proposed height of up to 19 storeys would affect the strategic views of central London from Parliament Hill, which are of major importance,” its objection letter said.

“The impact would be significant, blocking and diminishing the impact of views from a number of angles on Parliament Hill.

“Regional and local policies both strongly support the importance of these strategic views. Historic England has significant concerns about the harmful impact of the proposals.”

The Greater London Authority has written to Camden stating that the plans do not fit with the London Plan for develop­ment, citing a low number of affordable homes.

They say any decision at council level must then be referred back to the GLA for consideration before permission is granted.

Developers Folgate say they have spent five years running consultations and public meetings to gauge the views of neighbours and civic groups, and have used it to help shape the plans. They added that they had carefully followed guidelines over land use dictated by the GLA and the Town Hall.

A spokesperson said: “The site has never had public access before. It will now be open to all, with new, green public spaces and much-needed high-quality housing.
“The land has various restrictions over what can be built where due to its infrastructure, and that has also helped shape the designs.”

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