Whitechapel Bell Foundry (94)

Talk of the devil !

No sooner had I posted my question this morning as to whether or not there was going to be a proper and systematic review of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry decision than I received the following:-

The housing secretary has commissioned a review into how the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) and planning policy “considers and defends heritage” in the wake of a controversial government decision last week that granted consent for the redevelopment of a Grade II-listed historic former foundry in London into a mixed-use hotel scheme.

As will be clear from my previous blogs on the subject, for me the key issues are:-

  1. It is apparently very hard for the heritage sector to react at speed. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry has been a slow-moving fiasco which could have been sorted out by more radical intervention at an earlier stage, including at the very least a requirement that the sale of the Bell Foundry should have been publicly advertised instead of being agreed in secret.
  2. Once a decision had been taken to support redevelopment at a meeting of the London Advisory Committee in February 2017, it felt that no amount of further discussion or views expressed was ever allowed to alter or open up this decision to question and, as a result, the debate became very adversarial in a way which was probably unhelpful to everyone.
  3. Heritage advice is now split between Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, both of which come under the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, whereas planning is handled by the Planning Inspectorate which no doubt views planning as a more technical specialism, guided by the law, but not necessarily by a knowledge and awareness of history.
  4. There is too much emphasis on the building itself, not on the effect on the building of change-of-use, let alone on the protection and preservation of historically important use.

All I can say is that I am glad that these issues are now being properly and appropriately addressed, with a hope – perhaps a vain hope – that, if possible, any recommendations should be allowed to work retrospectively.

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