Herne Hill has in the last few years suffered some serious loss of amenities. Its sole surviving bank closed, so also its substantial post office and Royal Mail sorting/collection office. The post office is now in cramped quarters at the back of Costcutters in Norwood Road and those people who are obliged to collect mail need to make a trip to Station Road in Camberwell, a location that is not convenient to reach by public transport. The 5-way road junction by the railway bridge in the centre of Herne Hill frequently acts as a bottle neck, with long lines of stationary vehicles polluting the neighbourhood with their exhaust fumes. The area also suffers from being divided between two boroughs, Lambeth and Southwark, whose policies for it are not well co-ordinated.
Some relief from the traffic problems is offered by the Herne Hill Junction project designed by the Herne Hill Forum’s Junction Project Board and adopted by Lambeth Council, who have granted planning permission for it and are currently working on a detailed design for its implementation. This project should ease the traffic flow without seeking to increase traffic speeds and is to be funded by Transport for London in the interests of reducing the current delays to buses. It will also close off the southern end of Railton Road to through traffic. This should provide a start to the regeneration of Herne Hill.
Much more however needs to be done in the way of planning a vision for the future of the area. The Herne Hill Forum has grasped the initiative on this. It convened a meeting on September 11 at the Baptist Church to start process. This was chaired by its Chairman Giles Gibson and attended by about 65 people. Two introductory presentations were given to set the scene, one by Ludovic Pittie of Mouchel, a consulting group specialising in seeking solutions for urban problems, who showed with visual aids what had been achieved in regeneration elsewhere in the U.K. and on the continent, particularly in the Netherlands, including reclaiming streets for the residents, rather than for through traffic, by traffic calming measures, removal of clutter and general “greening”. The other was a spirited talk by Philip Kolvin, Chairman of the Civic Trust and a local resident, who with the aid of his own photos pointed out many of the best and worst features of present day Herne Hill, in order to stimulate ideas on what could be done to enhance the good and improve the bad. This was followed by a lively discussion, animated by the Giles Gibson, in which participants on the floor where invited to put forward ideas for regeneration of the area. Finally volunteers were asked to put themselves forward to serve on Management, Environment and Planning committees to carry the initiative forward.
This meeting was followed on Saturday 13 September by another event organised by the Herne Hill Forum, a daytime drop-in “blue-sky” thinking session held next to Herne Hill station at which attendees and passers-by were invited to write down on post-it notes, their comments, ideas and suggestions for how Herne Hill could look in a few years time. The aim of this, and of the preceding meeting, is to create a vision and planning document for the area that could be adopted by all the relevant agencies. About 1,078 contributions were received on the Saturday.
A major theme in the responses was that the area is run down, dirty and vandalised, with local shops looking shoddy or derelict, with rubbish dumped in the streets and excessive dog fouling. Many took exception to the state of the pedestrian tunnel under the railway station. More positively, there was strong support for the local shopping environment, with its diverse range of small shops. There was little demand for supermarkets or multiples in the area. On traffic, there was widespread support for pedestrians to have priority over vehicles and for safe pedestrian crossings; the biggest support was for a 20 mph limit across the entire area and especially any side street. There was much concern about the growth of the late-night economy and the need for the local licensing authorities, Lambeth and Southwark, to reduce current excessive opening hours for bars and entertainment joints and to refuse new licences. The loss of the sole local bank and of the main post office and the sorting office were seen as symptomatic of the decline of the area. Ideas for activities and events featured strongly: farmers markets, festivals and arts and craft events were suggested as being popular and key to creating an identity for the area.