Gondar Reservoir: Planning inspector blocks developer's appeal to build retirement village in West Hampstead
PUBLISHED: 16:40 10 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:28 12 June 2019
Worms, bats, and a lack of funding for affordable housing have scuppered a developer's plans to build a retirement village on the Gondar Reservoir site in West Hampstead.
After a planning inquiry in January and February this year, an inspector today dismissed LifeCare Residences' appeal against Camden Council's rejection of planning permission for their scheme - which would have seen 81 so-called "extra-care" apartments and a 15-bed care home built in a gated complex on the site of the disused Gondar Reservoir.
Planning inspector Brendan Lyons cited the scheme's impact on the environment and a lack of adequate contribution to affordable housing provision as he published his judgement.
He stated that the development would include a "number of significant breaches" of the development plan - which is the combination of the Camden Local Plan, the London Plan and the West Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan.
He wrote: "As a result, I find on balance that the proposal would be contrary to the plan when taken as a whole."
Mr Lyons said that the plans "would be more harmful to the grassland habitat than the earlier schemes" and it had not been shown that LifeCare proposed to make the "maximum reasonable contribution to the provision of affordable housing".
He also cited the impact of the scheme on biodiversity - including on bats and the only slow worm population in the borough.
The inspector added that there would be a "loss of amenity value" by building on the open space and said he shared Camden's concerns regarding disability access to the proposed complex.
He said: "I endorse the concerns of the Council and the GLA that the fundamental organisation of the complex would place disabled and less mobile people, who could comprise a notable proportion of the elderly residents, at a significant disadvantage in ease of access."
The decision is a victory for the council and the local Gondar and Agamemnon Residents' Association (GARA).
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GARA chair David Yass welomed the news.
He said: "From what we can tell, this is pretty strongly worded throughout, and it makes a huge difference as to what the developer will be able to do next.
"It was excellent to have worked so collaboratively with a really strong Camden team. I'm delighted and relieved."
Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea (Lib Dem) gave evidence to the inquiry and was also pleased with the outcome. She told the Ham&High: "It's really wonderful news. There was a really great case put forward. Now I hope they [the developers] will go away!"
LifeCare Residences' chief exec Nigel Sibley said: "We are very disappointed at the outcome of the planning appeal for our proposed retirement village and nursing home at Gondar Gardens.
"We are considering the reasons for the decision issued by the Planning Inspectorate in order to determine our next steps."
Councillor Danny Beales, Camden Council's cabinet lead for planning, said: "We welcome the inspector's decision, which is a clear endorsement of our position that the recent proposals for this site are completely unsuitable. "They are not in accordance with the development plan and in particular fail to provide affordable housing that is much needed in the area - and that is not good enough for our residents.
"We would encourage the applicant to work closely with the council and the surrounding communities going forward to find a better proposal for this site which delivers for our community ."
This was not the first planning application for the site seen off by the community.
Since the Gondar Reservoir was decommisioned in 2001, there have several attempts to build on the site - first from housebuilder Linden Wates, and then by LifeCare.
Linden Waites' first plan was to build 16 homes sunk within the old reservoir - this was given permission, but the developer came back with two further schemes in 2013 and 2015 respectively. A plan to build 28 flats on the street frontage - preserving almost all of the green space was approved, but the second option, to build a mammoth 79 flats on the majority of the site was dropped shortly before the site was bought by LifeCare.