By Owen Sheppard, local democracy reporter
Councillors have unanimously approved a controversial redevelopment in one of central London’s most highly regarded council estates.
Plans submitted by Westminster Council will see Darwin House, a block for elderly residents on the 1950s Churchill Gardens estate in Pimlico, demolished and rebuilt.
The long-vacant but historic Balmoral Castle pub would have to be pulled down too.
Residents in Darwin House support the plans, which will first involve moving them to a new seven-storey block of modern, more spacious homes before the demolition begins.
Once they have been relocated, Darwin House would then be replaced with a second new block, and across the site there would be 52 newly built flats – a net increase of 21.
Despite this, more than 600 people signed a petition calling on the council to instead investigate “retrofitting” Darwin House, built only in the 1980s. They claimed retrofitting “rather than demolishing” would cause less disruption and produce fewer carbon emissions.
Estate residents and occupants of ornate, nearly 200-year-old Georgian Homes in Grosvenor Road also objected. They argued that “noise, dust and vibrations” would cause a nuisance for several years.
One Darwin House resident, George Wood, said at the council’s Planning Committee on June 8: “We have been waiting a long time for this meeting because this project has been in the melting pot for a while…
“One of the things that was very important to us was that there would just be one move, from Darwin House into the new property.
“I can confirm that Darwin House residents, who currently live in small, cramped studio flats – they’re very tiny little rooms – are all looking forward to spending what remains of their lives in the proposed new properties which are all one-bedroom with modern amenities.”
Opposing the plans was Gordon Haggart, a leaseholder in neighbouring Shelley House.
He told the committee: “Significant light, amenity, privacy and pollution issues will affect hundreds of surrounding residents and thousands will be affected by intolerable noise, vibration, dust, parking issues and construction traffic during a long and protracted period.”
Paul Zuckerman, a resident in Grosvenor Road, said: “I speak for those in the Georgian terrace adjoining the site. Indeed my house would be only two metres from Block B [the new Darwin House] after three years of noise and disruption if this was approved…
“And actually we fear for the stability of our houses which were built nearly 200 years ago, before houses were built with substantial foundations.”
A local councillor Murad Gassanly emphasised the need for new affordable housing in Pimlico and said he doubted whether the 600 petition signatories were all local people.
Of the 52 new homes, 34 would be let at “social” rent to current Darwin House residents. The second block would be “intermediate” rent – for households with a total income of up to £90,000.
The meeting concluded with the committee’s five members approving the scheme.
Committee chair Robert Rigby (Conservative), said: “We have a desperate need for affordable housing.”
Labour councillor Geoff Barraclough also agreed with council officers that the need for new housing outweighed the disruption that redevelopment would cause. “The harm seems to be bad, but it’s not that bad,” he said.
After the result, Heather Acton, Westminster’s cabinet member for regeneration, said: “In order to maximise the benefits for the local community, the  new intermediate homes will be offered first to residents in the local area.”
Top photo: Campaigners trying to stop the demolition of pub and Darwin house lats in Grosvenor Road, Pimlico.
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.