Oligarch Alisher Usmanov ‘wants to expand empire’

Thursday, 4th February 2010


Published: 4 February 2010

BRACING dips in the open air may be a popular pastime back in his chilly homeland, but stripping off for a plunge in his garden’s pool does not appear to be the favoured leisure pursuit of Highgate billionaire Alisher Usmanov.
The tycoon from Uzbekhistan, who owns a major stake in Arsenal Football Club, reportedly bought the Grade II-listed mansion Beechwood in Hampstead Lane for more than £50million in 2008.
And now an application has been filed with Town Hall planning officials for permission to build a Roman-style bathing complex in the garden.
According to the designs seen by the New Journal, Mr Usmanov wants to create a garden villa to house a new pool, sauna, gym and changing rooms.
Inside, no expense  will be spared with the interior of the oligarch’s new pool room modelled on the leisure facilities enjoyed by Roman emperors.
An octagonal entrance lobby leads the swimmer through to a balcony which boasts a view across the 25-metre pool.
Whether it will be built now depends on what view Camden Council’s planners take.
Conservationists believe if permission is granted the new building could set a dangerous precedent, as the estate next to Hampstead Heath is on land currently designated as Metropolitan Open Land, the urban equivalent of green belt.
The Highgate Society’s planning spokesman Michael Hammerson said: “We are due to meet to discuss the proposals in detail next week. However, there are clear rules regarding developments on Metropolitan Open Land and these must be strictly adhered to. And, unless this proposal, in such a critical position – which could also affect views from the Heath and ground water flow to the ponds – adheres to those rules, we would have to oppose it. It seems to be very large and may well be overdevelopment.”
He added: “Beechwood is an 1830s Grade II-listed building, virtually unchanged on the exterior. Any development which detracts from its setting would be unacceptable, and we will be alert to see if it is one of these ghastly mock-classical designs which seem all the rage around the Heath with people who seem to believe that big money automatically means good design sense.”
Beechwood House, a white stucco Regency-style villa, was built in 1838 by architect George Basevi and is Grade II-listed. The Tory MP and industrialist Oswald Lewis bought the property in 1929 and laid plans for the outdoor swimming pool. But it wasn’t completed until 1951, the work delayed by the Depression and war.
Now the pool lies unused.
In documents submitted to the Town Hall on behalf of the owner by a company registered in the Isle of Man, swimming in the open-air pool is described as unlikely.
“The likelihood of the existing pool being utilised by this or future owner is not great,” says a statement by the architects to Camden Council, “as it is not fitting to the needs of modern-day luxury homes.”
Designers added that by building the Roman-style baths it would fit with the original concept of having a “romantic” parkland atmosphere in the garden. The application adds: “One of the key design goals for the project is the rejuvenation of the partially lost character of the Regency villa.”
It will also give space to exercise in private. The project includes building a basement to house a sauna, steam room, gym and changing areas beneath the pool.
The grounds already have other buildings within them: the application describes “extensive garaging”, guest and staff cottages,  a squash court and gatehouses at the entrance of the 12-acre site. They added that the new pool would sit on the same sized site as the current pool. Architects Martin Ashley, who have designed the pool, declined to comment.

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