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Government halts 31/44 Architects’ contentious Whitechapel Bell Foundry plans

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Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has temporarily halted 31/44 Architects’ plans to revamp the site of a Grade II*-listed bell foundry in east London, which include a boutique hotel

Last month the practice narrowly won approval from Tower Hamlets Council to revamp the historic Whitechapel Bell Foundry building, despite the two applications receiving more than 750 objections.

But Jenrick has now issued a holding directive preventing the borough from signing off permission.

The letter, sent on behalf of the housing secretary, said: ‘This direction is issued to enable him to consider whether he should direct under Section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 that the applications should be referred to him for determination.’

The foundry in Whitechapel Road was set up in 1740 and was famous for producing bells including Big Ben and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. The site continued to be used for making bells until its owners sold up to US developer Raycliffe in 2017.

31/44 Architects’ proposal was strongly opposed by the UK Historic Buildings Preservation Trust (UKHBPT), an industrial heritage trust founded by Prince Charles. The trust had previously sought to buy the building off Raycliffe and reopen a ‘working bell foundry’. It is understood to have written to Jenrick demanding he take action.

Responding to November’s planning decision, the trust said it was ‘deeply saddened’ and ‘remain[s] unconvinced that the pastiche designs for the historic element will be anything but a short-term sop’.

According to 31/44, the plan contains an investment in ‘light-touch’ restoration work to the historic building and ‘small-scale bell casting’ onsite by foundry company Westerly Group.

It also includes new public spaces and a café, workspace and artists’ studios, while the 1980s building behind the foundry will be redeveloped to provide a hotel with a restaurant and bar.

Historic England had praised the design, telling Tower Hamlets that it ‘safeguards the significance of the listed building’ and delivers ‘a high degree of heritage benefits’.

Responding to the issue of the holding directive, a spokesperson for the project said: ‘While the delay caused by the holding notice is disappointing, our plans have already been thoroughly assessed by local and national heritage experts and enjoy strong support. We remain confident that the merits of the scheme will allow Tower Hamlets to issue the planning permission in due course.

‘We are ready to deliver on the exciting plans approved by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets last month, which will deliver a sustainable future for the bell foundry. The Grade II*-listed spaces will provide artists’ studios, learning space, founding activity and allow the public access to these historic spaces for the first time. No portion of the historically listed spaces includes hotel use.’

TheBellFoundry 008 Proposed Section   Historic Building

TheBellFoundry 008 Proposed Section Historic Building

Project data

Address 32 Whitechapel Rd, London E1 1EW
Site area 2,372m²
Existing internal 1,064m²
Additional internal 6,208 m²
Value Undisclosed
Client Raycliff
Architect 31/44 Architects
Structural engineer Alan Baxter Associates
M&E consultant Milieu Consult
Main contractor N/A
Quantity surveyor Quantem
Project manager Equals
Images 31/44 Architects / AVR  

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