CamdenNewJournal

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‘Why shouldn’t people be living here?’: Squatters move into 100 Avenue Road

Group escapes eviction due to 'technicality' after case at Royal Courts of Justice

18 April, 2018 — By Tom Foot

The group which is living inside the empty block in Swiss Cottage

SQUATTERS have moved into the vacant building at the centre of the Swiss Cottage skyscraper controversy – and are opening its doors to the homeless.

The group is holding regular barbecues and debating philosophy outside the office block at 100 Avenue Road, a complex due to be demolished to make way for a 24-storey flats tower. They have already escaped one attempt to evict them through the court.

Developer Essential Living won permission to build the tower after appealing to the government following Camden Council’s refusal to give consent. The block, which will have 184 apartments, was opposed by all political parties at the Town Hall and was the subject of petitions and protests by neighbours.

The developer says it wants to start work as soon as possible, but must first have its plan for building and traffic management ratified by the council, a process which has generated a new wave of objections. Campaigners fear the development will mean that a popular oasis between the leisure centre and Hampstead Theatre will face pollution and noise from a “constant stream of heavy goods vehicles” for three years.

One of the squatters, who would identify himself only as JJ, said: “We’ve had a lot of support, especially from older residents and also the people working on the farmers’ market. I think people had given up on this place, but maybe we’re offering a bit of hope again?”

He added: “Our group is growing. The homeless are coming up from Camden Town and Kentish Town. Just because we’re squatters it doesn’t mean we’re lazing about doing nothing all day. I go to work, and I don’t mind bringing some food back for people here. We’ve been having these barbecues most days now. The building is empty and they are not allowed to start working on it yet – so why shouldn’t people be living here?”

The group has shown its support for local objectors by painting a red “Save Swiss Cottage” mural on one side of the building. Essential Living says the development will play a part in easing London’s “housing crisis”.

The company went to the Royal Courts of Justice last Wednesday, claiming the squatters were trespassing. The application was adjourned by the judge because of “a legal technicality”, an Essential Living spokesman said. It bought the massive site in 2012, but it was not until 2016 that planning permission for its “Theatre Square” development was finally approved.

After Camden councillors rejected the proposals, a planning inspector overruled the decision. This was upheld by the then communities and local government secretary Greg Clark. Save Swiss Cottage campaigner Elaine Chambers, chairwoman of Winchester Road Residents’ Association, has repeatedly raised concerns about pollution from building work and the impact on the thriving farmers’ market.

An Essential Living spokesman said: “Our plans for hundreds of build-to-rent apartments – with family-friendly leases – while creating a new community centre for the Winch, will greatly en­hance Swiss Cottage town centre. We will be returning to court shortly to resolve the current issue.”

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