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Society's planning victory was important for preservation of Heath

PUBLISHED: 11:20 12 April 2007 | UPDATED: 14:30 07 September 2010

THE successful appeal by the Heath and Hampstead Society against the monstrosity of a house planned for the edge of Hampstead Heath, is an important victory for the people over the planners. Had the disputed plans been revealed for public inspection on Ap

THE successful appeal by the Heath and Hampstead Society against the monstrosity of a house planned for the edge of Hampstead Heath, is an important victory for the people over the planners.

Had the disputed plans been revealed for public inspection on April 1, they might well have been regarded as a classic April Fool's Day spoof. Yet somehow, Camden's planners came out in favour of the demolition of the Garden House in the Vale of Health and its replacement with a modern building, four times its size. Mr Justice Sullivan failed to see the funny side on Tuesday when he branded the council's approval of the plan as ''simply perverse''. There could be no better description.

We should all be thankful that organisations like the Heath and Hampstead Society exist. In areas of high housing density, residents can at least band together and present a strong united case against intrusive or unsuitable development.

Such was the case when local representations led to Camden councillors overturning the advice of their own officers on a development in Estelle Road last week.

But in areas of sparser density, such as the fringes of the Heath, it is important to have a watchful organisation which is committed to preserving the Heath's special character and aspect, for everyone to enjoy.

Happily, when it comes to fighting bureaucracy, the Heath and Hampstead Society has more expertise at its immediate disposal than any local authority. The organisation has also shown itself to be more than a match for the Heath's guardians, the City of London Corporation, and for any big business concerns tempted to chance their arm and indulge in exploitation of this valuable acreage.

A former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Marco Goldschmied, rightly raises the worry that there must be hundreds of less prominent cases where residents aren't as organised and can't raise the tens of thousands of pounds needed to fight their case. This is exactly what many unscrupulous and determined developers rely on, as well as playing on the council's fear of being embroiled in lengthy and costly appeals when they turn applications down.

But the Garden House case should remind councils that their first responsibility is to residents and that in these parts, people are not prepared simply to lie down and allow developers and opportunists to ride roughshod. They know their rights and they also know how to exercise them.

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