‘Please, sir…’: Twist over workhouse redevelopment as affordable housing is reduced
Dickens descendant says change is 'rather sickening'
25 June, 2021 — By Harry Taylor
The workhouse building in Cleveland Street
PLANS to redevelop the former workhouse that may have provided the inspiration for Charles Dickens’ most famous novel have taken a twist – with a move to cut the amount of affordable housing.
The New Journal can reveal that the UCLH Charity is set to apply to remove some of the cheaper housing from its redevelopment of the Middlesex Hospital Annex – also known as the Cleveland Street Workhouse – in Fitzrovia.
It is thought to have been the inspiration for Oliver Twist, Dickens’ enduring story of childhood poverty in 19th-century London.
Thirty affordable homes had at one stage been “guaranteed” for hospital staff who often struggle to find somewhere to live near UCLH’s site on the Euston Road.
The charitable arm of the hospital made the pledge when it secured planning permission in 2017.
An application said there was an expectation that these homes on the site “would prioritise such accommodation for nurses and junior doctors whose roles were central to emergency and urgent care and emergency planning resilience and response”.
A further 10 were designated for market sale or rent. Even before the green light was given, dozens of objections were made at the time, including one from a direct descendant of Dickens.
Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, the author’s great-great-great-granddaughter, said the proposal angered her.
She added: “Not only is it rather sickening to think of what was once a workhouse being advertised as ‘luxury housing’, but the fact that so little provision is being made for those in the area who really need a place to live, makes it even more infuriating.
“This news is particularly disheartening in the current time, with the housing crisis being felt even more keenly by Londoners in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, the need for affordable housing is greater than it has been in London, since the aftermath of WW2.
“Housing is a basic human need as well as a basic human right. This constant building of homes that no real Londoners can afford to buy, forces all housing prices out of the reach of anyone with an ordinary income and anyone who needs a place to live in, not just to visit on a whim.”
Bloomsbury councillor Adam Harrison urged the council to block any attempts to reduce the affordable housing.
He added: “The community in Fitzrovia have been waiting many years for – at the very least – the 30 legacy units contained within the Middlesex Annex development to be finally delivered.
“For over a decade this commitment has been left unmet, meaning families who could have lived in these flats have gone unhoused. Not only do we need more genuinely affordable housing throughout Camden, we especially need it south of the Euston Road, where residents rightly expect the large amount of development they have seen go up around them to meet their needs.”
Cllr Adam Harrison
A Camden Council spokesman said it was “disappointing” to have been approached by the charity.
A formal application is expected in the next few weeks. The buildings were used by the hospital until 2006.
It had previously been the Strand Union Workhouse in the 19th century, and is on Historic England’s “at risk” register.
A similar request by Essential Living was recently rejected by the Town Hall, after the developer said it was no longer viable to provide the same amount of affordable homes at a tower block of private housing planned for Swiss Cottage.
The council itself, as a developer, has previously been criticised for not meeting its own affordable housing guidelines on the redevelopment of the Charlie Ratchford Centre in Chalk Farm.
A Town Hall spokesman said: “The council will legally have to consider all information provided in any application, on its own merits once submitted. However, we have reiterated to them that this intention is deeply disappointing, and the provision of affordable housing in the borough is a priority as set out in our planning policy.”
A UCLH Charity spokesman said: “The charity is fully committed to the provision of affordable housing as part of the Bedford Passage mixed used redevelopment in Cleveland Street. “The pandemic has altered the viability of many projects across Camden, and we are in discussions with Camden Council to agree the final number of residential units and next steps.”