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Comment: Swiss Cottage ‘ticks all the boxes for a tall building’

14:46 25 July 2014

Scott Hammond, managing director of developers Essential Living

Scott Hammond, managing director of developers Essential Living

Archant

Scott Hammond is managing director of Essential Living, the developers behind plans to demolish 100 Avenue Road and build a 24-storey tower in its place.

Here he writes why Swiss Cottage and Camden residents should support his company’s proposals.

An artists impression of the proposed building in Avenue RoadAn artists impression of the proposed building in Avenue Road

“We fought a tall building 44 years ago and still don’t want one now,” say the Swiss Cottage Action Group.

But times have changed and we believe in meeting the housing, economic and social needs of Camden in the 21st century.

The scale of the problem is huge – Camden Council’s own figures show over 26,000 households on their housing waiting list, an increase of 55% in the last five years. London-wide, it’s estimated that 800,000 new homes are needed by 2021. To avoid using greenfield land, the priority locations for new housing are previously developed urban sites with good facilities, exactly like 100, Avenue Road.

Before we worked up our plans Camden Council had allocated the site for a new mix of homes, shops and employment. Many people we have met appreciate the benefits of that approach, yet the debate has centred on the proposal for a tower.

Someone reading recent comments in the Ham&High might be forgiven for thinking that there isn’t already a number of 24-storey blocks within walking distance from the proposed scheme. There is also a 16-storey development in the neighbouring street.

The site ticks all the boxes as the right place for a tall building: it is in a town centre, it sits on a major road junction and is above a tube station, encouraging public transport use. The density we propose is also in line with the London Plan.

The need for regeneration to start is urgent as 100, Avenue Road will be vacant in just a month’s time. Empty buildings do not contribute anything to local communities and can attract anti-social behavior.

We firmly believe that we have ‘a high quality design that integrates well with its town centre location’ – the Greater London Authority’s words, not ours. The existing 1980’s office block is well past its sell by date and would not be improved by cosmetic changes. You can put lipstick on a gorilla, but it’s still a gorilla.

100 Avenue Road and its surrounding environment is a special place. It has the Swiss Cottage Open Space, the Library, the Leisure Centre, the Hampstead Theatre, the market and surrounding public realm. Our aim is to complement these uses and associated spaces.

Much has been said about overshadowing, but architects have carefully modeled this using the best technology available to avoid any harm. The biggest overshadowing effect on the Swiss Cottage Open Space is not from the tower.

That’s why we reduced the height of the lower building during public consultation. The independent Design Council has backed us on that.

We’re building private rented homes to meet the rapidly growing housing needs of Londoners. If you do not qualify for social housing and cannot afford home ownership, you have limited choices for quality accommodation. Just look at the streets nearby where average property prices exceed £1.1 million.

It is critical that Swiss Cottage has housing for people from all backgrounds not just those wealthy enough to afford to buy.

Crucially, we are set to be landlords as well as developers. We will manage the entirety of the new building ourselves, in the same way as a commercial landlord manages a single office block. This will provide the kind of quality property management often not provided through absent buy to let landlords.

Around a quarter of the homes will be affordable for rent or part ownership. Criticism of this proportion from local residents occupying ‘unaffordable’ housing is rather ironic. It has been said that this is not enough or that we are trying it on as we are ‘greedy’ or ‘property speculators’.

Name-calling is easy, but the Council has asked us to run a comprehensive financial study justifying the level of affordable housing. This is also subject to independent scrutiny by the Council’s own external consultants. It is a transparent process.

As well as the £100 million we’re investing, the town centre will be underpinned by new residents spending an estimated £2 million per annum, creating further investment and jobs.

A superb new facility for a local community group also features and will be highly valued by those who need it most.

There will also be around £2million for social and transport infrastructure as well as improved public spaces.

We’ve consulted on our proposals in good faith and at an early stage and recognise the debate around building height.

But I suspect those who disagree with our approach would also disagree with the policy – not of our making - that supports developing a building of this type in this location. Times change.

We’re adhering to policy and responding to the needs of 2014 not the 1970s.

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