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Sunday20 August 2017

Mayor rules in favour of Bennetts Associates' Spitalfields scheme

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Objectors liken mayor’s call-in to penalty shoot-out

Bennetts Associates’ Spitalfields redevelopment was approved by the Mayor of London last night despite an eleventh-hour attempt by opponents to spot-list the buildings.

Boris Johnson over-ruled Tower Hamlets whose planning committee ignored their officers’ advice to reject unanimously the plans for the Fruit & Wool Exchange on architectural and housing grounds.

During a site visit and a heated meeting at City Hall yesterday the mayor heard submissions from two local architects, one in favour and one against the development.

Several objectors complained that letting one man make the final decision after the scheme had gone through the council’s normal planning procedures was the “equivalent of a penalty shoot-out” and a “sham of democracy”.

Johnson acknowledged it was better for local authorities to make their own planning decisions but said he called in an average of one scheme a year.

He granted planning permission and listed building consent but asked Bennetts to incorporate the stone doorframes from the bank into the new scheme. After the meeting, Rab Bennetts gave BD his “professional word” he would try this.

The proposal will see all but the Brushfield Street facade of the 1929 Fruit & Wool Exchange, plus a bank, a pub and a multi-storey car park, demolished to make way for a mixed-use scheme.

The remains of a historic east-west street where Jack Ripper’s final victim met her end will be scrapped and a new north-south link introduced which the applicant promised would be open round the clock despite being on private land.

Bennetts was supported by local architect Chris Dyson who said: “It’s good architecture by Bennetts who have won 125 awards including 15 RIBA awards and I hope this project would lead to a further award for them.”

Paul Johnston, whose practice drew up a rival scheme earlier this year with Dan Cruickshank, told the meeting Bennetts’ retention of the facade as an arcade was “poor and very predictable; a design cliché”.

He said the plans for large floor-plate offices were “completely inappropriate for the site” which is surrounded by small footprint historic buildings.

Save Britain’s Heritage applied this week to have the buildings spot-listed, backed by Cruickshank, Ptolemy Dean, Simon Jenkins and Gavin Stamp. Johnson dismissed the bid as last-minute.

Save’s president Marcus Binney said: “The current scheme leaves no more than the centre of the façade of one of the most handsome public buildings erected in 1920s London, an architectural triumph in an age of austerity. The wings go, the flank opposite Christ Church goes, the fine hall and staircase go as well as the theatre-style fruit and wool exchanges with their tiers of seating.”

In a statement Rab Bennetts welcomed the mayor’s decision. He said: “This is an enormously important building, both for Spitalfields and for Bennetts Associates, as it shows how a major commercial property can form the backdrop to a lively conservation area and to Hawksmoor’s Christ Church. By integrating the best of the existing building into the project, the design retains historical links with the market and adopts a form that would otherwise not have been possible.”

 

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Readers' comments (8)

  • A correct decision by Boris! The facade will be retained, but the inefficient interior will be updated. A victory for common sense in my opinion. And to the people arguing that we should maintain a spot where a gruesome murder took place as some kind of homage, are you sick in the head?

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  • zecks_marquise

    Any architect that still uses sketchup for publicity images deserves a slap

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  • Absolutely.

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  • Zecks/shave - you did see that the SketchUp was the rival scheme, not Bennetts'?

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  • Johnston architecture and design produced a conceptual scheme, on behalf of the Spitalfields Community Group and the Spitalfields Trust, in order to illustrate (not 'rival') how this site could be developed. Our aim was to show how the historic buildings and street patterns could be revitalised to provide optimum levels of retail, office space and housing supported by a network of inviting streets, alleyways and a new public square.

    As was mentioned last night, by Tower Hamlets Planning Officers, the approved scheme is better suited to The City rather than the historic, vibrant and eclectic urban village of Spitalfields.

    London needs to show the world that it can sympathetically repair, regenerate and rebuild itself. It cannot allow developers, well versed in bypassing London and National planning policies, to ignore the local community majority and publicly elected Councilors in order to raze neighbourhoods. The public should be reminded that this application was refused not once but twice by Tower Hamlets Planning Committee before it was refereed to The London Mayor's office.
    The hearing can be viewed in full on the following website:
    http://www.london.gov.uk/who-runs-london/mayor/webcasts

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  • urbansurgery

    "London needs to show the world that it can sympathetically repair, regenerate and rebuild itself. "

    Why exactly?

    "It cannot allow developers, well versed in bypassing London and National planning policies, to ignore the local community majority and publicly elected Councillors in order to raze neighbourhoods."

    It hasn't. Last time I looked Boris was elected and has a mandate and powers to do exactly as he has done.

    If anything more effort should be spent on urban fabric that is genuinely at risk of losing amenity from the public good. We aren't short of 'cultural heritage' whatever that means and what part of the neighbourhood is razed by this proposal that will be actually missed by the neighbourhood? Nothing so trite as progress at all costs but pragmatic dispensation of our collective public good will has more meaning when directed at effectual change.

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  • "Boris Johnson over-ruled Tower Hamlets whose planning committee ignored their officers’ advice to reject unanimously the plans for the Fruit & Wool Exchange on architectural and housing grounds."
    that is a wrong statement right at the beginning of the article. it should read "...ignored their officers' advice AND REJECTED the plans..." as the planning officers, twice, recommended approval for the scheme. It was the councillors who ignored their own planning officers for reasons that might always remain a mystery......

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  • iain meek

    Democracy 0; Boris 1

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