The demolition of a student accommodation block, to be replaced by a new block with 18 more bed spaces, has secured the approval of the Town Hall’s planning committee despite neighbours’ objections.
Empiric Student Properties’ plans had given “careful consideration” to keeping the existing block, and according to planning officers the replacement will be able to provide higher-quality rooms, accessibility, and energy efficiency than could be achieved by simply renovating it.
However the plans sparked an outcry from neighbours, with the NW6 Residents Group condemning the plans to increase the number of windows and bed spaces on the western face of the building as “an unacceptable invasion of privacy, while the Combined Residents Associations of South Hampstead (CRASH) called out as “disproportionate” the plans to demolish the building only to increase the block’s communal areas and a small amount of beds.”
Local resident Fabian Birgfeld said: “I am speaking on behalf of close to 400 people who have submitted objections and signed a petition against the demolition.
“It is pretty obvious that a structure that is more than a metre higher and two metres closer to its already close neighbouring buildings would significantly reduce daylight. More daylight for the students will be at the expense of the neighbours, who will have less.
“There will be less privacy. Most of the bedrooms are concentrated to the back of the building, so instead of 29 now 44 windows would face Smyrna Mansions. The current situation is already at the limit of what can be considered acceptable in terms of privacy. What is being propsoed is such an invasion of privacy that all of our neighbours would have to keep the shades down at all times.”
The existing building was built in the early 1900s, but was bombed in the Second World War and subsequently rebuilt and extended, with planning officers characterising the current frontage as “utilitarian” and arguing that it makes only a “neutral contribution” to the area.
Conservative Cllr Andrew Parkinson spoke out in agreement with objectors that the proposed design would harm the conservation area in which the building sits, going on to note that while the existing design did not appear to him particularly high quality, that the bay windows of the new block “stick out, literally and figuratively.”
Planning officers responded that the windows are designed to have a domestic quality, and that without them the building appeared “commercial or anonymous,” with the windows added to give a “degree of visual interest.”
The plans will see Empiric committing to provide on-site affordable accommation at 33 per cent of the total uplift in floorspace.
Development manager Nicada Drayton said: “Empiric Student Property own and operate a number of student accommodation buildings throughout the country. We pride ourselves on providing a memorable student living experience often through rehabilitating buildings of historic character.
“We propose after careful consideration and deliberation to replace the existing dated structure with a more accessible and healthy accommodation fit for today’s and tomorrow’s students, while honouring the neighbouring properties in the conservation areas.
“Creating additional high-quality student accommodation means we can help to alleviate demand on the local private rented sector while ensuring more students are able to live closer to their places of study.
“Working within the tight constraints of the site and cognizant of the responsibilities to our neighbours, the proposal combines increased personal space for study with a more thoughtful configuration of social and activity areas, which support interaction and wellbeing.”