Diocese gives green light to build next to Hawkmoor’s Spitalfields Church

The Bishop of London is going ahead with a community centre in a churchyard despite a letter from leading figures in art, architecture and heritage campaigning to stop the development next to Hawksmoor’s historic Spitalfields Church.

The letter was sent to the Rt Rev Richard Chartres on the day a delegation addressed Tower Hamlets Council for support to recreate the space around Christ Church that was lost 40 years ago.

Some 350 letters and a 600-name petition urging the site be returned as a public open space have also been sent to the council.

The petition calls for an alternative site for the temporary education centre put up in 1970 which a neighbouring church primary school now wants redeveloped as a permanent education and community centre.

The ‘Spitalfields Open Space’ campaign, a coalition of local groups, wants the space returned to what it was in 1970 before the ‘temporary’ structure was thrown up.

Christine Whaite from Friends of Christ Church, who led last Wednesday’s delegation to the Town Hall, told the Advertiser: “Everything is concrete around Spitalfields. But public health and wellbeing depends on green open space.

“I never imagined the work I was doing about sustainable development in the Third World 20 years ago would be applicable on our doorstep in Spitalfields.”

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The group has 2,000 supporters at home and abroad who raised �10 million to restore Hawksmoor’s Grade I-listed 1720 masterpiece towering above the skyline around Spitalfields and the City. The restoration led by the late Sir John Betjamin took 25 years.

The open letter to the Bishop of London said: “Spitalfields is the most densely populated area of London and public green space is scarce. To build on this site is cultural and environmental vandalism.

“There is no need to build in the churchyard so close to one of the finest baroque churches in Europe.”

But the diocese authorities told the Advertiser last night (Tues) that the new centre would be “further away from the church than the building it replaces.”

A Diocese spokesman added: “It has been designed to complement the church, with gardens approved by English Heritage. The development will create a substantial area of public green space and benefit the school, church and community.”

Meanwhile, campaigners still wait for a response from the Bishop to the letter urging him to think again, which was signed by Prof Kerry Downes, world expert on Hawksmoor, Lady Elizabeth Kennet who launched the restoration project in the 1970s, artist Tracey Emin, Dr David Souden of Heritage Alliance, John Swallow of the National Association of Head Teachers and architects Sir Richard MacCormac, Chris Dyson and Gus Alexander from the Royal Institute of British Architecture.