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RCKa wins go-ahead for contentious Camden community centre

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Camden Council has approved RCKa’s controversial redevelopment of Highgate Newtown Community Centre (HNCC) in north London

Last week the council’s planning committee approved the proposals, despite objections from local residents including Levitt Bernstein director Jo McCafferty. Approval is subject to a ‘shadow’ section 106 agreement.

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

The 3,000m² site sits in a cul-de-sac of 1950s former Territorial Army buildings in Bertram Street, next to a Grade II-listed terrace of five houses in Winscombe Street designed by Neave Brown in the 1960s. The existing community centre features a multipurpose hall, small adjoining hall, a building with two private flats and a vacant caretaker’s cottage.

RCKa’s design will demolish HNCC’s existing facilities – a mix of single and two-to-three storey buildings – replacing them with four taller brick blocks and a low-level link building. The new development will include 31 residential units for sale, which will fund new and improved 2,200m² community facilities and cover the redevelopment costs, including a new public courtyard.

Fresh Youth Academy, which provides youth support services, has its own base but also uses HNCC’s main hall and a small Victorian gospel mission hall in Winscombe Street, which will be retained and converted into two houses.

Both organisations will have independent entrances on the new courtyard, but be connected below and above ground with shared access to the lower ground floor hall and first-floor roof garden terrace. Upper floors of the new development will host facilities including a ceramics studio, art room, woodwork studio, roof garden, community forum space, and offices for physiotherapy and psychology.

Earlier this year, McCafferty, a member of the project champion group set up as part of the scheme’s consultation process, told the Camden New Journal that the plans had ‘significant failings’ and would ‘loom over the neighbouring streets’. She said there were ‘many and varied’ issues of concern including the scale, massing and organisation of buildings and external space, design of elevations, internal arrangements of new homes and lack of parking.

She called on the council to refurbish existing facilities or progress with a smaller scheme. A petition against the project received more than 300 signatures.

But RCKa director Dieter Kleiner told the AJ that none of the refurbishment options it investigated proved to be financially viable.

RCKa says its design will transform the site from a cul-de-sac into a ‘completely permeable piece of the city’, with a new direct pedestrian route to Croftdown Road on the south side opening up the facilities to the wider community.

It has envisioned the development, which will achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating, as a ‘tree trunk’. According to the practice ‘all the outer edges of the site have a rough textured mottled grey brickwork, akin to the bark of the tree trunk; interior elevations and recessed details are in rich red patterned brickwork to illustrate that they are carved from the tree.’

Rcka hncc visual croftdown road

Rcka hncc visual croftdown road

James Robin, chair of HNCC’s trustees, said the trustees ‘strongly support’ the development.

‘In a time when funding for third-sector projects is under significant pressure, we welcome the council’s proposal to invest significantly in our community provision,’ he said. ‘We have been involved from the beginning in the design of the spaces and believe it will create a thriving community centre able to continue to provide free and subsidised services.’

Kleiner commented: ‘We’re thrilled to have helped Camden, HNCC and local people secure planning approval for such an important and transformative proposal to provide community services on this site for many years to come. RCKa is committed to realising a vibrant new piece of London that local people can be proud of.’

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