Government must step in to end Avenue Road shambles

Thursday, 1st April 2021


100 Avenue Road:  ‘ludicrously tall 23-storey tower of private homes, rising in the CGI images like a giant middle finger held up to the community’

IT has been seven years since “Essential Living” first proposed one of the most non-essential housing developments in Camden’s history.

Theatre Square, as it was initially branded, was supposed to provide 184 apartments for rent and a “new destination for living, retail and leisure in Swiss Cottage”.

The £100m scheme was opposed from the outset, primarily because just 20 per cent of its homes would be low rent, and also due to the ludicrously tall 23-storey tower of private homes, rising in the CGI images like a giant middle finger held up to the community.

If the developer had not pushed for the maximum possible profits from the site they might not have faced such a determined backlash, which may yet be its undoing.

Camden Council planning committee’s rejection of the scheme was ultimately overturned in 2016 by the then secretary of state for communities and local government, Greg Clark. He had in his report salivated over how the development “would enhance and increase the vitality of the area”.

How hollow do those words sound now with the project in disarray and the building, once home to offices and restaurants, reduced to a mound of rubble.

100 Avenue Road must not be allowed to be left as a giant hole in the ground. The government should step in, correct its mistake, and buy back the land with some form of compulsory purchase order.

Why should Camden housing lose out because a private developer, at the mercy of fluctuations in the market, claims it can no longer make the profits it was intending to?

The community has many alternative ideas for the land that could truly inspire future generations with genuinely affordable, low-rise housing, and green and flexible workspaces they do desperately need.

The truth is developers are routinely seeking to weasel out of social housing commitments right across London.

The planning system, and the powers invested in local authorities, appear to be no match for the legal loopholes they can exploit.

There was a sense of inevitability about the way the developer came crawling back to plead poverty and for amendments to its planning permissions.

As a result of the Essential Living shambles, residents taking up the cudgels against the Landsec redevelopment of the O2 Centre in Finchley Road – where 2,000 homes are proposed – say they have lost confidence in the planning system to ensure any major regeneration ends up being what was agreed in the Town Hall.

The ripples are felt further afield than Swiss Cottage. The saga, despite the failures of the authorities and the developer, has however once again shown the remarkable character of Camden’s residents.

They have given up so much time and energy to take on this big battle. There needs to be a resolution fitting of their efforts.

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