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Thursday24 August 2017

Spitalfields nursery threatened with demolition

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Scabal Architects’ scheme accused of damaging church’s setting

Scabal Architects' Spitalfields Christchurch primary school

Source: Gareth Gardner

Scabal Architects’ Spitalfields Christchurch primary school, new nursery and community building

A £1.3 million building designed by Scabal Architects is facing demolition before it has even opened because protestors claim it has broken the law.

A bitter battle has broken out over the single-storey nursery and community centre which stands between Hawksmoor’s grade I-listed Christ Church Spitalfields and its primary school on Brick Lane.

The building was completed in the summer holidays and should have opened this term but it remains locked and empty while lawyers fight it out.

Spitalfields Open Space Ltd (SOS) claims the building breaks both the Open Spaces Act of 1906 and the Disused Burial Grounds Act – a criminal offence – and should never have been built.

Its lawyers have written to Tower Hamlets council, the school governors, the diocese and the church demanding it be torn down and threatening them with a judicial review.

Christine Whaite, a long-serving trustee of the Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields who speaks for SOS, said there had been no proper consultation, a charge denied by the architects.

“We all support the school but if it needs more facilities there are plenty of other ways of meeting those needs without building right in the setting of a designated heritage asset that cost £11 million to restore, or committing a criminal offence by building on consecrated ground,” she said. “It’s quite extraordinary.”

Whaite said the council itself had objected to a previous temporary structure on the site – a 1970 youth club designed by Eleanor Michell – on the grounds that it would set a precedent.

Part of the current legal case hinges on whether Scabal’s new 365,000 sq m building, which won planning in 2011, is a community building.

As well as housing the school’s nursery and reception class it has dedicated facilities for the local Bangladeshi community who could study English in the Victorian school until rising pupil numbers made this impossible.

Jon Buck, a director at Scabal, said the row was a “terrible shame”.

“What I’m surprised by is that the occupation of a building with such good intentions should be delayed – let alone knocked down,” he said.

“The institution I really feel for is the school. Not only do they not get to use their building but they feel as if they are being persecuted.”

He accused the objectors of being small but vociferous group and insisted Scabal had designed “the best building in the best spot”.

Inigo Woolf, chief executive of the London Diocesan Board for Schools (LDBS), said: “We hope sense will prevail. We have tried to design a facility that the community all want and that’s sympathetic to the churchyard.”

Other members of SOS – which consists of the Spitalfields Society and the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust as well as the Friends of Christchurch Spitalfields – were not available to comment.

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Readers' comments (15)

  • Mr Warthog

    There's more to the story than this, surely? Was there no planning consultation? Did none of the objectors spot the hoardings, the skips and the blokes in high-vis standing around? What a sad state of affairs for the local families with nursery-aged children and the community at large, and everyone who worked on the building.

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  • NIMBYs and BANANAs out in full force, it seems..

    Never mind the children, families and community of the here and now, lets worry about 'consecrated' ground and other mumbo-jumbo.

    At first glance, this looks like a sensitive piece of design that any community would be envious of. Clearly it MUST be torn down!

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    There seems to be something wrong with your headline, which of course ought to read "Christ Church Spitalfields threatened by new nursery".

    Nicholas Hawksmoor was one of the most important architects both in his own time and in terms of his relevance for our own architecture, now.

    Whilst it is doubtful that this may mean anything to the present-day Bangladeshi residents of the area or to their children, it does seem surprising that the architect of this timbery little “school pavilion”, which looks so trivial alongside the troubled muscularity of the Master, seems not to understand much (or anything) about Hawksmoor's work, or how to design a building close to Christ Church Spitalfields - indeed, within its purlieu - that understands his architecture and addresses it correctly, i.e., with knowledge.

    I’m not saying it would be impossible for a small new building to stand alongside Christ Church but this one (in terms of its position and the language and materials it uses), is completely inappropriate. I am unable to understand how it ever got approval in the first place. It has to go, and the sooner the better.

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  • You have to be a particularly bitter and feeble-minded individual to protest about a single-story nursery and community centre smiply because it sits near some old church somewhere. The casual racism isn't particularly endearing either.

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  • Scepticalaboutthewholething you have outdone yourself in your narrow-minded view; it's possible that Hawksmoor's prestige means little to many of the present day non-Bangladeshi residents too. I'm unsure how or why you've deemed the new structure as 'completely inappropriate' from 1 photo, it looks pretty sensitive to me and would fulfil an important role to the local community - arguably more important than the church itself which is being protected as a kind of museum piece. Additionally isn't is possible that the community would learn more about the church through the closer interaction implied by proximity?

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  • There are two relatively straightforward issues here, if one ignores the obfuscation of religion:
    1 Whether the law has been broken and, if it has,
    2 Whether the "goodness" of the cause if sufficient justification for it being broken.

    Since the building has achieved a planning consent (and presumably all the appropriate conservation area/list building consents appropriate to the environs of a major Grade I list building [always assuming it went through the local authority rather than a diocesan faculty]) one has to conclude that the listed building issues have been resolved to the satisfaction of English Heritage, and it's purely the strictly legal matters that are in question...

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    I am amazed at the ignorance of some people here who (presumably) are architects.

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  • Sceptical, i am amazed at the bile you spew on a daily basis on here.

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  • Well said Ana Durao.

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    There is no prospect of me stopping.

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