Town Hall planners have resolved to demolish 31 Daleham Gardens, which has been sitting derelict since it was consumed by fire in 2017, leading to the death of resident Magdalena Fink.
Council officers moved to reassure Camden’s planning committee last night that the demolition of the building was to the public’s benefit, though concerns were raised over the potential for the plot to sit empty for an extended period.
Investigations are said to have been undertaken on a rebuilding plan which would have seen the building’s facade, much of which is still visible behind the extensive scaffolding propping up the building, but were dismissed due to health and safety concerns.
In an introduction to the application to demolish, planning officer Josh Lawlor said: “On 21 November 2017 the building suffered a devastating fire which lead to it and adjoining properties being evacuated, and tragically one fatality. The building has been uninhabitable since and remains dilapidated.
“The demolition of the building will allow a vacant site to be released for residential redevelopment. It will also remove ongoing concerns of health and safety around the site in terms of structural instability and contamination.
“These are public benefits delivered by the proposal. Balanced against this is the fact that if we did insist on reinstatement or ongoing façade retention, there would not be any great gain – most of the original has already been lost and all that would be secured would be a basic façade retention that would make little contribution.”
The fire caused the building’s roof, upper floor and some of its chimneys to collapse into the building, with the council explaining that plans for what to do with the site have been delayed over the past three years as officers sorted through the “legal complexities” of ownership and rehousing the three council tenants and eight leaseholders who lost their homes.
Lawlor also pointed to ongoing fears over contamination from the structure as it stands, with the fire having exposed asbestos, as well as concerns over how stable the remnants of the building will remain if not pulled down.
The plans had seen a number of objections, with calling the demolition of the building “premature” without full details of what would replace it, with residents pointing to the fact that no part of the building had collapsed since the fire, though the council’s engineers found that it is “deteriorating”, and reliant on being propped up by the retaining scaffolding.
Concerns have also been raised over heritage, given the original building’s links with initial residents Annie E. Ridley and Jane Taylor Ridley, who helped set up Camden School for Girls, though officers said that as a result of the fire the building’s contribution to the conservation area has been “significantly depleted”.
Sustainability boss Cllr Adam Harrison called for a retention in future plans of the heritage links to the Ridleys in the form of a name or a plaque, with officers responding that they were in “complete agreement” with the proposals.
The regeneration strategy put forward for the site will expect to see a minimum of 50 per cent affordable housing on the site, the replacement of all the lost residential floorspace, a zero carbon scheme, and prioritises disposal of the land to a community trust, meaning the community could develop it to meet local need.
Conservative Cllr Andrew Parkinson said: “Obviously we haven’t got detailed plans for the redevelopment. It’s important for NW3 in particular that we have family housing.
“The second thing is I’m concerned the site is not left vacant for a considerable period of time while the council develops its plans for the site. If plans are stalled, can we consider providing public open space on the site, for example a pocket park?”
While officers would not be drawn on Parkinson’s suggestion, planners responded that they had the same concerns as the Conservative councillor on an extended period of disuse for the plot, with “landscaping” deliberately included in the scope of the plans to allow flexibility for how it can be used by the community.
Lib Dem Cllr Flick Rea said that she was relieved that the historic nature of the building would be recognised, but added: “We need some sort of assurance that whatever replacement building the community land trust comes up with will be appropriate and fit in, and will not be some sort of mini tower block.”
Officers responded that any development would be a “major scheme” that comes back so it would come to the community.