Residents at West End block Huguenot House face uncertain future
Long-standing residents at one of few housing blocks in the the heart of the West End say they have had their lives left “in limbo” by years of uncertainty about the future of their council owned building.
Westminster council has been considering possible redevelopment plans for Sixties built Huguenot House on Oxendon Street tucked away behind Leicester Square for almost a decade.
The previous Conservative admnistration wanted to demolish the eight storey concrete building - orginally built to house people who worked late in the theatres - which sits on a podium above a cinema and a 247 space car park.
But a change of political control last year Labour unexpectedly swept into power has put those plans on hold. Instead the Labour run council is now about to embark on a £2 million refurbishment that would involve hundrends of window frames being replaced before deciding the long-term future of the building.
Now residents in the 35 flats in Huguenot House, many of who have lived there since the 1970s, have commissioned an “alternative vision” proposal for the building that they say would extend its life, make it more sustainable and let them to stay in their homes.
The scheme drawn up by Mayfair based developers Fenton Whelan would involve installing an exoskeleton façade to soften the appearance of the building and allowing the creation of new balconies on the southern façade and new winter gardens for the north facing homes.
There would also be green walls, new commercial space and garden terraces. The transformed building would use green technologies such as photovoltaic panels on the roof and garden deck.
One further option being looked at is a “Grow Home” mini-urban farm that could showcase organic food production and sustainable food technology. It would be the first of its kind in central London.
The estimated £40 million cost of the makeover would be funded by extra stories being built on top of the building creating new apa
rtments that could be sold off to private buyers.
Sanjay Sharma, co-founder of Fenton Whelan says: “The new proposals would allow the existing leasehold residents to remain largely in situ whilst the building is being transformed, and the plans would deliver on the council’s commitment to net zero new projects, provide new affordable housing in excess of minimum policy requirements.
“We are passionate and deeply committed to this project and we believe the focus on greening, environmental sustainability and avoiding carbon release from demolition are in keeping with the times, economic changes and pressing environmental concerns. We would happily work with the council to tailor our plans so that we can take a collaborative approach to implementing our proposals for the benefit of existing residents, the local community and most importantly Huguenot House itself.”
Dr Peter Kertesz, Secretary of the Huguenot House Residents’ Association said: “ Myself and many other long-leaseholders and tenants love Huguenot House and have lived in the building very happily for many years. We have been fighting the previous administration’s plans to demolish the building for over 9 years.
“A demolition scheme would go against the council’s policy to minimise pollution of the environment through the demolitions of sound buildings. We know our rights and refuse to be bullied and pushed out from our homes. The new proposals that we have helped to devise in partnership with Fenton Whelan and B3R Architects shows that there is a commercially viable and environmentally preferrable alternative to simply demolishing the building and constructing a new development.”
Another resident, retired judge Colin Asbray, 71, said: ”My concern is for the many people who live there who are older than me. Westminster have been wanting to knock this building down for such a long time.”
A Westminster council spokesperson said: “A final decision on whether to refurbish or replace Huguenot House has not yet been made.
“The work being discussed at the moment is essential maintenance work only and not related to the longer term future of the site. As landlord, if we don’t carry out the recommended repairs, the building may be compromised from a health and safety perspective.
“Any commercial partnership with a developer would, as usual be subject to a rigorous and transparent procurement process undertaken by the City Council and residents would be a key part of that.”