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Calls for rethink over vision for ‘dilapidated’ community centre

Battle lines drawn over future of Highgate Newtown Community Centre

05 January, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

An illustration of how Highgate Newtown Community Centre could look

THE future of the “dilapidated” Highgate Newtown Community Centre will be decided in the spring, with two opposing views being put forward as to what should happen to it.

The centre’s board of trustees, centre managers and groups based at the site, support a Town Hall scheme to build a new state-of-the-art community centre on the site, paid for by also building 31 flats that would be sold privately on the land.

The Town Hall say it would mean the centre has a secure future with a long lease and the ability to attract extra funding.

But some centre users and neighbours say it would be disruptive to the vital services offered, and that building 32 homes for private sale is “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”, as one centre user claimed.

The Town Hall have drawn up various alternative schemes over a four-year period, and have asked an independent surveyor to have a look at whether the current buildings could be refitted. A report seen by the New Journal states that it would cost around £2million to do so and therefore is not economically viable – a claim disputed by opponents of the project. They say the work could be done over a longer period of time, amounting to a bill of not more than £75,000 per year.

A newsletter sent to people in the area by Highgate ward councillors Sally Gimson and Oliver Lewis has laid out the argument for the project.

The letter stated: “The rebuilt centre will have the same amount of community space for classes, a new café, and a full-sized sports hall with new changing rooms. The HNCC charitable trust will be running the centre after it is rebuilt and will have a lease – there will be no tendering process.

“Camden will provide funding to make sure services continue during building work and have agreed further funding

for the new centre. There will be alternative accommodation to make sure all your services and classes continue during the building work.”

And centre manager Andrew Sanalitro has also supported the project. He said: “We have had difficulty raising money to run such a dilapidated centre which is not fit for purpose. We have a leak­ing roof and enormous repair and heating bills, and I fear that without this development the commun­ity centre will not survive, long-term, because we will not be able to offer the range of services we do at the moment.”

But opponents are rallying support with an online petition and scores of objections being registered at the Town Hall. Now architect Jo McCafferty, who lives nearby, has proposed a smaller scheme. Ms McCafferty has been practising in London for 20 years and is the director of a practice that specialises in housing design and urban regeneration.

She told the New Journal that the scheme was not suitable for the land earmarked.

She said: “The issues of deep concern are many and varied, such as the scale, massing and organisation of the buildings and external space, through to the detail, such as the internal arrangement of the new homes, position of balconies, bike and bin stores, design of elevations, lack of parking, positioning of plant and so on.”

HNCC building currently

How the centre currently looks

Ms McCafferty said the current plans had “significant failings”.

She added: “The proposals will loom over the neighbouring streets by adding additional storeys above the surrounding houses.”

Instead, she has called on the Town Hall to either scrap the scheme and instead slowly refurbish the current facilities, or go for a more modest project with limited housing to pay for the new facilities mooted.

She added: “I feel strongly that neither route has been explored thoroughly to ensure the best solution is delivered.

“The refurbishment option needs a full survey of buildings to establish the cost of upgrading them, bearing in mind the works that have already been completed to both the centre and the Fresh Youth Academy. This has to be the best starting point to establish whether refurbishment is an option.”

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