Campaigners battling to stop Foster and Partners' attempts to demolish part of Spitalfields Market and construct a major new office building in its place turned up the heat this week by bombarding planners with e-mails, petitions and star names backing their cause. But Spitalfields Development Group chief executive Mike Bear has sparked further controversy by angrily dismissing the moves as 'disinformation' and 'scaremongering' from 'professional protesters' and 'Nimbys' who don't even live in the area.
Spitalfields Market Under Threat (SMUT), which is concerned at the 'encroachment' of the City through plans by Bear's company, has e-mailed more than 1,000 key figures - politicians, 'green' companies and the press - asking them to sign a letter of objections to the 'out of keeping' materials Foster is trying to use on the scheme. And it aims to deliver a shoal of objection letters to planners at Tower Hamlets council in a bid to get them to overturn the project.
The group has also signed up names from the world of architecture and the arts, such as Will Alsop, Sir Richard MacCormac, Sir Terry Farrell, Sir Terence Conran, artists Gilbert and George, Tracey Emin and author Jeanette Winterson, to fight for the market to be retained. And it has armed itself for a fight with a petition signed by more than 25,000 opponents of the project so far, both online and off-line.
SMUT campaigner Lucy Rogers told the AJ last week that the 10-point attack on the materials Foster intends to use is a bid to overturn the conditions for the building, before the deadline for objections, which elapsed last Friday. The scheme, to be called Number 10 Bishop's Square, is an officesplus-retail reworking of the 25,000m 2'support building' that Foster had already obtained detailed permission for, when LIFFE wanted to move to the site.
The e-mailed letter said local people, campaigners, architects and market tenants found the materials, including white aluminium panels - according to Foster's architect D'Arcy Fenton they will be silver - 'flame textured twilight grey granite' and 'bead-blasted stainless steel' to be 'an abhorrent proposition' and detailed the group's plans to fight them to the end. 'There is a very real chance that we can stop, or at least hinder, the use of these materials and the building process itself if hundreds or thousands of letters are sent in, ' said SMUT in its orchestrated campaign. 'We are using the argument of objecting to these building materials as it is the only legally feasible one we own at the moment, pending further consultation with our lawyers. The 'Save Spitalfields' campaign has succeeded in preventing development of the market for 14 years. It can run for another 14 if necessary.'
But Mike Bear told the AJ that SMUT was attempting to portray his company as wanting to demolish the entire market, when it is only the 1928 unlisted additions which will go. 'I'm disappointed and it's terrible disinformation, ' he said, adding that the orchestrated nature of the e-mail protest was 'enormously dangerous' since it was 'so easy' to sign a 'chain letter' without inspecting the plans. He said the uncertainty it generated could also be costly in turning off potential occupiers, and he added that the SMUT campaigners actually live 'in places like Knightsbridge and Belsize Park'.
The objection letter penned by SMUT is intended for Tower Hamlets planning officer Peter Minoletti, and it objects also to the 'piecemeal' demolition of the western end of the market buildings before any proposed new planning application for the northern half of the site. Fosters is working towards an application for that in the new year.