Murphy's Yard: Don't let this chance for a green development be missed

Murphy's Yard, a major development site part of the planning document. Picture: Camden Council

Murphy's Yard, a major development site part of the planning document. Picture: Camden Council - Credit: Archant

Opportunities come up infrequently in London to develop exemplar developments to meet community goals around people and planet.

Now, the Murphy’s Yard site hidden away between Highgate Road and Gospel Oak presents just this opportunity. 

Murphy’s recently released plans are positive in some ways: mixed-use development for example. But I remain underwhelmed. This is not the exemplar aligned with the high ambition of Camden Council and strong public demand for sustainability, green space and accessibility.  

On the accessibility front, a walking route towards the Heath is welcome. Car-free is promising; local people are nervous about more cars clogging up the already busy Highgate Road and Gordon House Road, increasingly concerned about air quality, road safety for elderly people, play space for children, and being able to get to hospitals swiftly. But this has been Camden policy for a while.

Maya de Souza

Maya de Souza says that developers must imagine multiple scenarios – continued home-working, central London turning from offices to mixed-use space - Credit: Maya de Souza

On the ecology front, giving the mixed woodland and heathland of the Heath environment an urban interpretation, with green and brown roofs, creating habitats and reducing run-off, is exciting.


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However, the pictures show a set of standard medium/high-rise buildings with little evidence of mature trees and natural spaces.

It is possible however to make open space and nature the defining feature of the site, drawing on examples globally as well as the neighbourly low-rise estates of Camden’s own rich architectural heritage.

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On climate more generally, the commitment to passive house standards, pushing the boundaries in terms of design and comfort, is welcome. But it’s time to get to the detailed proposals for a genuine zero carbon development – looking not only at energy use but low carbon materials.

I must emphasize affordable housing too, essential for a mixed community. Family-sized dwellings and co-op/co-housing, giving residents more control over their lives are critical. Families being forced to live at the edge of town or out of town is hardly sustainable.

Finally, as readers will be aware from the last 12 months, we are faced with new uncertainties. Developers must imagine multiple scenarios – continued home-working, central London turning from offices to mixed-use space. Designing for repurposing and disassembly is vital, as is incorporating outdoor spaces for social activity into the commercial/industrial space. 

This is an opportunity for an exemplary and forward-thinking development, hopefully not an opportunity that will be lost.

  • Maya De Souza is an environmental campaigner and chair of Dartmouth Park Neighbourhood Forum.

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