David Arnold and AIR studios, a mecca for some of the world's most talented musicians and composers [Pic: Paul Capewell]
Published: 28 May, 2015
EXCLUSIVE by RICHARD OSLEY
JAMES Bond film score composer David Arnold has told how he fears the legendary AIR recording studios in Hampstead will be made unusable by drilling work ordered by neighbours who hope to install a new swimming pool.
Musicians at the world-famous studio, founded by Beatles producer George Martin, have written to Camden Council asking planners to refuse permission for the refurbishment and excavation work at a Grade II-listed home in Rosslyn Hill.
Homeowners Andrew and Elizabeth Jeffreys have outlined plans to create a new dining room extension and dig out a basement for a new pool, gym and TV room. Builders will excavate a smaller but deeper “sub-basement” to accommodate a plant room at the property, historically known as Rosslyn Grove and dating from 1770.
But the request for planning consent filed at the Town Hall has triggered a slew of complaints from neighbours who say the work is too expansive and disruptive.
These include musicians at AIR studios, which moved into the building next to the Jeffreys’ home – previously known as Lyndhurst Hall – in 1992 after moving out of its previous base near Oxford Street.
It is a mecca for some of the world’s best-known composers and musicians, and was where the 2004 Live Aid single – featuring Sir Bob Geldof, Chris Martin and Bono – was recorded.
Mr Arnold, who has written and recorded the music for five Bond films and was music director for the closing ceremonies at the London Olympics, says in his letter to planners: “When I record in the main hall at AIR with an orchestra then every extraneous noise can affect the work. If there is a noise beyond a certain level then we can’t work.”
He adds: “The studio is home to many film composers who work here and bring in millions of pounds worth of business from abroad. It’s effectively a hugely successful export business. That income goes to London musicians, hotels, catering, transport, music printing and copying, to name but a few.
“The type of excavation works proposed and the drilling involved would render our workplace unusable. It couldn’t function as a recording studio and would send those millions of dollars to other countries, Prague, Berlin etc and possibly even with other composers.”
AIR studios chief executive Paul Woolf adds in his objection: “There is a well-known risk in basement digging… The premises we occupy are Grade II-listed and are of heritage value and nothing should be allowed that may have any risk attached to it.”
The studios’ legacy dates from 1965 when Mr Martin set it up in the West End with partner John Burgess. A second studio was created in Montserrat in the West Indies, but it was wrecked by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Toby Pitman, a resident musician at the present-day studios, said of the proposed work: “It would basically make my work environment unusable for the duration of the works, causing huge financial loss.
“It would also severely affect the livelihood of hundreds of musicians, engineers, staff and other residents who use the establishment on a daily basis.”
The studios are not the only objectors. The Heath and Hampstead Society has warned that the house at the centre of the refurbishment needs protection, because of its exemplar status as a Grade II-listed house “relatively untouched by the vulgar excesses of the 21st century”.
The society adds: “The basement, whose construction would devastate the site, is far too big… If we must accept the so-called modernisation of this beautiful listed house by the addition of swimming pool, gymnasium and cinema, then it must be done more sensitively than this.”
Architects working for the Jeffreys family, however, insist that the plans are exactly that – sensitive – and that the work will “not result in any harm to the amenity of neighbouring occupiers”.
They argue that the proposed work has been carefully drawn up with respect to the property’s heritage as a “rare survivor of an earlier Hampstead”.
The application, currently on the desks of council planners while a consultation survey continues, says: “After long periods of neglect and dereliction the house is once again occupied by a young family that would like to enjoy both the house and garden to their fullest.”
The work will see outbuildings that are not considered to have great architectural merit demolished as a dining room extension is linked to the main house.
Consultants have reported that the digging will not harm the foundations of neighbouring properties or the water table below.
Thomas Croft Architects added: “We would like to think that, given the very big size of the plot and the distance from neighbours, this development work is not contentious so long as the stability of the house and its neighbours can be assured and the resulting new accommodation can be designed in such a way that it makes no aesthetic impact on the historic buildings.”