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Royal Free’s sale of key worker homes branded a ‘disgrace’

New Journal story sparked national debate over future of hospital's property plan

24 May, 2018 — By Tom Foot

THE Royal College of Nursing has warned the Royal Free Hospital that the sale of key-worker homes is “nothing short of disgraceful”.

The New Journal revealed earlier this month how Queen Mary House, near Whitestone Pond in Hampstead, has been put on the market. It triggered national news coverage and a debate over whether the hospital is right to “test the market” with the 1.6-acre site.

The building at the top of East Heath Road currently houses 52 nurses, teachers and other low-paid public service staff, but is being marketed for its potential to high-end homes developers.

The Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) regional director, Jude Diggins, said the plans to “replace affordable key worker housing on NHS land with luxury flats worth up to £10million is nothing short of disgraceful, and an insult to hard-working and dedicated health care staff”, adding: “Rents in the area are sky high, yet instead of seeking to extend and improve the availability of affordable housing for its staff, the Royal Free is intent on selling its land to the highest bidder and uprooting people from their homes – the general public, who NHS land belongs to, will not be impressed.”

She added: “We will be challenging these plans all the way. NHS land is public land and should be used to provide the affordable housing people need, not line the pockets of high-end estate agents and luxury property developers.”

Designs for a potential 162-flat development, spread over four blocks with underground car park, have been unveiled on a property website. The “Hampstead Gardens” scheme would be “a rare opportunity to create one of the most desirable new-build schemes in London”, according to Knight Frank which was marketing the site.

The New Journal broke the story on May 3

The Royal Free says it could also offer land in its car park for a developer to build any affordable housing it needs to meet Camden Council’s planning requirements.

The hospital became the owners of the site in 1972 and, following the closure of New End Hospital in 1986, it was developed into an elderly care unit in 1991. The wing closed was down in 2011. A final decision to sell the land is yet to be made, the hospital said.

A statement said: “The Royal Free London must use its estate in the most efficient way to ensure we can deliver the very best care to our patients. With this in mind, a process to market QMH has begun to establish the level of interest in the site with a view to a possible sale in the future. Any future developers would need to also provide affordable housing in the area. Residents – who are all on short-term leases – have been informed and the trust is committed to finding them alternative, affordable accommodation should the site be sold.”

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