Protesters confront council workers and block digger trying to churn up heritage Arnold Circus

Members of the public trying to save the historic Arnold Circus being churned up came face-to-face in a confrontation today with a council road gang digging up the paving.

The angry protesters stood in front of a mechanical digger and refused to budge.

A design consultant contracted to lay out Tower Hamlets Council’s ‘Liverble Streets’ pedestrian programme to stop any through traffic across a wide swathe from Shoreditch to Bethnal Green and Bow came face-to-face with protesters. He assured them that the work wouldn’t start work till Monday.

But the promise was broken when digging began just five minutes after members of the Spitalfields Trust had left, eye witnesses said.

No sooner had the conservationists left the heritage-protected Boundary Estate when families heard the digger in action and the sound of paving stones being ripped up.

“The workers promised they wouldn’t start work till Monday,” Boundary Estate resident Suzanna Kow said. “But then we heard the digger starting up and the sound of something being ripped up.

“We all rushed to Arnold Circus and stopped them. Three of us stood in front of the digger. Other residents joined us. The workers tried to stop me taking pictures.”

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Suzanna and her neighbours have now set up a Boundary Estate residents’ group to protect the heritage neighbourhood.

They are joined by east London conservation groups calling for a halt to the work to allow time for a thorough heritage assessment.

East End Preservation Society’s co-chair John Moberly said: “Pedestrianising is not issue, but has to be done with respect to the heritage and a proper plan put in place.

“The mayor promised the work isn’t tied to calendar dates and wants to get it right.

“This is clearly the case with Arnold Circus—what’s the rush? It’s been there 120 years!

The Boundary Estate sits neatly behind Shoreditch Church, its name taken from St Leonard’s parish boundary where the two London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney join.

Its unique Victorian street layout centred on Arnold Circus has national significance as groundbreaking philanthropic housing by the London County Council.

It is the world’s first municipal housing scheme built in the 1890s opened by the Prince of Wales in 1900, which has 10 listed structures around Arnold Circus alone, with “an extraordinarily high concentration of heritage designations”.

Spitalfields Trust doesn’t oppose making Arnold Circus a pedestrian area, but says “a complete transformation is entirely unnecessary”.

It has the original York Stone pavements with granite kerbs around the perimeter that “needs sensitive repair and restoration rather than wholesale change”.

The council says it “consulted residents and businesses” last October. Allowances were being made for Arnold Circus with its “historical significance and unique character”, it promises. All existing York stone paving would be preserved.

The “preparation work” it said was in Navarre Street and not the Circus itself.

But this wasn’t the case today, eye witnesses say. The digger was confronted on Arnold Circus itself. The paving being churned up in Navarre Street and Rochelle Street was just 5ft from the heritage circus.

More confrontation is likely tomorrow (Saturday) after campaigners learned tonight that the road gang plans to return in the morning, ahead of Monday.