Harrow is one of Greater London’s best-kept secrets. It’s a great place to live and work, being well-connected to the City while retaining all the advantages of a quiet and leafy residential area. That’s why my family has called Harrow home for decades – both for ourselves, and for our business, which has its offices in Stanmore. My brother and I grew up in the borough, so it’s fair to say that we have somewhat of a vested interest in the general quality of life in the community. It’s something that I often think about, particularly when it comes to my own line of work: property development.
Harrow residents are rightly proud of our local architectural heritage, whether it’s the Gothic spires of Harrow School, or the Tudor revival houses that this part of London is famous for. But all too often, Harrow’s housing stock falls below the standards we expect. There is, of course, a chronic shortage of housing across London and the wider South East, and Harrow is no exception. This lack of supply, when paired with growing demand, has led to a gradual decline in the quality, hygiene, and standards of housing conditions overall.
Harrow residents know this all too well. Recent revelations of collapsing ceilings, dodgy boilers, broken doors, and mouse infestations at the Stanmore Estate shocked local residents and prompted a public apology from the provider. Earlier this year, Harrow was the subject of an expose by The Guardian newspaper, which revealed local landlords charging extortionate rents for dwellings that were cramped, filthy, and dangerous.
Ultimately, fixing these issues requires development – whether that’s the construction of new buildings, or the refurbishing of existing ones. Borough residents agree, but developers have too often squandered this goodwill. Developers have put forward plans for ‘Manhattan-style’ developments that would alter the character of the area beyond recognition; or for projects that would diminish the amount of green space available for local residents. Plans of this kind have led to protests and petitions from Harrow residents.
Proposals like these show a lack of appreciation for what makes Harrow so special for residents. It’s something that has, understandably, made the borough quite wary of developers and their plans. Harrow is a quiet suburban neighbourhood – and the overwhelming majority of residents want to keep it that way. I count myself among them.
When development does occur in Harrow, it should be done in a way that conserves the best of the area’s local character, and causes the least disruption possible to residents. For one, Harrow’s distinct look should be preserved. Developers should seek to build on the area’s architectural heritage – the kind of interwar designs immortalised by the poet-laureate John Betjeman in his 1973 BBC documentary ‘Metro-land’. The use of materials that are in keeping with the borough’s traditional styles – such as traditional brick gables, brick exteriors, and clay roof tiles – would do much to win local support for development and refurbishment.
Second, residential development should get the balance right between single occupant dwellings and family homes. Too many single person homes will end up changing the character of the borough, and residents understandably want to keep Harrow primarily as a place for family living.
Third, developers should, where possible, opt to refurbish rather than demolish. At its best, Harrow architecture is picturesque – why not draw out the best in these existing structures, using modern methods to give them a new lease on life? Such an approach would cause less disruption for residents, and would of course be a more environmentally friendly solution to the borough’s housing woes. In addition, developers could also convert some of Harrow’s vacant commercial structures into housing – something that forthcoming legislation is set to make much easier. This is something that my company, Nacropolis, has done with great success in the past – taking the road less travelled to focus on innovative, non-traditional housing solutions.
Fourth, and most importantly, development must always be done in close consultation with the wider community. Developers must truly listen to the questions and concerns of local residents, instead of seeing the consultation process as a mere tick-box exercise. Thankfully, as we have seen, Harrow residents are not shy about making their opposition to reckless development in the borough known – but in an ideal world, open discourse and correct negotiation processes would mean that such action wasn’t necessary.
My business is property development, but like all Harrow residents I have a particular set of standards when it comes to what this development should look like: in essence, a balanced slate of new homes that doesn’t diminish what we all love about the area. Development must take place in Harrow, but the onus is very much on developers like me to assure residents that it will be carried out in a thoughtful and responsible way.