A proposed plan for a new £18.9million development to be designed by David Chipperfield Architects for the Geffrye Museum in Hackney has been voted down by a Council planning committee.
The museum, dedicated to the history of the home of the urban middle classes, made itself unpopular amongst a group of local residents and a number of historical societies and trusts, when it became clear that the new extension included plans to demolish an 18th century pub, The Marquis of Landsdowne.
Before the council meeting on Wednesday evening 1 may, East London Lines spoke to William Palin, a trustee of the Spitalfields Historical Buildings Trust and one of the initiators of the petition to try to convince the museum to integrate the old pub into the new extension instead of demolishing it.
When asked why a pub, which has not been in use over the last 20 years, should be preserved he said: “It’s a sort of historical anchor for people. When they arrive for the first time in the area, they want to feel that they’re in Hackney. And this is a lovely reminder and a contextual building, which gives a sense of character and atmosphere.”
William Palin says that when the museum’s plans to demolish the pub were published the Spitalfields Trust made the museum an offer to buy the old building, but it was refused. Before knowing the decision of the council’s planning sub-committeee, William also said that he feared the Geffrye Museum’s reputation might be damaged by this case, because of their attitude towards the local residents.
At a recent public meeting to discuss the Geffrye Museum’s development plans, Museum Director David Dewing is alleged to have told the audience that he had “no interest in the culture of the Labouring Classes.” The director later distanced himself from the statement saying that it was reported inaccurately. He said “This is absolutely not my opinion, nor of anyone at the Geffrye Museum.”
Funding for the Museum’s extension project is another matter of controversy. The extension was to be partially funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund, which initially awarded the museum a development grant of £518,500. The grant was awarded on the basis of an application that included a new restaurant to be “located either in a new ‘pavilion’ building alongside the reception area or in the former Victorian pub on the corner of Cremer Street, which will be sensitively restored and extended.”
In an official statement to ELL, The Heritage Lottery Fund confirmed that the Geffrye Museum “initially proposed to include the former Marquis of Lansdowne pub within the development and considered options for its re-use but concluded that it could not be retained. HLF was aware of objections to this proposal and has been encouraging the Museum to engage with the local community extensively during the development phase.”
Upon the rejection of the plans at Wednesday’s meeting, a Heritage Lottery Fund spokesperson said that they were aware that Hackney Council has rejected the planning application and are currently waiting while the museum considers its options.
Upon hearing of the councillors’ decision, the petitioners expressed their happiness on Twitter:
Amazing news – application to demolish the Marquis refused by Hackney planning committee 6 votes to 2. The Marquis of Lansdowne is saved!
— save the marquis (@savethemarquis) May 1, 2013
and on their website, where they called the vote “a great victory for all those who have fought hard to defeat this destructive and insensitive proposal – and a triumph for common sense.”
They expressed gratitude and admiration for the elected councillors of Hackney “for showing courage and independence” in voting down the Geffrye Museum’s proposal and instead respecting “the concerns of local people and the heritage issues surrounding this case.”
During the meeting on Wednesday, the Director of the Geffrye Museum, David Dewing, was reported by Nick Perry on Twitter as expressing concern that rejection might badly damage the museum’s future possibilities of being funded:
Director of @Geffrye dewing says refusal will almost certainly close future funding down.
— Nick Perry (@realnickperry) May 1, 2013
In another quote to The Independent, Mr Dewing described the rejection of the plans as a “complete shock” which had left his organisation “totally devastated.”
An official statement released after the meeting further expressed the Director’s frustration with the council’s decision: “We are bitterly disappointed that Hackney Council has rejected our planning application to develop the Geffrye Museum. We passionately believe that our proposed scheme would have provided great opportunities and benefits to the local community, creating a much stronger, better museum, attracting more visitors and generating more investment into the Borough. The new building by Sir David Chipperfield promised to bring world-class architecture into the heart of Hackney. The decision by the Planning Committee denies the essential progress which keeps great cities vibrant and dynamic.”
When approached for further comments on the museum’s plans for the future, an official spokesperson told ELL “We are considering our options carefully, one of which may be to appeal. No final decisions have been made yet.”
Reported by Benedikte Granvig