January was a rollercoaster for residents and neighbours of Howitt Close. On 5 January, Camden Planning Officers announced that they were recommending approval of the second planning application to add an extra storey of seven flats on top of Howitt Close; a complete volte-face after their robust rejection of the first 2021 planning application. On 9 January, it was announced that the Planning Committee of Camden Councillors would make their final decision on Howitt Close at the hearing on 19 January. The residents and neighbours of the mansion block, who will be so badly affected by the development, felt that they were being treated with complete disrespect as they had had to wait 8 months for the Planning Officers to release their decision on the 2021 planning application, but now had a mere 10 days to prepare for the Planning Committee. However, the hasty attempt to add Howitt Close to the 19 January hearing backfired as the wrong papers were attached to the formal notice of the meeting, and the hearing had to be postponed until 30 January.
BelSoc’s application to add Howitt Close to the Local List of Heritage Buildings last October had proved insufficient to stop the Planning Officers, who appear determined to vandalise a building they described last year as “a complete composition of considerable charm which, through good design suits its context well.” An application for Grade II listing had been discussed amongst BelSoc Committee members and the decision was reached that it was ‘Now or Never.’ BelSoc Committee Member, Barbara Abraham, had already researched the history of Howitt Close and its architects, Henry F Webb & Ash, but considerable further work was needed to construct, review and finalise a credible application to Historic England for Grade II Listing. This was submitted to HE late on 26 January and Camden’s Planning Committee was informed the next day.
At the same time as the listing application was being prepared, three key players (Tom Symes for BelSoc, David Thomas, Chairman of the Belsize Conservation Area Advisory Committee and BelSoc committee member, and Sally McFall, who has campaigned tirelessly for Howitt Close residents and neighbours) were frantically preparing and rehearsing their joint presentation to the Planning Committee, to ensure that they were ready to put forward all the critical arguments to Camden Councillors on the night.
All this activity came to an abrupt stop at 11pm on Friday 27th, when Belsize Councillor Tom Simon emailed to advise that Camden Council had cancelled the hearing of the planning application until after Historic England has decided on the Grade II Listing. It has been an extremely stressful start to the year for all those who care about preserving Howitt Close.