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Next door basement plan will put Charles Dickens Museum at risk, warns director

Historic museum at risk

08 April, 2016 — By Tom Foot

Charles Dickens Bloomsbury

It is the ultimate mecca for Charles Dickens fans arriving in London from around the world – the last surviving townhouse in the capital to have been occupied by the writer and his home when Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers were published.

But the director of the Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, set up to honour the author, has warned that the unique site is “at risk” from its neighbour’s great expectations for a basement expansion next door.

Dr Cindy Sughrue has written to the Town Hall asking planners to halt work on an overhaul planned at the neighbouring house, warning that the museum’s daily operations would be put in jeopardy.

Camden’s planning department is currently reviewing the design proposals submitted by architects working for property owner Yitan He. These include several changes to a listed five-bedroom house including expanding the basement below the back garden.

Dr Sughrue warned that any next-door “excavation or construction works causing vibration at the levels outlined would most likely cause significant structural damage, putting at risk the extensive, world-class collection of irreplaceable objects and material that the building houses”.

The museum, which was founded in 1925, holds 100,000 items relating to Dickens’s life, and is considered an invaluable archive library for scholars of his work.

“The works would cause extensive disruption to the museum’s daily trading activities, including in the historic house and the garden café adjacent,” added Dr Sughrue. “This would seriously disrupt the museum’s ability to operate and would result in major loss of trading income.”

Ward councillor Awale Olad said: “I certainly agree with Dr Sughrue. The proposals set out are consistent with what we have been deluged with lately, multi-million pound penthouse developments, that no one locally can afford, and that have little care for surrounding neighbourhoods, and on this occasion likely to cause irreparable damage to this Grade I-listed world-renowned institution, the Dickens Museum.”

The applicants believe the work can be completed without disruption.

Architect Jonathan Drew said; “Our client has recognised from the outset that such works are extremely sensitive and has employed an architect that has previously worked on listed buildings in the borough.

“The architect has also been working very closely with the Heritage Collective to ensure that the proposals are designed taking the heritage assets into consideration.”

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