The new owners of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, Raycliff Capital, an investment firm based in New York and owned by Bippy Siegal, a venture capitalist, have now put in for planning permission to change its use from being the last working, fully functioning bell foundry in London, with its origins in the sixteenth century, to a themed café/bar alongside a new, multi-story boutique hotel.
The issue which will face the planners is: is this change of use legitimate and justified ? The previous owners have argued, and will, no doubt, continue to argue that there is now little demand for church bells and that it had become impossible for them to maintain the production of bells so close to the centre of London, so that a change-of-use is justified.
However, the United Kingdom Historic Building Preservation Trust has put together an entirely credible alternative scheme for reinstating a foundry in the original – and architecturally wonderful – ground floor space, employing some of the workmen who worked there before. Instead of being turned into a café/bar/leisure centre, it would return to being a fully functioning foundry, making work for artists.
So, the question is: which will Tower Hamlets prefer ? What, in planning terms, is the ‘optimum viable use ‘ ? It’s a test.