Campaigners defending the Limehouse Cut’s historical canal-side landscape against housing developments have had their final say in a public consultation at Tower Hamlets’ Town Hall. The area is under threat of becoming a “concrete canyon,” according to concerned local residents.
Those residents who oppose further development alongside London’s oldest canal are behind Tower Hamlets Council attempts to protect the Limehouse Cut as a Conservation Area, which would preserve the “special industrial character” of the route.
Earlier this year, the council lost a High Court battle to halt the demolition of the 1920s Poplar Labour Exchange by developers who want to erect an 11-storey block of apartments. Tom Ridge, a local historian fronting the campaign, told those at the meeting: “We’ve got a fantastic network of canals in this borough”.
Mr Ridge, along with other campaigners, praised the Council’s proposal to establish a Conservation Area, stretching south west from the river Lea to the Limehouse Basin, and including significant buildings such as the historical settlement of Bow.
Mr Ridge raised fears, however, that even the proposed Conservation Area would be unable to stop canal-side construction by commercial developers, who are “totally disrespectful of just about everything.”
He added: “It is nonsense having conservation areas if the planning officers are going to ignore them”.
Further concerns from Mr Ridge and other residents included cyclists using the towpath and “booze cruises”. He claimed: “British Waterways plan to convert ten water taxis into leisure trip boats after the Olympics, which would ruin one of the last refuges where we as humans can enjoy peace and tranquillity.”
Tower Hamlets Council hope that dialogue with the public will secure the Conservation Area this time around. The High Court thwarted the Council’s previous attempt to stop developers because there had not been a public consultation. Mark Hutton, Conservation Officer for the Council, marked Tuesday’s meeting as the final “crescendo of consultation.” He plans for the elected Mayor to see the public’s views in June, before application of the Conservation Area in July. “We take consultation very seriously,” he said.
The conservation battle at the Limehouse Cut faces ongoing conflict with regeneration groups, who also have an interest in the valuable area. A spokesperson for Leeside Regeneration who was present at the meeting said that their motives were to “bring further improvement to the area” through developments such as public artwork and floating towpaths.
Lene Milaa, of Mile End Residents’ Association, remained guarded towards local regeneration and its effects on canal-side residents: “There is a need for housing and improvements but there’s a difference between extreme and moderate building.”
She hoped that the Council’s Conservation Area will make it harder for further destruction of the canal’s historic character, but admitted it may not be enough: “I find the designated area quite narrow, as it is only the canal and some buildings […] construction will be considered application by application, but if it is found it’s not breaking any rules it will go up.
The public consultation on the Limehouse Cut Conservation Area continues until Sunday 29th May. Information including the proposed conservation area can be found on the Tower Hamlets Council website.
Feedback can be sent to:
Development Design & Conservation
Mulberry Place (AH)
PO Box 55739
5 Clove Crescent
London E14 1BY
Tel: 020 7364 5009
Fax: 020 7364 5415
Words by Steve How