Private rented landlord Essential Living has won permission on appeal, to build its Theatre Square development in Swiss Cottage, north London. A government inspector overturned the refusal of the scheme by Camden planners, who turned it down in 2014.
The proposal included a 24 storey tower that will provide 188 flats above Swiss Cottage tube station, for open market rental. A contribution of 36 affordable homes is included in the development. Designed by GRID architects, the project will replace the existing office building on the site, which will be demolished, with the tower and a lower seven storey podium block.
Despite being recommended for approval by planning officers, the planning committee in Camden bowed to pressure from local residents, who gathered a 3,000 signature petition opposing the scheme. Among those opposing it were a former English Heritage director, who branded the designs “monstrous” and “grotesque”. This was despite the fact that the new tower was largely in step with the four 23 storey towers on the nearby Chalcot Estate.
“We are very pleased the secretary of state has backed the independent planning inspector’s recommendation that this important proposal for the regeneration of Swiss Cottage should proceed,” said Scott Hammond, managing director of Essential Living. “This is entirely consistent with the original positive recommendation of Camden council planning officers, and the support received from both the Greater London Authority and Design Council. As we always believed it would, the extensive scrutiny of the scheme during the public inquiry has revealed the significant social benefits of the scheme.”
And Michael Lowndes of Turley, which worked as consultant on the project, added: “This is the kind of scheme that drives forward progress in London, delivering strategic and local priorities. It is an allocated busy town centre site in a highly accessible area, exactly where optimum density and tall building developments should be located.”
Conservative group leader Councillor Claire-Louise Leyland expressed disappointment at the decision, declaring: “This tower block will completely overshadow our beautiful area and the Swiss Cottage open space that our residents value so much. It is clear that we need to develop our Belsize Neighbourhood Plan, so that we have a greater say in shaping our community’s future.”
The original application was given 18 reasons for refusal. The main issues for objectors were overshadowing from the tall tower, and a shortfall in affordable homes against council policy.
While the secretary of state has approved the scheme, a number of amendments have been made. The viability of the project will be reassessed after it has been completed, with the provision for an overage payment to the council, could more affordable housing be supported.
This is not the first run-in with London planners that Essential has had. The company is currently refurbishing former office building Archway Tower to create rental flats. It had to appeal for approval to reclad the building, after Islington planners failed to determine the application in due time. Islington had already set itself up to oppose office to residential conversions, where it could. Speaking in 2013, Islington’s executive member for housing and development, James Murray, said: “Archway Tower is already being lined up to have a large number of small, sub-standard bedsits squashed into it, with no affordable housing.”
LPA Perspective: This decision is one in the eye for council planning committee members, who are swayed by local objections to a scheme that has been carefully designed to comply with policy, and where a developer has taken all reasonable steps to meet planning rules.
Yes, there will be a new landmark tower, and yes it will cast a new shadow when the sun shines, but London needs dense development above transport nodes, to deliver sustainable housing.
Some of the comments from objectors also clearly reveal there is little understanding of how modern Londoners live – car free, and with no alternative but to rent. Essential Living is one of a new generation of housing providers, which will help, at least in some way, ease the capital’s housing shortfall.