Hundreds object to Athlone House demolition

WITH just three months to go before the fate of the much-loved Athlone House is decided, more than 600 residents have written in opposition to plans to bulldoze the Victorian mansion.

Among those who put pen to paper to save the 1870 landmark overlooking Hampstead Heath were high profile names such as historian Eric Hobsbawm and actor Tim Piggott-Smith.

The flood of objections is the latest stage in a five-year campaign to stop the historic home from being flattened and replaced by a �100million eight bedroom house, complete with underground parking and staff quarters.

Conservationist groups say the groundswell of feeling against the development is a reflection of residents’ anger over a broken promise to restore Athlone House to its former glory.

They say the property’s owner – reported in a trade magazine to be Kuwaiti billionaire Naseer Al-Kharafi – is ignoring this planning requirement laid down by Camden Council when it gave consent for 27 luxury flats to be built on the site in 2004.

Michael Hammerson, from the Highgate Society, which led a three-week leaflet drive to convince residents to object to the new scheme, said: “People were appalled that such an old house was going to be demolished.

“But they were really angry about the actions of the developer by profiting from the flats and then going back on their promises to restore the house. People are pretty outraged about it.”

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Heath and Hampstead Society member Jeremy Wright, who is on the specially-formed Athlone House Working Group, said the designs for a 50,000 sq ft neo-classical pile were also a major point of contention.

He said: “It’s an ostentatious quasi-palace. The public response shows how much they value the existing house and how much they would detest having this horrendous huge replacement foisted upon them.”

Chairwoman of the Highgate Society, Catherine Budget-Meakin, agreed, saying that the planned new building is so large it will impinge on the green space it overlooks. She said: “I think the letters were an absolute affirmation that the surroundings of the Heath are a very important part of Hampstead.”

But Robert Adam, the famed architect who is behind the scheme, said many people had been misinformed about the house’s replacement. “The core facts are that this is a building of approximately the same height on pretty much the same footprint,” he said.

The appeal to go ahead with the new development will be heard at an inquiry next February.