The ‘Local List’ property, above, at 42 Phoenix Road, and, below, how it might be developed
Published: 12 February, 2016
by RICHARD OSLEY
DEVELOPERS are set to test Camden Council’s “Local List” system of protecting buildings of historic and civic importance after asking for permission to bulldoze a former “nursery for the fatherless” in Somers Town.
The Findlay Estate Company wants to demolish No 42 Phoenix Road – opposite the Cock Tavern pub – to create a modern, six-storey block of student flats.
It says the current property, which is included in architecture critic Nikolaus Pevsner’s famous directory of buildings of note, is not fit for modern needs and has to be updated.
But the site, used as a day centre for mothers and children in the 1930s, was last year placed on the Town Hall’s “Local List”, a compilation of buildings considered important to the community.
The listing is not the same as official planning protection but developers need to show strong arguments for knocking cited structures down. At its launch, the scheme was heralded by the council as a way of showing it cared about older buildings.
Findlay’s consultants are aware of their building’s place on the list but said the “reasons for its inclusion are not obvious” and “the building’s architect, if indeed there was one, is not known”.
They added that “taken overall, the architectural merit of the original building is unexceptional”.
But some residents in the area are concerned about how the nature of the neighbourhood is changing at speed and fear too many heritage buildings – and their link with the past – are being lost in favour of modern alternatives.
Tina Swasey, who lives nearby, said the wrecking ball plans were an “insult” to the council’s list system. “It’s very upsetting to hear that a lovely and interesting 20th-century building designated of being of interest by Camden Council cannot be better protected,” she said.
Diana Foster, another neighbour, warned that “Somers Town will look like an office”, while Slaney Devlin, who lives nearby, said “the history of the building and some of the famous people who have lived on the site, William Godwin, Abbe Carron, needs to be kept in some way.”
Former St Pancras librarian Ruth Hayes said the older buildings in Somers Town were “pleasing to the eye” and had “heritage value”.
Other critics have questioned why the new flats are being built for students, and some residents say life in Somers Town has already been disrupted in recent years by a series of major developments including the building of the Francis Crick Institute nearby St Pancras station.
Camden planning officials have asked the developers whether the property can be restored or refurbished without demolition, including rebuilding behind the current facades.
But Findlay’s consultants said there was no “financially viable” scheme which could modernise the site without demolition and a rebuild.
“The inescapable conclusion is that if the building is to be accessible to all and with a new lease of life as a community asset, demolition and redevelopment is unavoidable,” they said.
Council officers are now reviewing whether the scheme should be given planning permission.