A group of Hackney residents are gearing up for a fight with a developer over “chilling” proposals to demolish a block of Victorian homes and build rented flats for young professionals.
The row of properties at 3-27 Wilberforce Road currently houses the Central Park Hotel, which remains open for now despite being sold off in a multimillion pound deal in 2015.
Developer Rainbow Properties hopes to submit a planning application in the coming weeks, but has already admitted it wants to level the entire string of houses to clear the way for rented rooms with shared kitchens and social spaces.
Hugh White, who heads up a group of residents opposed to the plans, said: “There is a lot of concern among locals. Nobody would call Wilberforce Road an architectural gem, but it is an old Victorian road.
“Pulling down several period houses sets a dangerous precedent and will destroy that character of the road.
“Although we are yet to see the designs, what we have learned about them is chilling. The developer seems to want to cram an awful lot into the site, and it looks like there will be hardly any green space.
“We cannot allow the demolition of a major section of this Victorian streetscape merely so that an individual developer can enrich himself.”
Artist Thamasin, who lives directly opposite the hotel, said: “The proposals will affect the character of the whole area, not just Wilberforce Road. And what about the needs of locals? Plonking down flats for however many people means GP practices around here will be further stretched when they are already at breaking point.
“Targeting young professionals also creates a generational divide. Why have other options – like mixed-use housing with rooms for old people – not been explored?”
PR firm Quatro, acting on behalf of the developers, is to hold an initial consultation with residents tomorrow evening, offering a first glimpse of the proposals.
Quatro’s John Greenshields said the design would be “respectful” to the area: “The building will be fit for purpose, modern and clean. Pastiches always look terrible, and this is an opportunity to do something better.
“I wouldn’t work with this developer if I didn’t think they were good. One concern raised by residents is that the building will become a hostel – it most certainly will not.”
Architects have drawn up initial plans to be exhibited at tomorrow’s consultation, which will give residents an opportunity to leave feedback.
Greenshields added: “It will be interesting to find out what people think, and we would like them to come with an open mind rather than militant propositions.”
Nick Perry, director of the Hackney Society, a volunteer group which campaigns for the protection of the borough’s heritage, said: “I can safely say we are nervous about what is proposed. Wilberforce Road is a very fine example of its period. Its buildings enrich the local area and are most likely heritage assets.
“Based on what we know so far, it is hard to see how the total loss of large swathes of period housing could possibly be outweighed by any public benefit if the outcome is solely private development.
“Whilst there is an argument to be had about building a new type of low-cost accommodation for those at the foot of the housing ladder – with shared amenities and therefore reduced private floorspace – it cannot be at the cost of total loss of our built heritage.”
A statement released by Quatro read: “Rainbow Properties is an established, family-run business that specialises in owning and maintaining decent homes for people to rent affordably.
“There is an opportunity to provide high quality, modern residential accommodation at Wilberforce Road that will remove the hotel and hostel-type uses and ensure that the area returns to a more residential setting.”
A public consultation will be held at Saint John the Evangelist Church on Queen’s Drive from 4-8pm tomorrow.