The autumn sunshine brought out the shoppers and visitors to Hampstead last Saturday; the streets were busy, and it was a pleasure to stroll around.

However, tinged with the pleasure were niggles of anxiety about the sad state of the village infrastructure.

There were quite a few empty shops, some have been closed longer than the normal turn-around time.

The usual couple of beggars prop themselves against them; the pandemic finished off many of the struggling small businesses and made worse the plight of those who are dealing with life issues of their own. 

Facing the empty shops, there’s dumped e-bikes and scooters sprawled across the pavement alongside the parking bay already full of them, so tightly crammed together that pedestrians can’t find a gap to cross the road.

Ham & High: Cllr Linda Chung is saddened by Hampstead High StreetCllr Linda Chung is saddened by Hampstead High Street (Image: Cllr Linda Chung)

A few steps along and you see desultory groups of delivery bike riders by their heavy machines waiting for business. 

Scan the scene and there are overfull litter bins and uncollected rubbish bags and fly-tipping. The traffic was non-stop, with continuous pockets of congestion. 

What to do? It seems to me one of the root causes is that we have not caught up with the pace of change.

Technology has rapidly escalated to the point where AI can take over our creative lives, yet nothing has been done to our infrastructure to properly cater for e-bikes, apart from plonking them just anywhere.

A new workforce has evolved from people’s expectations that food and drink should be delivered to their door at all hours, yet there is no place for them. 

Bustling high streets where people can shop and socialise in a high quality environment are vital. Camden Council tells us the new Camden local plan under draft at the moment will include regeneration of high streets, but I see little clarity of what is intended. 

In particular we need more focus on our local high streets to invigorate them, but so far 

I see no push to incentivise commercial landlords to make their rents more realistic. I see no active investment in sprucing up the streets, removing the clutter, and redesigning to put pedestrians first instead of cars.

It’s time that we had forward thinking to accommodate changing demands. We can’t afford to delay any more. 

  • Linda Chung is councillor for Hampstead Town ward and chair, Resources and Corporate Performance Scrutiny Committee, Camden Council.