Resident anger over St John’s Wood housing development

Council criticised for ‘riding roughshod’ over residents’ concerns after permission is granted to demolish health club

St John’s Wood residents have hit out at plans to knock down a health club and replace it with two large residential houses.

The site, on Mackennal Street, has been the subject over the past few years of numerous planning applications which have seen objections from unhappy residents and the St John’s Wood Society.

An application for the demolition of the existing building and erection of two larger houses was initially withdrawn in November 2007, before a second application was refused in February 2008 and permission finally granted on appeal in August 2008.

However, residents say they were unaware planning permission had ever been granted and – with a slightly altered application from a new developer currently awaiting consent – they are again looking to stop the development.

Zak Liyanage lives in the Tower Court block opposite the site where demolition began two weeks ago. He said: “We are quite concerned that the council seems to have ridden roughshod over all the concerns of the neighbourhood.

“This was a quiet health club which benefited all of us and many local people used the facilities there. These houses are not what we need here.

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“I feel especially sorry for the people in the house next door to the building. The new buildings are proposed to rise above their house, blocking the light to their roof terrace which they use for a bit of peace and quiet.”

His views were echoed by the chairman of the Tower Court residents’ association Massoud Karshenas who said: “It’s a pity because the building must be one of the oldest in the area.

“It’s not going to be a community resource any more. It’s going to be tall and will block the light into my flat.

“Two weeks ago builders suddenly started working on it and only after I contacted the St John’s Wood Society did we find out planning permission had been granted on appeal.”

The current application from BB Partnership Ltd, on behalf of Hadley Property Group, would see two four-bed houses of five storeys with balconies and roof terraces.

Westminster Council’s report into the 2008 application stated the new development would be of ‘greater bulk and height’ than the existing health club.

However, it adds that ‘the existing building does not require consent for demolition, as it is not of listable quality’ so ‘objections raised to its loss are therefore not considered to be sustainable’.

Objecting to the latest application, the St John’s Wood Society said: “We are disappointed that planning consent was granted on appeal in August 2008 to demolish the existing building and replace it with two new four-bedroom flats.

“We have not strongly opposed the demolition of this unlisted building of character because we believed that a replacement building of significant architectural merit could successfully replace the existing building.

“Unfortunately, the recent amended proposals continue to represent an overdevelopment of the site and in architectural terms the plans fail to be of sufficient merit to maintain or improve the character and appearance of the conservation area.

‘‘There are also some overlooking and privacy issues from the balconies and neighbours have raised loss of light objections.” Andrew Southern, Hadley Property Group development director said: “We purchased this site with existing planning permission.

“We believe the variations we have proposed are an improvement, creating two individual homes whose fa�ade, while still modern, features the red brick characteristic of the surrounding area rather than sandstone as originally proposed.”