It would seem that all-out war has been declared on New End. The levels of noise and destruction, of heavy machinery and boots on the ground certainly indicate that an army of occupation has moved in.
The old nurse’s home has been reduced to rubble, the road closed for at least six weeks, The White Bear (a registered community asset) remains boarded up and all for what? The construction of more yuppy homes hiding behind iron gates.
Oh and then there’s the closure of East Heath road so that some oligarch can have the wall to his big house rebuilt (will he use the opportunity to put razor wire and glass on top of it?). One man’s whim causing chaos for everyone else and pumping traffic and pollution through Hampstead’s narrow backstreets. Oh and then there are all the basements being constructed not to mention the Chinese lions that have taken up residence in Gayton Road! What is going on?!
When I moved here back in the 1990s it was to enjoy the village life I’d grown up with in rural West Sussex amid the amenities and vibrancy of London. Hampstead was a happy mix of those who’d been born and brought up here, those who worked in the area, those just passing through and those who like me fell in love with it’s laid-back vibe the moment we stepped off the 46 bus. What I remember from then is the diversity of ages and backgrounds I found among my neighbours and people’s willingness to stop and chat as they meandered down its quiet, leafy streets. There was a genuinely vibrant sense of community.
Nowadays you’re lucky if you can hear yourself speak above the screech of drills and pounding of pile drivers, let alone breathe for all the brick dust and diesel fumes. A trip to the mini-market in New End is like a game of Frogger with skip lorries, and any health benefits I might have got by given up smoking are choked off by the unacceptable levels of man-made pollution.
And I repeat, what’s it all for? A handful of luxury flats that only fat cats can preen themselves in, with a subterranean carpark for their oversized ego carriers and a gym so that they don’t have to mix with the hoi-polloi at any of the local amenities.
And who benefits. Neither the casual visitor hoping to enjoy the tranquillity of this historic area, nor the shop-keepers who depend upon their passing trade. And certainly not us. Not the resident population who ho love the tree-lined, sleepy old Hampstead and appreciated the fact that the nurses in our local hospital had a place to live in our community, that our firemen didn’t have to drive down from Milton Keynes every morning because they can’t afford to live in the area, that our shop workers didn’t lose their first two hours wages each day to the cost of commuting in to work. They alas have all been driven out like so many red squirrels by the rapacious greed of property developers who are turning Hampstead into a habitat for an acquisitive, non-native species of grey squirrels who view property not as a home but an investment to be capitalised on.
Hampstead feels less and less like home with every square foot that gets tossed into the skip of memory. I realise that we live in a conservation and not a preservation area, but no place should ever become the preserve of a narrow section of society. Sometimes it feels like the rapine development of Hampstead into an area of gated communities and subterranean bunkers has been designed by its architects to be as noisy and unpleasant as possible (the US Army employs much the same tactics to achieve its ends).
So next time a skip lorry laden with New End spoil threatens to crush you into the pavement, or your throat and eyes burn with brick dust and you head throbs to the percussion of jack-hammers, ask yourself just what is being demolished here, a few old buildings or is a community being deliberately besieged?