Up Kentish Town way, just off the Highgate Road, there's a rather special Georgian terrace called Little Green Street. It's a very short road, only about ten families live here. It's very old, dating back more than 250 years to the early 18th century. It's pretty much intact, untouched by the Blitz and modern development. It's ratherphotogenic, indeed you can imagine the BBC shooting a costume drama here (so long as they painted over the yellow lines and covered the bollards). It's Grade II listed, as you might hope and expect. It's cobbled, and you don't get a lot of cobbles in Camden. It's also very narrow, less than three metres wide. And therein lies the problem.
Running parallel to Highgate Road, accessible only via Little Green Street, is an old trackway called College Lane. This restricted backwater used to be home to a British Rail Staff clubhouse, long since closed but now very much ripe for development. Not surprisingly, perhaps, a private company has eyed up the site with plans to build "20 mews houses arranged in terraces of 2 and 3 storeys and a block of 10 flats comprising studio, 2, 3 and 4 bedroom flats" with "provision of underground car parking". Which is a heck of a lot of construction work in such a small space. Things would be fine if they could drop in the building materials by helicopter, but no, it's got to be lorries. And the lorries would have to go down Little Green Street. The residents aren't best pleased.
Construction traffic would need to negotiate Little Green Street's narrow roadway several times a day for a prolonged period of time, with an awkward turn at each end. It'd only take one careless driver to knock over a bollard (or, more worryingly, a wall). Construction traffic would be rumbling along inches from each front door, and householders wouldn't want to walk out into the street when a lorry was going by. There's only one pavement, and a very narrow one at that, so pedestrians would have to keep well out of the way if a truck were going through. Anyone with a pushchair trying to cut through Little Green Street to the Ingestre Estate beyond might want to think again and find an alternative route (not that there's a convenient one).
An aside. Having visited the street, I'm at a loss to see why the council don't organise site access via the Ingestre Estate instead. This postwar estate is most definitely not a Grade II listed location, more a patch of characterless boxes, and it has proper sized pavements and roads which lorries could drive down with far less hassle. OK, so there's a pedestrian ramp and steps and a gate in the way, but these could be modified or removed for only a small cost. And yes, obviously the estate's residents don't want lorries rumbling past their homes and children either, but the distance would be yards not inches. Alas it seems that a private estate can say no, whereas a narrow public street has no say.
A long battle between the residents, the council and the developers has been underway for the last eight years. The residents are extremely good at publicity. They have their own campaign website and blog, they've generated scores of column inches in the press, they've enlisted the help of localcelebrities and they've persuaded various people to lie down in the road to demonstrate just how narrow it is. The council have been caught in the middle. They've ruled one way and the other, with their final judgement last February to refuse planning permission. Hurrah. But the developers are very resourceful. Every time Euro-Investments are turned down they keep coming up with revised plans, for example using smaller (but more frequent) trucks. And most recently an independent adjudicator has overruled the council, like what do they know, and pronounced that the housing development can go ahead after all. That's our wonderful planning process for you - try often enough and eventually one of your proposals will slip through.
So the Little Green Streeters are seeing in 2009 under the threat of major disruption. Their only hope is the current depressed state of the housing market, which might delay the College Lane development until people actually want to buy property again. Here's hoping that day's a long way off.