Spitalfields scheme rejected by councillors

British Land’s Blossom Street development on the edge of Spitalfields was thrown out by Tower Hamlets planning committee last night - against planning officers’ recommendation.

Opponents of the controversial scheme, who were led by veteran East End campaigner Dan Cruickshank, were today celebrating “a victory for local democracy – and for common sense”.

They had claimed the proposals would have flattened 70% of the buildings in the Elder Street conservation area of Norton Folgate.

The developer countered that it had come up with a heritage-led, low-rise scheme that respected the area. Head of development Nigel Webb said it had hired Duggan Morris, DSDHA and Stanton Williams as part of its efforts “to ensure design variation, in keeping with the character of the wider area”.

In a statement today, British Land said: “We are disappointed the planning committee did not recognise the considerable merits of our scheme and we are now considering our options.”

The committee’s concerns revolved around affordable housing, bulk and massing and heritage.

Oliver Leigh-Wood told the Hackney Citizen: “We are very pleased at the councillors’ decision but we accept it is merely part of an ongoing battle which sadly is attempting to erase a conservation area.”

The 32,000sq m scheme was for new offices, retail units and 40 apartments.

In April Cruickshank told a packed meeting he was prepared to squat the buildings, as he did in a previous battle in the 1970s. On Sunday around 500 people linked hands around the buildings as part of a last-ditch publicity stunt to demonstrate their strength of feeling.

A Tower Hamlets council spokesperson said: “Last night at the Strategic Development Committee, the committee resolved not to follow the officers’ recommendation to approve the Norton Folgate planning application. The committee raised concerns around the impact that this would have on the historic buildings and the conservation area. They also expressed concern around the general level of housing as well as affordable housing in the planning proposals.”

Spitalfields Trust statement

This is a victory for local democracy – and for common sense. Ignoring its own officers advice and the opinion of Historic England members of Tower Hamlets planning committee has rejected a scheme that is too big for its sensitive historic site and which would destroy far too much of the conservation area for which it is proposed.

No members of the planning committee supported the scheme and British Land should now listen to the people of Tower Hamlets – whose desire has been expressed through their elected councillors on the committee – and redesign a scheme that was last night condemned as too greedy and too destructive.

The Spitalfields Trust accepted  British Land’s initial invitation to work with them to produce an acceptable scheme. But the Trust found its observations, criticism and advice constantly ignored.

It had no choice but to go into direct opposition and, in consequence, produced – with John Burrell – an “alternative” scheme for the site. This scheme demonstrates how the Blossom Street site could be developed – but in a far more modest manner that respects existing scale and the fabric and character of the conservation area.

The Spitalfields Trust would be more than happy to work again with British Land if it learns from last night and commits itself to the production of a more sympathetic scheme for Norton Folgate.