Plans to redevelop a historic building in Spitalfields have been approved by Boris Johnson despite a campaign led by TV historian Dan Cruickshank. The Fruit and Wool Exchange, built in 1929, and one of the few buildings survive WW2, will now be partly demolished to make way for office and retail space. Only the façade in Brushfield Street will be retained and a six-storey building will be erected in its place. It is feared the plans would mean the loss of Dorset Street, where Wedgewood china company had its first showroom and where Jack the Ripper murdered his last victim.
In June, Tower Hamlets Council said it was minded to refuse planning permission for the application, which would see most of the building demolished, the facade in Brushfield Street retained and a six-storey building erected. Mr Johnson then said he would act as the local planning authority and determine the outcome, using powers granted to him in 2008.
Mr Johnson approved the application after Tower Hamlets council twice rejected it. Campaigners, who claimed the plan would “obliterate” one of London’s oldest market neighbourhoods, shouted “shame on you” as the Mayor made his decision last night, who defended his decision by saying it will create 2,300 jobs. Mr Johnson said: “These plans will not only restore the façade to its former glory but regenerate the Spitalfields area with thousands of new jobs, and brand new commercial opportunities. It will also make a vital contribution to the wider London economy.” A source close to the Mayor said: “The Council’s own planning team recommended the project go ahead, Boris of course visited the site on Wednesday and indeed heard submissions from both sides, not just opponents.
Mr Cruickshank said: “We feared this would happen and it is extremely sad (that) a fine building is going to be reduced to nothing but an elevation and great interiors lost.The character of Spitalfields, which is special, characterised by small businesses, independent enterprises, is going to be seriously diluted and undermined and a historic street in a conservation area, Dorset Street, obliterated.”
BBC broadcaster John Nicolson, who lives nearby, said: “Tower Hamlets have ruled twice that the building should be retained, across party lines which is most unusual. But Boris Johnson has this extraordinary power; he can step in and decide that he is going to act as the planning officer for any building in London. It’s a developer’s fantasy, not least because Boris Johnson has voted for the developers in 100 per cent of cases.”
The development has been proposed by Exemplar in partnership with the City of London. Rab Bennetts, the architect behind the project said the facade of the building would remain but it would be integrated with the new development. He also added that the building was not listed. The project will not stand out as an “alien building” as it will contain brick details found in the Spitalfields area. “It will also make a vital contribution to the wider London economy and have a significant impact not just on Tower Hamlets but on surrounding boroughs as well.”