Flats earmarked for private sale will instead be converted into permanent social homes for Afghan refugees.

A new opportunity has arisen around Camden Council's Highgate Newtown housing development, in Bertram Street, Dartmouth Park with government funds for safe haven housing.

Planning approval was granted in 2017 to build 41 private homes that would be sold to redevelop the Highgate Newtown Community Centre.

Work is now underway for Camden to use its Community Investment Programme (CIP) to withdraw these flats in order to house Afghan refugees who have been living in Home Office-run bridging hotels in the borough since August 2021.

Large-scale evacuations of foreign citizens and some vulnerable Afghan citizens took place amid the withdrawal of US and NATO forces at the end of the 2001–2021 war in Afghanistan, when the Taliban took control of Kabul.

Funding from the Home Office – specifically designated for Afghan and Ukrainian refugee housing – has been allocated to the Greater London Authority (GLA) to distribute to London councils including Camden.

In a letter to residents Camden said the "special funding schemes mean we cannot allocate these properties to people on our general housing waiting list" but that it is "delivering a programme of housebuilding" for local people waiting.

Cllr Georgia Gould, leader of Camden Council, said: “Camden has a long and proud history of providing sanctuary and care for those fleeing war and conflict.

“Over the past 18 months, Afghan refugees who risked their lives working with Britain as translators, doctors, special forces, civil servants, journalists, drivers and many other roles have been living with their families in hotels in Camden.

"We have lobbied for funding to allow those who are already part of our community to stay here and continue to contribute to our borough.
“This funding would allow the council to bring homes that would have been lost to private sale into the council stock to provide safe haven housing now and additional council homes for future generations.

“This sits alongside our commitment to buying homes for families facing homelessness in Camden and building and buying new council homes for residents living in overcrowded homes on our waiting list."

Ham & High: The flats in Bertram Street in Highgate Newtown will be converted from private to social housing for Afghan evacueesThe flats in Bertram Street in Highgate Newtown will be converted from private to social housing for Afghan evacuees (Image: Camden Council)

Camden confirmed its status as a ‘Borough of Sanctuary’ for refugees though a cross-party motion at a full council meeting on January 23.

Highgate's Labour councillor Camron Aref-Adib, whose family fled Iran in the 1980s and settled in Highgate, said: “I am proud that Camden is taking concrete steps to help refugees in the way that my family was helped and I am even more proud that this is taking place in my ward of Highgate, the same ward that took in my family."

Fellow councillor Anna Wright said she felt "very positive" about the scheme adding: "I understand that it maybe hard for people on the waiting list.

"We are sensitive to that. If we don't use the money for this special safe haven housing we won't get it and those flats would be sold privately."

The local community have said they are "delighted" to welcome the new neighbours.

Andrew Sanalitro, director of Highgate Newtown Community Partners, said: "Our community centre and partners will be delighted to welcome the new residents into the heart of our community and to involve them in our programme of activity in any ways that can support them to settle and thrive.

"This will be an exciting and positive development for our neighbourhood."

Laurel Robin, headteacher at Brookfield Primary School, in Croftdown Road, said: 

“Brookfield Primary School is proud to be a diverse, inclusive and supportive school, 
we are all richer for the range of experiences and lives of our children, families and staff.

"Our vision is to inspire the best in everyone through achievement, kindness and responsibility – we are excited to welcome new children to Brookfield to grow our learning community.”