21 January 2016

Ham and Petersham Neighbourhood Forum: Opportunity Areas workshop

The second Ham and Petersham Neighbourhood Forum Drop In Draft Policy Workshop was on Opportunity Areas and asked residents for their views on issues relating new development.

The questions posed got to the heart of what defines Ham and, unsurprisingly, I had lots of comments to make on various forms provided for that purpose.

I said that I think that Ham Lands should remain sacrosanct with, just possibly, some minor exceptions for small sensitive buildings on the edges, such as a sports pavilion on St George's Field.

On some of the bigger potential sites, e.g. Cassel Hospital and St Michael's Convent, I was prepared to be more adventurous that most people. These are prominent brick-built buildings facing onto Ham Common with lots of open space behind them and there is an obvious temptation to try and leave things much as they are but I would be willing to see striking modern buildings take their place (apart from the section of Cassel that is listed) and to have more building behind them, subject to sufficient provision being made for wildlife habitats and corridors.

There are many examples of modern buildings sitting alongside old ones and I would much rather see a sensational new building that a bland old one or, even worse, a bland new one trying to look like an old one. We have enough of those on Ham Common already. Similarly, while the large gardens are attractive, or have the potential to be so, they cannot be seen from the road and are rarely open to the public. Ham has accepted and come to love new buildings in the past and can do so again.

I was was happy to support the suggestion of more social housing and would like this to look attractive and modern too. A display board showed some examples of what could be achieved.

Irrespective of the type of housing I wanted the character of the area maintained and that means good landscaping in the spaces between the buildings and lots of paths to make the area permeable. There are a couple of land-locked areas in Ham and I find these deeply frustrating.

Another area where I disagreed to some extent on the proposals was on building heights. This was related to the many small sites, often housing disused garages today, where it was suggested that low-rise buildings would be appropriate. I made that comment that mid-rise, say five storey, could also be suitable. There are taller buildings around, there is nothing wrong with a little height per se and we need to make the best use of the spaces that are available otherwise the pressure will be there to intrude into some of the green spaces.

I also wanted our existing good buildings recognised and protected and that includes some examples from the 20th Century, such as 59 Ham Street, and not just the historical hunting lodges.

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