18 January 2016

Ham United Group Meeting: January 2016

I have been going to Ham United Group (HUG) meetings fairly regularly but have been much less good at writing them up afterwards and it is this tardiness that means my last post on HUG was two years ago, not my enthusiasm for the organisation.

I was keen to get to this meeting as it was discussing the proposed redevelopment of the Ham Close site and lots of other people were keen to discuss it too as the meeting room at Ham Library was full. I was not counting but there must have been around thirty of use there which is a good turn-out for a HUG meeting.

The main stakeholders in the Ham Close Uplift Programme are the landlord, Richmond Housing Partnership, and the other major land owner, Richmond Council, both of whom were represented at the meeting.

They opened by saying that the revised plans expected in early 2016 would not now be ready until the Summer and went on to say that almost everything in those plans was open for discussion. That was good news for residents who did not like the old plan but it made the discussion rather open ended.

For information only, this is what the previous scheme looked like. It redeveloped the whole site, encroaching on to the Village Green as it did so and it approximately doubled the number of units from around 200 to 400.

Current residents of the blocks in Ham Close (understandably) raised several issues of direct concern to them from the affordability of the new units and their size compared to the current accommodation. I am in no position to comment on the details of this but I think that securing the support of the current residents, leaseholders and tenants, is important.

Traffic was mentioned a few times by residents concerned about both the main Petersham Road that is the only way in/out of Ham and also the roads within Ham that already struggle with cars parked on narrow streets. There was a request that people be encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport but not much in the way of ideas for how this could be achieved.

Design was the other main issue with comments like, "This is not Ham, this is just a land-grab." It was pointed out that Ham is rich with architects and one of them spoke about the architectural heritage which includes a lot of notable twentieth century development such as Parkleys and Langham Close. Several of us, including me, called for an iconic development rather than something bland like we had seen so far. It was suggested that the scheme should go out to architectural contest and that many imaginative firms would be keen to go in for this. I was reminded of a recent exhibition by Karakusevic Carson Architects at RIBA. Social housing can be exciting and I want that for Ham Close.

There were several comments made about the types of accommodation to be provided with calls for lots of social housing that is genuinely affordable and a mix of sizes to suit different families and also sharers.

It was a constructive and (generally) well-tempered discussion but while I generally support the idea of rebuild I was left with the feeling that there is a long way to go to get to a good scheme.

We ran through the other HUG news quite quickly. The Ham Hydro scheme has gone to appeal. This is an appeal against the Council so there is nothing we can do except sit back and wait. A Forest School was proposing to build a structure on Ham Lands. Not much information was known and views varied from it would only be a shed to there should be no more building on Ham Lands. St. Michael's Convent on Ham Common had been sold to a developer of retirement homes. While this suggested its new use but it was pointed out that in planning terms residential is residential so it could be any residential use, or mix of uses.

I left the meeting enlivened by the engagement with things that impact where I live and heartened that so many other people care about these things too.

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