Swains Lane 15th August Meeting

posted 20 Aug 2012, 07:19 by dartmouth park   [ updated 20 Aug 2012, 07:30 ]


Below is a summary of the Public Meeting held  last Wednesday evening, 15 August.  In writing up the content, it was not our intention to list each speaker (some of whom prefer not to be identified) nor a detailed record of every item mentioned.  This would make for a very long e-mail and one that most people would not bother to read.


The objective is to recap the 'concepts' discussed to help everyone think about the issues we face and how to address them.  


You have received this e-mail because you have added your name to the e-mailing list or are part of an existing list from a group involved with this issue.  It is possible therefore, that you may receive a more than one copy.  For this we apologise.  If so, simply press delete.  



Many thanks to everyone who attended the meeting at St. Anne's Church.  Thanks especially to Julian de Metz, the local architect who assembled a professional assessment of the proposed development and to Father Andrew Meldrum, who chaired the meeting and allowed us the use of the facilities.


The developers agent, Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, must also be acknowledged for their cooperation in providing the presentation materials of the proposed project as well as creating the website http://www.swainslane.org/, where more information can be found.  They were invited to attend the meeting, give a short presentation and answer questions, but chose not to participate.


In attendance were an estimated nearly 300 individuals composed of residents and regular visitors to the lane, local shopkeepers, representatives of the Dartmouth Park and Holly Lodge Estate CAACs, Highgate & DP Neighbourhood Forum committees, residents' associations, councillors Maya deSouza, Valeria Leach, Roger Robinson and the media.  Links to stories appearing in the Camden New Journal and Ham & High following the meeting can be found at the bottom of this e-mail.



After a brief introduction by Father Andrew, Julian de Metz presented a factual assessment of the proposed Swain's Lane development plan.  He began with a discussion of the conservation area, of which Swain's Lane is very much apart.  In particular, he noted some of its unique features and questioned whether or not they would be lost to the development:

• Semi-rural character, open boundary to Parliament Hill important

• Historically, only local pressure has prevented this area from becoming built up

• Junction of Swains Lane and Highgate West Hill is an ‘important landmark in the area’

• Leafy tree canopy defines character

• Interesting extensive views, and pleasing local vistas

• Unusual, curved single storey parade identified and highlighted as contributing substantially in design, scale, function

• St Anne’s church spire ‘visible over the top of the shops’

• Quality of darkness at night


He summarised the main points of the scheme:

• Single large retail unit – Waitrose or similar grocery outlet

• 3 smaller retail units

•18 private flats – 3 x 1 beds, 15 x 2 beds

• 8 affordable flats – 7 x 1 beds, 1 x 3 bed

• 9 car parking spaces

• Large loading bay on Highgate West Hill


He spoke about the footprint of the new structures, the loss of existing open space, the additional elements (such as the effect of the loading bay, the tall lift shaft at the back, the loss of sunlight in the afternoon, the reduction of the curve in the existing parade, the obstructed views of the Heath looking south and the church spire and greenery looking north and the sheer  bulk of the new structures.)


Julian concluded by raising some key questions to think about:

• What is the special character of Swains Lane?

• Does the proposal preserve and enhance the retail character?

• Is a large supermarket a gain, neutral, or a loss to our developing café culture?

• Will it neutralise or enliven frontages?

• Can existing or similar businesses compete?

• To what extent will the development create bulk and massing – increased height of building, increased plan form?

• Is the change in openness welcomed?

• How much of the spire and tree view will be lost?

• How will it affect the shape – loss of curved corner to square one?

• Will it block the evening sun outside Kalendar?

• Is the formal style appropriate for this relaxed area?


• What can we do?


He then went on to address questions about the presentation from the floor.


