One of my neighbours at the top end of Fortune Green always talks about “going to the village” when she is going down the hill to West End Lane. This always strikes me as charming, if a little odd, coming as I do from a proper village in the country, but I know when people talk about West Hampstead they often refer to the “villagey feel” as one of the things that make it special. And, in fact, there are those who say London is actually just a collection of villages!
So West Hampstead is different from Hampstead or St John’s Wood or Highgate and does have its own identity – but what gives it that identity? Like our posher neighbour up in NW3 we have a tube station, a bus terminus and a “village green” with public lavatories; a police station and a library , a post office and a “parish church”. Additionally here we have a synagogue and a fire station which are both listed buildings while we probably both have an equal number of estate agents, charity shops, cafes and hairdressers and a handful of independent shops.
Hampstead’s police station has been under notice for many years and its library has now become a “community library” and not part of Camden’s public library service, while its independent shops are struggling to survive. The community there feels threatened.
What of West Hampstead – how much of our “village” is likely to leach away in coming months and years? Our police station too is under threat (and this time it’s genuine) from the Conservative Mayor’s cuts and our fire station is trembling on the reserve list of his cuts. The Council offices have closed and our West End Lane Post Office is likely to move, we only have one bank left, and there are rumours of changes to the library while many of our shops are having a hard time. What will be left of our local services?
Our police station on Fortune Green Road is closed to the public much of the time – and not the most beautiful building in the area – so would people really miss it? Who drops in there these days? For many years now, if you report, say, a burglary, the response is most likely to come from Kentish Town! If you have a problem with people causing a regular disturbance, most of us would contact our Safer Neighbourhood Teams who do have a visible presence in the area.
So what would the effect be if the front counter at the police station is closed all the time? Well, many of our residents are telling us that it matters to them and the local community, and that the police station is a reassuring presence in our midst. Closing the front counter feels like the thin edge of the wedge, leading to total closure before long.
However, it is the drastic cuts in the overall police budget by the Tory Mayor which present the biggest threat to Londoners, with a big reduction in police numbers as well as the closing of front counters and replacing them with “access points” which would only be available a few days a week.
Locally, it looks as if we will keep our two Safer Neighbourhood Teams, but possibly with reduced numbers. Compared to the rest of Camden our crime figures are low but losing highly visible officers could affect us all.
This is why we have created an online petition to object to Boris’s cuts. If you agree with us, please sign! http://tinyurl.com/camdenpolice (going live as of Thursday 29 Nov)