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Fresh row over Jack Straw’s Castle homes

Conservation groups fight development

10 April, 2021 — By Harry Taylor

Jack Straw’s Castle [Stuart Logan]

DEVELOPERS and conservationists are set to lock horns again over the future of an iconic site next to Hampstead Heath.

Neighbourhood groups are opposing plans to build two three-storey homes in the grounds of Jack Straw’s Castle, the former pub which holds Grade II-listed status.

Camden Council has refused permission on the basis that there is not enough affordable housing planned, as well as the risk of increased traffic and the impact on the landmark building.

But Albany Homes, which owns the site, is appealing against the decision and a planning inquiry will begin later this month.

The company claims that a planning inspector said in 2004 that future development could take place, if an “imaginative” architect drew up plans.

In response, the Heath and Hampstead Society, Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum and the City of London Corporation say it will cause substantial harm to the landscape at the highest point in London.

In its submission to the inquiry, City lawyers said: “The appellant has built their case around a single paragraph of an appeal decision from 2004, and focuses almost exclusively on the selection of a suitable architect and detailed execution of the design.”

Albany drafted in the “Prince of Wales’ favourite architect” Quinlan Terry to draw up the latest designs, only for the council to say no.

Hampstead-born Mr Terry, 82, was honoured for his services to classical architecture in 2015.

He was a student of Raymond Erith, who rebuilt Jack Straw’s Castle after a fire in 1964. It had been a pub and hotel since the 18th century, before closing in 2002.

The name comes from the 14th-century Peasants’ Revolt leader, and the pub was known to have been frequented by Charles Dickens and Karl Marx.

It is also referenced in Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a stopping point for Van Helsing and Dr John Seward, who explains: “We dined at Jack Straw’s Castle along with a little crowd of bicyclists and others who were genially noisy.”

The building was later turned into a gym and apartments, but was empty as of last year. In its submission to the planning inspectorate, ahead of the first hearing on April 20, Albany admitted the prospect of new homes alongside a listed building was rare, drawing parallels to the Great Court being built at the British Museum.

But it said the plans do not damage the “heritage asset” of the existing building, adding: “It is our judgement that this would be … at the lower end of less than substantial. It’s also our judgement that the public benefits from the proposed development would outweigh the harm.”

The developer says that the plans would in fact “enhance” the character of the Hampstead Conservation Area and provide much-needed affordable homes.

The Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum, Heath and Hampstead Society and the City are urging the inspector to dismiss the appeal.

The Society, which also objected to the proposals last year over their impact on the Heath’s designation as “Metropolitan Open Land”, the effect on Jack Straw’s Castle, the area’s biodiversity, and the poor quality of the design, have said the development is inappropriate.

In a joint submission, the two Hampstead groups say: “We note that [Mr] Erith had no plans to build on the car park site, but instead that in views from the north, the general effect would be that of a castle sitting on top of a hill.

“To construct two houses whose very walls would sit on the boundary of the Heath would be unique, no permission having been granted in modern times for such a house. The five houses that do directly abut the Heath in that way were built many years ago.”

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