CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Official: Highgate Bowl land will NOT become luxury homes

Former garden centre site will be turned into arts and learning space, plus a meadow and vegetable patch

20 April, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Karen Leason, artist Sarah Walton, Lekhu Leason and events curator Maddie Diaconu

THE owners of the former Highgate Garden Centre site have revealed their plans for its future – ending years of uncertainty and rumours.

Mystery had surrounded the space, known as Highgate Bowl, behind Highgate High Street, after it was sold in 2012 to a company registered in tax haven the British Virgin Islands and a planning application to build housing was turned down by Haringey Council.

But in an exclusive interview with the New Journal, new owners Lekhu and Karen Leason have revealed they have no intention to build a luxury housing development on the former garden centre and instead are creating a wild flower meadow, orchard and vegetable patches on the one-and-a-half acre site.

They will use a greenhouse that was formerly the centre’s shop as an art gallery, classroom for talks, a book area and a kitchen space for demonstrations. Dotted throughout the meadow will be sculptures and bird baths by artist Sarah Walton, as part of fringe events for the Chelsea Flower Show and the Frieze Art Show, next month. The couple said previous plans had been misunderstood.

Mr Leason told the New Journal: “Our original idea had been to turn a greenhouse into an eco-friendly residence that would mimic the shape and size of the what is there. “It was not approved, so instead we are restoring it and landscaping the land around it.”

Digging work at the Highgate Bowl earlier this month

Work removing ground surfacing and planting grasses and flowers is already underway. Mrs Leason added: “We have an idea of a series of cultural, music and poetry events and, depending on their success, we will look at curating more.”

Elsewhere, they have long-terms plans to potentially build a sound-proofed outdoor stage area for theatre with new disabled access. The Leasons also sought to dispel rumours about how the project was funded. Their company, Omved International, is an offshoot of Mr Leason’s family’s firm Natco, a food production business established in the 1960s. Natco uses profits to fund its charitable arm, the Human Capability Foundation, which gives grants to charities and NGOs that promote women’s empowerment, gender equality, LGBT rights and economically marginalised groups, primarily in India.

Mr Leason said Omved was registered under a parent company that traded globally and the British Virgin Islands registration was due to company law. He said: “It isn’t about funnelling money out of the country for bad reasons, or being secretive. It is due to the company’s global trade.”

Mrs Leason added: “At a certain age, the focus does not have to be about making money. We are not looking at this site in terms of the money it can generate. This is a personal project. We are interested in how people can lead a quiet, contemplative life that creates art and beauty. We are a team of people who are excited about this space, and we want to see what can evolve from this energy. We want to see how people respond and then see how the space can grow.”

Martin Adeney, chairman of the Friends of Highgate Bowl charity, has been campaigning to stop any development on the land. He said: “The Friends are committed to keeping it open land and we would welcome this. It would be very positive. Our reservations are that people in the past have tried to build on it – and if they aren’t, that is very good news, but we will remain vigilant. “These types of ideas put forward have been expressed by the community in the past, so it would be welcome.”

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