‘Good-minded developer’ with dream of new homes on site of fire tragedy

Community Land Trust model in action

Friday, 8th April — By Tom Foot

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How the new lawn looks

THIRTY-ONE Daleham Gardens was the scene of a terrible tragedy in 2017 when a fire killed a young woman in a council-owned home.

Magdalena Fink died in the huge blaze that started in a ground floor storage cupboard at the property.

The rubble of the red-brick building in Belsize Park has been surrounded by scaffolding for several years but this spring an inviting lawn has appeared; green shoots of a not-for-profit project run by Camden’s first “community developer”.

The NW3 Community Land Trust (CLT) is a new model where ordinary people come together to develop and manage housing for local people.

It was hoped the pilot would lead to CLTs being used in larger-scale projects across Camden as an alternative to the current system where land is leased to corporate firms focusing on profiting at the public’s expense.

But its organisers said this week the project was facing challenges and would struggle to live up to its original billing.

Sanya Polescuk, an architect who lives in Hampstead and is director of the CLT, said: “You can’t just be permanently disillusioned and angry. That was what we were feeling when we started all this. We were seeing all those lovely properties that the council was just flogging off and we want to try something new.

“It is lovely to be thought of as in the category of a ‘good-minded developer’. But we are still partnered with the council and they want what goes in there to be something they recognise. There are many restrictions and we are squeezed on all sides.

“We wanted to create a brave new building that will be a microcosm of an inclusive society. But I thought in my naivety that conservation issues would be second fiddle to affordability.

“When you walk around London you see the pride and heroism that went into so much architecture in the early 20th century. There was pride in the schools, libraries and town halls that were built. Those public buildings do not look like anything that’s next door to them.

“Personally, I think if you are proud of what you are doing, you should not be hiding it away. I like the idea that we are a pioneering exemplar.

“But it has at times felt like we are trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.”



The CLT’s plans for the site were originally 18 homes with six different tenures. But this became too complicated after a string of “registered providers” said they could not agree to run homes on such a small site.

The project is now looking at a maximum of 15 flats with a minimum of nine affordable homes. Three of the units in the new building will be designated as Camden Council flats as they lost that many units flats in the fire.

The CLT will get a 250-year lease if planning permission is approved later this year and it will be in charge of allocating the non-council run flats.

It will have to pay back £2.8million costs the council has so far incurred, including buying-out existing leaseholders and the demolition, through sales. Some of the flats for sale will be at “discounted ownership”, set at around 35 per cent of the market price.

Ms Polescuk said: “The CLT has been a success already because it has brought the community together. We made friends, we campaigned – we are engaged. It’s all ages, not just grey people who have time like me. We have people at the start of their careers and lives, and we have two new members who are babies. It has been difficult but I can’t see it not being a base for continual development and I’m sure we will look at other properties after this one.”

The CLT is hoping to use the lawn for a Queen’s Jubilee celebration in June. A planning application will be submitted in October.

Cllr Danny Beales said: “As well as building 500 council homes directly, we want to explore all opportunities to deliver as many new affordable homes as possible.

“We are working closely with NW3 CLT, through a community-led approach to developing homes at 31 Daleham Gardens. This represents an exciting opportunity to empower the community to deliver more affordable homes for local residents.”

The council is working to identify possible future sites under a newly launched “new homes for small sites” programme.

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