The Bells may chime again: Minister halts plans for foundry’s transformation into boutique hotel

Campaigners protesting on Whitechapel Road last month. Pic: Gina Gambetta

Controversial plans to transform the historic Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a boutique hotel have been halted by the Government, pending a decision on whether to order a planning inquiry.

The decision follows a petition by Whitechapel Bell Foundry campaigners to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government, to halt the planning application approved last month by Tower Hamlets Council.

Campaigners have now welcomed the Minister’s decision. The plans by the American based owners would have seen the historic site reduced to a ‘side-show for tourists in a quirky bell-themed hotel’ according to local writer the Gentle Author.

 The Secretary of State has issued an Article 31 Holding Direction whilst he considers whether to call-in and investigate the application. This means that no action can be taken regarding the planned development until a decision is made.

Councillor Ehtasham Haque told Eastlondonlines: “This is excellent news for the residents of this borough. We hope the Secretary of State will ultimately overturn the decision made by the council in a dubious manner and save the historic foundry.”

The campaigner’s petition was fuelled by the Tower Hamlets Development Committee’s controversial decision to approve Raycliff Whitechapel’s Change of Use application last month.

Artists impression of development – the view from Fieldgate Street towards its junction with Whitechapel Road looking south Pic: Raycliff Whitechapel

The company, who bought the site in 2017 after the Foundry closed, intend to repurpose the five-hundred-year old site to include a hotel, café, artist studios, workshops, and a small bell studio.

Jill Wilson, from the East End Preservation Society, told Eastlondonlines: “We are hoping that it will lead to a Public Inquiry so that the much better viable alternative plan can be given proper consideration. Whitechapel does not need any more hotels!”

Twitter has been flooded with support for this update:

Historic England, the statutory advisor on the historic importance of the Foundry, told Eastlondonlines: “We are ready to engage with any further discussions as and when needed.” 

In a statement prior to this update, they agreed with the plans proposed by the developers.

The foundry was Britain’s oldest continuous business, and home of some of history’s great bells, including, Big Ben, the Liberty Bell, and Bow Bells.

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson told Eastlondonlines: “The Council has since received a holding direction from the National Planning Casework Unit (on behalf of the Secretary of State).  This means that the Council will not issue the planning decisions until the future Secretary of State decides whether or not they wish to call in the applications for their own determination.”

Raycliff Whitechapel were contacted for comment, but declined to comment.

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