Opinion: Valiant campaigns proving pointless against the mighty developers and our council

Peter Symonds is stepping down as chairman of Combined Resdients Association of South Hampstead (CRA

Peter Symonds is stepping down as chairman of Combined Resdients Association of South Hampstead (CRASH) - Credit: Archant

Last week, I announced that, after seven years at the helm, I was standing down as chairman of the Combined Residents Association of South Hampstead (CRASH).

No one, sadly, has yet volunteered to take over the role, so there is now a real danger CRASH will cease to exist.

Residents admit to needing an association like CRASH to take up local issues of concern on their behalf - opposing tower blocks, such as that Essential Living is imposing on us at 100A Avenue Road, or complaining to Camden about its current street cleaning and refuse service, which leaves parts of South Hampstead looking like some third world slum.

Yet few of them, it seems, are prepared to take up the cudgels and help fight the battles themselves. And who can blame them? Running a residents' association can feel like bashing your head against a brick wall.

Despite all CRASH's efforts, profiteering property developers are still rampant, basement development continues unabated, air pollution is more toxic, fewer police are seen patrolling our streets, which are, today, dirtier and more refuse-strewn than ever,

The government's austerity programme was, of course, responsible for Camden's street cleaning budget cuts.

But inefficient councils, like ours, regularly resort to this inevitable easy economy with no thought for the inevitable consequence - dirty streets merely encourage people not to care so that more people discard their litter thoughtlessly. This, in turn, then requires a more exacting cleaning regime than a contractor like Veolia has quoted or has time for. Result? Our streets get only perfunctorily cleaned, and the cycle of decline is perpetuated. The large green waste bins, introduced a year ago, in order to increase recycling, now disfigure many front gardens or obstruct pavements, single-handedly contributing to our neighbourhoods looking unsightlier and more neglected than ever before.

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And despite CRASH's four-year campaign to get Camden to order Network Rail to clean up its disgusting trackside land in Broadhurst Gardens, next to nothing has been done and the area under Granny Drippen steps is now a rat-infested health hazard. We have learned from bitter experience that there is little point in our objecting to even the most offensive local planning application if Camden can expect to make money from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) due on any new dwelling, extension or basement which creates 100 square metres of floorspace.

It was undoubtedly the CIL millions that will accrue from allowing Essential Living to go ahead with its reviled 24-storey tower block that was the decisive factor in Camden Council's granting of planning permission for such a monstrosity.

I am forced to conclude, depressingly, that CRASH's power to halt the decline of areas like South Hampstead is now virtually negligible, while the power and vested interests of developers such as Essential Living, and corporations like Network Rail and Transport for London - to say nothing of a now seemingly unaccountable Camden Council -have increased beyond measure, allowing them simply to ignore the concerns and objections of local residents and impose their will on us without check.

Is it any wonder I question the value of residents' associations today, or why no one seems to be prepared to take over the running of CRASH?

- CRASH - Combined Resdients Assocation of South Hampstead