Development of the Camley Street/Cedar Way Estate: Part of a Virtuous Circle of Businesses in Camden

1. The context

The Camley Street/Cedar Way industrial estate and the adjoining streets of houses and flats known as Elm Village are in the London Borough of Camden, just north of Kings Cross and St Pancras stations.  The industrial estate and the houses and flats were built in the 1980s.

The businesses on the industrial estate currently employ some 500 people.  Most of these skilled jobs are involved with the production, processing and distribution of food (fish, meat, cereals, groceries and drinks).  There are also other businesses: for example, an industrial laundry and an architectural model-making firm.  The businesses have been present on the estate for many years: some since it was new.  Over the years, the training of staff in product knowledge rather than simply in the production of goods has become more and more important to the businesses’ success.  In the case of Daily Fish, for example, the largest employer on the site, the processing of fish is the fastest-growing segment of the firm’s work.  It is essential to all the businesses on the estate that they retain skilled workers if they are to continue driving productivity and staff retention and engagement.

Meanwhile, London is the largest and most popular dining destination within Europe.  It is a very competitive place for food service providers.

2. Camley Street and the wider area

The purpose of this paper is to point out something about the remarkable combination of enterprises and talents working cheek by jowl in this part of Camden.  Google has major offices down the road at Kings Cross and Saint Pancras.  Facebook intends to move to that quarter soon.  The Francis Crick Centre, newly opened, is one of the world’s leading medical research institutions.  University College London is a top-class university, attracting students from all over the world.  University College London Hospital is a major teaching hospital.  The Wellcome Trust is the world’s largest funder of biomedical research.  Meanwhile, across the canal and the railway line from Camley Street, Central St Martin’s School of Art is a centre of excellence for the training of students in art and design.  In the Kings Cross lands around the School, numerous popular restaurants and shops have sprung up; more will come when the Coal Drop Yards development is finished later this year.

This concentration of knowledge industries, educational and health institutions and food outlets provides a major opportunity for the development of a kind of ‘food quarter’, which would serve those working in those industries, institutions and outlets, and would contribute to the development of their work.  In particular, there are connections between food and high-tech modes of communication, and between food and health.

3. Food and tech

Currently, there is a significant move towards integrating tech and food, in Camden and elsewhere; Deliveroo and Just Eat are examples.  When we look at crowd-funding sources like Crowdcube, we see that in the last year food and drink businesses secured £23 million by this means: almost 20% of all crowd-funding initiatives in that period (The Grocer, 27 January 2018).  This kind of integration of tech and food is one of the opportunities that we envisage for an enlarged Camley Street development (see section 6).

4. Food and health

 Hippocrates, the father of medicine, famously wrote, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’  The close relation between the quality of food and human health is beyond dispute.  Put negatively, many of the developed world’s most troubling conditions and diseases – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, various cancers – are definitively linked to eating the wrong kinds of food too much and too often.  With major health institutions (UCL Hospital, Francis Crick, Wellcome) on the doorstep, all of which communicate clear messages to the local community about healthier eating, it seems obvious that an expanded group of businesses supplying healthier food could be a significant contributor to the effective realisation of those messages.

5. Camden’s Local Plan

Camden’s Local Plan states that the borough is ‘home to 24,000 businesses and over 300,000 jobs.  The success of its economy relies on the wide variety of employment sectors…’  Over 2,900 of these businesses are in the food services sector.  The average number of employees per business in this sector is 17.  So nearly 50,000 people are employed in the sector in Camden.  Food and drink outlets promote social cohesion between those who live and work in the borough, and the importance of the sector should be recognised.

The existing businesses on the industrial estate already do an important job in supplying the needs of local schools, hospitals and restaurants.  The development proposal outlined in the next section offers an opportunity to recognise and expand further the food services sector, and its support and supply chains.

6. The Camley Street development initiative: a partnership with Camden

Camley Street Sustainability Zone and the Camley Street Neighbourhood Forum are linked local organisations bringing together the interests of the businesses on the industrial estate and those of residents on the residential estate opposite.  The two organisations have been developing a proposal for the redevelopment of the industrial estate which would maintain the existing businesses in new premises, provide working space for new businesses, and provide hundreds of new homes for local people.  Most of the homes would be for rent: either social housing or ‘genuinely affordable’, meaning that rents would be pegged to a third of the average Camden income.  Some of the homes would be for sale.

Camden Council owns the freehold of the majority of the industrial estate.  The Council has made it clear that it intends in some way to redevelop the site, and the nature of the redevelopment will ultimately be the Council’s decision. Representatives of Camley Street Sustainability Zone are now meeting with officers of the Council to consider and compare the Zone’s and the Forum’s proposals for the development of the industrial estate with those which the Council is considering.  The hope and intention is that there could be some kind of amicable combining of the plans and aspirations of all parties.

7. Plans on the drawing board

Current plans drawn up for the Zone and the Forum by the architects Karakusevic Carson, who have long and successful experience of working with London boroughs on projects of this kind, envisage the expansion of employment opportunities on the estate to about 1,000 jobs.  Many of these could be in the food sector; others, particularly in the smaller workshop spaces which the plans allow for, could be for small businesses in the knowledge, computer, craft and cultural industries.

Modern building techniques and modern environmental awareness mean that there is no incompatibility between ‘basic’ industries such as food and ‘superstructure’ industries such as knowledge and culture.  Meanwhile, Camden has a crying need for more housing which local people on ordinary incomes can afford.  Again, modern building techniques and modern environmental awareness mean that the residents of hundreds of new homes in Camley Street could live happily and peacefully with their neighbours in mixed-use industries.

Camley Street Sustainability Zone and the Camley Street Neighbourhood Forum look forward to developing these ideas with Camden Council in the coming months.