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Planners recommend building work next to Dickens Museum is given green light

Dickens scholars raise concern about dust, noise and vibrations ahead of planning meeting

21 September, 2017 — By Richard Osley

The Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty Street

A MUSEUM in Charles Dickens’ former Holborn home could be facing hard times after Town Hall officials recommended building work next door is given the green light.

Councillors hold the final say over whether basement work and piling for a new rear extension can go ahead at 47 Doughty Street – one door down from the Charles Dickens Museum, an enduring pilgrimage destination for fans of the Oliver Twist and Tale Of Two Cities novelist. They are now due to decide whether to approve the guidance from their own planning department to allow the scheme – or not – at a meeting scheduled in the Town Hall diary for next Thursday.

Dickens lived at No.48 in the 1830s at a time when his popularity was expanding and, as the last surviving London residence, it has been used as a museum since 1925. Staff and visitors, however, fear noisy and dusty building work will put the daily operation under threat, while piling work would lead to vibrations at ground level.

Applicant Yifan He has scaled down the proposed work after initial objections but there are still fears about how the project will affect the museum ahead of next week’s crunch meeting.

The museum’s director, Dr Cindy Sughrue, said in a letter to the Town Hall: “As a small charity with­out any public funding to provide a cushion, we must earn – through admission fees and other trading activities – every penny we need to cover the cost of maintaining this Grade I-listed build­ing and its irreplaceable collection. Therefore any interruption to our daily trading activities presents a real risk to our ongoing viability and the potential loss of a major cultural asset.”

The museum holds 100,000 items connected to Dickens and holds talks and events for schoolchildren. Visitors can also visit a garden café at the museum, which managers are also concerned will be disrupted during the work. Negotiations and assessments about potential disruption have gone back and forth for more than a year.

But in a report circulated to councillors sitting on Camden’s planning committee, officials said: “The impact on neighbouring properties is judged to be acceptable. The impacts associated with the proposed basement enlargement are also considered to be acceptable.”

Mr He’s architect, Jonathan Drew, said: “Our client has recognised from the outset that such works are extremely sensitive and has employed an architect that has previously worked on listed buildings in the borough. The architect has also been working very closely with the Heritage Collective to ensure that the proposals are designed taking the heritage assets into consideration.”

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