Walking along Hampstead High Street, Heath Street or South End Road, it is easy to take for granted the generally tasteful signage on shopfronts and the restrained use of lighting.

The materials and colours seem in most cases to fit the age and style of the host building, contributing to an overall sense of ‘appropriateness’ and a pleasant pedestrian experience.

Yet this does not happen by chance. The look of our shopping areas is a direct result of planning rules and guidance that govern our built environment.

Special rules apply to Hampstead because of the Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan, the conservation area and the fact that Camden has taken steps to remove certain permitted development rights – meaning that it has to approve proposed changes.

For example, the neighbourhood plan stipulates that 'house-style’ signage should be sensitively adapted to the streetscape, and that projecting signs should not be internally illuminated. Recently, some new shop-fronts have not observed these requirements.

Getting these things right helps to preserve the charming ‘village’ atmosphere that people always associate with Hampstead. It does not mean preserving the area in aspic, because our retail areas, just like those everywhere, are constantly changing. It means making sure that changes suit the surroundings.

Ham & High:

Walk down other high streets, not similarly protected, and you can see the value of this approach. You could be confronted with numerous estate agent signs protruding from buildings, bright corporate logos, overlarge and incongruous signage covering up original features, materials such as PVC on period buildings, and inappropriate lighting. Visual clutter, loss of original features and poor-quality shopfronts are often cited as factors in the decline of high streets.

The Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum reviews every application for new shopfronts and advertisements to assure that the proposal conforms to the Neighbourhood Plan and Camden regulations. We have found that most shopkeepers want to fit into their environment. They understand that this starts at the front door.

Yet even in Hampstead with the protections in place, poor shopfront schemes sometimes appear, often because the proprietor has neglected to seek approval from Camden. In these instances, the forum alerts Camden’s enforcement team so that the proprietor is asked to produce something more appropriate both for their business and for Hampstead.

Janine Griffis leads on planning matters for the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum (hampsteadforum.org).