A THEATRE company’s £2.4 million plan to extend a community room into a communal garden at a 1930s block of council flats has been given the go-ahead.
Youth theatre company SPID Theatre (Social, Political, Innovative, Direct) plans to refurbish a ground floor community room and build another one, which will take up about 10 per cent of the garden space at its base at Kensal House in Ladbroke Grove.
Officers had recommended refusing the plan at the grade II listed building, stating the extension “would materially reduce the important amenity value of the communal”.
The estate was designed by social reformer Elizabeth Denby and architect Maxwell Fry and opened in 1936 as a progressive modernist housing scheme, with 68 flats in two blocks.
SPID’s project has already attracted £2.4m in funding, including £900,000 from the Greater London Authority.
This means Kensington and Chelsea council, which owns the building, will not pay towards it.
However Kensal House residents told the planning committee they were unhappy with losing green space at the historic building.
The scheme was opposed by 42 residents.
“I door knocked with the former head of the Residents Association, who first invited SPID in. We showed our neighbours the plans in good faith and gathered 44 letters of support from 68 flats,” said Kensal Resident Joseph Rodrigues, speaking on behalf of the refurbishment.
Elizabeth Harington Stavoravdi said she feared residents’ health would be “directly affected by the proposal.”
“It is imperative for everyone’ health and well-being that we preserve the grounds,” she said.
Richard Horwell, who has lived at Kensal House since he was two-years-old, said he used to play football in the garden and said it is “calming”.
Residents also signed a petition opposing the plan.
After over an hour of hearing evidence from objectors and supporters, Kensington and Chelsea council’s planning committee approved the plans and gave listed building consent.
They were assured that English Heritage supported the scheme.
Conservation architect Sam Causer said the scheme would only take 10 per cent of the garden and would include a green roof and a ”beautiful planted garden”.
He said the funding was “about making a sustainable building.”
“This extra room allows zumba to go along whilst there is a rehearsal,” he added.
Artistic director Helena Thompson said the decision means they could “restore the neglected space.”
She said it was run down before the theatre company took over the space from the former Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.
SPID runs a range of activities, including living history, film making and drama at Kensal House.
“Part of the plan of this project is to scale up these activities. The reason behind the vision is the very reason we can’t drop the extension or it does not hold,” said Ms Thompson.
She said the extension would have a green roof and added: “The green space will be replaced by extending greenery from the garden to our building and around the back of our building.”
Councillor Tom Bennett (Con, Redcliffe) said he wanted to consider the impact of the loss of the amenity for residents.
Committee chairman James Husband (Con, Abingdon) recognised the “clear benefits” and noted discussions about the plan have been going on over the last four years.
Referring to the tragedy down the road at Grenfell Tower, he said: “After all that’s gone on in this borough residents have a very strong voice.”
And he added: “I think the proposed intervention in terms of the listed building is really quite modest.”
Maxwell Woodger (Con, Queen’s Gate) said: “I am unhappy to pass something that causes disharmony between residents.”
Ian Henderson (Lab, Colville) asked questioned why the applicant could not drop the extension.
But he was told that the funding was for the whole plan and the building needed a new foyer and space to offer more activities.
By LDRS Reporter Julia Gregory