Alexander Nicoll, vice chair of the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum, writes for the Ham and High.

Three clear messages emerged from the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum’s recent survey of local opinions on the future of our high street areas. Put together, they suggest that town centres such as Hampstead’s could change a lot in the coming years – and for the better.

Firstly, the pandemic will have a lasting effect on residents’ working habits. Nearly a third expect to spend more time operating from home than they did before Covid, and only 12 per cent expect to go back to full-time work somewhere else.

Ham & High: Alexander Nicoll has studied the results of the Hampstead Forum surveyAlexander Nicoll has studied the results of the Hampstead Forum survey (Image: A Nicoll)

That means they will spend more time around our high streets and will have new needs. For example, they may want spaces where they can meet colleagues or other people. They may seek a greater sense of community to overcome isolation or replace office collegiality. They may want to buy more locally, especially fresh produce. All this could only be good for high streets.

But when we go outside, we come up against the survey’s second message: the unacceptable level of traffic. To meet the government’s and Camden’s commitments – and just to preserve our own health and sanity – we will simply have to reduce car use. My own street is currently car-free thanks to the works for new fibre broadband. It gives you ideas!

If there were less traffic, our high streets would be more welcoming, which would help the wide range of shops and restaurants that we are lucky to have. The third message from our survey was the importance to residents of independent businesses, coupled with concern that they could be pushed out by high rates and rents. However, the chain outlets that have left Hampstead since the start of the pandemic are in many cases being replaced by new start-ups.

Covid has speeded up changes that would probably have occurred over a longer period. But the faster pace is revealing both opportunities and pressing requirements to make our neighbourhood an even better place to live.

  • Alexander Nicoll is vice chair of the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum. To read more about the high streets survey and the Forum’s new project to test air quality, go to