The Independent London Newspaper
18th February 2019

The council’s plan for Highgate Newtown Community Centre should be dropped

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    Published: 1 September, 2016

    • THE only excuse for Camden Council to knock down Highgate Newtown Community Centre (Property News, August 25) would be to make a profit by selling private flats on the site, under the so-called Community Investment Programme. 

    The site currently holds a caretaker’s house, two leasehold flats, HNCC itself and Camden’s own Fresh Youth Academy which reopened in 2015 after a £300,000 refurbishment, a section 106 requirement of the Chester Balmore development.

    HNCC raises three-quarters of its own budget, independent of Camden, and the existing buildings could be retrofitted to modern standards at moderate cost. If HNCC had a proper lease it could also raise from outside sources the rent Camden wants to start charging in 2017. The caretaker’s house – empty for three years now – could be sold to recoup the half-million or so Camden has already spent on consultants.

    Every week HNCC’s facilities and volunteers provide services to hundreds of locals of all ages, saving our council a fortune; services which would close or have to be transferred somewhere (what local premises are lying empty, please?). They wouldn’t be back on site for, say, three years – by which time HNCC as a living breathing community provider would no longer exist.

    So the question is: what is Camden’s record as a developer, and could it make money from the 31 private flats? Which incidentally it has no remit to provide – social housing is needed, but London already builds plenty of private flats for foreign investors. For an answer look no further than the Chester Balmore development a hundred yards north. In return for kicking out existing shops and businesses and demolishing the flats, Camden promised a dozen shops including another laundrette – the number was steadily whittled down – and more than two years after completion there is no laundrette, no shops, one surgery, and the social housing is about the same as what was demolished. 

    Meantime the flats themselves were so badly built that remedial work is still going on, and Camden’s spending hundreds of thousands compensating leaseholders for defects.

    There are good planning reasons for rejecting the HNCC development, not least the extra traffic to 31 new households down a small cobbled dead-end street: they won’t be allowed cars so there’ll be a never-ending stream of delivery vans. 

    The plans include a new pedestrian exit to Croftdown Road, taking valuable open space from local families. 

    And the height and mass of the development would significantly impact residents on all four sides.

    Camden councillors should show us figures to prove they will make money from this development: given the evidence of Chester Balmore, Talacre Road etc, I’m one of many locals who think that while a private developer might, Camden Council doesn’t have the skills and never will. 

    So it should think again and drop this doomed project.

    Mike Wells
    Laurier Road, NW5

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