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Highgate Newtown Community Centre: Camden Council gives green light to expanded housing plans

PUBLISHED: 12:43 21 February 2019 | UPDATED: 12:43 21 February 2019

The group of concerned pilates group members in the hall at the community centre

The group of concerned pilates group members in the hall at the community centre

Archant

The development set to replace Highgate Newtown Community Centre will now feature 41 homes, after Camden Council's planning committee approved its expanded plans.

Protesters wave placards outside the Highgate Newtown Community Centre. Picture: Tim MegarryProtesters wave placards outside the Highgate Newtown Community Centre. Picture: Tim Megarry

The proposals, which are part of the council’s Community Investment Programme, will see the existing hub and its surrounding buildings demolished and replaced with three blocks of housing, as well as a new community centre.

It was a Valentine’s Day to forget for users of the community centre and Gospel Mission Hall, as a fierce deputation by pilates group leader Tamar Swade was in vain.

She praised the Gospel Mission Hall for its theatre facilities, and said its conversion into flats should be taken out of the plans.

“There are so many compelling reasons to save this hall,” she said. “In my theatre in education work I’ve seen how involvement in the arts can effect huge changes in people’s wellbeing, and how it can keep young people out of trouble.

Protesters campaigned outside the community centre after their Thursday morning pilates class. Picture: Tim MegarryProtesters campaigned outside the community centre after their Thursday morning pilates class. Picture: Tim Megarry

“This is so important now with the rise in violent crime.”

Meanwhile a resident in nearby Bertram Street, Lizzie Smith, criticised the development’s housing density, saying it was well above the London limits, and didn’t meet affordable housing targets.

The proposals include converting the hall into housing. The Fresh Youth Academy and the community centre will instead use a new hall.

Councillors voted through the plans even though they include just seven affordable housing units. The private housing will include more one-bedroom homes than in previous iterations.

Exploratory work taking place at Highgate Newtown Community Centre in 2016. Picture: Polly HancockExploratory work taking place at Highgate Newtown Community Centre in 2016. Picture: Polly Hancock

Highgate councillor Anna Wright (Lab) said she supported the scheme, but called for more affordable housing “if funding becomes available”.

As well as the changes to the housing numbers, the community centre will no longer have a basement. The development will also be car-free, with disabled, refuge and emergency vehicle access being through an automatic bollard.

According to planning documents, the centre needs £3million to bring it up to standard for future use. This is despite the centre having hundreds of thousands spent on a refurbishment in 2014.

The new plans got an overwhelmingly negative response from the public during a consultation – but the chair of the Highgate Newtown Community Centre, Robert Aitken, backs them.

Highgate Newtown Community Centre. Picture: Polly HancockHighgate Newtown Community Centre. Picture: Polly Hancock

“The trustees are fully in support of the proposals and will be welcoming [them],” he said.

“The current facilities require constant maintenance due to [their] age. Replacement is the only real option,” he said.

Luke Joyce, the Camden officer behind the development, said he had “worked with groups to address the concerns that they have”. “We are excited by this scheme,” he said.

Since the original application was heard, the council has granted Asset of Community Value status to the Gospel Mission Hall.

Any developer has to give a nominated group six months’ notice if it is planning to sell an item on the ACV register, and allow them the chance to buy it.

According to Camden’s planning team, the hall’s ACV status was a consideration in giving the latest plans the go-ahead – but as the development will eventually increase the community centre’s floorspace, planning officers recommended granting permission anyway.

The initial application was passed in June 2017 – but was brought back to the planning committee as the initial plans didn’t cover the council’s costs for building it.

Cllr Sian Berry, who has previously been critical of Camden’s Community Investment Programme, said she backed the changes and urged the council to “get on with it”.

The Green Party’s Highgate councillor said: “Most of the changes in this application are an improvement on previous plans. I’ve been pleased to see some willingness to revise them, and it’s good that people are being listened to. The Camden Living Rent flats are better than nothing at all, but short of requirements at 16pc.

“I would like to see this got on with. I hope this isn’t another phantom scheme. We’re about to close the centre, and I don’t want to see a hole in our ward for very long.”

A construction working group will also be set up to involve neighbours and community centre users in the construction planning process. Cllr Marcus Boyland said it was a “good scheme” that some of his Gospel Oak residents would be jealous of, as they are also looking for a new community centre.

The plans got seven votes in favour, and two abstentions.

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