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Why piano factory plan is out of tune

Fears historic buildings are being turned into ‘Manhattan apartment blocks’ by developers

21 September, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Work on the development at Bayham Place, a cobbled cul-de-sac in Camden Town

CONSERVATIONISTS have warned that historic Camden Town buildings are in danger of becoming like Manhattan loft apartments and ruining the area’s Victorian heritage – after Town Hall planners waved through a bid to double the height of a brick-built former piano factory.

Developers – who in planning documents are named as Summer Butterfly Limited and are registered in the British Virgin Islands – applied to add three storeys onto the roof of a block in Bayham Place, a cobbled cul-de-sac behind the legendary Koko venue.

They had already been given permission to add two storeys last year, using a zinc-clad Modernist design. But they returned again over the summer with a new bid that would see a brick floor added between the top of what is there at the moment and the Modernist extension on the roof. It will enable them to turn the building, which is currently used as offices, into 22 flats. This prompted stinging objections and criticism from Camden Town’s Conservation Area Advisory Committee (CAAC).

Committee chairman Gordon McQueen said: “The proportions are all wrong. What was a subtle and nice part of our heritage will now be like a Manhattan apartment block. We are anxious that this will lead to further applications happening for similar work nearby and the beginning of a pattern to build higher and higher in the conservation area.
“We have quite a few low-level areas – that is part of its quality and its character. This was also brought up by the Camden Design Review Panel, but the planning officers did not refer to it. We are worried this will be a pattern for the future.”

Mr McQueen added that protecting historic buildings – many harking back to the days when Camden Town was the centre of Britain’s piano manufacturing industry – was clearly an aim in both the council’s own Local Development Plan, which guides what can and can’t be built, and on the CAAC’s statement, both of which are meant to be considered by councillors looking at applications – yet were not referred to by planning officers when the scheme was being considered.

The New Journal has learned that the Town Hall’s Camden Design Review Panel were split down the middle over the scheme and could not come to an agreement.

Mr McQueen said: “We feel it will create a canyon, a pretty miserable place to have flats, as sunlight will be blocked out.” In their objection to the committee on Thursday, the CAAC added that the new plans amount to an ugly “pastiche” that would dilute the building’s history.

Calling it a “harmful intervention”, they added: “It would be to the detriment of the existing building and the broader conservation area. As the brick of the existing building has weathered throughout the years, the new brick would appear visibly conspicuous.”

Other concerns include the fact that Koko, next door, has recently been granted permission to redevelop its building – and has done so with the backing of heritage experts.

One objector, who lives nearby, stated: “The proposed development is not in keeping with the extremely high quality and sympathetic design that was recently granted at Koko. The architects at Koko were extremely keen to have the involvement and the opinion of the local community and went to great lengths to be sympathetic to the surrounding buildings and conservation areas. It is regretful that the applicant, architects and planning consultants involved in this application have not considered or consulted with the community in a similar fashion.”

The application states that the “upper two floors – the contemporary part of the proposal – would be of an almost identical design to the approved scheme”.

The Camden Design Review Panel also looked at the plans and said: “There are both arguments for and against the proposed increase in height. They understand the rationale for increasing the height of the consented scheme and did not raise objections to the proposal.”


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