Hampstead prepares to protect its identity
Hampstead is mobilising to reclaim the village by using a raft of new powers to restore it to its former glory.
Empty shops – a growing threat to independent traders – and a perceived lack of support from Camden Council, have sparked the community into action before the leafy suburb loses its unique identity.
On a visit to Hampstead, junior minister for communities and local government, MP Bob Neill, criticised the council for failing to exercise new powers to reduce business rates at a time when shopkeepers are struggling to keep from going bust.
In the absence of council help, community groups and business leaders are gearing up to introduce a patchwork of legislation to lever greater control over the shaping of Hampstead.
The Heath and Hampstead Society has lodged a bid to set up a neighbourhood forum to exert greater controls over planning.
South End Green traders are also considering forming a “Town Team” – a recommendation from “Queen of Shops” Mary Portas – to give the business community a platform to discuss their issues.
Andrew Lavery, chairman of the NW3 Traders Association, said: “Camden does not have the resources to commit itself to Hampstead. The council is not that interested in our welfare so we are having to be interested.
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“There is a lot of energy here and I’m not saying that the council has been negative towards us, but we want to be able to do more for ourselves.”
Mr Neill, who visited traders in Heath Street and South End Green, said the council needed to be a shrewder commercial operator and was disappointed in the way it had refused to consider lightening the load on traders.
“We want the council to be more commercially-minded and acute in its business operations,” said the Conservative MP.
“It is in Camden’s interest to be more alert to the needs of its business community. I find Camden’s approach very disappointing to be quite frank.
“We have given a lot more powers to local councils to help their smaller traders and we would like to see councils taking them up.”
Council finance boss, Cllr Theo Blackwell, said the cash-strapped council could not pick and choose which small businesses to subsidise.
He said: “We’re doing as much as we can with very limited resources and we obviously care about our high streets when people are really feeling the pinch.
“But how can you say one business type should have more of a discount than another?
“Intervention costs money and we have to balance that up with how we fund public services in the borough.”
High street campaigner Jessica Learmond-Criqui, who tried to stave off the closure of Hampstead Health Shop, cast some doubt over the strength of the new legislation.
She claimed it would take stronger intervention from central government to solve the problem.
“The difficulty with trying to use the Localism Bill and taking on the Mary Portas review is that if you have a private landlord who wants to charge the earth, it really takes help from a legislative aspect to make any headway,” she said.
“This is a deep-set problem and we’re still a long way from being able to run the high street as the community sees fit.”