2020 the Year of Neighbourhood Action

What does good public engagement look like?

The idea that communities have a right to shape the future of their neighbourhoods has taken root in recent years.

Since 2011 people have had greater powers over the planning process, thanks to the Localism Act, which introduced a host of new initiatives to give residents a meaningful role in local development. Neighbourhood Plans were introduced to allow local residents to set the framework for how their area changes. Community Right to Build Orders were created to allow local people to develop without planning permission.

On the surface, these are radical policy reforms, but there have been relatively low levels of uptake. Why? These initiatives quite rightly include hurdles, in terms of local referendums, to ensure accountability, and also require long-term and dedicated resource. Planning and development are complex, particularly in a city like London.

These barriers and layers of complexity mean that most residents still experience the planning system through more traditional mechanisms, such as formal consultation on planning applications. Consultations tend to come at the end of the planning process and focus on giving residents a thumbs-up or -down to a specific proposal, rather than an ongoing discussion about how the neighbourhood may change.

This is why, despite the renewed emphasis on community engagement in planning policy, many people feel outside of the process and perceive that there is little scope for influencing new developments. And, on the side of the developer, too often community engagement is viewed as a planning risk to be mitigated, rather than as part of a genuine effort to involve locals in decision making.

How can developers and local authorities better engage local people in the planning process? Here are seven ideas. This list is not intended to be comprehensive. It summarises the discussion from a recent roundtable and identifies areas of consensus.

1. Be strategic

Currently, public debate and larger-scale engagement in strategic plans has been limited, including for opportunity areas planning frameworks and the London Plan itself. Creating a shared vision for a city of nearly 10 million people is clearly a huge undertaking, but the big debates about London’s future should inform the next London Plan, not simply respond to it.

2. Start early

Residents must be involved from the outset so that plans can be tailored in response to feedback, or even co-produced, with regular communication over the course of a project. Early and prolonged relationship building with local people can build a coalition of support, help convey the potential benefits, and also bring local knowledge to bear in scheme design.

3. Modernise methods

Traditional approaches to public engagement are often perceived as a tick box exercise. Other alternatives to the yes-no vote on specific proposals include welcome events, resident days, design exhibitions and exploring opportunities for local people to try new visualisation technologies.

4. Talk about money

Planning and development involves choices – between density and open space, between social rented and share ownership housing, between internal space standards and gardens, between parking spaces and bus stops. All these choices ultimately boil down to money – what a developer can afford to spend, based on the price they paid for land, the values they hope to achieve, and the profits they seek to make.  Talking more openly about how these factors interact can result in a conversation that is more pragmatic, more open and ultimately more capable of reaching agreement.

5. Do what you say

Features of a development might be promised but then not delivered on, which can be toxic to existing relationships with the community. Expectations need to be better managed; some feel that the development industry can be reluctant to say ‘no’, and to explain the financial and other constraints that are at play. Local people are pragmatic and perceptive enough to understand the potential trade-offs, so there is certainly the capacity for greater honesty in the system.

6. Focus on the benefits

Successful developers have changed the narrative from simply ‘changing the built form’, to revitalising a community, through providing training, employment opportunities, community assets and facilities. Undoubtedly, communities want to see a lasting benefit from developments. Arrangements could be more formalised as a ‘deal’ between local residents and developers, where the community negotiates on their own behalf the benefits to be delivered from new building.

7. Embrace the ballot

In 2018, the Mayor of London introduced mandatory ballots for estate regeneration schemes seeking mayoral funding and including the demolition of affordable homes or homes which were previously social homes. Early experiences of the ballots have been positive. If there is a good turnout and a strong, positive response to the plans, ballots give architects and developers a mandate with local authorities. Balloting also makes developers ‘do more’; it can take more time and energy to get people on side (with numerous one-to-one discussions), but ultimately this will provide people with more detail and a greater incentive to put forward a more considered approach to design.

Find out more in this PAPER on trust, design & community engagement

Read this next: Why we need to properly fund planning departments

Sara Gariban is a Senior Researcher at Centre for London. Follow her on Twitter.

