The potential of post-industrial East End land at Bishopsgate Goodsyard, Norton Folgate and Truman Brewery was spotted 20 years ago. But only one has been successfully reimagined, says Martyn Evans

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In the latest chapter of the sorry story of Bishopsgate Goodsyard in Shoreditch, east London, we learnt last week that Eric Parry is to design a 29-storey office tower to replace a pair of 38-floor and 46-floor residential buildings, designed by PLP, that had become lightning rods for opposition to the scheme.

Could this appointment of a class-act architect contribute significantly to unlocking a development that has been struggling to get off the ground since I first worked in development in Brick Lane in the mid-1990s?

The vast swathe of land that sits between the fashionable Redchurch and Shoreditch High Streets to the north and the sea of glass and steel towers to the south was originally developed as a railway station and goods processing depot in 1881. Huge quantities of goods arrived there every day from ports east of London until it was destroyed by fire in 1964. (Probable) urban myth has it that the fire was set by the Richardson Gang – bitter rivals of the Krays.

>> Also read: Eric Parry replaces PLP on Goodsyard towers


Life began to return to the area in the mid-90s alongside the beginnings of redevelopment of The Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane and the conversion, by AHMM for Derwent London, of the Tea Building on Bethnal Green Road. The great Eric Reynolds of Urban Space Management was based there and began to create a new life for the place with event spaces, leisure facilities and retail. All kinds of activity came and went until the new Shoreditch High Street Station opened in 2010 and Boxpark a year later established the area as a hugely popular and high-profile mainstream destination.

But formal long-term redevelopment has proved difficult. Hammerson and Ballymore have been locked in a horrible fight with the two boroughs that the site straddles – Hackney and Tower Hamlets – and the planners at City Hall after Boris Johnson took over the planning determination in 2015. And it wasn’t just the Goodsyard. The huge Nicholls and Clarke complex, being designed by a team of architects led by AHMM for British Land on nearby Norton Folgate, remains hoarded.

The Goodsyard scheme has been through a major re-design by masterplanner FaulknerBrowns with Buckley Gray Yeoman, Chris Dyson and Spacehub in the last year. The developers say they will re-submit for planning soon with a mayoral hearing mooted by City Hall for this summer.

The scheme has changed considerably. There are only 250 homes proposed now – down from 1,356. How many of them are going to be affordable? I don’t think it will be hard to guess. 1.3m sq ft of offices, 160,000sq ft of retail and a 300-bed hotel will make up the rest of the scheme. The proposed Highline-alike park on the only remaining original elevated structure feels like a bit of a concession thrown in to spice up the scheme’s community-focused credentials.

The problem at the heart of this place is that it’s being developed by one large consortium developer whose job it is, with its designers, to create a whole new part of London, from scratch, all in one go. I’ve no problem with a developer doing that per se, but we have to recognise that when a large, well-funded development company takes over a place like that the inevitable result will be lots of shiny new buildings, whether by fine architects or not, shaped by a brief from agents, spreadsheets and planning advisors. Compare it, though, with the Truman Brewery that I have written about on these pages before, 200 yards around the corner, that has over the last 20 years been developed organically and gently by people who work with, and care very much about, the community they are nurturing.

Through a process driven by a presumption of re-use rather than demolition and new-build and a shared risk between landlord and tenant that creates covenant through footfall driven by distinctiveness rather than reliable brands, it has become a hugely rich and valuable place of entertainment, retail, culture and community. It’s taken a long time – a model that most investors would not even consider – but then so has The Goodsyard. And where has that got to? As yet, still nowhere…