Published: 01 July, 2010
by DAN CARRIER
THE narrow streets of Highgate Village face being clogged up for three years by heavy lorries carrying rubble after the mystery owners of the Witanhurst mansion were told they could start building work.
The owners, who have insisted on anonymity, have won a Whitehall planning appeal to significantly alter the Highgate West Hill property, which is the capital’s second biggest home, after Buckingham Palace.
The proposals were thrown out last year by Camden Council’s planning committee. At the time, councillors sought to find legal reasons to turn down a scheme that some said, off the record, were “immoral” for the amount of environmental damage it would cause during construction. They also questioned the need for the owners to dig up the front courtyard to build car parking for 24 cars, a gym and swimming pool, a sauna, massage parlour, and a hair and beauty salon.
Other features planned include servants’ quarters with a dedicated staff canteen.
The designs have been drawn up by classicist designer Robert Adam. They include extensive interior renovations, and returning some of the building to its illustrious hey-day in the 1930s when the young Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret would visit for tennis parties. Another application that was originally turned down but will now go ahead was to demolish a servants’ wing to replace it with what Mr Adam’s plans describe as an “orangery”.
Michael Hammerson, of conservation group the Highgate Society, claims the decision will ruin the character of Highgate Village.
He said: “It looks as if we are going to be subjected to another massively pretentious development, in a pastiche classical style which will be a mockery of Highgate’s character and history, and years of disruption. It is just another stage in the relentless Bishop’s Avenue-isation of Highgate, and will only encourage more of the same, which will wreck both Highgate and the Heath.”
And Mr Hammerson said the traffic generated by the project is a further cause for concern.
“This is also a warning to everyone in Highgate, particularly those living on West Hill, North Road, and North Hill, that they face three years of 32-ton lorries going past their houses and schools,” he added.
Highgate Green councillor Maya De Souza, who sat on the committee that originally turned the plans, said: “Our view was the extensive works proposed were excessive. This is not only because of the impact on metropolitan open land, views of neighbouring properties, loss of mature trees and risks to water flows, but also because of the huge number of movements of heavy good vehicles which will be needed.
“Demolition of the service wing and construction of an extensive basement for leisure facilities are the key reasons for this. I will continue to raise the issues relating to the traffic and construction nuisance.”
David Franklin, who works for Safran Holdings, a company registered in Guernsey, who own Witanhurst, said: “We have said if the appeal was successful we will get working on restoring Witanhurst to its former glory.”