Council estate residents in Highgate, northwest London, have expressed anger at Camden Council after a councillor alleged a construction company had been allowed to occupy the basement of the estate without consulting residents.

“In reality, it looks like they’re running a business,” complained Luke Mitchell, an artist who lives on the estate. “That space was meant to be storage for residents.

“There’s been no consultation. We don’t even know what they’re doing.”

GEM Environmental Building Services LTD initially started working out of the Whittington estate, off Raydon Street in northeast Camden, in April 2016. Their original work was part of Camden’s “Better Homes” initiative to improve heating in council estates across the borough.

However, after enquiries by Highgate councillor Sian Berry, Camden has now confirmed that the company has been given new contracts in the meantime, meaning the space will likely continue to be occupied until at least 2020-21. Moreover, GEM now states on their website that their ‘Camden office’ is located on the estate.

Paolo, another estate resident, who did not want to give his last name, also took issue with GEM’s rent-free occupation of the space. “It doesn’t seem very fair if they’re not paying for it,” he complained. “I haven’t seen any consultation.” Multiple residents who were interviewed said they were not even aware that the basement was occupied.

The latest controversy follows long-standing disagreement between tenants and Camden over whether the original improvement works were value for money, or even necessary at all. Mitchell says he was forced to pay £12-14,000 for the new heating system in his one-bedroom flat.

Now, he says, traffic moving through GEM’s base in the estate means vans are frequently parking on double-yellow lines on weekday mornings. An analysis of parking-violation data, undertaken by this reporter, shows a slight uptick in recorded offences on the surrounding roads since 2016 (see below), though not a significant one when compared to previous years. Mitchell, however, is sceptical that many of these offences are even recorded since the vans quickly move on after unloading.

On being presented with questions regarding parking in and around the Whittington Estate, GEM declined to comment.

camden parking graphic

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