Page last updated at 05:52 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

‘Tombstone’ tower prompts Shoreditch skyline fears

By Andy Dangerfield
BBC News

Shoreditch in London's East End is famous for its resident artists, who say they draw inspiration from the historic buildings and strong social fabric of their surroundings.

Bishop's Place
The 51-storey Bishop’s Place will be built in east London's Shoreditch

But a 51-storey skyscraper has been given the go-ahead despite opposition from a local campaign group, supported by famous artists including Tracy Emin and Rachal Whiteread.

Campaigners say the building, nicknamed "The Tombstone" by some local residents because of its overbearing shape, threatens to change the nature of Shoreditch forever.

"Shoreditch attracts creative people and has become a unique hub of cultural enterprise," said artist Brad Lochore.

"It's a complex mixed community - and a melting pot for incredible creativity.

"Don't ruin it by sticking up ghastly blocks reflecting the sterile architectural vision of the City of London."

'Fundamentally flawed'

English Heritage and Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) have objected to the scale of the £500m development at Bishop's Place.

Government advisor CABE condemned the design as "fundamentally flawed", and criticised it for being in a Shoreditch conservation area.

And the Organisation for Promotion of Environmental Needs Limited (Open), says the Bishop's Place plan does not contain enough affordable housing.

The GLA has a target for 50% of homes built in new developments to be affordable, and for 70% of that amount to be socially-rented.

There are more than 15,000 people on Hackney Council's housing waiting list.

But the approved Bishop's Place plan only contains 21% affordable housing on site and 5% socially-rented housing.

Brad Lochor
Brad Lochore says Shoreditch is 'a melting pot for incredible creativity'

And according to documents seen by the BBC, developer Hammerson has dropped its contribution to "off-site" affordable housing from £14m in its first proposal to £3m in the approved plan, because of "scheme viability".

Open claimed the GLA and Hackney council approved Bishop's Place in their own interests, rather than those of Shoreditch residents.

"Boris is getting £3.1m for Crossrail and Hackney will get money for selling the land," said Open's Brendan Pinch, a lawyer.

The GLA said: "Off-site provision has been significantly reduced because of changes in scheme viability and other planning obligations bearing on the scheme, notably the Crossrail contribution."

Hammerson have also agreed to contribute £3.1m towards the new Crossrail train line.

Meanwhile, Mr Pinch said: "Hackney Council owns most of the development site. If they approved the building, they got £50m - we're led to believe - for the sale of the land to Hammerson."

Hackney said the financial details of its deal were confidential.

"The planning committee's consideration of the application did not breach the council's code of conduct," a spokeswoman said.

What is more in the public interest than understanding authorities' policies about dealing with desperate overcrowding in London's East End?
Bill Parry Davies, solicitor

Open is appealing against the decision to Hackney Council's Standard's Committee.

Meanwhile, Communities and Local Government Minister John Denham has the power to overrule the council and GLA's approval on Bishop's Place.

His department recently ruled, in a separate case, that temporary economic difficulties do not justify abandoning affordable housing policies on major schemes.

But Government Office for London, which Mr Denham oversees, refused to say why it decided not to hold a public inquiry into Bishop's Place.

In a reply to a letter from solicitor and Open supporter Bill Parry Davies, which asked why it would not review the decision, the office said: "We think the balance of the public interest favours non-disclosure."

'Wall of towers'

Following a Freedom of Information request from the BBC, GOL has said it would review whether it would disclose information on why it would not hold a public inquiry, expected by 8 February.

Mr Parry-Davies asked: "What is more in the public interest than understanding authorities' policies about dealing with desperate overcrowding in London's East End? Withholding such information seems Orwellian."

While Hammerson is set to confirm when construction will begin, campaigners have raised fears that Bishop's Place is the first of a "wall of towers" that will stretch into the heart of Shoreditch.

Bishopsgate Goodsyard
The Bishopsgate Goodsyard site lies east of the City of London

Both Hackney and the GLA have identified the western end of Bishopsgate Goodsyard, which stretches east from the Bishop's Place site towards Brick Lane, as an appropriate location for tall buildings.

In December 2009, the deputy mayor of London approved Hammerson's guidance, also approved by Hackney council, that will shape the future of the 4.7-hectare site.

"We remain committed to continuing consultation with both local and statutory stakeholders on a masterplan," Hammerson's London director Martin Jepson said.

But with a 25-storey tower on Bethnal Green Road, east of the site, by another developer, approved in March 2008, and Bishop's Place approved to the west, campaigners fear it would be easy to link them up with more skyscrapers.

GLA planning guidance says "tall buildings should be in clusters."

'Abandoning area'

"Now we're going to have two, a cluster is forming," said lawyer and Open campaigner Brendan Pinch.

There is a sense of despair among some artists who have made Shoreditch their home.

"Artists have put so much time and energy into this, they've worn us out," says Mr Lochore.

"Myself and many artists I know are thinking of abandoning the area."

One way or another, Shoreditch could well change forever.

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