Billionaire couple face backlash over plans to demolish parts of chapel to store art collection

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One of Britain’s richest couples have sparked a backlash from historians over plans to demolish parts of a Grade II listed church for their art collection.

Art patron Anita Zabludowicz and her Finnish business tycoon husband Poju founded the Zabludowicz Collection in the Nineties to “champion” emerging contemporary artists.

The pair, who are worth about £1.5 billion, took over a former Methodist chapel in Prince of Wales Road, Chalk Farm, in 2007 to house works by the likes of former Turner Prize nominee Tracey Emin.

In January, the couple submitted plans to demolish part of the chapel’s former Sunday school in a bid to extend the gallery and create potential space for a cafe. But the Government’s official heritage advisers Historic England claimed the demolition would “cause harm to a listed building”.

The body called for developers to reassess the benefit that the destruction of the building, which dates to 1880, would have on the community.

Planning row: This former chapel in Chalk Farm houses the Zabludowicz Collection (Fraser Hart)

The Zabludowiczes — who own “his and hers” mansions on The Bishops Avenue in Hampstead and were  recently rated the ninth wealthiest couple in Britain — resubmitted plans last month which agreed to preserve more of the former Sunday school’s walls but included reconstruction of original brick features.

However, the new plans also proposed further demolition of the space’s middle gallery.

A letter sent to Camden council by Historic England read: “We welcome the changes made to retain the majority of the walls of the former Sunday school, the oldest space in the building. This will allow continued appreciation of this space and its role connected to the chapel, whilst retaining a greater degree of its material integrity than the previous scheme. 

“We are disappointed to note that the revisions include a greater degree of demolition to the middle gallery … The justification for this change is not clear. Overall we consider that the scheme is notably improved, although it would still cause some harm to the listed building.” 

A spokeswoman for the Zabludowicz Collection said it had submitted plans to improve facilities for exhibition, performance, education and storage, as well as to improve access to the upper floors.

She added: “The proposed plans respect and enhance the historic features of the building and the collection is working closely with architects FMA, Camden Design and Historic England to ensure the rich character and history of the building would be maintained as part of any future improvement works.” 

A date has not yet been set for the council’s planning committee to pass a decision on the plans.

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