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Heritage group fights plan to demolish ‘architecturally significant’ hostel

Council says replacement building could provide homes to people on long waiting list

15 October, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

How the new building in Chester Road will look, if planners grant consent for the project

A LANDMARK example of Camden’s leading role in civic architecture has been earmarked for demolition by the Town Hall as part of a homes redevelopment project.

The council has asked its own planning chiefs for permission to bulldoze a hostel in Chester Road, Highgate, which dates from 1970.

In its place, a three/four-storey block of 50 homes will be built, potentially providing a roof for 200 people.

But conservation group The 20th Century Society says the building “has international architectural and historic significance,” and is an example of brilliant local authority design combining housing and social care.

The building was designed by council-employed architect Bill Forrest. He joined Camden in 1966, a year after graduating from the Architectural Association.

His first job was to build housing on the corner of Burghley Road and Highgate Road in Kentish Town. Once completed, he started work on a number of projects in Highgate Newtown, including homes in Raydon Street and Dartmouth Park Hill.

The hostel as it stands now

Catherine Croft, director of The 20th Century Society, said the hostel was “a very carefully considered and detailed building, responding with sensitivity and imagination. It deliberately shields its residents from the road, ensuring privacy and a sense of seclusion, which means that its most positive qualities are currently hard to appreciate from the public realm.”

The Society is now considering whether to request the block is put forward for statutory listing – which could harm the Town Hall’s chances of pushing ahead with the scheme. Ms Croft added: “It would be very short-sighted in heritage terms to demolish it, as well as having a very negative environmental impact through the loss of the considerable energy embed­ded within the current structure which could be adapted for alternative uses.”

Her views are echoed by Professor Mark Swenarton of Liverpool University, who has re­searched the impact of Camden’s in-house architect team during the 1960s and 1970s, which included RIBA Gold Medal winner Neave Brown.

“It is an outstanding example of the high quality architecture produced for Camden in the early years of the borough,” he said. “Everything possible should be done to protect and retain this important piece of heritage, which is of national and international as well as local significance.”

The Dartmouth Park Neighbourhood Forum has also raised objections. While it backs a new use of the land, saying its plan for the area calls for a variety of housing and community facilities, members fear the new block will be “domineering” and the facade out of keeping with surrounding streets, and that 50 units proposed will lead to overcrowding and will lack outdoor space.

A Town Hall spokes­man said: “The proposed redevelopment aims to provide much-needed, fit-for-purpose temporary accommodation for homeless families pending their move to a settled home.“It is our view that this cannot be achieved through refurbishment because of the condition of the building and the cost of bringing it to up to standard.

“A new facility would reduce the need to put families in expensive private sector temporary accommodation – saving money that can then be reinvested to continue providing support to those who find themselves facing homelessness. “We have sought to design a building which is sensitive to neighbouring residents and takes account of their views.”

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