Whitechapel families win battle to protect Wren’s 1695 almshouses from Sainsbury’s tower bock
- Credit: Archant
Campaigners won the battle last night to prevent developers throwing up a 28-storey skyscraper that would overshadow Grade I listed almshouses just 80 yards away which were designed by Christopher Wren in 1695.
A bid by Sainsbury’s to build a new housing and shopping complex on the site of its present Whitechapel supermarket in London’s East End has been rejected by Tower Hamlets council.
Critics fear it would ruin the skyline of the Trinity Green almshouses at the beginning of the Mile End Road, one of only two places in central London where you can actually live in a Grade I-listed building—the other is the Tower of London.
Their unspoiled skyline of central London’s last remaining 17th century almshouses would be dominated by the new skyscraper overlooking the green.
Conservationists and developers came face-to-face at the Town Hall, each accusing the other of “missed opportunity” in Whitechapel.
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Thomas Antoniw, 30, a Trinity Green resident who organised the opposition to the scheme, accused the supermarket chain of “missing an opportunity” to create affordable housing while regenerating Whitechapel and being sensitive to its rich character.
“They could have respected the conservation area with the almshouses which have national importance,” he told the council’s strategic planning committee.
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“They didn’t do so—they view the harm to heritage assets as ‘slight’.”
Sainsbury’s countered this by accusing the campaigners of letting Whitechapel lag behind the rest of London.
Their head of town planning Bruno Moore said after the meeting: “Clearly we’re disappointed—the benefits of the scheme outweigh the heritage importance.
“We are redeveloping our store as high-density residential complex in a highly sustainable location above a Crossrail station in a tightly-packed urban area. The impact is slight. I disagree with Historical England on this—the heritage assets are far outweighed by the benefits our development will bring to Whitechapel.”
Historic England, the statutory consulting body, objected to the scheme along with eight other conservation organisations which have all made representations to Tower Hamlets, in addition to 456 representations by Friends of Trinity Green, 5,454 signatures to a petition and 246 letters sent to the Town Hall.
But the campaigners fear the battle to protect the historic almshouses may not yet be done.
“This is not the end of the battle,” Antoniw said later. “The fight isn’t over. I hope the Mayor of London doesn’t over-rule and call in these large disproportionate towers that don’t provide affordable housing, but damage our heritage.”
The scheme drew opposition from families on the nearby Collingwood council estate which would also be overshadowed. Collingwood’s tenants chairman Iain Lawson, who also addressed council members, told the East London Advertiser: “Our concern is the height of the tower and the other blocks in the scheme that would overshadow all the buildings round about and also hem us in.
“It’s the scale of the development and the number of properties into such a small space and lack of affordable housing.”
Sainsbury’s is now considering its next move and whether it’s worth appealing to the Mayor of London or submitting a modified scheme.
The development of 559 new homes would have included a new supermarket as well, to replace the store that opened on the site just 20 years ago.
The company was originally invited to come up with a scheme by the council in 2014, to blend with the local authority’s Whitechapel Vision masterplan, in line with Crossrail opening in 2018. The scheme came with sweeteners such as £7m in community investment funds and £4m to create a modern Whitechapel Market “at the request of traders themselves”.
Sainsbury’s Development Partner Jonathan Rawnsley said: “We believe it’s a missed opportunity for Whitechapel, as we want to leave a lasting legacy for the community.”
The company was “determined to help Whitechapel evolve with the rest of London and is not left behind”.
It is now considering what happens to its grand scheme for Whitechapel, after last night’s massive defeat when Tower Hamlets strategic planning members voted unanimously to reject the scheme.