Monday, 28 July 2008

A Letter to the Planners

22 July 2008

Re: Planning Application PA/08/01154

Dear Ms Webster

I have reviewed the latest proposals to part-demolish, and build up and out at the back, of 1-5 Tenter Ground, London E1.

I cannot say there is much improvement on the previous scheme, which was rejected, as I understand, on the sensible grounds that the bulk and scale of rebuilding at the back, as well as extensive demolition, were inconsistent with the need to preserve or enhance the character and appearance of a Conservation Area.

I have also read the architect's commentary, which makes some surprising assertions. In response, I wish to make the following observations:-

1-5 Tenter Ground comprises three separate properties, and is currently occupied by a diverse clutch of households and businesses, which include: a guitar warehouse, a language school, a design studio and an artist's loft. All these are to be merged into a single premises under the current plans, apparently for the benefit of one individual. Is this a good idea? Is our neighbourhood enriched by this trend toward monolithic development? I don't think so.

Just because a 35-storey tower is being built across the road, it does not follow that it is therefore acceptable to part-demolish a Victorian/Edwardian terrace. Look at New York, where antiquity is truly valued, and period buildings are jealously guarded, even though they sometimes lie in the shadow of skyscrapers.

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that houses once lined a much narrower Bell Lane near the site of the current 1-5 Tenter Ground, there were merely gardens behind on the West side of the road known as Tenter Street (as the 1874 map shows). All these buildings were swept away, perhaps around 1910, when 1-5 Tenter Ground was built, with its restrained and elegant back elevation in full and open view of an enlarged Bell Lane, just as it is today.

The architect says these buildings are only "economically viable" part-demolished and substantially rebuilt because of "low rents." This is a very peculiar argument to deploy. Surely what is "economically viable" is no concern of the planners. If the purchase price is grossly inflated because of some speculative bubble, must we therefore endure some planning violation? What exactly is wrong with low rents anyway? Because the building is in disrepair, must it therefore be demolished? The architect seems to think so. Whatever happened to conservation? Perhaps I should apply to demolish the rear of my building too, because the rent is too low, and it is in need of repair?

The architect refers to meetings held with planners prior to purchase of the property. What are they hinting at? Did they get approval in principle for part-demolition? Is this a stitch-up? I don't mind admitting I am fearful. Conservation is out of fashion in our time, and everyone seems to be looking for "compromise." All the Great and the Good in the heritage lobby now say it's okay to demolish provided you rebuild "sympathetically." Even the Fruit and Wool Exchange is up for demolition in exchange for "planning gain." What a sell-out! Conservation at Tower Hamlets is now renamed Urban Renewal and it's officers aren't even polite enough to return your call. Will no-one stand up for these fine old buildings, just as they are?

As regards Ms Tracey Emin, whose success and achievements I greatly admire, as anyone must, but who will be reading these words with gathering annoyance, I respectfully plead: PLEASE, NOT THESE BUILDINGS! Ms Emin could convert some warehouse pretty much anywhere (in Whitechapel, say), and make a little commute. Why not do the right thing, and just leave these old buildings be?

Yours faithfully

Peter Sinden