Norton Folgate battle lines drawn up for today’s ‘human chain’ protest

Now you see it... Aerial view of Norton Folgate

Now you see it... Aerial view of Norton Folgate - Credit: Spitalfields Trust

Hundreds of protesters join hands today to form a human chain encircling historic buildings at Norton Folgate next to London’s famous Spitalfields Market.

Norton Folgate... blossom tree at centre of Blossom Street pedestrian plaza

Norton Folgate... blossom tree at centre of Blossom Street pedestrian plaza - Credit: British Land

It is part of a campaign by the Sptialfields Trust to stop developers demolishing a huge swathe of the unique Georgian neighbourhood which they fear would end up with “corporate plazas” and encroachment from the City into the historic enclave.

The 3pm protest to is just two days before Tower Hamlets council’s planning committee meets on Tuesday to decide on the controversial proposals.

But the company behind it, British Land, has accused protesters of wrongly describing the scheme as “plazas for big corporate occupiers”.

British Land wants to demolish 70 per cent of the Georgian enclave and put up a 13-storey office tower with other buildings.

“If this happens, the Liberty of Norton Folgate would become a bland corporate enclave of the City,” TV historian Dan Cruickshank fears.

“For me, this ghastly scheme possesses a particularly ghoulish character as an awful reminder of the cyclical and seemingly futile nature of human affairs.”

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The City Fringe neighbourhood has been caught up in 40 years of controversy over “corporate encroachment”.

Cruickshank helped set up the Spitalfields Trust after winning a conservation battle with the same developers in 1977 with backing from the late Poet Laureate Sir John Betjamin.

British land sent an open letter to the Trust in which development director Mike Wiseman claimed: “You have sought to characterise the scheme publicly with reference to ‘glass and steel offices’, ‘corporate plazas’ and ‘big corporate occupiers’.

“This is manifestly untrue and is disappointing that you have chosen to misrepresent our plans.”

British Land told the East London Advertiser it had changed its approach by redefining the area as separate buildings “with proportions in line with the surrounding properties”.

It has also introduced varied parapet heights, wooden sash windows and brickwork variations and is rethinking the scheme on the main Norton Folgate thoroughfare, between Shoreditch and Bishopsgate, which “now retains more of the historic fabric than we originally conceived.”

Spitalfields Trust, nevertheless, is unhappy with what it sees as “City encroachment”—so today’s “human chain” protest around Norton Folgate, Elder Street and Blossom Street goes ahead at 3pm to safeguard the ancient Liberty of Norton Folgate, its fate being decided at Tower Hamlets Town Hall planning meeting at 7.30pm on Tuesday.