'What was a Hampstead shop could become a home as locals are sidelined'

Heath Street. Picture: Ken Mears

New planning rules could change the look of Heath Street, Hampstead - Credit: Archant

When we started drafting the Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan eight years ago, the government had a different view of planning than it does today.

The Localism Act 2011 was driven by the idea that local people should have a say in shaping the future of their communities.

Neighbourhood plans would sit alongside local authorities’ plans in guiding future development, and local government would consult local communities when new proposals came forward.

Today, the government views local involvement in planning as something of a hindrance.

The range of permitted development – building and alterations that can take place without the need to apply for planning permission – has expanded, removing the need for local consent for many types of changes.

Janine Griffis

Janine Griffis worries how the change in planning rules could impact on Hampstead - Credit: Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum

For example, from the end of this month, a shop in Heath Street could change to an office, cafe, creche or an estate agent without the need for permission from Camden, which in the past has sought to maintain a mix of high street businesses.

The Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan, which was approved by 91% of voters in a public referendum, also seeks to maintain a certain mix.

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The government plans yet further changes that would allow high street premises to be converted to residential properties without seeking approval. What was previously a bank or a shop on Hampstead High Street could become a home.

This would permanently reduce the mix of businesses, and make high streets less attractive to shoppers. Educational and health institutions could expand by 25% without seeking planning consent. The statutory consultation time would be cut from three weeks to two.

Many shops have left Hampstead over the past year. The new businesses that are arriving face the normal challenges of succeeding in a highly competitive marketplace that has high costs. But at least they have not had to compete with the housing market.

The Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum’s recent survey showed that residents highly value local independent shops and the variety of our high street areas. But the government’s policy changes will lessen the say of local people. The drive that fuelled localism remains strong: people want more of a say in how their local community develops, not less.

Janine Griffis leads on planning matters for the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum