Tower Hamlets Council have revealed plans to transform Whitechapel’s historic Royal London Hospital into a new ‘civic hub’ for the borough.
The council purchased the hospital site for £9 million in a deal announced last week. The building has been empty for two years following the construction of a new hospital complex.
Lutfur Rahman, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said of the ‘Whitechapel Vision’ scheme: “This is a real investment for the future. In transforming the site into a brand new civic hub, we will be delivering a real saving on our current town hall accommodation.”
“This stunning building has been a part of our history and our heritage for hundreds of years. It’s fitting that we have purchased this building, to make sure that this building continues to be a part of the community long into the future.”
Councillor Rabina Khan, Cabinet Member for housing and development, agreed that the project would benefit the borough, saying: “People in Tower Hamlets are calling out for more affordable housing, jobs and for their area to be improved, to become a really great place to live – Whitechapel Vision is a positive response to that call.”
However Rahman’s support for the scheme has led to fierce criticism, branded by some as a “vanity project” and “Lutfur’s Palace”.
The Mayor is currently facing allegations of electoral fraud during last year’s mayoral election. Labour politician John Biggs, who was defeated by Rahman in the election, said the scheme should be delayed until the court case was over.
He said: “Mr Rahman has a duty to share the options with the people of Tower Hamlets. He must demonstrate he has not wasted public money on a ‘palace’.”
“This is an old listed building and it will cost an awful lot to refurbish. Taxpayers need to see different options, which could be more affordable before they launch into this one.”
The cost of civic centres elsewhere has ranged from 18.5 million in the London borough of Hillingdon to £90 million in Brent.