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View from the chamber: Stakes are high in Hampstead Plan vote

PUBLISHED: 12:00 09 June 2018

Archant

While people sometimes have cause to ask where their representatives are outside election time, that’s not our style in Hampstead.

It’s been five weeks since local residents elected us, and we’ve kept on knocking on doors: asking how we can help residents and make Hampstead even better.

Many of the same themes come up as before the election, and some of the battles we’re fighting are the same, too. How do we stop inappropriate developments? What can be done to protect our green spaces? Can we save housing for key NHS workers at Queen Mary’s?

While reacting to these issues and solving problems as they come up is vital, it’s not enough by itself. The council needs to be proactive, too: putting in place policies that stop proposals that would harm our community before they even see the light of day.

That’s why I’m delighted that the Hampstead Forum has done that by developing a Neighbourhood Plan: statutory planning rules that proactively protect what’s best about Hampstead. This comes hot on the heels of plans adopted in Highgate, West Hampstead, and Kentish Town.

A formal referendum to adopt it is being held on June 21, and postal votes have just been sent out to anyone that usually has one. When Highgate residents approved their plan, 18 per cent of people voted – but while turnout can be low, the stakes are high.

In part, that low turnout is because it’s often not clear what a Neighbourhood Plan does and how it fits into the alphabet soup of planning guidance.

While those frameworks are broad, a Neighbourhood Plan is much more focused. It takes the principles, makes them site-specific, and gives them greater weight.

Take local green spaces, architecture, and community facilities as examples.

The plan prohibits development that harms any of 14 named green spaces across Hampstead, from Oriel Place Garden – which is being restored after our successful campaign to re-open it – to South Hill Park’s World Peace Park. It also backs the creation of three new public green spaces (helpfully matching Conservative councillors’ manifesto pledge!).

Conservation also requires protecting our built environment. The plan gives greater protection to the design principles in our conservation areas by requiring developments to do more to preserve and enhance Hampstead’s character. It also requires more developers to demonstrate that basement construction won’t harm neighbours.

And the plan protects a large number of community facilities – from Hampstead Community Centre to Keats Library, and from our Henderson Court to our GP surgeries – where any loss of facilities will be resisted.

Whether it’s Hampstead’s green lungs, its unique character, or its invaluable facilities, the Neighbourhood Plan gives residents and councillors more tools to keep Hampstead special. I’d urge you to vote Yes on June 21 – if you do, when we next knock on your door, we’ll be in a stronger position to stand up and stop any changes that would harm our community.

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