Row over plans for extended school buildings at Christ Church Spitalfields

Plans to build a new nursery and playground in the disused grounds of Christ Church Spitalfields have sparked strong opposition from heritage groups who want the land to be turned into green space.

Campaigners argue that putting up larger buildings behind Christ Church Primary School would be “detrimental” to the famous site as it has little public outdoor space as it is.

But the church says the new development would “breathe new life” into an area that has become “forlorn, derelict and at times unsafe”.

It also argues the extension is vital for the school, which is in desperate need of more space.

Under the proposals, the crumbling youth club on the site would be knocked down and replaced by the nursery as well as a hall and playgrounds.

An additional 730sqm of land would be used up, half being the new nursery and hall which would replace the existing youth centre buildings.

The Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields and the Spitalfields Society have written to Tower Hamlets council to oppose the plans.

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Christine Whaite, the Friends’ chairman of trustees, said: “Spitalfields needs green open space which we have very little of. Green space is really important to children and it helps the health of communities. It would benefit everyone if the garden was opened up.”

Eleanor Jones, Spitalfields Society chairman, said: “It would be a loss of amenity space for the community. If the school needs additional space there are alternatives.”

But the church and SCABAL Architects, heading the project, say the plans are a win-win situation as they will free up space behind the current public gardens, doubling them in size.

Rev Andy Rider, church rector, said: “For many years the Christ Church gardens have been an overlooked part of Spitalfields, poorly used; antisocial behaviour has often been rife.

“A new building will greatly enhance the school’s currently under-sized facilities, whilst at the same time offering children and families ‘out of school hours’ facilities.”

Jon Buck, director at SCABAL, said: “This project is about unlocking the site so there can be more public space and more playground space.

“English heritage have been consulted at every step.”