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Campaigners lose battle to stop part demolition of former London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green

PUBLISHED: 11:59 21 September 2018 | UPDATED: 16:32 21 September 2018

The London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green.

The London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green.

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Neighbours have lost their battle to stop a developer demolishing part of a Grade II-listed hospital.

Tom Ridge. Pic: MIKE BROOKETom Ridge. Pic: MIKE BROOKE

Crest Nicholson won its bid to build 291 homes by knocking down most of the former London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green and moving a centuries old mulberry tree.

Tom Ridge, from the Residents First campaign group, said: “It’s very regrettable that the application was permitted. The hospital was the best of only two mid-nineteenth century chest hospitals in England.

“We have lost our hospital and heritage for luxury flats and so called affordable housing.”

The hospital’s main block dating back to 1855 remains but its roof will be replaced with a design critics labelled “fake heritage”.

World War II bomb damage to the Royal London Chest Hospital. Picture: COURTESY OF BARTS HEALTH ARCHIVES AND MUSEUMS.World War II bomb damage to the Royal London Chest Hospital. Picture: COURTESY OF BARTS HEALTH ARCHIVES AND MUSEUMS.

Council officers told Tower Hamlets planning chiefs the tree’s removal would probably kill it.

Mr Ridge described it as “unique cultural icon and living memorial” to six people killed after a parachute mine hit the hospital in March 1941.

Planning chiefs were also shown a picture of nurses dancing around the black mulberry celebrating it growing again after it was decapitated during World War Two bombing.

The public benefit of the development which includes 35 per cent affordable housing warranted its possible loss, the officers argued.

Steve Westlake, Park View Tenants and Residents Association chairman, revealed that Crest Nicholson’s chairman threatened in a letter dated July 6 to remove the affordable housing offer if the application didn’t get approved.

“This can be read as blackmail,” Mr Westlake said before questioning whether the process had been fair.

But council officer Paul Buckingham said that was common behaviour from developers.

“It’s absolutely not a threat. This [decision] is not being made under duress,” he said.

The council received 386 letters objecting to the bid – with one from as far away as Australia – including concerns about loss of sunlight, overcrowding and pressure on local services. It received three in support.

The developer argued it was committed to putting the hospital at the heart of the scheme and would pay £1.7million towards community facilities. It paid £49.6m when it bought the site from Barts Health NHS Trust.

It argued restoring the hospital would cost a considerable amount and the current roof was of limited interest.

Tree consultant Dr Richard Curtis argued moving the mulberry tree would cost £250,000 but the experts doing so had a 100 per cent success rate.

At Thursday’s vote four councillors approved the application with three against and two abstaining.

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