Norton Folgate is Granted Reprieve
“The area has a special quality,” says Dan Cruickshank to the journalist from the Boston Globe, “. . . it is hard to define. It’s partly about its scale and partly about the tight grain of its buildings, the complex arrangements of courts and rooftops and passageways. These would all be swept away with the proposed scheme. We don’t think that retaining bits of façade while destroying nearly 70% of the building is really conservation at all . . .”
Heritage England disagreed and so did the City of London, the freeholder of the site, and so did British Land, the developer proposing the scheme. They also got some geezer from Tech City who manages workspaces to stand up and say that he was being paid too much because of the lack of “grow on” accommodation in the area. He wasn’t entirely convincing.
Indeed the planning committee at Tower Hamlets Council wasn’t convinced and last night refused planning permission for this office proposal in Spitalfields.
The architectural heritage was clearly an important consideration as was the failure to generate more social housing and the proposal’s overall scale.
But there is another kind of heritage at stake here, something to do with the continuities of place and people, harder to define, though keenly felt by Londoners who sent in 562 letters of objection and only 12 letters of support and who turned out in force on Sunday to join hands around the threatened buildings.
You have the sense that people were joining hands, not just with one another, but also with the past and with the possibilities of the future.
And you really hope that something genuinely in keeping may be realised now; that the City who until now has seen this scheme as a strategic intervention in its neighbouring borough “to achieve the maximum possible commercial development on the maximum site area in the shortest possible time” and “to maximise the financial returns to the City from this investment” may start to listen to what locals and Londoners alike have to say about a place they love.
“In the Liberty of Norton Folgate walking wild and free…happy just to float in this little taste of liberty”