Half a decade later… bid to build homes next to Hampstead Heath is blocked

Opponents get the result they wanted after five years

Thursday, 19th May — By Dan Carrier

fitzroy 2022-05-18 at 12.46.08

The proposed development site backs on to a gravel track leading to the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond

A FIVE-year wait to discover whether a controversial plan to build five homes on the fringes of Hampstead Heath would win approval has come to an end – with the Town Hall dismissing the proposals.

Property developer Geoffrey Springer had a deal with his near neighbour, the leading neurologist Professor Lynne Turner-Stokes, to demolish her home in Fitzroy Park, Highgate.

In its place, they planned to build new properties on her land which backs on to a gravel track leading to the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond.

The scheme was first registered in 2018 after months of discussions with the Town Hall, neighbours and civic groups. But after nearly half a decade, the owners have now learned that they will either have to appeal against a planning refusal or go back to the drawing board on the plans that had proved so unpopular they attracted a 6,000-signature petition in opposition.

Mr Springer, a director of London & Regional Properties, told the Town Hall the new homes were not a commercial enterprise and would be lived in by Prof Turner-Stokes, her daughters, and himself and his son Ryan.

Prof Stokes has had a family home in the road for 75 years, while the Springers moved in in 1987.

How the Fitzroy Park scheme may have looked

They added that the new homes would allow the families to continue a long association with the neighbourhood.

But campaigners said the garden, which the developer had claimed was of little ecological value, should be protected because it included an ancient orchard, a pond, mature trees and hedges.

In the application, architects said they would enhance the gardens’ biodiversity by landscaping, planting and restocking the pond, which they described as the garden’s “principal feature”.

New views from Fitzroy Park would allow walkers to glimpse the garden through gaps between the homes, it was claimed. But in refusing permission, the council said proposed work would “fail to protect the open character and ecological value and the openness and character of the adjacent Hampstead Heath, resulting in harm”.

Officers added that there was no agreement for any affordable homes or a contribution towards them, no car-free agreement, and no construction management plan, which would, they said, mean there could give “rise to conflicts with other road users and be detrimental to the amenities of the area generally”.

The Heath and Hampstead Society’s planning chief, David Castle, said: “The applicant paid for pre-application advice as long ago as 2017. It is surprising and unfortunate for the applicant the initial advice encouraged a full and expensive application to be submitted which, after extra costs involving much discussion and amendment, was finally refused five years later.”

The Highgate Neighbourhood Forum’s chairwoman, Alicia Pivaro, said: “A great campaign by many organisations and concerned locals to prevent a perfect example of overdevelopment in a precious, unique setting of huge importance.

“These successes are all too rare but must be celebrated to show that people power does work and is an important tool in working towards a city that works for everyone.”

The Highgate Society added: “[It] would cause significant harm to the Heath. There are no ‘very special circumstances’ which could justify granting permission and set a precedent for development elsewhere in garden space abutting Hampstead Heath.”

And the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association added that they were thrilled the council had turned down Mr Springer’s scheme. They had feared new basements would damage water flows and affect the bird sanctuary pond on the Highgate water chain.

Chairwoman Mary Powell said: “It was overbearing and would have had damaging impacts on the environment, including drainage on to the Heath, wildlife corridors, light pollution and increased traffic. It would not have provided any benefit, such as affordable housing, to the wider community.”

A City of London spokeswoman said: “The proposed development could have caused substantial negative impacts on a site of interest for nature conservation that is designated as metropolitan open land and is of national importance.”

Mr Springer was unavailable for comment. His planning agent, Stuart Minty, could not confirm whether Mr Springer now plans to appeal against the decision.

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