What's next? Covid-19 and the future of Hampstead Village

Perrins Court

Perrins Court - Credit: Michael Boniface

Gap has gone; Sainsbury’s is coming. Traffic is back; bike lanes are on the way. People are working from home; Zoom is the new norm.   

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live, travel and interact – and it will no doubt help shape the future of our village centres.  

Covid-19 has taken a heavy toll on our high streets: Some shops have been forced to close, and many residents have relied on neighbours, families, friends and volunteers for support.  

This period has debilitated and knocked many of us off stride. But it may also offer an opportunity for a new direction.   

At this unique juncture, the Ham&High, working with the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum, takes a look at the challenges now facing Hampstead Village, and how its future could take hold.   

What’s gone and what’s new?  

The lost shops around Hampstead are one of the most visible aspects of change from the pandemic. There are around 200 retail and leisure units across Hampstead Village – 16 of which are vacant.  

Flask Walk

Flask Walk - Credit: Michael Boniface

Since lockdown began, around 20 local businesses have departed. These include Carluccio’s, Cop Copine, Heath Dry Cleaners, Sergent Major, EE, Jigsaw, and Pizza Express.  

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Others to leave are Broadberry, Topps Tiles, Lipault, La Coqueta and Flight Centre.  

Many new shops have cropped up in their place – for instance Heath Street Bakehouse, Cannacares, Kojo, Dandie Dog Cafe, Bread Ahead, Cubitts, Peony, and Da Cheffone.  

Gail’s bakery meanwhile has taken over from Le Pain Quotidien, and Ole & Steen has assumed the old Café Rouge. 

Ole & Steen opens a new branch at 38-40 Hampstead High Street NW3 on 22.03.21. Staff give out free s

Ole & Steen opens a new branch at 38-40 Hampstead High Street NW3 on 22.03.21. Staff give out free samples of the brand’s signature Cinnamon Socials from the front of the shop. - Credit: Polly Hancock

A new charity, Go Dharmic, has set up a temporary store in the former Gap clothes shop, and the optician Jimmy Fairly is set to replace Organic Pharmacy. Sainsbury’s meanwhile is planning to open in the Gap Kids premises later this year.  

Despite these encouraging signs, prime sites remain empty including the former Natwest and Lloyds banks.

The future of the former Hampstead police station remains uncertain too, after a planning appeal for Abacus Belsize Primary School to move in was turned down. The building, owned by the Department for Education, has been put up for sale.

And as for pubs, in South End Green the Magdala Tavern – closed since 2014 – is set to return next month, amid much anticipation. Elsewhere, there is still hope that pints can be pulled once again at the former Rosslyn Arms.  

As lockdown restrictions ease, there are calls for Camden Council to introduce more streateries – outdoor dining areas – to help boost Hampstead businesses in hospitality. 

But while commercial demand appears to remain largely intact, and residents gradually return to the high street during the phased easing of lockdown, other challenges simultaneously arise.  

Grinding to a halt

The school run on Heath Street, Hampstead. Picture: Polly Hancock

The school run on Heath Street, Hampstead. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Issues of traffic and congestion have long troubled Hampstead, and they have resurfaced in recent months. 

Prominent, busy roads such as the High Street, Heath Street and South End Green regularly face gridlock.  

Traffic is worsened by Hampstead having the highest concentration of schools in Europe, as many parents drive in and out for the school run.   

The area faces different logistical challenges being atop a hill, akin to more of a suburban neighbourhood.  

Hampstead also has the oldest average age in the borough, and many elderly and disabled residents rely on their car to navigate the many climbs, and to complete everyday tasks. 

Outside Keith Fawkes in Flask Walk

Outside Keith Fawkes in Flask Walk - Credit: Polly Hancock

Both groups have voiced opposition to recent road changes. This frustration, often expressed through the feeling they are not being listened to, covers plans for cycle lanes in Haverstock Hill, which many of the elderly and disabled say will harm their access by taking away parking.  

So how can these issues be tackled, without disadvantaging many vulnerable residents, at a time when there needs to be consensus on moving towards a greener, more sustainable future? 

The council and Transport for London have set out to try to develop the borough’s walking and cycling provision, to move people away from private car use.  

Alternative schemes have been suggested, including increased infrastructure for electric vehicles; greater access to car-sharing; more timed road closures around schools; and the introduction of privately run local bus services.  

Is Hampstead being overdeveloped? 

There are growing concerns over how the government’s planning reforms will affect Hampstead’s high streets.  

To try to tackle a nationwide shortage of housing, Whitehall has set out plans to make it easier for landlords to convert shops into homes.  

But there are fears this could disrupt the presence and mix of businesses in Hampstead Village, while hollowing away its soul and character.   

Community groups and neighbours worry planning decisions will be made without proper consideration and consultation of local residents.  

South End Road

South End Road - Credit: Michael Boniface

There are concerns that such loosening of regulations may accelerate the overdevelopment of Hampstead’s properties and natural assets.  

And as people shift away from the office and towards home working, how does physical space need to be reimagined? 

Residents have been forced into an odd form of neighbourhood retreat by restrictions on movement. But as a result, many people have reconnected with their area.  

This appreciation for the local has reflected a rare bright spot of the pandemic.  

How should the future look? 

Hampstead High Street. Picture: Ken Mears

Hampstead High Street. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Against the backdrop of these changes, challenges and rediscoveries, a sense of returning to normality is still likely to be the first priority for many people in Hampstead. 

Beyond the short-term, however, the economic and social fractures of the pandemic may offer an opportunity to rethink how people live – where they go, how they get there, and what they do.   

Could there be new flexible workspace shared by the community? How about low-traffic neighbourhoods for cleaner air?  

And how can we protect local nature? Could Sainsbury’s make the area more affordable? Is there room for another creperie? 

So much has changed over the past year. The goalposts have moved – and Hampstead should have its say in how they’re put back.  

Join the discussion

Hampstead High Street

Hampstead High Street - Credit: Michael Boniface

The Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum has launched a survey inviting the local community to discuss the future of both Hampstead Village and South End Green.  

The forum is posing questions to residents, businesses and anyone connected with Hampstead to gather an understanding of how its town centres can be used and improved in the future.  

The survey – “The evolving high street: the future of Hampstead's village centres” – began on Thursday (April 15) in partnership with the Ham&High.  

The first set of questions gives people a chance to assess the current climate and express their views on what is working, and what isn’t.  

The survey then asks how the pandemic has changed life in Hampstead; how people will go about their lives differently; and how people’s needs of the high street are evolving.  

The Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum is a voluntary group, set up by residents, which uses a local plan to help guide developments in NW3. 

Its survey on the future of the high street will close on April 29. Complete the questionnaire at www.hampsteadforum.org