Spitalfields community campaigners save Fruit and Wool Exchange from ‘monster’ development

Plans for an office development in Spitalfields, which would destroy the 1929 Fruit and Wool Exchange building, have been rejected once again by the council, against the advice of planning officers.

Developers, Examplar,  proposed a conversion of the historic site into 300,000 feet of office and retail space. The plans would demolish The Gun Pub, Barclays Bank, and Dorest Street, where Jack the Ripper famously killed his last victim, Mary Kelly, in 1888.

Campaign groups including Spitalfields Community Action and the Spitalfields Historic Building Trust – an organisation backed by broadcaster Dan Cruickshank – have helped put a stop to the development, with over 500 people voicing their objections to it.

Mr Cuickshank, who has been a resident of Spitalields for 35 years said, “ They weren’t convinced that the destruction of a Twenties building was warranted and they understood that eradiating an ancient thoroughfare was not acceptable.”

The application was first submitted in late 2010, and was then put on hold in March 2011 because the plans did not include housing.

Examplar director, Clive Bush, spoke of his “disappointment” about Tower Hamlets rejection. He told Property Week: “For more than two years we have consulted extensively to create a scheme of the highest architectural quality with a mix of uses that would add to the vibrancy of Spitalfields”.

“Stirling prize-nominated architects Bennetts Associates have designed a building of exceptional quality which directly addresses the character and history of the area,” he said.  “Refusal of the application is a missed opportunity to create more than 3,000 jobs and bring significant investment to Spitalfields that is strongly backed by council policy.”

The opposition campaigners feared the development on the 2.4 acre site would ruin the artistic, bohemian feel of the vibrant Spitalfields area. The demolition of The Gun Pub and Fruit and Wool exchange would they said, cause a loss of heritage assets and the plans featured building replacements of: “inappropriate scale and bulk”.

 Tower Hamlets Council consider the designs for the building “inappropriate.” They said, “[it] would fail to preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the Brick Lane area.”

A council spokesperson said: “The committee resolved to refuse the applications due to the extent of demolition of buildings and the impact of this on Brick Lane and the Fournier Street Conservation Area, and the failure to provide housing as part of the mix of use within the development.”

BBC News journalist John Nicolson, who was part of opposition campaign, said: “The developers cynically offered a fig leaf to councillors, suggesting there would be jobs for locals if they allowed the demolition. But the councillors saw through them, realising there was no offer of jobs and no homes — just a giant new office block.”

The Bennetts Associates proposal would only have preserved the facade of the buildings.  An alternative plan, produced by Johnston Archetecture and Design, for  the Spitalfields Historic Building Trust (backed by Cruickshank) was unvieled in the run-up to the planning meeting.

Despite repeated rejection Exemplar seem determined not to give up, Maxwell Shand, the development director called the decision “disappointing” and promised to offer a fresh proposal in the future. He said: “If we need to change the design or the mix of the development then we will do that.”

Bush also said: “We will review the reasons given for refusal and consider our next steps in due course.”


By Louisa Plumstead

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