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5,470 formally object to ‘Stalinist wedding cake’ mansion plans for Athlone House

Athlone House as seen from Hampstead Heath. Picture: Polly Hancock Athlone House as seen from Hampstead Heath. Picture: Polly Hancock

Thursday, July 31, 2014
11:00 AM

More than 5,000 people have formally objected to plans to replace historic Athlone House with a “Stalinist wedding cake” mansion – in what is thought to be a record-smashing number.

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Terry Gilliam on Hampstead Heath gives two fingers to proposals to demolish Athlone House. Picture: Mark HakanssonTerry Gilliam on Hampstead Heath gives two fingers to proposals to demolish Athlone House. Picture: Mark Hakansson

Politicians, community groups, international visitors and those living nearer to home – including Monty Python actor Terry Gilliam – have all condemned the proposed demolition of the former RAF base and hospital on the edge of Hampstead Heath in Highgate.

It was revealed this week that a total of 5,470 people officially objected to the proposals to rebuild the derelict 19th century house as an eight-bedroom family mansion, which some campaigners claim is a record-breaking figure.

The bid for its redevelopment is one of 14 planning applications due to be heard by Camden’s planning committee tonight (Thursday) at the town hall, alongside controversial proposals to replace the crumbling shopping parade in Swain’s Lane, Highgate.

Michael Hammerson, vice-president of the Highgate Society, said: “This must be a national record of objections for a planning application. It just shows the developers how outraged people are about what they are doing.”

Among the complainants are the great-great-granddaughter of the house’s original builder, the superintendant of Hampstead Heath, the grandaughter of one of the mansion’s last occupiers, national conservation group English Heritage, Hornsey and Wood Green MP Lynne Featherstone and Camden Council’s finance chief Cllr Theo Blackwell.

Haringey Council has also officially opposed the plans as the house lies close to its borders, and strongly criticised the “‘Stalinist wedding cake’ style of architecture” proposed for the new building, which would house a basement swimming pool and ballroom.

Most objectors listed in a report published online last Thursday had signed a petition calling for the mysterious owner to honour a historic agreement to restore it to its former glory.

Chartered architect Douglas Maxwell, a trustee of the Heath and Hampstead Society, said: “It’s a huge number, and it reflects I think the public’s concern about this application and the indignation that the developer is trying to undo the Section 106 agreement.”

Planning officers recommended that committee members refuse planning permission but a legal bid to get plans approved by the Planning Inspectorate has already been lodged by developers.

A spokesman for Athlone House Limited said: “We remain absolutely committed to building a house of the highest quality on this important site. The proposed new building is demonstrably smaller than the 2003 base.

“We hope Camden’s planning committee will recognise the logic and avoid a completely unnecessary appeal.”

Meanwhile officers have advised that permission should be granted for a three-storey block of flats and shops in Swain’s Lane. The Earl of Listowel, who owns the parade, has tried for more than a decade to redevelop the block but each proposal has been fiercely opposed.

Current plans are for two red-brick buildings containing eight shops and 12 flats. Nearly 160 objections have been sent to Camden Council, with reasons for opposition including the height and bulk, “clumsy” architectural design, the impact on traffic, loss of parking, and the failure to guarantee protection of the parade’s current traders.

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