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Controversial Balfron plans approved

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Tower Hamlets councillors have given the go-ahead to the controversial reconfiguration of Erno Goldfinger’s 1960s Balfron Tower in east London

Last week the council’s development committee voted in line with a planners officer recommendation to approve the scheme by Studio Egret West and Ab Rogers Design.

The decision was attacked by Catherine Croft, director of the Twentieth Century Society, which had objected to the application.

She said: ‘Balfron Tower is an iconic post war listed building by an outstanding architect - its national architectural significance recognised by the grade II* listing. Future generations will regret the decision to strip out so much of the original fabric.’

Protestors said the proposals would undermine the integrity of Goldfinger’s original architecture, and would lead to social housing tenants being pushed out (see Balfron residents: ‘Privatising the tower will segregate the community).

But planning officers said in their report: ‘The proposed refurbishment works have been sensitively designed, taking into account advice from Historic England and the borough’s listed building officer.

‘An acceptable balance has been achieved with the heritage needs to preserve the special character, historic significance and appearance of the grade II* listed Balfron Tower along with the requirements to bring the building up to modern standards.’

They added that the re-instatement of original features such as the roof cornice, concrete boiler flues, internal corridors and the front entrance ‘offsets any harm caused by the replacement of the existing windows and internal flat layouts’.

The 27 storey tower was built between 1965-1967 and was grade II listed in 1996, a designation upgraded to Grade II* in October this year.

The building contains 146 flats and is seen as a iconic example of Brutalist architecture.

It also emerged this week that the Department of Communities and Local Government is not planning to call-in the decision.

The admission came In a letter to architect James Dunnett, who had actually written requesting that the original listing decision was reviewed so that other elements of the estate could be included. The department said: ‘The Government is clear that localism and decentralisation are at the heart of their planning agenda and the general approach of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is not to interfere with the jurisdiction of authorities on planning matters.’

Comments from Ab Rogers [from

‘Erno Goldfinger was a massive Modernist and believed in progress. The way to keep that spirit alive is not to dumb down the building by slavishly keeping every historic detail but by keeping it up to date to make it more responsive to the moment.

‘It’s anti-Modernist to fossilise a building’

‘Losing space to communal corridors in the centre of the flats seems counter cultural.

‘I believe in dialogue and conversation, but I disagree with the perspective of the objectors. It is anti-Modernist to fossilise a building rather than allowing it to develop.

‘Battersea Power Station is grade II* listed. If that hadn’t been altered then it would have had to be pulled down because of a lack of use.

‘Towers are quick to build but expensive to upkeep – the flats in the tower are more valuable as aspirational upmarket housing than as social housing so the responsible thing to do is upgrade them and use the profits to plough into affordable homes elsewhere.’

Rowlett Street Housing Phases I, II and III

An original drawing for Erno Goldfinger’s Brownfield Estate in east London, which has Balfron Tower as its centrepiece. The project was originally known as Rowlett Street Housing, and divided into three phases.



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Readers' comments (1)

  • Looking at the elevations, Studio Egret West & Ab Rodgers Design could have replaced the windows without changing the frame colour from light to dark - compare the first image with the second - that's not 'sensitive design' (are Historic England & the planners sleeping on the job?). It's more like vanity.

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