Old Royal London Hospital sold for £9m to Tower Hamlets council for a new town hall
PUBLISHED: 19:46 06 February 2015 | UPDATED: 09:09 16 February 2015
The historic Royal London Hospital has been sold to the local authority for £9 million with plans to turn it into a new civic centre for London’s East End.
Tower Hamlets Council today announced its purchased the old hospital site opposite Whitechapel station, which has been empty just two years since a new hospital complex opened in 2013 nearby.
The historic grade II-listed building has its medical history back to the 18th century, now to be transformed into a civic hub as part of the Whitechapel Masterplan with Crossrail arriving in 2018.
The council is currently drawing up plans to “make sure its heritage is retained”, a Town Hall spokesman confirmed today.
“This stunning building has been a part of our history and our heritage for hundreds of years,” Mayor Lutfur Rahman said.
“It’s fitting that we have purchased this building, to make sure it continues to be a part of the community.”
The former Whitechapel Infirmary was founded in 1740 by philanthropists for the sick and poor among the merchant seaman and manufacturing classes in the East End at the time.
It relied on public donations for 200 years, from its opening with only a shilling (5p) in the bank, until its running costs were taken over when the NHS was established in 1948.
It was famous for Joseph Merrick, dubbed the Elephant Man, who was given sanctuary and lived out his life in the hospital until he died in 1890. Nurse Edith Cavell, who was shot dead by the Germans in Occupied Belgium during the First World War, did her medical training there.
But the £9m purchase has its critics who say no decision on a new town hall should be taken until the High Court case in which Mayor Rahman’s re-election last May is being challenged by campaigners accusing his supporters of mal-practice with “intimidation, corruption and fraud”.
London Assembly’s budget chairman John Biggs, who represents east London at City Hall, said: “The Mayor must demonstrate he has not wasted public money. This is an old listed building and would cost a lot to refurbish.”
But it could be a saving for the council as well as bringing the town hall back into the community. The council is presently housed in an expensive office complex in an isolated corner of the borough tucked away behind the A12 Blackwall Tunnel approach.
It costs £5m a year renting civic space at Mulberry Place, with the lease having cost an estimated £50m since 1993 and is due to continue to 2020.
A new civic centre at Whitechapel which could open by 2019 would be paid for through “efficiencies by the council” by not being burdened with luxury Docklands rents.
The hospital site is slap in the middle of the Whitechapel Masterplan, with Crossrail as a major transport interchange with the London Underground and Overground networks.
Barts Health NHS Trust which sold the old hospital is now in discussions with its regulators on what it can use thew cash for. It sought independent valuation which put the site at £9m.
The Whitechapel Masterplan launched in March last year which now has the proposed town hall added to it includes 3,500 new homes, 5,000 new jobs, a transformed Whitechapel Road, seven new public squares and open spaces and a redeveloped Sainsbury’s.