Planning chiefs hold money ransom over care home

Tan Parsons

PLANNING chiefs will try to ‘blackmail’ Camden Councillors next week after jumping the gun on a controversial and costly building contract.

On Wednesday the council’s Development Control Committee could be forced to sign off a ‘Prisoner Cell Block H-style’ care home in Belsize which does not meet Camden’s own planning guidelines. It would stand just 14 metres away from neighbouring buildings in Haverstock Hill – fewer than the 18 metres required.

Bosses deny the design for Alexandra House in Maitland Park Villas is in breach of guidelines and have refused to disclose how much has already been paid to builders – although they have admitted that a deal has been struck.

The planning document prepared by the council heaps huge pressure on committee members to accept the design. It says: “Contracts are already in place for the Maitland Park scheme which requires construction to commence on site in January 2011. Failure to meet this deadline would have significant financial consequences for Camden.

“If this timetable is to be met, any changes need to be approved without further re-consultation with residents.”

Haverstock councillor Jill Fraser says planning chiefs have behaved appallingly on what started out as a wonderful project supported by the whole community.

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She said: “Why now are they delivering an ultimatum that they have to pass it otherwise the cost to Camden would be too great as they have already signed the contract for work to start in January?

“Why did the planners not take the actions as instructed by the Development Control Panel in July 2009 after seeing the design?”

In a revised drawing the building has been moved just a single foot to the east.

With Camden already facing a budget shortfall of �80-100million over the next four years, councillors may be obliged to approve the Alexandra House plans or risk losing the money already agreed with the builders.

Haverstock Hill resident Lynn Whiting said: “The councillors are being blackmailed. The planners are totally disregarding the public and the idea of elected councillors. They are saying ‘You are having this whether you like it or not’.”

Staff at the Village School, which neighbours the site, say the council is abiding by a different set of rules to everyone else.

Headmistress Carol Gay said: “My concern is that they have moved a lot of spoil up towards the lime mortar boundary wall which has been there since 1857. It’s only a metre away from the place where the girls have their assemblies. If it collapsed it would make quite a mess.”

Protesters say 20 healthy trees were branded ‘diseased’ and have already been chopped down to make way for the home.

Ann Panchen, who lives in Haverstock Hill with her young family, said: “There will be a huge building a couple of metres from the boundary wall of our garden. There is room on the land to move the building back to a distance of 18 metres.”

The 60 bedroom, four storey care home is on the doorstep of the Parkhill Conservation Area. It will be run by Shaw Healthcare and will cater for elderly patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The protesters do not object to having a care home nearby – but to the size and proximity of the building, and the design which they say will leave its elderly residents in dark rooms with insufficient light, and in some instances looking out onto a brick wall.

A spokeswoman for Camden Council said: “The plans meet and exceed the council’s own guidelines and national guidelines. In response to comments made by councillors and members of the public some changes have been made to the original plans, to prevent overlooking of neighbours in Haverstock Hill.”