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Camden New Journal - FORUM: Opinion in the CNJ
Published: 3 December 2009
Artist’s impression of how the proposed redevelopment could look
Say no to this ostentatious ‘palace’

Jeremy Wright explains why he and his colleagues are opposed to plans for an £80m ‘palace’ to replace the Victorian Athlone House

ATHLONE House is rightly in the news! Hundreds of local people are outraged that the owner has applied to Camden to knock it down and replace it with an ostentatious “palace” at a reputed cost of £80million.
Having already profited hugely from Camden’s permission to build three blocks of luxury apartments on the site the same owner now wants to renege on the other part of the same permission that required him to restore Athlone House.
Standing next to Kenwood on the Highgate side, it is the finest mansion in this late-Victorian style in the area, and is the only surviving work of the gifted architect Edward Salomons in London.
The mansion and its landscaped setting were designed as a single composition, and its romantic detailing and mellowed tower provide interest but do not intrude on the Heath.
Its owners included Sir Robert Waley-Cohen who helped buy Kenwood for the public, and during the war it was requisitioned as the secret national headquarters for RAF Intelligence.
It makes a positive contribution to the Highgate area and is an important part of Highgate’s architectural history.
The owner now claims that it has deteriorated and would cost too much to restore. This is irrelevant as it has been in his care since 2005 when he was happy to sign a binding agreement to maintain and restore. Presumably he now aims to make even more profit by demolishing our local history.
And what of his grandiose replacement palace, in pale stone with four green domes, enormous windows, in a pretentious pseudo-classical style with giant columns?
This is designed to be seen, to impress, to awe, and perhaps to rival Kenwood House itself.
It might be endurable standing alone in a vast parkland, or perhaps in The Bishops Avenue, but it is completely inappropriate on this small site, prominently self-proclaiming its importance.
It will significantly impact on the Heath and Kenwood, particularly if the owner were to cut down trees to improve his view.
The owner puts a legal argument that it is on “a major developed site” which might permit such a large edifice. But if it ever were, that has now long passed.
It is simply a replacement dwelling on Metropolitan Open Land, which is as strongly protected as the Green Belt. And as the owner well knows, and as tested by the Heath & Hampstead Society last year in the Court of Appeal, replacement dwellings cannot be “materially larger”.
Camden again recently refused the Garden House application in the Vale of Health which is about 10 per cent larger.
But this palace is a staggering two and a half times the area of the existing mansion, and the elevation facing Kenwood is 70 per cent larger.
Planning permission should be refused.
The owner’s agent was reported in June this year saying that “It will cost Camden taxpayers a fortune if the scheme is dismissed”.
People round here do not take kindly to such threats.
The Athlone House Working Group and hundreds of people locally were outraged by this broken agreement. But we know there is a simple solution.
If the owner is not willing to comply with Camden’s condition to restore but wants to demolish, then clearly he has bought the wrong house.
He should repair any damage he has allowed to occur, and put Athlone House on the market at a realistic price.
We have twice inspected it and believe it is eminently restorable.
And there is, as we know, at least one willing buyer keen to restore and convert it.

• Jeremy Wright is a member of the Athlone House Working Group, with colleagues from the Highgate Society, Heath & Hampstead Society, Highgate Conservation Area Advisory Committee and co-opted experts. For the past 11 years the group has represented local interest to try to achieve the best outcome from the reuse of the Athlone House estate.

Send your letters to: The Letters Editor, Camden New Journal, 40 Camden Road, London, NW1 9DR or email to The deadline for letters is midday Tuesday. The editor regrets that anonymous letters cannot be published, although names and addresses can be withheld. Please include a full name, postal address and telephone number. Letters may be edited for reasons of space.

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