Published: 10 February 2011
by DAN CARRIER
A VICTORIAN piano factory that was threatened with demolition has been saved – for now.
The former home of the renowned Chalk Farm piano-making family, Chappells, had been bought by developers Risetall who had hoped to knock down the factory in Belmont Street and replace it with a block of student bedsits.
The Town Hall’s planning committee turned down the scheme but the owners appealed to Whitehall inspectors. They dismissed the appeal this week.
However, the decision does not mean the factory is saved: Risetall put in a new application before the appeal verdict to build another set of offices and student homes on the site.
The Whitehall planners turned down the appeal as they said it would hit employment – it is currently used by numerous firms for offices – that the demolition would be too disruptive, and it would lead to a loss of housing.
A statement issued by the owners said they have taken into account the reasons behind the refusal before and have tweaked it to make it more acceptable.
The previous application had a double-sized basement for offices, which was criticised by the Town Hall. This time there will be less below-ground office space and all ceilings will be slightly higher. They have also mixed the types of student rooms available, creating more twin bedrooms than were available before.
Haverstock ward Lib Dem councillor Matt Sanders, who has worked to save the building, said: “It appears the developers just do not get it. They do not care what the planning inspector says or what people living nearby think, and it is astonishing they should have made this application before seeing what the inspectors’ verdict was.
“The appeal decision is a fantastic result as it vindicates what people opposing this scheme were saying and even goes further than we had hoped. It states clearly that student housing here is not viable and that the plans would hit employment.”
Victorian Society chairman Dr Ian Dungavell said the new scheme was still approaching the building in the wrong away. He said: “An old piano factory could be converted into some very funky student homes. Why knock it down? It is a question of looking at design. After all, Victorian factories make wonderful loft apartments.
“This seems to be nothing but a question of money: it is more lucrative to plan to build shoeboxes for students.”
And there may be further good news for campaigners acting to stop the building being demolished.
A new conservation law, reported first in the New Journal two weeks ago, could see it given special protection. Called “local listings”, it is due to be introduced by Camden Council and will give the Town Hall special powers to give historic or landmark buildings that have not been given national protection by English Heritage.
Town Hall environment chief Labour councillor Sue Vincent said: “We are waiting for guidance from central government to check the criteria and then we can start. I believe this is exactly the type of building that could fit the criteria.”
A spokesman for the developers said they had submitted in a new application before the planning inspector verdict was finalised simply because it is free of charge to re-apply within a 12-month time limit.
He added: “We are disappointed with the appeal dismissal but look forward to engaging with council officers and the public with a view to putting together an agreeable scheme for the redevelopment of the premises.”