A ‘lively’ meeting can mean many things, but Wednesday’s meeting about Camden’s proposed development fell into the more inflamed sense of the word. It was Camden Council’s CIP plans, including the building of a ’tower block’ and removal of parks and a tenants’ hall that so aggravated locals.
If Camden Council planners were in any doubt about the strength of local feeling before, they surely left with those doubts shredded.
Attempts to consider Micheal Parkes’ carefully thought-through alternatives to the council’s proposal were rather lost, as, in a remarkable show of a solidarity, exceptional in most community meetings, let alone Somers town, residents rejected the council’s (second) version of CIP proposals. At one point, a cry of ‘Why?’ rose up in unison, in response to Camden’s explanation that flats could not be built on top of the new School – the preferred local alternative to building on precious local parks.
In what is fast becoming a battle of consultations, residents from Coopers Lane, arguably most affected by the proposed developments on their doorstep, came prepared with their own survey, the results of which indicated that all 82 residents surveyed were unanimously against the proposed 22-storey block. And they’d done their research: finding proof from the 1970s that the park and Coopers Lane had been treated as one concept, with 2 acres allocated for open space. ‘Purchase Street Park’ is a non-concept; it’s all part of one estate, and thus their open space should remain.
The (absent) architects have attacked a central tenet of community life in Somers town by proposing to destroy a much-loved tenants’ hall. As Micheal explained, Somers town is not a single entity, but is comprised of series of estates, each with their own tenants’ halls. The plans fundamentally misunderstand local pride in Somers Town’s unique heritage; in short, that of housing built to meet need, and provision for the social needs of residents in each of a series of housing association communities. Remove one hall, and you begin the dissolution of the whole. Not only that, but, as Cllr Roger Robinson pointed out, thus begins the slippery slope to gentrification, and housing bought for investment, not for homes. The ghost of Basil Jellicoe hung over the meeting.
The Council tells us how the school must be rebuilt, at a cost of 8 million, that the new development must fund this, that top architects worked hard to minimise its ‘footprint’, and how any benefits are, uniquely for such schemes in the borough, to be ploughed into the local community.
But as to what these benefits were it was difficult to ascertain. There was no clear answer to questions as how much will be raised (too sensitive) and as to what the proportions of social housing or so-called ‘affordable’ housing will be (we don’t know yet). It’s so-called affordable, in any case, because, as Lisa told us, if 2-bed flat next to hers sell for over half a million, a reduction to 80% will not be within the wildest dreams of any local. It rather makes pointless the council’s proud boast that local flats will be prioritised for local people. Someone mentioned that Argents are in the papers for reneging on their promised social housing proportions in King’s Cross. The ghost of the lost local battle for social housing on the Crick site, hung heavy too.
Sitting opposite the polite, quietly spoken Coopers Lane ladies, I was struck by the flushed battle in their faces to restrain sheer rage and exasperation at yet more building. Here is a community bearing life, as, but perhaps more than most of Somers Town, on a never-ending ‘building site’, under the hellish glare of floodlights, noise, dust, trucks, diggers and cranes from serial constructions – Eurostar, British Library and the Crick.
As someone asked, what does Somers Town get out of this?