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Ambedkar House in north London has been formally cleared as a memorial and museum in honour of the architect of the Indian Constitution.
UK Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick had intervened to grant retrospective planning permission for 10 King Henry’s Road in Camden, where Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar – popularly known as Babasaheb – lived in 1921-22 during his student days at London School of Economics (LSE), to function as a museum. However, his March order, which came at the end of an inquiry following an appeal against Camden Council’s planning refusal, came with a set of conditions.
“The long-awaited operation of the Ambedkar Museum is all set to start,” said Janeevan John, of Singhania & Co. Solicitors, which dealt with the appeals process for the Indian High Commission in London.
“The Camden Council has now given permission for the cycle stand and approved the Management Plan and therefore the conditions attached with the Secretary of the State [Jenrick] order dated 12th March 2020 stands complied with,” he said.
The important landmark came as December 6 marked the 64th death anniversary of one of the prominent leaders of the Indian freedom movement and a world-famous social justice campaigner.
The UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government stepping in meant that the government was to decide on the matter based on recommendations from an independent Inspector appointed by the UK’s Planning Inspectorate. The Inspector oversaw an inquiry into the Indian government’s appeal last year and presented his findings to the minister.
“I was pleased to grant planning permission for a museum in London to Dr Ambedkar – one of the founding fathers of modern India and an important figure to many ,” said Jenrick back in March.
Camden Council, the local authority which had opposed the application, said it accepted the decision based on additional evidence provided by the Indian authorities
"Whilst we are disappointed that the Planning Inspectorate has ruled against the council’s original decision for 10 King Henry's Road, we do accept and respect the decision that has been made given the additional evidence presented by the appellant at the Inquiry regarding Dr Ambedkar, who was a major figure in Indian and British History and his association with this property,” a Camden Council spokesperson said.
The home was bought by the government for over £3 million and refurbished to transform into a memorial-cum-museum, which now houses photographs and belongings of Ambedkar, with the walls adorned with his famous quotations.
It had been an important stop on ’s first visit to the UK as Prime Minister in November 2015, but ran into trouble after it emerged that the right clearances for the creation of a museum on the site had not been sought. The Indian High Commission in London re-filed an appropriate planning application, which was rejected.
During an appeal hearing in September 2019, the Indian side argued that the home holds special significance for a huge section of Indians in the UK and outside because it was where Babasaheb lived during a crucial formative period in his academic life.
The council, on the other hand, presented expert witnesses to try and establish that the Dalit rights activist's association with the particular London house was very brief and any memorial can be moved elsewhere in order to not deprive the local area of crucial residential and housing space.
With all the conditions now being met, the property can resume its operation as a memorial for visitors once the coronavirus lockdown restrictions allow.