A proposal to convert homes for the elderly in Chelsea into general units has been rejected, during concerns of decreased accommodation amid the royal borough's "housing crisis".
A Kensington and Chelsea council planning applications committee unanimously refused the proposal to redevelop 40-42 Nevern Square on Tuesday (May 15) evening.
They found a balance could not be struck between the need for upgrade, and the loss of units.
Councillors questioned why dozens of rooms had been allowed to remain empty for years.
Linda Wade, chair of Nevern Square Conservation Area Residents' Association, labelled the decision a "win" for tenants, who turned out to hear their fate.
A second, linked application to redevelop Chelsea Court in Embankment Gardens was granted, to the disappointment of its residents.
Recently-merged social housing provider Peabody and Family Mosaic's application described both properties as 'cramped' and 'awkwardly configured', comprising some units that no longer met national size standards.
The proposal to develop 10 private homes and 10 social houses at Nevern Square would have transformed the accommodation from over-55s to general use.
The Chelsea Court application had proposed reducing the number of units at the property from 78 to 71.
The proposal attracted 16 letters of objection, including from residents.
Tenants Association secretary John Sheekey told the committee many elderly people spent a large amount of time in their lounges. They were worried the kitchens in the proposed new layout would encroach on sitting room space.
Residents also objected to communal areas being moved to the ground floor. Sheekey said residents were concerned about security and air pollution from the road when they opened the windows.
Cllr Malcolm Spalding said that refusal the application on the basis of the loss of seven units would set a troubling precedent, as there was a need to upgrade the borough's elderly sheltered housing stock.
He and two fellow Conservative councillors voted down one Labour councillor to approve the plans.
However, they refused permission for a canopy and garden extension, agreeing with objectors that the designs did not fit the desirable riverside conservation area's character.
The Nevern Square site, purchased in 2011, currently comprises 37 small bedsits and one single-bedroom flat, providing accommodation for over-55s
Presently there is no planning protection to ensure the units in the property are offered as affordable housing.
The committee was warned that planning refusal would result in the loss of an offer for 10 of the units to be made social homes in perpetuity - all units could thus be put on the market immediately without permission.
Cllr Wade urged the committee to defer the decision, adding that the loss of 27 units would contradict the borough's focus on increasing affordable housing for its growing elderly population.
Conservative Cllr Anne Cyron said she was disappointed to hear units had been kept empty in both properties for years amid a "housing crisis."
“If you had a choice between not having a home and having a small home, what would you choose?”
Labour Cllr Mohammed Bakhtiar also questioned why units were empty, saying many people wanting housing urgently would have accepted a small room.
In moving for the application to be refused, Vice Chairman Cllr James Husband acknowledged the intention to offer better quality housing, but said the the loss of units was too great.
The applicants have the right to appeal.