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Planners consider bid to convert former art gallery into homes

Property experts' marketing report said there was no significant interest in commercial unit, but neighbours disagree

08 February, 2017 — By Richard Osley

The former Beardsmore Gallery in Prince of Wales Road

AN empty art gallery occupied by squatters in Kentish Town is at the centre of debate over whether potential retail units should be allowed to be converted into housing.

Planners are mulling over a request to turn the former Beardsmore Gallery in Prince of Wales Road into two new flats. The future of the building has been unclear since the gallery closed last May, and the application has been on the desks of council planners since November.

Landlords say their attempts to find commercial interest have drawn a blank but residents groups say the rent was set too high. In the meantime, squatters who protest about the length of time some buildings stand vacant in the middle of London’s housing crisis are understood to be inside.

The conversion plan would see part of 1980s extension in front of the old gallery demolished, next to the Grafton pub, and the ground floor converted.

The rate was set at around £30,000 a year, although property specialists Christo filed a marketing report on behalf of the landlords warning that although this was a fair figure there had been no significant interest.

But Debby Hyams, who chairs the Inkerman Area Residents’ Association, said: “There is a lot of pedestrian trade along this stretch of Prince of Wales Road and contrary to the application statement, it is perfectly viable site for retail.”

She added: “There is no local shortage of small, private flats. The owner is not offering social housing or anything that would contribute to the neighbourhood.”

Meanwhile, Tom Young, an architect who has repeatedly urged the council to protect small business space against waves of private housing applications, told the planning department that it was its “job to challenge the applicant about the seriousness of their commitment to let their retail space at a realistic space”.

Martin Plaut, another objector, added: “The shop is an important part of our neighbourhood. Other firms would be pleased to rent it if it was properly advertised and let an appropriate rate. It is very important that Kentish Town should not become simply a residential area. Keeping the shopping alive is critical to the character of the area.”

The BP Partnership, the architects working on the scheme, said: “The proposed residential development has been designed to make optimum use of the site in order to contribute towards the council’s housing targets while still exceeding the local and national requirements for new homes in terms of design, layout and accessibility.

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