Camden Updates Basement policy

The Camden Local Plan 2017 includes policy A5 on basement development which updates and expands former basement policies. It places specific restrictions on the scale of basements and their impact. You can object and the Basement Impact Assessment is a good place to start.


Where the proposed development includes a new or extended basement a detailed technical statement must be submitted by the applicant assessing the impact of the development on drainage, flooding, groundwater conditions and structural stability. This information should be contained within a Basement Impact Assessment (BIA) which is specific to site and proposal.

Updated guidance 2018

  • Planning Guidance:  On 26th March 2018 the Council formally adopted Camden Planning Guidance : Basements. The Guidance was prepared to support the policies in the Camden Local Plan 2017. It should be read in conjunction with the relevant policies in the Local Plan. The Guidance replaces Camden Planning Guidance 4: Basements and Lightwells (July 2015).
  • Audit review: Basement Impact Assessments are technical documents which must be prepared in accordance with planning policies and guidance and submitted with planning applications for basement development. The Council obtains independent audits of BIAs from Campbell Reith Consulting Engineers in order to ensure that they meet the technical policy requirements.
  • Camden has produced a ‘BIA pro forma’ and a help note on ‘Defining the Scope of Engineering input to preparing BIAs’ in order to help applicants who are preparing planning applications for basement development.

The BIA will be submitted to an independant technical audit by Cambell Reith and covers the following details:

The soundness of :
a) the conceptual model with regards to ground and groundwater conditions
b) the consideration given to structural condition of neighbouring properties
c) identification of the likely impact on land stability and the structural integrity of the neighbouring properties
d) identification of the likely impact on hydrogeology
e) identification of the likely impact on hydrology
f) the scope of completed ground investigations with the presumption that invasive ground investigation should take place in all instances
g) appropriately conservative modelling used in reaching the BIA assumptions including anticipated structural damage categorised according to the Burland Scale, and conclusions (mindful that Campbell Reith shall use professional judgement in respect of calculations in the audit material and are not required to carry out any detailed calculations or checking of specific figures)
h) proposals for ongoing monitoring of groundwater levels
i) measures to ensure the on-going maintenance and upkeep of the basement and ground water management measures
j) temporary works methodologies, requirements and recommendations for construction contractors
k) the inter-compatibility of the assessments, findings and conclusions of all BIA
l) an outline methodology for monitoring and responding to ground water levels and structural movement
m) Identification of relevant cumulative impacts on land stability and local ground and surface water conditions arising from the basement development

Network Rail destroys West Hampstead Green Assets.


Trees removed by Network Rail September 2018

It is established in UK law, in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 Section 198, that trees have value as a public amenity and therefore local planning authorities are given a duty to protect trees in the public interest.

CAVAT (Capital Asset Value for Amenity Trees)  is used by the London Tree Officers Association as an asset management tool for trees that are publicly owned, or of public importance, to express their value in monetary terms directly related to the public benefits that each particular tree provides – as if it were a financial asset of the community. Applied to the trees removed last week behind Sherriff Road – and many others are planned for destruction by Network Rail this month in other communities along the tracks as far as Wembley – we have lost thousands of pounds of green assets.

cavat2Network Rail explains: “We appreciate that cutting back vegetation can be a sensitive issue and therefore take great care when planning this type of work. Vegetation work on the railway near to your property however is necessary so that we can maintain and operate a safe and punctual railway. We remove trees that are tall enough to fall into the path of a train or onto critical railway infrastructure. We also look to remove problematic broad leaf species (such as ash and sycamore) that can have a detrimental effect on rail adhesion which can lead to safety related incidents and disrupted train travel. We did also undertake an ecological survey and environmental appraisal for the vegetation works, in line with best practice guidance to identify any protected habitats or species”

National Crisis

Guardian Exclusive: Plan to stop leaves and branches falling on lines has already led to thousands of trees being chopped down

Tree felling by Network Rail
Tree felling by Network Rail. The company has identified so called ’hotspots’ where mature trees might cause a problem at some time in the future. Photograph: Ray Walton

Thousands of poplars, sycamores, limes, ash trees and horse chestnuts have already been chopped down across the country from Yorkshire to Dorset, and the scale of the potential destruction outlined in a Network Rail blueprint involves 10m trees growing within 60 metres of track.

