Whitechapel Bell Foundry (68)

As the lawyers do their summing up and the Inspector closes the last day of the public Inquiry, after two weeks of nearly daily hearings, the profound differences between the two schemes in front of the Inspector have become all too abundantly clear.

On the one hand, you have the Raycliff scheme which consists of the radical reconstruction of the Bell Foundry: spending a lot of money on its refurbishment, no doubt, but using the bulk of it as a café with fifty tables, which will need to be serviced by a kitchen on site: kitchens generally occupy between a third and half of the amount of space used by a restaurant. So the bulk of the existing foundry becomes a café/restaurant. Yes, they have now chosen to insert a small foundry alongside the internal courtyard as a way of securing planning permission, but this was not part of their original plan and is not intrinsic to it. The bulk of the site is given over to a brand new hotel with 103 rooms. It has been suggested by the architect, Will Burges of 31/44 Architects, that the scale of the new hotel and being built in similar materials will enhance the character of the foundry, but in reality is more likely to smother it.

On the other hand, you have a detailed and costed set of proposals put forward by a conservation charity, Re-Form, with recent experience of re-establishing the historic use of Middleport Pottery in Burslem, which would work in conjunction with a long-established international firm, Factum Arte, to protect the character of the existing building by maintaining it in active use as a working environment.

One proposal sticks to its former use, the other changes it. So, should the Inspector recommend change-of-use ? I sincerely hope not.


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