Fruit Exchange: another massive slab of a building will suck life out of Spitalfields

Dear Ed... I feel compelled to set Boris Johnson straight on why he’s made the wrong decision to allow the redevelopment of the Fruit & Wool Exchange in Spitalfields.

It is basically a question about the balance between trusting your local council and councillors and, occasionally, making a strategic decision for the wider needs of London. Sometimes this will be necessary—but time it wasn’t.

The proposals by developers Exemplar Properties and the Corporation of London to demolish the 1929 London Fruit & Wool Exchange, The Gun public house, Barclay’s Bank and Dorset Street (now Duval St) were initially rebuffed, not only by Spitalfields residents but twice by all political parties on Tower Hamlets Council’s strategic planning committee.

The redevelopment will produce a large office building at a time when many are standing empty. It ignores the possibility of alternative uses for small businesses and respecting the unique quality of the neighbourhood in the Commercial Street area and around Hawksmoor’s 18th century Spitalfields Church, one of the most important buildings in London.

There are places for offices, but another massive slab of a building in Spitalfields will further suck the life out of this important neighbourhood.

I asked Boris Johnson not to use his mayoral powers to ‘Call In’ this application, but to respect the will of the people, who were clear in their rejection of this application. I asked him to note that Tower Hamlets council is not ‘anti-development’—this borough has seen more new construction than anywhere else in the country in recent years. I asked him to respect the heritage of the site and its neighbourhood.

When Boris decided to take this decision away from residents and the local authority, who were unanimous in their condemnation, it was inevitably going to go against us. Boris always has sided with the developers.

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Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to Boris—that it’s not just a building he’s taking away, but the right of our communities to make carefully balanced decisions. Sometimes, for a clearly stated reason, the Mayor of London may use this power, for the greater good of London. But at no stage has he justified that this time.

The East End is changing, but we should trust the people who are elected locally and listen to the community, to make the right decisions for our communities.

John Biggs, AM (Lab)

London Assembly

City & East London