Collapsed home had fallen into disrepair during 10-year planning saga
“It was like a bomb had gone off and the whole street was filled with smoke”
15 February, 2018 — By William McLennan
A HOME that collapsed this week had been vacant for years as developers spent more than a decade wrangling with the Town Hall over planning permission.
Construction workers had a lucky escape when the facade of a terraced house in Sumatra Road, West Hampstead, tumbled to the ground on Monday.
Neighbours said the property had been derelict for around a decade, falling into disrepair, before builders re-started work in the past month.
One of the builders said: “We heard a strange sound and the wall started shaking. Then it collapsed. It was very quick. It’s lucky we were outside.”
No one was injured in the collapse. Firefighters evacuated 10 people from neighbouring properties.
Abdul Rouf, who was walking past at the time, said: “As I was about five metres away on the other side of the road, the whole roof started to drop. It happened so fast. It was like a game of Tetris.
“If I didn’t decide to cross the road a second before I could have been right next to the house. It could have potentially taken someone’s life.”
He added: “It was like a bomb had gone off and the whole street was filled with smoke.”
John Lee, who lives next door, said: “I just don’t understand how this could happen.”
He said he believed the building may have fallen into disrepair while it was vacant, adding: “It’s had 10 years of wind and rain with no heating on.”
Council planning records reveal applications stretching back more than 10 years, all in
the name of Jeremy Stein, director of consultancy firm Drawing and Planning.
The firm claims to have a “proven solution to reduce the costs, time and energy required for submitting planning applications”.
Mr Stein applied for permission to convert the family home into six flats in 2007, but this was denied. In 2011, a plan to extend the basement was also rejected. In 2014, he was granted permission to excavate and enlarge the existing basement.
It is believed construction workers had been removing rubble left by a firm employed to shore up the building, via a process known as “under-pinning”, when the collapse occurred.
Mr Stein returned to Camden Council with a revised scheme to create five flats in 2015. When the council failed to make a decision, an appeal was made to the government’s Planning Inspectorate last year but inspector Caroline Jones rejected it in October.
Neighbours observing the collapsed facade on Monday said it was “like an earthquake had hit”. A first-floor fireplace could be seen, still attached to the wall with a coffee cup on the mantelpiece. One neighbour remarked: “Now that’s open-plan living.”
The Health and Safety Executive is working with Camden Council to “ensure the building is made safe”.
Mr Stein did not respond to our requests for a comment.