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Heritage group hits out at plans to knock down 1970s-design hostel

Bid to save building with ‘international architectural and historic significance’ from the wrecking ball

23 October, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

The building on the corner of Dartmouth Park Hill that the Town Hall wants to demolish

A LANDMARK example of 1970s civic architecture has been earmarked for demolition as part of a homes redevelopment project.

But historians and conservationists are hoping to save the hostel building on the corner of Dartmouth Park Hill from the wrecking ball, insisting “everything possible should be done” to defend it.

Neighbouring Camden Council has asked its own planning department for permission to replace it with a new three to four-storey block. It will include 50 homes, potentially providing a roof for 200 people.

The conservation group The 20th Century Society, however, says the existing 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.

Catherine Croft, director of The 20th Century Society, said the hostel was “a very carefully considered and detailed building, responding with sensitivity and imagination” , adding: “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.”

An illustration of the proposed new scheme to provide more temporary accommodation for the homeless

The Society is now considering whether to request the block is put forward for statutory protective listing – which could harm Camden’s chances of pushing ahead with its 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 design will be “domineering” and the facade out of keeping with surrounding streets, and that 50 units proposed will lead to overcrowding and come with a lack of outdoor space.

A Camden Council 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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