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Demolition threat for landmark north London house

Plans to demolish Athlone House, an impressive Victorian mansion overlooking Hampstead Heath, are being strongly opposed by the Victorian Society.

Athlone House is more than 130 years old. It was designed as a grand family home and was used as such for many years; the house then played a key role in the Second World War as the secret location of the RAF's intelligence officers, and later became an NHS hospital. Now its current owner wants to knock it down and replace it with an 8-bedroom house, complete with staff accommodation and underground parking.

The owner is ignoring a legal agreement made in 2005 that allowed 3 blocks of luxury flats to be built in the grounds on the condition that Athlone House itself was fully restored and brought back into use as a family home.

Those flats have now been built but the main house has been left to decay.

'The owner claims that sustainable development lies at the heart of this application, but knocking down an attractive and well-built historic building is hardly a sustainable starting point, said Kristian Kaminski, Conservation Adviser for the Victorian Society. 'The house is in a poor state but is by no means beyond repair, as the owner suggests. The £80 million proposed replacement will rub out the history of this fine house; it's role as a nineteenth century merchants home, in military intelligence and as a hospital'

Athlone House commands one of the finest sites in London and its distinctive outline can be viewed from many parts of Hampstead Heath. It also lies inside the Highgate Conservation Area so its demolition is not only unnecessary but contrary to government planning guidelines.

The requirement to restore Athlone House still stands even though the ownership has changed, and the Society is calling on Camden Council to enforce it. In the meantime urgent repairs must be made to the deteriorating building.

Background

Athlone House, originally called Caen Wood Towers was designed as an impressive family home by the architect Edward Salomons(1827-1906) and completed in 1871.  It was commissioned by Edward Brooke, a Victorian industrialist who made his fortune in chemical dyes and remained in use as a family home until the Second World War.

In 1942 it was requisitioned by the RAF. Officially it was maintained as a hospital for injured officers, but new research by RAF historian Dan Marshall has revealed that it was actually used as a secret RAF intelligence base. In 1951 the NHS bought Caen Wood Towers and in 1972 it was renamed the Athlone House Hospital.

Planning permission was granted in 2005 to build apartments in the grounds. This was accompanied by a Section 106 agreement, which required the owner to keep the house in good repair and restore it.

The current owner has applied to demolish the existing house and build an 8-bedroom house, as well as staff and guest accommodation and underground parking. The work would involve building on Metropolitan Open Land - the urban equivalent of green belt.

Thursday 26 November, 2009

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