Published: 27 January 2011
PROPERTY NEWS by DAN CARRIER
THEY are the buildings that make up the fabric of our streets, the landmarks we all know and love. But far too often those that have stood the test of time disappear overnight on the whim of a property developer with pound signs in their eyes, because they have not been given listed protection.
Now Camden Council are hoping to set up a legally binding listing system, meaning even if government conservation body English Heritage – responsible for awarding legal protection to older buildings – turn down applications, the council can put a protection order in place, stopping developers in their tracks.
Recently, the former North London Polytechnic on the corner of Prince of Wales Road and Kentish Town Road was earmarked for demolition before the Town Hall’s planning committee overturned an earlier decision to let the owners knock it down.
Other much-loved buildings long since demolished include the trade union-owned Lyndhurst Hall in Queen’s Crescent, while in Belsize Park, two 1970s glass and steel modernist homes are threatened with demolition after English Heritage refused to give them special protection. The former hospital Athlone House in Hampstead Lane, currently the subject of an appeal after developers’ plans to pull it down were rejected, could have been guaranteed a future if the local listing system was introduced.
Haverstock ward Lib Dem councillor Matt Sanders asked the Town Hall this week to look into setting the list up and was given assurances it would happen. He has been fighting to stop a developer knocking down a Victorian piano factory in the heart of his ward, which is now used by small and medium-sized businesses.
“I read the CNJ week in, week out and it is so clear there are lots of buildings people are passionate about, and that people say makes a contribution to Camden, but are not recognised by English Heritage or fall in to a conservation area,” said Cllr Sanders.
“It is crazy that local communities do not have a clear say on buildings in their neighbourhood.”
Labour’s environment chief Cllr Sue Vincent said she would be looking into establishing the system as soon as possible.
She added: “It is vital for Camden. There needs to be local listing, and I am working with officers to introduce them.”
Currently, a former workhouse in Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia, is due to be knocked down after English Heritage refused to list it. Conservation charity the Georgian Group have since launched an appeal to Whitehall inspectors and hope the decision can be overturned. Georgian Group director Robert Bargery believes local lists would mean buildings such as the Cleveland Workhouse would be protected. “We support this fully,” he said. “There are buildings that do not quite meet the criteria but are of value to local people. There is more input by the local community with local lists – it demonstrates what matters.”
Victorian Society chairman Dr Ian Dungavell is also backing the proposals. He said: “National listing is very selective. A lot of heritage that is important locally will not be recognised at a national level.
“To get English Heritage protection, it has to be nationally significant, which means the bar is very high for this criteria.
“There is protection accorded by conservation areas, but you can’t declare them left, right and centre. This helps fill in any gaps.”
Dr Dungavell said that older buildings could often be converted into units for small companies at an affordable rent, while new buildings often have large footprints and open-plan offices which were geared towards larger companies.
He added that preserving them was as ecologically sound as knocking down buildings and replacing them.