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Bell may toll for petition to trigger council debate to save Whitechapel foundry

PUBLISHED: 10:00 28 August 2019 | UPDATED: 10:22 28 August 2019

Whitechapel Bell Foundry in its heyday. Picture: East End Preservation Soc

Whitechapel Bell Foundry in its heyday. Picture: East End Preservation Soc

East End Preservation Soc

The battle to save the remnants of the historic Whitechapel Bell Foundry is boiling over with an online petition to Tower Hamlets Council launched this week.

The bell tolled for Whitechapel foundry which shut down in 2017. Picture: Charlotte DewThe bell tolled for Whitechapel foundry which shut down in 2017. Picture: Charlotte Dew

The petition - which aims to trigger a debate in the council chamber - needs 2,000 signatures by September 13 and has already reached 1,300 in just four days.

But the hotel application is due before the authority's strategic planning committee on September 19, the day after the council meeting.

That puts the authority in a sensitive legal position as it has to hear all planning applications without prejudice, which now casts doubt on a debate just 24 hours before.

The Queen tours Whitechapel foundry on March 25, 2009. Picture: Adrian Dennis/PA WireThe Queen tours Whitechapel foundry on March 25, 2009. Picture: Adrian Dennis/PA Wire

Instead, the authority may classify the petition as a planning objection, which would go to the committee instead.

Campaigners, backed by TV historian Dan Cruikshank, the East End Preservation Society and the East London Mosque, are trying to stop New York tycoon Bippy Siegal's Raycliff Capital conglomerate turning it into a themed hotel.

"We want the council to make it their policy to save the bell foundry as a working foundry," the Preservation Society said in a statement.

How developers see foundry operation in their proposed hotel lobby. Picture Raycliff CapitalHow developers see foundry operation in their proposed hotel lobby. Picture Raycliff Capital

"A debate will give councillors the chance to make it official council policy to save the foundry."

Raycliff Capital insists the foundry, which stopped working two years ago, would be "reinstated" in the hotel lobby. The hotel itself would be where the unlisted 1980s extension is, not on the original historic foundry itself.

The Historic Building Preservation Trust, however, wants the whole site continued as a foundry with artist workshops.

It has access to resources to buy the site from the developer at market value and reopen it as a working foundry with up-to-date machinery to ensure the East End retains "one of the finest craft facilities in the world".

The East London Muslim Centre has also thrown its community's weight behind the campaign, citing a once-in-a-generation chance to create a working apprenticeship scheme to help reduce youth unemployment. It plans a pubic meeting before the council is due to meet on September 18.

The foundry, established in 1570, went out of business in 2017 due to rising costs and urgently-needed restoration put at £8m.

The Queen visited in 2009 to see the traditional craft of bell casting, which in the past famously included Big Ben, America's Liberty Bell and the Bow Bells.

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