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Company says it will ‘enhance ecological context’ by building retirement homes on West Hampstead reservoir site

Writer Doris Lessing had campaigned to save the Gondar Gardens land before her death

24 February, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Plans for housing at Gondar Gardens have sparked a strong reaction from conservation groups who have campaigned to protect the site.

A RETIREMENT home company which spent millions of pounds buying land protected by law due to its wildlife and flora have claimed that by building 108 houses they will “enhance the ecological context”.

Upmarket retirement village developers LifeCare bought the former Thames Water reservoir in Gondar Gardens, West Hamp­stead, a year ago from house-builders Linden Wates – and have drawn up plans to cover the site in sheltered housing.

When quizzed this week by the New Journal over their plans – that would mean a huge development on land that has built-in protection similar to the green belt due to the abundance of wildlife such as slow worms and bats, and protected meadow grassland – LifeCare spokeswoman Angela Wallace said: “Consider­ing the currently evolving planning policy context, along with the growing demand for housing in general and elderly housing specifically, it is an appropriate location for a scheme which is able to improve the existing under-utilised site, meet the needs of a range of local people, provide new jobs and enhance the ecological context.”

The company declined to explain what they meant by “enhancing the ecological context”, adding: “We are hesitant to expand on details that are still evolving.”

Author Doris Lessing was among those who fought to save the space

Members of the Gondar and Agamemnon Residents Association say the proposal, which is yet to be put before the Town Hall, should have virtually no chance of being approved due to the special protection the land enjoys. The association has fought to protect the site for two decades and is now rallying support to help block the latest plans.

The late West Hampstead-based Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing was at the forefront of previous campaigns to save the space. As well as the 108 luxury homes, the project would include a swimming pool, restaurant and nursing facilities.

LifeCare say the new estate would be car-free as tenants would be provided with chauffeurs to ferry them around. The project would have no affordable housing and rips up previous deals to hand over much of the land to the London Wildlife Trust.

David Yass, of the Gondar and Agamemnon Residents Association, said they were “shocked” at the plans they had seen so far. He said they had suggested LifeCare look at previous proposals that did not win permission to be built.

He added: “We are extremely concerned that the site has been sold on to a developer of luxury retirement homes, who are exempt from providing affordable housing. We believe that the Gondar Gardens reservoir site is and should remain an important undisturbed green space for wildlife.”

The land was given protection in 2005 after Thames Water lost two planning appeals to build housing there. Linden Wates bought the site in 2010 and chopped down mature trees along the street side.

They then won permission to build 16 low-level homes sunk into the cavernous underground brick Victorian reservoir arches, but then came back with a scheme that would see them build 28 homes along the entrance and hand the rest of the land over to the London Wildlife Trust to manage in perpetuity.  They won permission for this and then went back to the drawing board to try and expand the scheme. This was quietly dropped and they eventually sold the land without a brick being laid.

Ms Wallace added: “LCR’s projects provide high-quality, supported housing for the active elderly as well as nursing homes and care services. The development of this site will bring a number of benefits. LCR is an employer who provides a range of jobs in the service and care industry. LCR will undertake to provide ecological enhancements. The development will improve the site and the street character and will create a unique living environment which aims to reflect the heritage qualities of the existing structure.”

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