Work to restore Hampstead's Heath House could finally restart in 2021
- Credit: Polly Hancock
Heath House in North End Way has been empty for the best part of four decades – but Camden Council thinks its owners are set to restore it as a family home by the end of 2023.
The 18th century building overlooking the Heath and known as the "highest house in London" was once one of the city's finest mansions.
It now has offshore owners and is covered in scaffolding.
It was the supposedly the scene of a fateful meeting between William Wilberforce and one-time owner Sir Samuel Hoare, which saw the abolitionists discuss the fight to outlaw slavery on the home's terrace.
In 2017, would-be developer Consero withdrew an application to turn the building into six flats in the face of substantial opposition. The Heath and Hampstead Society's (H&HS) planning lead David Castle said this plan had been "absurd", adding: "I'm sure they priced it out of existence really."
Consero has now confirmed to this newspaper it has since walked away from the project "due to planning resistance".
In recent years, with concerns for the property's condition becoming more acute, council planners allowed local amenity groups to tour the house. David said that "all of the fixtures, the fire places have been taken away". The H&HS persuaded Camden Council and Historic England (HE) to erect scaffolding to protect the building's facade.
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HE said a temporary roof had been fitted, but there was already damage from water penetration.
According to Land Registry documents, the building's freehold is owned by two Jersey-based trusts – Hawksford Trustees Jersey Ltd and Hawksford Fiduciaries Jersey Ltd. They are represented by the law firm Howard Kennedy LLP.
They paid £20m for the property in 2007.
Camden Council said it is working with the property's owner and considering an application to vary some of the documentation relating to planning permission granted in 2008. The existing permission would see the building restored as a family home.
The altered application simply features an assessment of the plan's energy implications. It is not clear why, having been registered in 2018, it has not been determined.
The agent listed on the application form, Clive Chapman Architects of Twickenham, told this newspaper it is no longer involved in the project.
Construction firm Aria Construction Management submitted the application on behalf of the owners, but signs for a string of other forms are present at the site.
A Camden Council spokesperson said: “We have been working with the developers of Heath House and, after delays due to the pandemic, they are hopeful works will start later this year to restore the building into a family home, with an approximate completion date by the end of 2023.”
The existing plan would see the "garage block" demolished and replaced with a "west side wing".
The building is Grade II* listed, and on HE's Heritage at Risk register. A HE spokesperson said it believes the restoration has been "partially completed", adding: "We are here to offer further advice to the owner should they need it."
David Castle added: "That would be wonderful if they do what they say. It's absolutely disgraceful the way the market has treated this important building."
Cllr Oliver Cooper (Con, Hampstead Town) said the run-down state of Heath House has been "an open wound for decades". He added: "Restoring Heath House to occupation is a big part of making the area around Whitestone Pond more attractive to residents and visitors.
“There have been many false dawns over the years, and it’s important that the developer follows through this time."
Cllr Cooper said he would like, in future, to see more done proactively.
He said: “Camden can avoid decades of dereliction in future by issuing formal notices requiring building works to take place."
He said he believes that would deter "unacceptable applications" like the one seen in 2017 from Consero.
The last people known to have lived in Heath House for any substantial period were the King family. Early this year, Jenny King, whose father Peter ran the magazine Screen International, told the Ham&High how sad the building's current state made her.
Her father sold the house in 1977. It was bought by John Sunley, but soon sold again to a Saudi Arabian family. Since then its ownership has changed many times.
Jenny said: "What's really sad from my point of view is to see how decrepit the building appears.
"I can still imagine what my old bedroom was like, the lovely small cinema my father built..."
The owners and their lawyers have not responded to this newspaper's requests for comment.