Hampstead is filling up with derelict building sites

Beatrix Clark at The Oren at 114-120 West Heath Road

Beatrix Clark at The Oren at 114-120 West Heath Road - Credit: Mike Clark

For 20 years, up until four years ago, the view from our kitchen and bedroom windows was of sky and trees, buildings a considerable distance away, and in the background the Chiltern Hills. 

Behind our property was an empty building - a disused school - which, though not ideal, did not overlook us or restrict our privacy or daylight. 

Then in 2017 the developers arrived and with them nearly four years (they said it would take two) of drilling, disruption and broken promises. 

Trees were felled, our boundary wall collapsed due to their digging and, worst of all, the four dwellings they’ve constructed - ugly as sin and hugely out of keeping with the character of the area - tower above and directly overlook neighbouring homes and gardens. 

Gone are the Chilterns; instead, staring back at us are the interiors of the future occupants’ bedrooms and, after dark, glaring light-spill. 

Light spill from 181 West Heath Road

Light spill from 181 West Heath Road - Credit: Mike Clark

Screening from newly planted trees is now our only hope of retaining some privacy and we’ve been asking the developer and planning officers to provide this for months. 

We’re not alone. All along this once elegant, residential road and surrounding streets are examples of blatant overdevelopment, with a growing number of schemes abandoned when they’re barely under way, leaving a raft of building sites, many of them derelict, to blot the landscape and blight the lives of local residents. 

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In our immediate vicinity two large houses have recently been demolished. Close to Golders Hill Park, The Oren, a vast empty site promising "luxurious later living", has led to the loss of numerous mature trees and the excavation of a colossal hole (dubbed by my husband as the pit of insanity) that had to be infilled when the project went bust. All of which must have cost millions, yet it now sits there neglected, like some post-apocalyptic landscape. 

Around the corner, in Beechworth Close, is an equally dystopian looking, abandoned concrete shell arising from a planning application approved back in 2013.

The abandoned shell at 6 Beechworth Close

The abandoned shell at 6 Beechworth Close - Credit: Mike Clark

The list goes on yet the proposals keep coming. 

The latest is a heinous scheme to knock down 84 West Heath Road, a Victorian heritage, Class 2 use building that was formerly a care home then a school, and replace it with a seven-storey structure containing forty-five flats - with all the noise, traffic and mayhem that would entail, not to mention the disturbance to wildlife and overlooking.   

The scheme has sparked outrage and prompted a local businessman, supported by despairing neighbours including football legend George Graham, to form the West Heath Action Group (WHAG) to campaign against it.

Housing is necessary and a degree of sympathetic development is fine but these monstrosities must stop. The law states that construction work must commence within three years of obtaining approval - where’s the legislation stipulating a time frame within which a project must be completed? When will local councils recognise that enough is enough? And where the devil are our trees?

  • Beatrix Clark is a Hampstead writer.