The community centre at the bottom of Bertram Street that faces demolition
Published: 8 April, 2016
by DAN CARRIER
THE future of the Highgate Newtown Community centre hangs in the balance as Camden Council unveiled new plans to redevelop the site.
The centre in Bertram Street could be demolished and the land used to build 33 private homes, with a new sports hall and offices built on what is currently a courtyard.
The scheme also includes a new through route to Croftdown Road, which is currently reached through a small alleyway, and would generate a surplus for the Town Hall of around £2.7million.
But the chairman of the centre’s board of trustees, James Robin, said they feared the scheme would leave them with a building that was not fit for purpose, and a new rent bill of more then £100,000 a year to the Town Hall.
A set of plans were passed by the council’s cabinet in February, but have since changed to include an extra floor of private housing.
The new scheme would pay for the building of new homes and facilities for the community centre, while making a profit for the Town Hall’s Community Investment Programme.
Mr Robin said: “It is frustrating. They are producing something that would make a lot of money, but we are not sure we are getting something that is fit for purpose. We don’t know what the new scheme will mean.
“It feels like they are trying to squeeze as much out of the site as possible.”
He added that new accounting practices by the Town Hall would mean community centres paying rent for using the council-owned facilities.
“Community centres have been asked to pay their own way,” he said. “We don’t feel this is fair, considering the services we are providing.”
Other objections focus on the fact the plan will see two families kicked out of their homes.
Ian Williams, who has lived in a flat with his family on the top floor of the centre for 15 years, told the New Journal he had no faith in the Town Hall’s decision-making process.
He said: “We had an architect in our home in September telling us we would be able to stay. But then in December this had changed with no warning.
“They came in, said ‘here is our latest plan’, and it dawned on us it did not include our flats being kept.”
He added that the finances behind a previous scheme suggested by Town Hall designers – that would have kept the current building – was as financially sound as new proposals that knock it down.
The deal to rebuild the centre has been severely criticised by Highgate ward Green Councillor Sian Berry.
In a deputation to the Town Hall’s cabinet when they rubber-stamped the project, she said the council had switched from looking at using the project to solely re-provide a community centre to making a huge profit from the deal.
She added that demolishing the existing building would cause many months of disruption in the neighbourhood.
She said she had broadly supported an earlier scheme that would retain the existing building, converting it in to homes. “It seemed to me to strike the right balance between community space, the opening up of public space, disruption with only demolishing the least suitable buildings and a high but suitable residential density,” she said.
“The impetus for moving to scenario five has been the desire for a higher profit margin on the project to reduce risk.
“However, I believe this needs to be considered against the wider costs and harms to the community.”
The Town Hall’s leisure chief, Labour councillor Phil Jones, said the priority was to build a centre that would provide services into the future.
He said: “The community centre, sports hall and youth centre are fantastic assets but they are in a poor state of repair and need £3million of investment.
“We plan to replace them with top quality new facilities to better meet future needs, and enable the community centre to attract more funding.
“It’s regrettable that two leasehold flats are proposed to go.
“I know the households affected have strong local ties. The council is committed to working closely with them so they can stay in the area.
“We have experience of dealing with similar cases and schemes in place to help leaseholders in these circumstances.”