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Green light for Highgate Newtown Community Centre plan which divided neighbourhood

Building consent granted for redevelopment of site at fractious planning meeting

08 May, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

How the new facility will look

A CONTROVERSIAL plan to demolish and rebuild a community centre in Highgate has been given the go-ahead at a fractious Town Hall meeting.

Opponents of the overhaul of the Highgate Newtown Community Centre say the scheme is too large for the council-owned site in Bertram Street as a new block of 31 private homes will be built alongside a new state-of-the-art centre. Supporters, however, say it provides a realistic opportunity to revamp the 1950s centre.

The two sides filled the public galleries of the council chamber as eight councillors voted in favour of the scheme on Thursday evening. None voted against, although one abstained. The animosity continued after the meeting as angry words were directed towards Highgate ward councillors and the centre’s director Andrew Sanaltiro by objectors.

Earlier, council planning officer David Fowler had called the plan “a modern, purpose-built building which will be accessible and makes the maximum use of the site. In terms of its mass and scale, it does not impose itself on the area.”

But members of the Friends of Highgate Newtown Community Centre group, Linda Atkins, Thanos Morphitis and Francisco Javier Encinas, gave deputations against the proposals.

Ms Atkins said: “This scheme is a chronic over development and has been misrepresented in the officers’ report.” She highlighted issues over the new homes, including balconies which she said would infringe on others’ privacy and terraces that could be used for evening events, disturbing neighbours. “This is highly sensitive in a conservation area surrounded by homes, and it does not respond to it,” Ms Atkins added.

Mr Encinas told the meeting: “Residents know it needs refurbishment, but this is a monstrous development.”

Highgate ward Green councillor, Sian Berry, said the plans should be scrapped and claimed that they did not have the support of the community.

But the two Labour councillors for the area, Oliver Lewis and Sally Gimson, backed the project. Cllr Gimson said: “This should not be about patching up shabby facilities, it is about new facilities for the whole area.” She risked the ire of opponents, however, when she claimed that a 400-name petition opposing the scheme was incorrect and that she had been personally contacted by a number of signatories saying they had changed their minds.

Cllr Lewis said the new centre would include a full-size sports hall and that the council would be unable to find up to £3m to refurbish the centre without a scheme of this kind. The centre’s trustees, who support the plans, were represented by chairman James Robin.

He said: “The building is deteriorating. Day-to-day maintenance demands mean we have to close services intermittently. It is not energy efficient or visitor friendly. Significant sums will have to be spent on refurbishment. “The trustees strongly support the plans and we welcome the significant proposals to invest in community provision. We believe if it is delivered as promised, it will create a thriving community centre.”

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