Speakers and Comments:

More than fifteen people spoke from the floor on behalf of various groups and as private citizens.  The councillors also took the floor.  Rather than provide a detailed list of items attributed to specific individuals, however, below is a summary of some of the many salient points which were made:

  • The Heath and, by extension, Swain's Lane have been called the "lungs of London."  Will these be lost because of the project ?  Will Swain's Lane no longer be q treasured retreat ?
  • The bulk of the structures surprised a number of people; in part because of the fourth storey (previous applications had fewer) and the encroachment on the pavement (including the loading bay.  The new building actually extends three meters closer to Highgate West Hill)
  • The present structures have been allowed to become run-down and are not worth saving.  However, the new structures are considered to be far worse than what currently exists.  They will detract from the lane and change the character of the neighbourhood.
  • Concerns were raised about the proposed supermarket with questions about the volume of business to be generated by shoppers who do not have cars (and no place to park for those who do.)  There was consensus that the large retail unit would adversely affect the local shops and drive out of business the greengrocer, florist, most likely the butcher, chemist and possibly the news agent.  It may even have an adverse effect on Tesco at the other end of the lane, thereby resulting in more vacant shops than those now fully occupied and possibly instigating the arrival of more high street chain outlets.
  • The issue of where do those few shopkeepers who might occupy the new building go and what do they do for the anticipated two years of construction.
  • The drawings and "photoshopped" pictures were considered misleading in showing the perspective and the number and location of the trees / greenery.
  • There were many who felt that smaller retail units (limited size of outlets in sq. footage) would preclude big / chain retailers and minimise the amount of traffic on the lane.
  • Over and over people spoke about the structures, their proximity to the Heath and the effect they would have on the views, the green space, the ambience and the general feeling of the lane.
  • Questions were raised about the new schemes being put forward by the borough to hand back the process to the community (such as the neighbourhood forums) and why this isn't being included.  It was felt by some that the developer was presenting the project as a fait accompli by not consulting with the community before the plans (or more importantly, the brief to the architect) were drawn up.
  • Some were critical of the design of the building itself (Neo-Georgian…"if we build fakes, future generations will only remember us for fakes"); cheeky; inept and a work that was designed to be scaled back as the objections were raised (e.g. Remove one of the storeys.)
  • The loading bay is viewed as a definite road hazard from traffic (especially for cyclists) going south down Highgate West Hill (as well as a noise polluter to Brookfield Mansions from those early morning and weekend deliveries).  Many referenced the loss of the footpath and the concern of safety for the many schoolchildren in the area.

Overall, there were many speakers and numerous points to be considered.  The general feeling, however seems to be a combination of:

  • Disappointment after two previous unsuccessful attempts to submit a plan in which the shopkeepers and residents were not consulted before plans were presented in July
  • A deep desire to be a part of / contribute to the process so that the end result reflects the feeling and spirit of the neighbourhood while addressing the economic needs of the owner
  • A very, VERY 

Closing comments and next steps:

It should be noted that at the close of the meeting, a show of hands was taken of those in favour or opposed to the project.  We believe it is fair to say that there was unanimity in the opposition and no one appeared to be in favour of it in its present form.  


The distribution of these notes is the first step on the long road ahead.  A smaller Steering Committee representing the various affected groups from the shopkeepers, residents, conservation area committees and professionals is being formed to harness the resources and engage individuals in various disciplines to support this effort.  We already have had volunteers step forward to provide a logo, develop a website and work with the local and national press.


Here are the links to the most recent articles in the Camden New Journal



And Ham & High



Although not active yet, our website address is http://www.saveswainslane.com/


Don't forget, there is more information available on our Facebook page, Save Swains Lane,  Also, the email address save.swains.lane@live.com at which people can contact us; the Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/SaveSwainsLane  and its hashtag #saveswainslane.


In the meantime, please hold your e-mails and letters to Camden Council until the plan has been formally submitted and we can mount a unified and massive protest.  At the moment, the first pre-planning meeting is scheduled for 22 August, so the formal plan is unlikely to be submitted before the end of September or early October.


Thanks you again for your involvement and support.