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Concerns mount over Athlone House demolition plan

PUBLISHED: 17:42 05 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:32 07 September 2010

Ben McPartland CONTENTIOUS plans to demolish a historic building on the fringes of Hampstead Heath have finally been lodged, much to the anger of conservation groups. Nearly 18 months after plans to level Athlone House were first revealed to the public, d

Ben McPartland

CONTENTIOUS plans to demolish a historic building on the fringes of Hampstead Heath have finally been lodged, much to the anger of conservation groups. Nearly 18 months after plans to level Athlone House were first revealed to the public, developers have finally filed their application with Camden Council.

Athlone House Ltd wants to bulldoze the mansion, used as an RAF intelligence base during the war, and build a new eight-bedroom home complete with accommodation for guests and staff as well as underground parking.

But members of Athlone House Working Group believe the building should be restored to its former glory, not least because a condition of planning consent requires it.

The owner of the house remains a mystery but has been described in the past as being of "unlimited means".

Michael Hammerson of the Highgate Society said: "The owner has done nothing to stop it falling into disrepair. We believe it is restorable but they are not abiding by the terms of the agreement."

In 2004 developer Dwyer was given the green light to built 27 luxury homes in the grounds, but a condition of the permission was to restore Athlone House within 42 months.

But last year Dwyer transferred ownership of the house to a new owner who ordered his team, including expert planning lawyer David Cooper, to put through blueprints for a new Portland stone Palladian-style mansion.

Mr Hammerson said: "The existing house is clearly not grand enough for the owner's ambitions. The architecture is gross and vulgar and demonstrates they don't care in the slightest."

Conservationists are deeply concerned that the new design for Athlone House, which stands on Metropolitan Open Land, would ruin views from Hampstead Heath.

Mr Hammerson also revealed that Athlone House Working Group has been in touch with a new developer who has promised a solution.

He said: "We have been approached by a developer who is very angry at the situation. He knows the house and has told us he would be willing to buy it for a fair price and restore it. He wants complete anonymity at the moment but we have met him and would back him to the hilt."

Quatro, the PR firm working for the owner, has written to members of the working group inviting them to a meeting to discuss the plans.

The letter also states that the planning application includes proposals to make a contribution towards affordable housing in Camden as well as the option to make a donation to the "maintenance and upkeep of Hampstead Heath".

A spokesman for the mystery owner of Athlone House wouldn't reveal his or her identity, and said there should be no obligation to have the house restored because this was no longer possible.

He said: "Since the house was built it has gone through numerous unsympathetic 20th-century extensions and alterations which have destroyed the historic integrity of the building. The house has gone beyond the point where it can faithfully be restored."

ben.mcpartland@hamhigh.co.uk

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