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Playwright Sir David Hare says basement developments have turned Hampstead streets into ‘monopoly squares’

Exclusive: Writer says he has had to move out of studio to avoid noisy work in the past

22 June, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

IT’S a picture-book Hampstead back street which has provided the perfect hideaway for artists and writers, including one of the nation’s most celebrated playwrights

But Sir David Hare has said that Rudall Crescent is becoming a “square on a Monopoly board” after warning that neighbours’ plans to expand their basement will shatter its treasured peace and tranquility.

Sir David told the New Journal that constant building projects in Hampstead had already forced him away from the writing studio where he has produced some of his best-known works. “Rudall Crescent has always been a quiet residential street where people lived for 20 years or longer,” he said. “Only in the last few years has it become a square on an investor and estate agent’s Monopoly board. That’s changing its character.”

The new owners of a neighbouring property want planning consent to rebuild an extension at the back of the house and revamp the coal cellar. Sir David owns the Penn Studio in the street, marked with a blue plaque for the artist Mark Gertler, who featured in DH Lawrence’s novel Women In Love. “I have already endured the noise, dirt and constant disruption for 18 months,” he said. “At times I had to move out. Basement work of this kind is now loathed in London for very good reasons. This is a quiet residential street. It is losing its essential charm and character by people coming in and hollowing it out for commercial profit.”

Penn Studio

Sir David, who is known for a host of critically acclaimed plays including Plenty and Amy’s View, and the film The Hours, has written to the Town Hall urging planners to reject the scheme. “These unnecessary basements are anti-social and destructive,” said Sir David, who is married to fashion design and sculptor Nicole Farhi. “In the interests of letting the Crescent retain its essential character – quiet, peaceful, neighbourly – I implore the council to reject this application.”

Architect Piers Smerin, who has worked on the proposals and filed the application on behalf of the new owner, said the plan was not a large basement extension, but sought to simply expand a small cellar at the front of the late Victorian red brick home. He said: “While it is technically described as basement work, there is an existing cellar that the client wants to drop the floor by a matter of 400 millimetres to improve the head room, and move a wall to fit in a washing machine, and ensure it is dry. It is pushing it to describe it as a basement – it is making an existing cellar space a little wider and deeper.”

But civic groups and some neighbours have backed Sir David’s objections. Janine Griffis, from the Pilgrim and Willoughby Residents association, told planners that residents “believe that in order to ensure the stability of neighbouring properties, further investigations are needed before this proposal meets Camden’s requirements.”

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