Network Rail, the public body that owns and manages much of Britain’s railway infrastructure, disputes that millions of trees are at risk, and that its felling operation is secretive or represents a change in practice. After publication of this article, the organisation’s head of media, Kevin Groves, said in an email: “We are not a logging company or a paper making company – we have no need or desire to remove all the trees from the railway. Our job is to run trains, and run them reliably and safely and to do so we have to manage our lineside vegetation carefully and responsibly and that’s exactly what we do.” This enabled Network Rail “to both maintain and look after the trees on our estate, as well as remove dangerous ones and those minority of species that can cause reliability and safety problems in the autumn. Biodiversity matters to us.”

From Regulator – Office of Rail & Road (ORR) – Complaints about Network Rail

“Network Rail is responsible for the railway network. This includes:

  • line-side maintenance including vegetation and fencing
  • track quality
  • environmental issues such as noise and vibration, pollution and graffiti
  • railway structures such as bridges, station buildings, overhead lines, tunnels and signalling
  • network maintenance, particularly engineering work and speed restrictions
  • property issues including changes to use of railway land

You should try to resolve your complaint with Network Rail first.

We provide information on what Network Rail is responsible for and how you can make a complaint or enquiry. But Network Rail’s licence is designed so that our regulatory controls are at a high level, so we are unlikely to be able to intervene in many individual complaints.”

Over the last fortnight, people have woken to the sound of chainsaws and expressed concern at the lack of consultation and the scale of the destruction. Who are they to turn to? Who is holding Network Rail accountable?

Click on links below for further info & to have your say:


Network Rail: Stop Network Rail Chopping Down Millions of Trees!

WHGARA – 8 years on

cropped-whgara-logo-2.pngWest Hampstead Gardens and Residents Association (WHGARA) was started in 2011 to oppose inappropriate rear extensions at the back of adjoining houses in the neighbourhood. It evolved into an activist, committed campaigning group which fights to protect West Hampstead’s social, environmental and community assets during a period of intense change and overdevelopment.  Its membership covers Hemstal Road, Sherriff Road and the roads between but we also welcome residents from other nearby areas to join as friends. Below is a list of neighbourhood issues which we have been involved in over the past four years.


  • Ballymore (West End Square)
  • Broadhurst Gardens
  • Iverson Road (former nursery and tyre centres)
  • Liddell Road development
  • London Overground Station
  • 156 West End Lane
  • West Hampstead Overground Station

Concerns expressed about the impact of developments:

  • Buildings too high and / or too large,
  • Destroying character of the area and setting a precedent for further over-development,
  • Too much residential development without sufficient education, health or transport infrastructure,
  • Insufficient proportion of affordable housing,
  • Loss of affordable business space,
  • Architectural design and landscaping issues
  • Wholesale destruction of mature trees

WHGARA’s represents the views of local people whose lives will potentially be affected by these developments, putting forward our concerns to appropriate individuals and organisations with the aim of influencing outcomes.

Actions Taken:

  • Monitoring development proposals as early as possible and obtaining information prior to submission of planning applications
  • Keeping members informed about what’s happening and discussing this at meetings / via email etc
  • Attending public exhibitions and consultations about forthcoming developments,
  • Commenting on and where necessary objecting to proposed developments prior to planning application stage, by writing & speaking to local councillors, other council members, council officials, the local MP, Network Rail, developers and any other involved agencies (Thames Water, TFL, London Overground, etc)
  • Representing members’ views at Development Management Forums and providing feedback to WHGARA membership
  • Development Control Committee – attending meetings or writing & making submissions to them.
  • Studying council planning policy in detail and keeping up with Camden, London Plan and NDF Plan.
  • Direct action: Tree Vigil demonstration (Ballymore), participating in demonstration against 156 West End Lane, opposing Network Rail tree felling programme,
  • Supporting and Liaising with other local groups campaigning against excessive development, e.g. Save Swiss Cottage, Save West Hampstead: Stop the Blocks
  • Formal responses to planning applications.
  • During construction – representation on Community Construction Group re construction issues – e.g. traffic, noise, pollution.


