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Athlone saga continues - but Adam's mega-mansion plans ditched

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Spence Harris Hogan (SHH) has become the latest architect to take on Athlone House in Highgate after its previous owners gave up on plans to demolish the building and replace it with a Robert Adam mega-mansion

The practice has applied to the London Borough of Camden to restore the Victorian structure, on the edge of Hampstead Heath, and add a new swimming pool and leisure wing on behalf of Russian businessman Mikhail Fridman.

If the application is successful, Fridman will buy the building – in a deal worth a reported £65 million – from an anonymous property company, which made two unsuccessful bids to flatten the structure.

The planning statement accompanying the application said the restoration would ‘include the reintroduction of lost external decoration, removal of extensions over various time periods and a modern reinterpretation of the wing to the north of the house’.

The scheme also adds new elements, including a garden pavilion and a new vehicle entrance. The existing vaults would be converted into a cinema and a wine cellar.

Historic England has supported the proposal. Its inspector of historic buildings and areas Breda Daly said in a letter to planners: ‘While there will be some changes and extensions to the building to enable it to be brought back into use, any harm these may cause the designated heritage asset (ie the conservation area) would, in my view, be less than substantial.’

She also said the proposals would have little impact on protected views from nearby Kenwood Gardens.

’In conclusion, I support these proposals and trust that they will be implemented, securing the future of Athlone House and preserving the character and appearance of Highgate Conservation Area, its setting and views,’ she wrote.

Athlone House was built between 1870 and 1872 for industrialist Edward Brooke to a design by architect Salomon’s and Jones.

Last year, planning inspector Colin Ball ruled that proposals by Adam Architecture would be an inappropriate development and harmful to the Metropolitan Open Land on which the site stands.

The plans for demolition were opposed by local campaigners including film director and former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam.

Camden Council refused Adam Architecture’s original plans for a grand new home in place of the north London landmark house in April 2010, citing 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.

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