Tate boss in bid to save £2.9 million former Hampstead home from demolition

Director of the Tate Sir Nicholas Serota in front of "Untitled (Bacchus) 2006-2008, Acrylic on canva

Director of the Tate Sir Nicholas Serota in front of "Untitled (Bacchus) 2006-2008, Acrylic on canvas", by Cy Twombly, at Tate Modern in central London after it was gifted to the Tate's collection. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Sir Nicholas Serota has protested against controversial plans to demolish his former family residence and build a basement extension in its place

The director of the Tate gallery has written to Camden Council to contest the demolition of his former family residence.

The property was once owned by Sir Nicholas Serota’s late mother, Dame Beatrice Baroness Serota, who served during Harold Wilson’s 1970s Labour government.

The daughter of Jewish refugees, she was raised in London’s East End and became the first ever female whip in the House of Lords.

Designed by 1960s Modernist architect Ted Levy, Sir Serota praised the “scale and elegance” of the home his family had loved.

In December 2014 the property was listed for sale as an “undeveloped plot” with “great potential to rebuild a large contemporary luxury family… subject to the usual planning consents”.

The property was sold in February 2015 for £2.9 million.

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The council refused a planning application in December of 2015, which Sir Serota also contested.

Now the owners have employed the services of architects Sebastian Bates, who have proposed to demolish the current structure and replace it with a larger house with multiple angled bays and a new basement level.

The proposed house would be realised in brick and feature arches and oriel windows in an updated Arts and Crafts style.

Sebastian Bates said their new design “seeks to find an appropriate architectural language of a modern home which is innovative and yet heavily informed by the local architectural culture”.

Sir Serota accused the architects of “cramming” too much on to the site and suggested that the proposal was “an example of overdevelopment”.

He noted that the current house allowed for gardens to the front and rear, “both of which my mother planted with great care.”

He bemoaned how “in recent years the owners have destroyed the front garden to accommodate an additional car.”

Local residents and associations have been divided over the proposal. Some felt the property had deteriorated and welcomed the idea of a new building in its place.

Others feared that the demolition would obliterate an important piece of local history.

There were also concerns raised that the basement extension could cause subsidence.

Neighbourhood resident John Reizenstein supported the application, describing the current building as an “ugly-angled 1970s building [that] feels like an irrelevant attempt to infill a space between elegant neighbouring buildings.”

Mr Reizenstein suggested that the connection to Baroness Serota was not important enough to merit the house being preserved, instead suggesting that “a plaque should be a sufficient memorial.”

The Hampstead CAAC argued that importance of the previous occupants should be honoured, and that the development “must not be allowed to obliterate such invaluable local social heritage and value”.

They also countered that the proposed basement would cover 70 per cent of the entire site, well over the 50 per cent limit set by Camden Council.

Isabel and Jonathan Blake, who have lived in the borough for 36 years, said they felt the current house is “underwhelming in its appearance” and supported the proposal as an “opportunity for a unique and beautiful house” that “should not be missed”.

Neighbour Ros Stone said the plans would “remove and eyesore and replace it with a property of architectural merit”.

The Heath and Hampstead Society objected “vigorously” to the application, claimed that the proposed basement excavation would “jeopardise if not kill outright the veteran horse chestnut in the front garden”.

They argued that whilst the 1960s architecture of Levy was at its “nadir” it would become popular once more.

“Fashions,” they wrote, “come and go”.