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RCKa bats away criticism of Camden community centre plans

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RCKa has hit back at criticism of a proposed new community centre in Camden, north London, after the scheme was attacked for being too big and for ignoring the potential refurbishment of existing facilities

RCKa director Dieter Kleiner told the AJ that its proposal would ensure the long-term future of the ‘much-needed and much-loved’ Highgate Newtown Community Centre (HNCC).

But local residents, including Levitt Bernstein director Jo McCafferty, a member of the project champion group set up as part of the consultation process, have expressed concern about the scheme.

‘The issues of deep concern are many and varied, such as the scale, massing and organisation of the buildings and external space, through to the detail, such as the internal arrangement of the new homes, position of balconies, bike and bin stores, design of elevations, lack of parking, positioning of plant and so on,’ McCafferty told the Camden New Journal.

The architect, who declined to comment further to the AJ, told the local newspaper that the plans had ‘significant failings’ and said the proposals would ‘loom over the neighbouring streets’. She called on the council to abandon the project and slowly refurbish the existing facilities, or progress with a smaller scheme.

She said: ‘I feel strongly that neither route has been explored thoroughly to ensure the best solution is delivered.

‘The refurbishment option needs a full survey of buildings to establish the cost of upgrading them, bearing in mind the works that have already been completed to both the centre and the Fresh Youth Academy. This has to be the best starting point to establish whether refurbishment is an option.’

Camden Council appointed London-based RCKa to work on the redevelopment of the community centre in Dartmouth Park Conservation Area in June 2014 as part of its Community Investment Programme.

The 3,000m² site is a cul-de-sac of 1950s former Territorial Army buildings in Bertram Street, adjacent to a Grade II-listed terrace of five houses in Winscombe Street designed by Neave Brown in the 1960s.

The existing community centre comprises a multipurpose hall, small adjoining hall, a three-storey community centre building with two private flats and a vacant caretaker’s cottage. According to its trustees, the current buildings are ‘very dilapidated’, with problems including leaking roofs, pests, failing heating and lifts that are not fully accessible.

Fresh Youth Academy, providing youth support services, has its own base and also uses HNCC’s main hall and a small Victorian gospel mission hall in Winscombe Street, which would be retained and converted into two houses under the proposed redevelopment.

RCKa’s plans, which were submitted for planning approval in November with a decision due next month (February), would see HNCC’s existing facilities demolished and replaced with four taller brick blocks and a low-level link building. The development would incorporate a new community centre and 31 residential units for sale, which, the practice says, would fund new and improved community facilities and cover the redevelopment costs.

The plans will ensure the long-term future of this much-needed and much-loved community centre

Kleiner told the AJ that the RCKa’s proposed plans for HNCC had the backing of many local residents, councillors and the community centre. He said: ‘They will ensure the long-term future of this much-needed and much-loved community centre, since the development will make it financially sustainable while delivering facilities fit for the 21st century.

‘As part of the design process we did investigate several options which retained and refurbished some of the existing buildings and, whilst successful in some respects, having undertaken thorough cost and risk analysis, none of the refurbishment options proved to be financially viable.’ 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • So when is a conservation area not a conservation area?
    When buildings owned by the local authority (also the planning authority) have seemingly been neglected by that authority (despite being a 'much needed and much loved community centre') to the point that the owner can exercise that good old developer's trick of claiming that the buildings are beyond salvation and must be replaced with something bigger - taller and higher density, squeezing the maximum 'return' from the plot.

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