The future of Spitalfield’s historic London Fruit & Wool Exchange site will be decided in in a meeting of Tower Hamlets Council on Tuesday.
Community groups launched a petition against the regeneration project, contracted by the City of London Corporation to private developer Examplar in 2010.
Spitalfields Community Group, numbering 120 residents, oppose the demolition of the pre-war Fruit & Wool Exchange building as well as of Barclays Bank and Gun Public House and Dorset Street.
The Community Group also opposed the closing of Dorset Street, which played host to Jack the Ripper’s final murder in 1888, and encouraged its reopening with shops and restaurants.
Member John Nicolson said: “The Fruit & Wool Exchange is a building from the 1920’s and they want to smash it down. We object on a number of grounds. We think their designs are very ugly, inappropriate and lumpy.”
The group claims the petition, which has raised over 200 signatures so far, is the biggest public petition from Spitalfields against a demolition.
But developers say the project maintains the character of the building, retaining the original façade with new restaurants and offices built on the site.
Examplar’s Maxwell Shand said: “The London Fruit & Wool Exchange building will be demolished, but only behind the façade, which will be retained and put back to its original design and refurbished. We’ve been working very hard to preserve the view.”
Under the proposals, a new pedestrian street open to the public, will run through the development to connect Artillery Lane and Bell Lane with Brushfield Street and Old Spitalfields Market, replacing the currently inaccessible service road.
Tower Hamlets Council said the project will “contribute to the enhancement of vitality of Spitalfields and the immediate locality.”
People moving back in is what Spitalfields needs, according to Nicolson. He said: “All they want to do is build offices. We want shops and restaurants, retail and space, not offices. We need to reintegrate.”
“I’m not an opponent of modern architecture, as long as they build something better, something exciting. But their design is mediocre.”
Built in 1929 to handle an influx of produce through east London’s docks after the first world war, and designed by Sydney Perks, the Exchange features elaborate glass ceilings, a grand staircase and a network of basement tunnels that served as bomb shelters during the Blitz.
Nearby Dorset Street, slated to close under the plan, was a notorious slum which played host to the fifth Jack the Ripper killing in 1888.
If the plans are approved, the new building could be complete by 2015.