I have been trying to digest the decision by Robert Jenrick to allow the conversion of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a hotel. It feels like one of those moments in the history of planning law which is symbolic above and beyond the specifics of the case.
Two issues stand out. The first is that Robert Jenrick helpfully intervened when Tower Hamlets gave permission. This government presents itself as patriots – all this stuff about schools being required to raise the flag every morning, every Minister being photographed with a Union Jack in their living room, the absurdity of the monstrously tacky press room in Downing Street, covered in flags, which was abandoned as fast as it had been created by Russian contractors. But, of course, it is play-acting, a superficial veneer over rather brutal capitalists, who are happy to use British history for their own purposes, but when a decision comes about protection and preservation of a living monument of the past, instead support one of their friends, who is no doubt a party donor, an American vulture capitalist. A hotel for foreign tourists is more important than a bit of living history. You can feel the mood in the City, where so little is left of the historic City, but instead it is more like Hong Kong.
The second issue relates to Historic England. Maybe they can rebrand themselves as Ex-Historic England: a public body which gives paid advice to property developers to encourage them to get through the existing planning systems, during the time that so much of the planning controls are themselves being dismantled. I hope that the Commissioners of Historic England, who have so conspicuously failed in their public duty, might consider what went wrong: why they did nothing; why they have allowed this to happen in such a conspicuously supine way.