Campaigners, including architectural historian Dan Cruickshank and hundreds of local people, are celebrating as members of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Council Strategic Development Committee last night decided not to endorse the advice of council officers and instead rejected the controversial bid by developer British Land to develop 320,000 sq ft of high end office, residential and retail accommodation in the historic Norton Folgate area between Shoreditch and Spitalfields, close to the City of London.   The plan, which was supported by the Corporation of the City of London and which was not opposed by Historic England, would have seen over 70% of the historic fabric of 18th to early 20th century buildings in a Conservation Area replaced by modern office spaces, many several stories higher than the current buildings, only the facades of which would be retained in most cases.


Describing the decision a spokesperson for Tower Hamlets told the newspaper City AM

“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.”
In turn British Land said
“We are disappointed the planning committee didn’t recognise the considerable merits of our scheme. We are now considering our options.”Meanwhile the City of London, which two years ago sold the developer the buildings and land which were subject to the bid, said“We’re aware that British Land are considering their options and are in discussions with the company.”Those options could include appeals to various bodies including the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State, so although the Tower Hamlets decision is a powerful statement of local will and intent, acknowledging the 576 letters of objection which the Council received, the battle to save Norton Folgate cannot be said to be over.  However, both the local population and independent heritage bodies are now fully mobilised in defence of the site and in defending the principle that change in Conservation Areas should be based on a sensitive evolution and regeneration of the existing building stock.  It also remains to be seen whether Historic England will re-position itself and oppose the development plan given that one of the Councillor’s key reasons for rejecting the plan was the damage which would result to historic buildings and the conservation area.  A situation succinctly described by Dan Cruickshank who said before last night’s crucial vote

British Land’s proposal would, if given planning permission, create a terrifying precedent undermining all historic quarters throughout the country.”


After the vote Mr Cruikshank told the Architects Journal

“This is a victory for local democracy – and for common sense. No members of the planning committee supported the scheme and British Land should now listen to the people of Tower Hamlets [and] redesign a scheme that was last night condemned as too greedy and too destructive.”

In further comments Mr Cruickshank described how the Spitalfields Trust had tried to work with British Land but the Trust had found its

“…observations, criticism and advice constantly ignored”


As a result they had come up with an alternative plan which

“…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.’

It remains to be seen whether British Land will indeed learn from last night’s experience, or if it will instead opt to utilise its deep pockets and friends in high political places, including No 11 Downing Street, to attempt to push through the deeply unpopular scheme regardless.

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