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MP backs public campaign meeting to save the Whitechapel bell foundry

PUBLISHED: 07:00 06 September 2019 | UPDATED: 08:40 06 September 2019

The bell tolled for Whitechapel foundry which shut down in 2017. Picture: Charlotte Dew

The bell tolled for Whitechapel foundry which shut down in 2017. Picture: Charlotte Dew

Charlotte Dew

A public meeting is being held on Monday to protest at plans to turn the historic Whitechapel Bell foundry into a themed hotel.

MP Rushanara Ali... MP Rushanara Ali... "The bell foundry is one of the East End’'s treasured institutions which must not be lost forever." Picture: Mike Brooke

Campaigners have reached their target of 2,000 names to their online petition to force Tower Hamlets to debate the controversial issue which now has backing from MP Rushanara Ali.

The protesters led by the East End Preservation Society have joined forces with the East London Mosque to safeguard the whole site that's been a foundry for 300 years to be turned in to a centre for artists and apprenticeships.

Monday evening's public meeting is at the Muslim centre in Whitechapel Road from 6.30pm.

Taking part are UK Historic Building Preservation Trust and the Factum Foundation with their own alternative proposals to continue as a working foundry.

Whitechapel Bell Foundry in its heyday. Picture: East End Preservation SocWhitechapel Bell Foundry in its heyday. Picture: East End Preservation Soc

Speakers include TV historian Dan Cruickshank, London Assembly's Unmesh Desai, mosque director Dilowar Khan, Factum Foundation's Adam Lowe, Survey of London's Shahed Saleem and the UK Preservation's Clare Wood.

Bethnal Green and Bow MP Rushanara stepped into the ring, demanding that Tower Hamlets Council thinks again before it agrees to the developer's planning application.

"The council must prevent them turning this much-loved historic site into a private hotel," she said.

"The foundry is one of the East End's most treasured institutions, stretching back to the 16th century. We must not let it be lost forever. Together we can save this important feature of East End life."

The Queen tours Whitechapel foundry on March 25, 2009. Picture: Adrian Dennis/PA WireThe Queen tours Whitechapel foundry on March 25, 2009. Picture: Adrian Dennis/PA Wire

The foundry made Big Ben, America's Liberty Bell and the Bow Bells.

But forcing a debate in the town hall has hit a snag because the planning application is due before its strategic planning committee on September 19, the day after the next council chamber meeting.

A debate would give councillors the chance to make protecting the Whitechapel Bell Foundry official council policy.

But that puts the authority between a legal rock and an historic hard place as it has to hear all planning applications without prejudice, casting doubt on a debate just 24 hours before.

Instead, the authority may classify the petition as a planning objection, instead, which could go to the committee rather than before the full council, though not quite satisfying the campaign to protect the heritage foundry for future generations.

Raycliff Capital which bought the foundry site when it stopped operations insists it would be "reinstated" in the hotel lobby. The hotel itself would be where the unlisted 1980s extension is.

The Preservation Trust has resources to buy the site from the developer at market value and reopen it as a working foundry with up-to-date machinery, to ensure the East End retains "one of the finest craft facilities in the world".

The Muslim Centre cites a once-in-a-generation chance to create a working apprenticeship scheme to help reduce youth unemployment.

The foundry established in 1570 has been in Whitechapel Road since the 1750s. The Queen visited in 2009 to see the traditional craft of bell casting.

The online petition now has 2,000 names.

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