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Belsize Architects wins approval for contentious scheme close to London cemetery

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Hackney councillors have approved a Belsize Architects four-storey residential and commercial building despite a series of objections over its impact on a north London graveyard

The council’s planning subcommittee granted consent to the controversial Wilmer Place scheme next to Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.

A number of groups had raised formal objections to the proposals, including the Hackney Society, the Stoke Newington Conservation Areas Advisory Committee and the local authority’s own Libraries, Leisure and Green Spaces department.

Concerns centred on harm to the setting, amenity and biodiversity of the cemetery, which is among the ‘Magnificent Seven’ burial grounds built to meet growing need in the 1830s. The Hackney Society warned that balconies proposed by Belsize would ‘invade the secluded realm of the cemetery’.

But planning officers praised ‘high-quality’ design and insisted the scheme would ‘not have any significant adverse impact on the setting of the adjacent listed cemetery’. Neighbours’ amenity would be respected through the scheme and biodiversity would not be affected significantly enough to warrant refusal, they added.

‘It is considered that the proposed windows and balconies would not cause a significant loss of privacy to those who pass through the park,’ said the planning officer report to the committee. 

’The overall design and massing of the scheme is … considered to preserve and enhance the setting of the conservation area and to cause less than substantial harm to the setting of the listed buildings and registered park.’

Councillors acted in line with the recommendation in approving the project, which is backed by Casa Bella Developments.

The scheme will create 850m2 of office space as well as 19 homes, a roof terrace, a courtyard and three parking spaces.

Construction will take place on the former car park of a one-time factory in Stoke Newington that has itself been converted into residential properties. 

Several attempts have been made to develop the plot. It formed part of a broader Wilmer Place industrial site on which plans by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris were approved in February 2014 for a 4,142m2 supermarket below 53 homes. Several legal challenges were made to the scheme before it was eventually abandoned and the land sold off in chunks.

In 2016, proposals for eight homes and some office space were granted permission at Wilmer Place but this didn’t come to fruition and the land was acquired by Casa Bella. 

Belsize Architects, which is based less than five miles from the site in studios close to Hampstead Heath, described its proposals as ‘a response to their context’.

In a statement, it said: ‘The nearby heritage assets were at the forefront of the design, notably the listed Abney Park.

‘A mews typology creates a legible visual relationship with the surrounding buildings, bringing a coherent architectural character and a strong sense of place. A large open space in front of the building forms a green square, which helps to redefine the urban fabric locally and provides an environment for neighbours to connect.’

It added: ‘The new development allows the visual connection with the adjacent Abney Park by breaking up the massing, which in turn helps to soften the impact of a new building in relation to the existing surrounding fabric.’

The design uses brick tones to distinguish the top floor from the main body of the building, the practice explained, while dark timber was specified for balustrades, fences and residential doors to enhance a domestic feel.

Wildflower roofs, green walls and photovoltaic panels contribute to the scheme’s sustainability. Extensive landscaping and planting are proposed to protect and enhance biodiversity.

Among those buried at Abney Park are Salvation Army founder William Booth, highly respected Welsh nurse Betsi Cadwaladr and renowned big-cat tamer Frank Bostock. 

Model 1 © belsize architects

Model 1 © belsize architects

Project data

Location London Borough of Hackney
Type of project Mixed use
Client Casa Bella Developments 
Architect Belsize Architects 
Landscape architect BD Landscape Architects
Planning consultant Savills
Structural engineer Form SD
M&E consultant Integration
Sustainability JAW Sustainability
Renders wearevisuals
Start on site Mid-2019
Gross internal floor area Approx 2,600m2 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Up to four storeys of housing crammed up against the cemetery boundary will surely impact the character of this listed area, and there seems to be a parallel with Lipton Plant's proposal for a seven storey 'wall' of housing on the back boundary of their high density development in Kingston upon Thames - although in that case the adjoining green land appears to be uncared for; maybe that makes the architectural design alright?
    Both these projects are described in green and flowery language, but it looks as if in reality the planted roofs are really the only 'green' thing about them, and there seems to be a degree of cynicism (if not outright hypocrisy) in the justifications for both designs.

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