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RCKa wins go-ahead for controversial Camden scheme – for second time

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Camden Council has approved a second set of plans by RCKa for the controversial redevelopment of Highgate Newtown Community Centre (HNCC) in north London

In 2017, the council’s planning committee granted permission for a previous proposal by the practice, which included 31 homes and 2,200m² of community facilities. It was backed despite objections from local residents including Levitt Bernstein director Jo McCafferty.

At the time, 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’. 

The contentious development plot sits within 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. An existing community centre will be flattened to make way for the three-block scheme.

A year after the first approval, the practice returned with reworked plans which consolidated all the proposed community spaces into a single building, removed the basements across the site and increased the number of homes to 41 – including seven affordable homes for Camden Living.

According to planning consultant Iceni Projects, which was commissioned by the project’s backer Camden Council,  the revisions were driven by the changing economic landscape.

A planning statement, submitted alongside the modification to the original application, reads: ‘The consented scheme was designed to ‘break even’, with any additional profit being generated through increased sales revenue to be recycled back into the council’s affordable housing fund.

‘[But] during the detailed design development process that followed the 2017 granting of planning permission, it became apparent that the costs associated with the redevelopment were significantly higher than previously anticipated.’

Iceni said this was due to ‘wider increases in construction costs’ and a ‘flattening sales market’.

The statement continues: ‘The complex structural design of the scheme, the costs associated with the significant basement excavation and the decrease in anticipated sales values of the larger units were also key factors affecting the delivery of the consented scheme.’

However, the reworked plans will still see most of the existing facilities on the site demolished and the 1890 Mission Hall converted into a pair of townhouses.

The revised proposal again sparked debate, attracting numerous objections.   

Rcka newton community centre changes

Rcka newton community centre changes

First approved proposal (left); revised plans (right)

Even so, Camden Council approved RCKa’s designs, with seven council members voting in favour of the scheme and two abstaining.

RCKa director Russell Curtis said: ‘The key principles of the previously consented scheme remain: the introduction of a new public square from which residential and community uses are accessed, a new north-south route linking Bertram Street and Croftdown Road, along with a state-of-the-art community building, sports hall and much-needed homes.

‘The entire development remains self-funding, with no net cost to the council.’ 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • One thing's certain, the redevelopment involves urban densification - higher, bigger and architecturally heavier built form, despite the cosmetic brickwork detailing.
    Neave Brown's adjoining row of houses was also urban densification, but more within the existing scale.
    The form of the new scheme is presumably dictated by trying to reconcile expensive land with the provision of at least some affordable (?) dwellings, but decent architecture is unlikely to be the winner.

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  • Well, the previous scheme won a Housing Design Award last year and this new iteration is an improvement. So let's see, shall we?

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