New hotel the latest move in era of property gold rush in Somers Town

Thursday, 27th August 2020 — By John Gulliver

Chalton Street

Artist’s drawing of the new development in Chalton Street

A HOTEL of 50 rooms is planned to be built in a row of tight terraced shops in Somers Town.

It has been approved by the council’s planning committee and will involve the demolition of what was a well-known convenience store with flats above. The scheme also involves the demolition of property at the rear of the Chalton Street shop – in Churchway.

This project, in itself, is not out of the ordinary, of course. But it typifies what is happening in Somers Town as land values in this part of Camden are probably rising at a faster rate than other parts of the borough.

In the past few years the face of Somers Town began to change once the new British Library was set down in the area followed by the revamped St Pancras International Station, then the massive King’s Cross development – and coming up on the horizon a revamped Euston Station costing anything in excess of one or two billion pounds.

With three main stations in the area and a new “City” in King’s Cross land has a premium value that it never had before even though It was always sought after.

Fortunes beckon for developers. The new hotel, if the project reaches fruition, should prove a sound investment.

The benefit for a few are obvious. But what about the majority of people who live in the area – do they lose or gain? Basically, they appear to be the losers.

While new flats are being built for the private market in the area – flats in a new controversial tower block are mainly private costing millions – little new social housing is to be built. It came to a standstill decades ago.

This has meant that more and more young people faced with high property prices, high rents, and closed housing waiting lists, are being driven out of Somers Town – as well as other working-class areas in Camden – to the outer London suburbs or even further afield.

And as the development of precious land is tipped towards high investment by developers social amenities tend to get curtailed – schools face closures, much-needed open space is lost.

I wonder what the great social reformers and philanthropic campaigners of the past, such as Father Jellicoe – estates in Somers Town still bear his name – would make of the new Somers Town, and of the area they loved, protected, and tried to nourish now a honey pot for developers on a scale it has never witnessed before.

I wonder what responsibility falls onto the shoulders of political parties, such as Labour. If they stand aside, wring their hands, and protest they cannot do anything about it, casting blame at central government, are they complicit in the brutal transformation of a historic working-class part of central London?

I am reminded of an epilogue in a favourite Sherlock Holmes classic of mine when Basil Rathbone, musing on the aftermath of the Second World War, believes we will see the “end of the era of grab and greed”. We didn’t, of course.

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