Unholy row between Royal Free and St Stephen’s Church over construction work
Neighbours in dispute over stability of church tower
30 March, 2017 — By Tom Foot
St Stephen’s Church, next to the hospital
A WAR of words between a church and the Royal Free over a major construction project turned ugly this week with allegations flying on both sides.
Michael Taylor, chairman of trustees at St Stephen’s Church, Rosslyn Hill, has criticised the Hampstead NHS Trust for claiming the tower of its Grade I-listed building could suddenly crumble.
The Royal Free hit back last night (Wednesday) saying it had not been given full access to investigate its concerns – despite being given the go-ahead from the Diocese of London. Mr Taylor told the New Journal: “Astoundingly, the Royal Free has suggested, through three letters sent to the trustees, that St Stephen’s is incipiently unstable – an unscrupulous smear comprehensively dismissed by our experts.”
He said he had received “no evidence on paper” from the Royal Free to justify its concerns about the tower’s foundations. The Royal Free Charity has won planning permission from Camden Council to build a seven-floor “Institute of Immunity and Transplantation” – chiefly a medical research centre – on its old car park site. Before the works start, its charitable arm has contracted out a firm to carry out ground surveys that it says has raised concerns about the church tower.
The Royal Free Hospital
The Free’s letter to St Stephen’s said there were potential concerns about “the stability of tower” and its trustees had a “duty” to “advise occupiers and users of the risks of failure”, adding that all businesses and landowners should be notified. In a long-running dispute, St Stephen’s has warned that construction of the seven-storey building could threaten its foundations and neighbouring buildings.
Mr Taylor believes the Royal Free is pressuring him into to completing strengthening works to safeguard its own construction work.
The Royal Free said: “As part of our preparation work, an investigation was carried out by an independent body which raised concerns regarding ground conditions to St Stephen’s Church, which could potentially affect the stability of the tower. This potential risk was such that as soon as the charity became aware of these concerns, the Diocese of London, which owns the church, and St Stephen’s Restoration and Preservation Trust were immediately informed.
Its statement added: Earlier this month the Royal Free Charity sought permission from the Diocese and St Stephen’s to undertaken ground investigations. The Diocese granted permission but St Stephens did not. However, St Stephen’s has allowed access for some of the tests to be carried out, but not all of those that are required.”