Developer seeks permission from PINS for demolition and replacement of Hampstead mansion

Out-Law News | 19 Aug 2014 | 5:13 pm | 2 min. read

A developer has appealed to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) for permission to demolish a nineteenth century villa in London's Hampstead and replace it with an eight-bedroom mansion, after making changes to proposals that were previously rejected by the local authority and PINS.

Developer Athlone House Limited (AHL) submitted plans to Camden Council in November for the demolition of Athlone House, a derelict villa built in 1872, and the construction of a new, eight-storey home designed by Robert Adam of Adam Architecture. The plans were revised in May and the developer appealed to PINS to determine the application after the Council failed to give notice of its decision within the eight week period prescribed by law.

Initial plans to demolish and replace Athlone House were brought forward by AHL in 2010, but were refused by the Council. The Council raised concerns about the "inappropriate and intrusive bulk, form, design and materials" of the proposed home and considered that it would have a negative impact on protected views and conservation zones surrounding the site. The site is within an area of Metropolitan Open Land and the Highgate Conservation Area, and Athlone House is visible from Hampstead Heath and grounds of the Grade I-listed Kenwood House.

When AHL appealed the Council's 2010 decision, a planning inspector decided (23-page / 226 KB PDF) that the proposed development would preserve and enhance the character and appearance of the Highgate Conservation Area in comparison with the existing derelict building and would not diminish the character, appearance or setting of the surrounding open area. However, the inspector concluded that the "significantly greater amount of visible bulk" of the proposed home constituted "inappropriate development on Metropolitan Open Land", and that the "very special circumstances" that would outweigh the harm caused were not demonstrated.

According to the statement of case submitted by the developer to PINS under the present appeal, the amended 2013 design "retains the overall approach endorsed at the last appeal, but applies it to result in a building that is both actually and perceptually significantly smaller". The proposed basement floorspace has been reduced under the new plans and the method used to measure the internal area of the building has been altered.

However, a Council report produced on 1 August, following the lodging of the appeal, said that the Council would again have refused planning permission. The Council concluded that "the revisions to the scheme dismissed at appeal do not go far enough to address the inspector's concerns". The proposals still represented inappropriate development on Metropolitan Open Land, the inherent harm of which was not outweighed by any "very special circumstances", the Council said.

The report noted that, of 5,473 responses received in relation to the planning application, 5,470 had been objections. Among the objectors to the new scheme was English Heritage, which noted that the "overall scale, massing and materials remain largely the same". The Highgate Conservation Area Advisory Committee said: "The demolition of this iconic building and its replacement by an inferior piece of elaborate pastiche must be resisted. Tinkering with floor areas and the like makes little if any difference to the objectionable nature of this application."