Developers abandon social housing part of Belsize Fire Station conversion
EXCLUSIVE: Luxury flats priced up at £1.7 million but promised social housing taken out of scheme
29 February, 2020 — By Tom Foot
The closed down fire station in Lancaster Grove
A DEVELOPER of “luxury” homes in the former Belsize fire station is trying to abandon its commitment to build social housing flats on the historic site.
Planning permission for 18 private flats at the Grade II-listed building in Lancaster Grove was granted in 2017 on condition that two more would be built for social housing tenants.
Now a new owner of the former fire station, which was a publicly owned building for 100 years, says it cannot find a housing association to manage the homes and has agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to break out of the clause. The properties are being marketed with two-bedroom flats priced at £1.7million.
The building has stood empty for six years after it was shut down as a working fire station by Boris Johnson, during his time as London Mayor.
Dee Pelk, an objector who lives nearby, said: “There is a massive shortage of affordable housing in the neighbourhood. How will the sum being paid to the council remedy that?” The application, from Nicholas Taylor Associates (NTA) on behalf of an unnamed new owner of the building, lists 13 housing associations that were contacted.
It said: “None of the providers approached expressed an interest in owning and managing the two homes – reasons provided commonly related to the efficiency of managing a small number of homes in isolation.”
Kilburn-based Innis Free Housing was named as the preferred supplier of the flats at the time the application was approved. Its chief executive, John Delahunty, told the New Journal this week: “In the end, because of the high cost of aspects of the development and the very high level of service charges that would be charged, we couldn’t find a route to make the arrangement financially viable.”
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The fire station planning application was effectively waved through by councillors without any real debate in June 2017.
The committee heard the proposal was “welcomed by officers”, chiefly because the commitment to two social housing homes was considered a big gain from a relatively small scheme. Lib Dem councillor Flick Rea was the only councillor to vote against the change of use conversion, arguing “it is patently clear that we did actually need this fire station”.
It was one of nine fire stations shut down in 2014 in a wave of cuts by City Hall with its firefighters broken up and scattered across London. Two major fires on the same day in Camden – one leading to a fatality – later led to critical questions over the cutbacks and the New Journal’s Thin Red Line campaign to protect services. Architecturally, the 100-year-old building had been described by planners as one of “the most distinctive and original of a remarkable series of fire stations built by the London Council County”.
The bid to scrap the social housing agreement, submitted last month, stated that the developer had “serious concerns” about a sum suggested to it by the council, but they were now “willing to accept it”, adding: “This sum is proposed to be paid after practical completion when 50 per cent of sales have transacted.” The building is now being marketed as an unmissable “luxury housing opportunity” and branded as “Belsize Fire House” by Knight Frank estate agents.
The cheapest one-bedroom flat on sale is £750,000. The private flats boast “contemporary Italian kitchens”, with “stone worktops”, “chrome mixing taps”, “wet room showers” and original tile walls. The building was originally bought by Vulcan Property Ltd for £7.8m from City Hall’s London Fire and Emergency Authority. The Belsize Fire House is now listed as a “development by Platinum Land” on estate agent websites.
This week, Belsize Lib Dem councillor Luisa Porritt said: “That the building remains out of use six years on is a damning indictment of the short-sighted nature of his (former Mayor Boris Johnson’s) decision. “Luxury flats, when they finally come on the market, will do little to compensate for the loss of this critical public service.
Tulip Siddiq, the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, added: “Shockingly, Boris Johnson sold this historic building off to private developers for luxury flats. The fire station should never have closed, but it at least could have been used as a community facility or for homes that locals can afford.”
A Camden Council spokesperson said: “Our priority is to make social and affordable housing available to Camden residents – through building new council homes and Camden Living rent homes through our Community Investment Programme, getting long-term empty homes back into use for families stuck on our housing waiting list and cracking down on illegal subletting and short-term lets breaking the law.”
“Our planning priorities and policy also seek to maximise on-site affordable housing. In this case, the developer has submitted an application to amend the previous decision to provide two affordable units at this location, and this will be considered in due course in line with our policies for assessing housing requirements.”
The New Journal contacted Nicholas Taylor Associates and Platinum Land for comment.