Johnson to decide on Spitalfields planning row

Fruit and Wool Exchange, Spitalfields. Pic: Louisa Plumstead

London Mayor Boris Johnson has taken over responsibility for a final decision on the  controversial multi-million redevelopment plans for the Fruit and Wool Exchange in Spitalfields following two rejections of the planning proposals by  Tower Hamlets Council.

The plans to replace the historic building, from 1929, in the heart of the Brick Lane and Fournier Street Conservation Area with an extensive office block caused outrage. The Mayor’s office has been given powers under planning regulations allowing the Mayor of London to ”call in” controversial decisions to deliver his own verdict, thereby over-ruling local planning authorities.

In a statement which is likely to alarm opponents by concentrating on outlining what he sees as benefits from the scheme,  Johnson  focuses on the positive economic effects the office space could have on the economy rather than the issue of historic architecture in a culturally unique area. Johnson said he would base his decision on what is best not only for Tower Hamlets but the whole of London. He stressed that the Spitalfields location of the Fruit and Wool Exchange was “one of the world’s most attractive and competitive business locations”  and would therefore consider the economic implications on the whole of the City.

However, the Mayor expressed concern about the demand on transport  if the 20,000 square feet of office space were to go ahead. Transport links into the Central London are “already nearing capacity” and the employment generated by the building would put further strain on it.

He states: “Unless this is addressed, continued development and employment growth in Central and Eastern London will be threatened.”

Developers Exemplar have promised to contribute more than £2m to the £15bn costs of the Crossrail project.

The Mayor said he would consider the positive effects building this office space would have on employment targets in relation to the future demands of the business and financial sector. “[It will] help London maintain and expand its world city role.”

The location has been labelled “the City Fringe opportunity area,” and the planning policy for this area states that it must create significant development capacity to support the growth of “economic activity.”

The Spitalfields Trust and Spitalfields Community Group have already gathered an online petition against the redevelopment, with 189 signatures and 103 comments. However Johnson said he did not believe it raised “any material planning issues of strategic importance that have not already been considered at consultation stage.”

The small businesses that are currently housed in the Fruit and Wool Exchange that have been asked to leave by Christmas.

By Louisa Plumstead

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