Minister says West Hampstead development deal does not pass his ‘smell test’
Tories question plan for West End Lane site
30 May, 2017 — By Tom Foot
Industry and climate change minister Nick Hurd met with staff at Travis Perkins and Conservative Claire-Louise Leyland
A DECISION to replace a long-standing builders merchants with a housing and office development “does not pass my smell test”, a government minister said, as he arrived in West Hampstead to help the Conservative campaign.
Industry and climate change minister Nick Hurd met with staff at Travis Perkins and Conservative Claire-Louise Leyland on Monday afternoon. The firm is being forced to leave its base after 24 years after the council sold off the site at 156 West End Lane, also home to disused council offices, to a housing developer.
Mr Hurd said: “I’d have to ask: has this been really fully thought through? We have to find the right balance between securing the housing we need and keeping the things that make communities work. It looks like it’s going to take 30 jobs away from the area and there is a concern about overdevelopment.”
He added: “The second concern is around planning process. Travis Perkins is saying we appear to be dealing with a different set of rules on one site, to the other site. If you have a major employer, long standing, saying it is dealing with a different set of rules here to another site that we own, well, that doesn’t quite pass my smell test.”
Travis Perkins staff told the minister that during a similar development in King’s Cross they had been allowed to stay on the newly rebuilt site. In that case the company was the freeholder, but at West End Lane they are a leaseholder to the council.
The Mayor of London’s office has reviewed the process and Sadiq Khan has already said that he would not be intervening in Camden’s approval of the scheme. The Town Hall says it will provide 78 “affordable” homes alongside the private homes in the new block, while proceeds from the sale of the land – more than £20million – will go into public services.
Cllr Leyland said: “I think as the owner of the site, the council could have supported the local business more. They talk a lot about supporting local business, but people who have worked there for 20 years are losing their jobs. There was no real interest in that side of thing during the planning process.”
Labour councillor Theo Blackwell said: “The plans to build more affordable homes at 156 West End Lane have been backed by Mayor Sadiq Khan. It shows poor judgment for Claire-Louise Leyland and Camden Conservatives to align themselves to a company that is trying to use an election as leverage. What they wanted in their business interests did not conform with what the owner of the land wanted to do with it.”
He added: “The reason why these offices were empty is because we had fewer staff because of government cuts. We were not going to keep redundant space. In the end, we got more than £20m for it, that is going directly back into public services.”