Go-ahead given for demolition of East End’s last Jewish hospital

A historian has branded a decision to demolish the East End’s last surviving Jewish hospital a “gross act of cultural vandalism.”

Tower Hamlets council gave the go-ahead last week for the Jewish Maternity Hospital on Underwood Road, Whitechapel, to be ripped down.

Developers Peabody is planning to replace the buildings with a housing development, up to five storey high, with around 33 homes.

Under planning laws Peabody is able to seek permission to demolish it before a planning application for a new development is put forward as the former hospital is not listed by English Heritage and do not fall within a Conservation Area.

The go-ahead for the demolition comes despite the council describing the front of the buildings as “attractive” in its own planning statement and suggesting the buildings could be considered for residential use.

The Director of Jewish Heritage UK, Sharman Kadish, also wrote to Peabody, saying the social and historic significance of the cottages next to the main hospital building, have been overlooked while urging the trust to convert the cottages into residential use.

But Peabody rejected the proposal saying it would affect the number of homes needed to be built to make the scheme financially viable.

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More than 250 people, including Stepeney born playwrighter Arnold Wesker, and councillors such as Tower Hamlets’ Labour leader Joshua Peck and Liberal Democrat Leader Stephanie Eaton signed a petition against the demolition.

The campaign is led by historian Tom Ridge, who is still trying to save the cottages next to the main hospital building.

Mr Ridge said: “Each cottage is practically ready made as a large family house. This gross act of cultural vandalism was sanctioned by the council.”

Peabody’s chief executive, Stephen Howlett, said the majority of homes planned will be for people on “low incomes” or shared ownership, while some will be sold or rented out on the open market.

Mr Howlett, said: “We explored a number of options that involve keeping the existing buildings. None proved feasible as they would limit both the number of homes and the layout of any residential development, preventing the scheme from being financially viable.”

A council spokeswoman said: “We can only prevent demolition in certain circumstances. Primarily when a building is listed or is in a conservation area.”

Peabody will hold a consultation on its development at the The Osmani Centre, Underwood Road, from 3pm to 7pm on November 7.

The petition against the development can be found at www.residents-first.co.uk.