Connaught Square mansion plan: uproar at scheme to turn Blairs’ local GP surgery into £6m home
A “greedy and selfish” plan from the Church of England’s property arm to turn one of London’s oldest GP surgeries into a multi-million-pound mansion has sparked a storm of protest from patients and residents.
Almost 300 objections to a planning application from landlords the Church Commissioners had been lodged with Westminster council by yesterday’s deadline for comments.
The surgery in Connaught Square, close to Tony Blair’s London home, was established in 1906 when it employed some of the first women in the world to graduate from medical school.
It occupies the basement, ground and part of the first floor of a five-storey Grade II listed Georgian townhouse on the square near Hyde Park and has 8,000 registered patients.
However, under the proposals from the Church Commissioners, who manage an £8 billion portfolio of investments, the surgery will be shut and the property turned into a seven-bedroom, four-bathroom house with a courtyard and terrace. The completed 3000 sq ft home will be worth about £6 million.
The Church Commissioners would provide new premises for the practice at 1 Sussex Gardens, almost half a mile away, but still on its Hyde Park estate.
However, the respected head of the practice, Dr Ruth O’Hare, who joined it in 1984, has urged her patients to oppose the plans and warned the new lease “might make the new Sussex Gardens premises unaffordable for the NHS”.
In a message to patients she wrote: “Connaught Square Practice’s first priority is to continue to offer a responsive, accessible and high-quality NHS general medical practice. We believe the current application by the church for change of use of our premises could pose a significant threat to that.”
William Seed, emeritus professor of medicine at the Imperial College School of Medicine and a patient of the practice “for many years”, wrote in his objection: “The practice provides outstanding care for local patients. It is busy, responsive, and highly professional. It would be an absolute outrage to disrupt its activities.”
Another objector urged the council to reject this “greedy and selfish proposal” writing: “Shame on the Church Commissioners to even have applied for planning permission… Where is the religious spirit?”
Westminster Labour councillor Paul Dimoldenberg said: “The alternative premises on offer are some distance from Connaught Square and there is no guarantee that they will be available on the same financial terms.”
A spokesperson for the Church Commissioners, which claims it invests “taking account of environmental, social and governance issues”, said: “A planning application has been submitted for a change of use of a current NHS doctors’ surgery to its original residential use with a linked application to create a modernised accessible surgery building close by.
“The intention is to relocate the existing surgery to the new premises in the medium term. We have been discussing this proposal with the current doctor since spring 2017 and we fully appreciate the importance of having a doctors’ surgery within the estate.”