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Permission cloud on UK Ambedkar Museum

Order to restore ‘residential use’, appeal to be heard next month

By Amit Roy in London

  • Published 21.08.19, 2:25 AM
  • Updated 21.08.19, 2:25 AM
Narendra Modi inaugurating the museum in 2015.
Narendra Modi inaugurating the museum in 2015. Picture credit: HCI, London

Camden Council in north London has moved to shut down the Ambedkar Museum, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 14, 2015, because “it was set up illegally without planning permission”.

The council’s objection, explained on Tuesday to The Telegraph, is on the grounds that planning permission was applied for retrospectively after the museum was set up.

Planning permission was then rejected and an order made that the four-storey property with six well-appointed rooms at 10 King Henry Road, in the border area between Primrose Hill and Hampstead, should be returned to “residential use”.

An appeal is due to be heard at a planning inquiry on September 24.

This was Ambedkar’s home between 1921-22 when the architect of India’s Constitution was a student who journeyed like a lot of Indians who lived in the area to the London School of Economics.

Since then, this part of north London has become a very expensive and sought-after residential area.

Commenting on the Indian high commission’s retrospective planning application, Sue Price, who lives nearby, claimed visitors to the museum were arriving in “coach loads” to take photographs. She said: “We are now disturbed by the noise day and night seven days a week.”

However, shutting down the memorial would cause enormous upset and hurt to Ambedkar’s followers who see the memorial, with a bust outside of the iconic leader, as a place of pilgrimage.

A blue plaque on the front wall, erected by English Heritage, which is very choosy about where such marks of distinction are put up, emphasises the historic importance of the location.

It says simply: “Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar 1891-1956 Indian Crusader for Social Justice lived here 1921-22.” Solicitor Ravindra Kumar, from the law firm Singhania & Co, which is appealing against the council’s enforcement notice on behalf of the government of Maharashtra, said: “We are disappointed with the notice.

“The high commission (of India) and the state of Maharashtra have spent a substantial amount of money on this, around £2 million. The property had not been in use for a long time and it was dilapidated.” More repairs need to be carried out but the house was spruced up for Modi’s visit.

In February 2018, the commission sought retrospective change-of-use permission to convert the house into a museum. But in October 2018, the council refused the application on the grounds it would be “detrimental” to the amount of residential floor space provided in the borough.

The high commission’s planning application to the council said the house was purchased to “preserve the property of one of the founding fathers of the Republic of India”.

A Camden Council officer’s report on the application said while the provision of a museum would accord with its planning policy, there would be a loss of residential floor space.

It said: “In terms of balancing the loss of residential floor space against the cultural benefits, there is nothing to suggest that an alternative site could not be found and it is not considered to be a sufficiently compelling reason that Dr Ambedkar once resided in this house (for a comparatively short time).” The report said a planning breach was first reported on January 15, 2018.