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Whitechapel Bell Foundry: Hotel plans approved

PUBLISHED: 15:00 15 November 2019

Protesters outside the town hall. Picture: Rachael Burford

Protesters outside the town hall. Picture: Rachael Burford

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Protesters accused developers of "cultural vandalism" after plans to build a hotel on the site of the bell foundry that made Big Ben were approved.

How developers see foundry operation in their proposed hotel lobby. Picture Raycliff CapitalHow developers see foundry operation in their proposed hotel lobby. Picture Raycliff Capital

The decision by Tower Hamlets council on Thursday, November 14 paves the way for US developer Raycliff to turn the Grade II listed Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which also made the Liberty Bell, into a 108-bedroom hotel with a swimming pool, cafe and artist spaces.

Dozens of protesters rang bells and waved signs outside the town hall meeting as they backed a rival proposal by the United Kingdom Historic Building Preservation Trust (UKHBP) to maintain the building as a working foundry.

Architects 31/44 argued hand bells bearing the legally protected Whitechapel Bell branding will still be made on the site in a mini foundry near the pit where the Liberty Bell was cast.

Will Burges, of 31/44, said: "The hotel will be located only where the Eighties buildings at the back of the area stand.

"The original building contained a wide range of uses. We are totally focused on sustaining the heritage and legacy of this globally significant site."

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Raycliff bought the foundry, which opened in 1570, two years ago and put plans in place for a hotel.

Former owners the Hughes family, who still make bells on a site outside London, gave their blessing to the proposal. Historic England also expressed no opposition.

Politicians and members of the art world, including V&A director Dr Tristram Hunt and Sir Antony Gormley, have branded the idea "unthinkable".

Protesters were not allowed to bring signs or bells into the planning meeting.

After the decision UKHBP said it will continue its fight to buy back the site at market price and "maintain it as a full working foundry".

Stephen Musgrave, chairman of UKHBP, said: "The committee's decision to support the developer's spurious plans for the old foundry buildings fails to take into account the financial viability of the offered alternative foundry use, the powerful planning case against the application, the irreversible heritage damage to an internationally renowned building and the opposition of people from across London and the world."

He added: "It is a travesty. An act of cultural vandalism. This world renowned site deserves better."

The vote on the plans was a tie — three for and three against — but they were approved after the chairman, councillor Abdul Mukit, cast his deciding vote.

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