Spedan Close, NW3

The Branch Hill Estate – now Spedan Close – was, at the time it was built, the most expensive council housing in the country; every property with its own individual roof garden.

The London Borough of Camden was formed in 1965 and one major element of the new Council’s housing policy lay in “buying any housing they could lay their hands on” on the reasonable grounds that new build construction had little impact on council waiting lists when so many needed to be rehoused as a result of the redevelopment itself.

In 1964 the predecessor Council – Hampstead Borough – had paid £464,000 to buy an Edwardian mansion and its grounds off Branch Hill Road on the western edge of the Heath. The house would become a care home; its land was earmarked for council housing.

Architects, Gordon Benson and Alan Forsyth, guided by Borough Architect Sidney Cook, came up with a scheme that some have likened to an Italian hill town.

That vision had first to survive some difficult politics. The Conservative administration that ran Camden between 1968 and 1971 intended to sell the land for private development. When the incoming Labour administration recaptured it for housing, the then Conservative government refused loan support. The Council began building anyway and were rewarded by a change of government – and financial backing – when Labour won nationally in 1974.

The finished development comprised 21 pairs of two-storey houses in three rows, 20 five-person, 14 six-person and 8 four-person. These were semi-detached in name only. In fact, there are essentially three terraces, punctuated with a grid of walkways, built one above the other on the site’s steep slope.

The estate was completed in 1978 and the first tenants moved in, it was said, ’without fanfare’ – a choice on the part of the Council which probably reflected the degree of unwanted publicity the scheme had attracted.

At over £72,000 each – well over the cost of contemporary private-sector equivalents – they probably were the most expensive council housing ever. This expenditure reflects the high price of the site, additional works required to cope with difficult soil conditions and the spiralling costs of materials and labour as shortages of both emerged in the mid-seventies. Building costs generally had escalated threefold in the period.

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