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Protesters are back after stopping council digger churning up heritage Arnold Circus

PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:14 24 October 2020

Protest to save heritage Arnold Circus. Picture: John Moberly

Protest to save heritage Arnold Circus. Picture: John Moberly

John Moberly

Members of the public trying to save the historic Arnold Circus being churned up plan to return this Saturday morning (Oct-24) after coming face-to-face in a confrontation with a council road gang digging up the road.

Mechanical digger in Rochelle Street, a few yards from Arnold Circus, driver's face hidden,working on Friday, October 23, when work was not due to start till October 26. Picture: John MoberlyMechanical digger in Rochelle Street, a few yards from Arnold Circus, driver's face hidden,working on Friday, October 23, when work was not due to start till October 26. Picture: John Moberly

Angry protesters stood in front of a mechanical digger 24 hours before and refused to budge.

A consultant contracted to install Tower Hamlets Council’s ‘Liverble Streets’ pedestrian programme to stop through traffic across a wide swathe from Shoreditch to Bethnal Green and Bow was stopped himself in his tracks when he came face-to-face with furious families from the heritage Boundary Estate.

He assured them that the work wouldn’t start work till Monday, but the promise was broken when digging began just five minutes after Spitalfields Trust preservation society had left, eye witnesses said.

Families heard the digger in action and the sound of the ground being churned up.

Spread out... social distance picket srrounds Arnold Circus. Picture: John MoberlySpread out... social distance picket srrounds Arnold Circus. Picture: John Moberly

“The workers promised they wouldn’t start till Monday,” distraught resident Suzanna Kow said. “But then we heard the digger starting up.

“We all rushed to Arnold Circus and stopped them. Three of us stood in front of the diggers.”

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 heritage assessment.

Snapped... mechanical digger churning up the road a few feet from Arnold Circus. Picture: John MoberlySnapped... mechanical digger churning up the road a few feet from Arnold Circus. Picture: John Moberly

East End Preservation Society’s co-chair John Moberly said: “Pedestrianising is not an 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. So what’s the rush? Arnold Circus has been here 120 years!”

The Boundary Estate sits neatly behind Shoreditch Church, named from St Leonard’s parish boundary where the two former Metropolitan boroughs of Bethnal Green and Shoreditch joined, now the boundary where Tower Hamlets and Hackney meet.

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

TV's veteran historian Dan Cruikshank joins campaign to save East End's heritage. Picture: John MoberlyTV's veteran historian Dan Cruikshank joins campaign to save East End's heritage. Picture: John Moberly

It is the world’s first municipal housing scheme built in the 1890s and opened by the Prince of Wales in 1900, which has 10 listed structures around Arnold Circus at the top end of Club Row.

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 not the Circus itself. But this wasn’t the case on Friday, eye witnesses say. The digger was confronted on the corner of Arnold Circus itself.

The confrontation has led to threats of more protests today (Saturday) after campaigners say they learned that the road gang is to return this weekend ahead of Monday’s scheduled start.


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