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Adam’s contentious Athlone House plans thrown out - again

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Robert Adam’s controversial proposals to demolish Athlone House in Highgate and replace it with a mega-mansion have been thrown out by the planning inspector for the second time

The planning inspector said the practice’s latest scheme, which proposed to flatten the Victorian villa and build a new, classically inspired eight-bedroom mansion, would have been out of place with other buildings in the area.

Developers had appealed to the inspector after plans by Adam’s practice Adam Architecture for the north London site were rejected planning for a second time in August 2014 (see AJ 18.08.14).

Inspector Colin Ball ruled that the proposals would be inappropriate development and harmful to the Metropolitan Open Land on which the site stands.

The ruling said: ‘To support his approach, professor Adam submitted to the inquiry examples of Classicism in buildings in Highgate.

‘I made a specific site visit during the inquiry to see them in context. I found that, without exception, including the rather grand neo-Baroque Witanhurst, their classical detailing is in tune with an essentially domestic character and scale.

‘Even the truly classical architecture of neighbouring Kenwood House, built to impress, displays quiet restraint on a human scale. I saw nothing to compare to the rather palatial scale of the proposed new house.’

Ball rejected arguments put forward by the developer, Athlone House Ltd, that refurbishing the house – an unfulfilled condition of a separate 2005 application – would be unviable.

He said: ‘While I recognise that the value of the house is such that it would only be of interest to the higher end of the market, I do not consider that an opulent level of finishes and fittings should be such a decisive factor in assessing viability.

‘Although some upgrading is clearly necessary, the opportunity to sustain and enhance the significance of the house through conservative repair, putting it back into viable use as a dwelling, would be lost through complete demolition.’

Monty Python member Terry Gilliam, whohad objected to the development alongside others including local politicians, residents and architect David Chipperfield, said: ‘It’s fantastic news that the planning inspector has dismissed the appeal to demolish this wonderful historic house on the fringes of Hampstead Heath. I was appalled that the owner tried to wriggle out of his legal obligation to restore the building which is why I became involved.’

A statement from the Highgate Society, which had fought the plans, called on the council to ‘take urgent steps’ to enforce the original planning agreement, and offered to meet the developers to discuss restoration.

The firm’s original plans for a grand new home in place of the north London landmark House were refused by Camden Council in April 2010 due, in part, to their ‘inappropriate and intrusive bulk, form, design and materials [which would have] harmed the character and appearance of the Highgate conservation area and street scene’.

An appeal of the Camden Council’s decision was dismissed by the planning inspectorate in 2011.

The new designs, which were submitted in November 2013, show a redesigned version of the new home of which parts have been reduced in size and height and proposed courtyard wings scrapped.

Though smaller, the new plans would still be approximately 60 per cent larger than the existing building.

Athlone House, originally named Caenwood Towers, was completed in 1871 on the edge of Hampstead Heath to designs by Edward Salomons and John Philpot Jones for Edward Brooke, a successful industrial chemist.

Ball described the two-storey building as demonstrating an ‘exuberant picturesque Victorian style, in red brick with Doulting stone dressings and a patterned tiled roof’.

The property was requisitioned by the RAF during World War II and was then acquired by the NHS, when it was altered to remove decorative features including chimneys, Dutch gables, verandahs, crenellations, finials and crests.

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