  • The tube station – urgent need for development and lift
  • Traffic management and road & pavement safety on West End Lane
  • Parking issues (disabled parking, bike & cycle parking, taxi parking)
  • Smaller planning applications
  • Excessive and potentially damaging basement and development
  • Conversion of part of St James’s Church to Post Office etc
  • Entertainment and alcohol licence applications (Grange Park and St James Church)
  • Noise (e.g. scaffolding alarms) and threat of noise (e.g. Grange Park events)
  • Litter and Dog dirt
  • Fly tipping, need for well-maintained recycling sites
  • Poor waste management collections & failing fortnightly bin collections
  • Local car crime, break-ins and antisocial behaviour
  • Homelessness and rough sleepers
  • Opposing evening hot food market on Thameslink forecourt – lack of consultation and poor management.
  • Highlighting xcessive & ugly advertising – estate agents’ boards and large farmers’ market tree banners,
  • Too many estate agents occupying small business premises on West End Lane
  • Pavement clutter (e.g. Christmas trees on sale, advertising boards)
  • Questioning need for Eruv
  • Suggesting reform of Neighbourhood Development Forum constitution and practices
  • The Local List (for conservation)
  • Legible London signs
  • CIL Funding priorities
  • TFL Overground Station development

WHGARA is apolitical and aims to represent and support all the views of local people without fear or favour to influence outcomes where possible. As a responsive, informed local group, we engage with issues on behalf of residents and ratepayers.

Actions Taken:

  • Informing residents, members and friends about current and future issues – bringing concerns to meetings for discussion and decisions -by vote -on action.
  • Communicating our views to relevant authorities, council members, council officers, the police, trades people, the church etc
  • Keeping an open dialogue with local councillors.
  • Inviting guest speakers from local police, ‘West Hampstead Life’ blogger, basement development experts, local councillors, council offices (street environment), StreetSafe team leader, Veolia etc
  • Responding to formal consultations about council policy, petitions , planning and licencing applications, spending of CIL money,
  • Representation at planning and licensing decision meetings
  • Attending formal meetings about council policy, including Camden’s annual transport policy meetings, Camden Safer Neighbourhood Policy meetings, future of West Hampstead Library meetings, Neighbourhood Development Forum meetings – putting forward members’ views , suggestions for constitutional and financial reform and reporting back to members
  • Influencing the writing of the Neighbourhood Development Plan – commenting on drafts and attending workshops of the NDF
  • Contact with other local groups e.g. WHAT, CRASH, the NDF, MILAM, NW6 and other residents’ groups.
  • Direct Action: Cleaned up rubbish at local Green space (Netherwood Street) for proposed public use. Liaised with Camden Green Space, the Green Gym, Camden Council and Cleanup UK. Made proposals to the council on the future of the space.
  • Supporting local small traders in relation to loss of business space.



All Aboard?

Due to engineering problems, the plans for the re- development of a new overground station in the centre of West Hampstead need to be modified.

The bridge under the existing station building is over 140 years old and owned by Network Rail. It’s in worse condition than previous structural assessments had indicated. A 30cm slab of concrete on top of the bridge adding to the loading was discovered and had not been not shown on any previous drawings or structural assessments. Network Rail and London Overground Engineers are in agreement that this concrete slab should not be removed as this is likely to further damage the bridge.

Removing the existing station building and providing a wider footway would result in a weak area of the bridge being exposed to accidental wheel loading which all bridges must now be designed to account for when there is a possibility of a large vehicle ending up on the bridge either intentionally or accidentally.

A scaled down modernised new station can be built with a modified design integrating the existing brick station entrance as a colonnade.

O:G station revised 1

Integrated colonnade proposal

Failing agreement (and there is some community dispute) the existing station entrance will be boarded up (below is an example not a replica) until resources close to £1 million are found  sometime in the future to repair or replace the bridge and provide for heavier loading at the front meeting required bridge safety standards. Network Rail’s funding plans are made for 5-6 years ahead and do not include this project.

WHGARA have requested a wide public consultation to ensure that ordinary residents and transport users have a voice in the necessary design compromise which will either blight or protect the centre of West Hampstead ‘village’.  Support us by commenting on this post.