Public inquiry into £100m Swiss Cottage tower halted as inspector is hospitalised by bee
PUBLISHED: 07:30 16 July 2015
A long-awaited public inquiry into a controversial bid to build one of Camden’s tallest towers had to be halted on its opening day – when the planning inspector was rushed to hospital after being stung by a bee.
On Tuesday, Graham Dudley was due to lead an eight-day planning appeal into plans to erect a 24-storey residential tower in the heart of Swiss Cottage, bringing three years of uncertainty and campaigning to a head.
His verdict on the proposals at 100 Avenue Road – due to be given to the Communities Secretary – could be worth a staggering £100million and impact surrounding conservation areas for the next 100 years.
But residents, campaigners and high-powered lawyers eager to speak on the inquiry’s first day were all left facing an empty chair following the midday break after Mr Dudley’s lunch was interrupted by a bee.
The planning inspector returned to the inquiry – at the British Medical Association House in Euston – to say he was abandoning the day’s hearing so he could be treated for an allergic reaction at nearby UCH.
The adjournment meant many people who had made the journey were unable to speak, with one Swiss Cottage resident saying: “It’s disappointing. I had come especially to comment about this tower. He said the sting on his hand had given him a pretty bad reaction. I won’t be able to come back.”
Tuesday’s morning session went ahead as planned, however, giving at least a few interested parties the chance to make opening arguments to Mr Dudley.
It saw Camden Council seek to defend its decision to reject planning permission in September, citing expert evidence that showed a “high level of harm” will be caused to surrounding conservation areas.
Developer Essential Living will spend the coming days arguing the site is the “right place for a tall tower”.
Mr Dudley is fresh from rejecting another tall building in north London – having last month quashed Arsenal FC’s bid to build a 25-storey residential tower near to the Emirates Stadium in Holloway.
Some of the 900 residents who wrote letters to object to the Swiss Cottage tower will amass at the site this Wednesday to convince Mr Dudley to do the same here as he conducts a walkabout of the area.
The day will see a bright yellow blimp flown from 100 Avenue Road to provide a striking visual of how high the proposed tower will be.
It will be visible from Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill.
During Tuesday’s morning session, the council argued this was “too high” for Swiss Cottage.
Neil Cameron QC, on behalf of the council, said: “The tall building element of the proposal will have a visual impact over a wide area. Any increase in height over existing buildings requires very careful consideration in the light of the potential impact on the nearby listed buildings, conservation areas and locally listed buildings.
“There is little or no dispute that the proposals will have a visual impact on a large numbher of heritage assets, ranging from the adjacted Grade II-listed library, to the locally listed buildings, to the conservation areas which do not include, but surround, the site. The tower would also loom over and dominate the locally listed Hampstead Theatre, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre.”
The council also argues the almost a third of the Swiss Cottage open space, popular with families whose children play in the fountain in the summer sun, will be in the shadow as a result of the proposed tower.
Rupert Warren QC, speaking on behalf of Essential Living, rebutted: “A tall building would not be an alien feature in this part of London.
“It benefits from the support of the [Camden Council] officers originally charged with assessing the scheme, the Greater London Authority and the Design Council.
“[The tower] is set away from the Open Space. It would have very little if any shadowing impact on the park. In visual terms, it would provide a striking cornerstone to the edge of the park area.”
The proposals – opposed by some 3,000 people – would see the current office building at 100 Avenue Road torn down and would instead provide 184 flats, some of them “affordable”, along with a part-five/part-seven adjoining building providing retail space and a new home for the neighbouring charity The Winch.
The planning inquiry is due to end on July 24.