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Just 7 votes lose battle to save 150 years of Bethnal Green’s Victorian gasworks heritage

PUBLISHED: 13:17 26 September 2020 | UPDATED: 16:52 27 September 2020

Victorian heritage Bethnal Green gasworks set to be turned into luxury housing complex by Regent's Canal. Picture: Ben Pedroche

Victorian heritage Bethnal Green gasworks set to be turned into luxury housing complex by Regent's Canal. Picture: Ben Pedroche

Ben Pedroche

A people’s campaign with 8,000 petitioners has lost the battle to save the industrial heritage of Bethnal Green gasworks with the world’s second-oldest gasometer.

Re-assembling giant gas-holder frames to surround residential tower blocks of the future. Picture: LBTHRe-assembling giant gas-holder frames to surround residential tower blocks of the future. Picture: LBTH

It took just seven votes out of eight for the green light by Tower Hamlets Council’s strategic development committee for a massive private housing scheme by the Regent’s Canal.

Now the last two remaining wrought iron frames that held giant 60ft and 120ft high Victorian storage tanks are to be dismantled and taken away to be restored—then put back together bit by bit with circular residential tower blocks filling the gap inside.

The scheme for 550 homes in five round towers modelled on the gasometer geometrics, mainly luxury apartments with a third for “affordable” renting, comes as a bitter blow to conservationists wanting to preserve the 19th century heritage structures since being abandoned by the gas industry in 2012.

“Removing and re-erecting the gasholder frames will lose their structural integrity,” veteran East End campaigner and artist Lucinda Rogers told Thursday’s committee meeting.

How Bethnal Green's 19th century gasworks site may look after redevelopment. Picture: LBTHHow Bethnal Green's 19th century gasworks site may look after redevelopment. Picture: LBTH

“They risk being damaged as a ‘patched up’ version of these beautiful and amazing pieces of engineering. This place means something to people.”

Three petitions were sent to the town hall demanding the 300ft round structures be kept empty as a green canalside public space.

The cost of decontaminating the former gas storage site is almost £40million, according to conservation architect Paul Latham who wrote a viability study. That was 10 times more than the £4m suggested by St William Property Developers joint venture by National Grid and the Berkeley Group.

“There’s a credibility gap,” Paul suggested. “I complained to the council in 2018, but got no reply.”

East End by gaslight? Old gasworks... new housing. Picture: LBTHEast End by gaslight? Old gasworks... new housing. Picture: LBTH

The town hall sent out 4,848 letters in a public consultation in March and got back 79 objections and just four in favour.

Complaints were about the impact of the development’s “excessive scale” on schools, public transport and medical centres, as well as soil contamination and being “out of character in the conservation area”.

Opposition also came from East End Waterways Group, Friends of Regent’s Canal, the Hackney Society, Greater London Industrial Society and Save Britain’s Heritage.

It would cause “a major loss of sunlight” to canal boats moored next to the site and at a nearby community centre, the council’s own planning officer Adam Garcia admitted.

Research also showed 47pc of the area next to Prichards Row day centre would get just two hours of sunlight on a given day, March 1, compared to council guidelines of 50pc.

Fears were raised by Historic England about the second oldest gasometer in the world being lost or damaged by dismantling and having no justification.

But the town hall was having none of it. The planning officer recommended the go-ahead “subject to any direction by the Mayor of London” and all planning committee members agreed but one.

Only Cllr Tariq Khan voted no. The seven saying yes were Rabina Khan, Sabina Akhtar, Kevin Brady, Abdul Mukit, Zenith Rahman, Val Whitehead and committee chair John Pierce.


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