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Row ignites after British Land compared with Nazi Germany


A row about the radical revamp of the historic Norton Folgate area in east London has blown up after a controversial speech by architectural critic and campaigner Dan Cruickshank.

The episode in the increasingly acrimonious battle over British Land’s plans to demolish a significant chunk of Norton Folgate was ignited after Cruickshank compared the developer with Nazi Germany.

Under the plans by AHMM with Duggan Morris, DSDHA and Stanton Williams for the 32,550m2 scheme, more than 70 per cent of the existing building stock would be torn down to make way for 40 flats, 13 shops and around 1,400m² of public space.

According to reports, the BBC presenter and former AJ writer attacked the company’s plans as a ‘step too far’ during a public meeting last week.

‘How dare these people feel they can obliterate this ancient part of London with a corporate open-plan space for profit’, he is reported as telling a meeting in St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch last Wednesday night.

‘They don’t care about it; they care about their own bank balances. They are powerful people, British Land. So were the Nazis. You have to take these people on.’

British Land reacted to Cruickshank’s comments by demanding an immediate withdrawal and apology.

In a strongly worded statement, the London-based property giant said it was ‘surprised to hear that Dan Cruickshank has made such an inappropriate and offensive comment by comparing the company to the Nazis’.

‘This comment clearly crosses the line in terms of honesty, taste and decency and is false.’

Cruickshank told AJ this week that he ‘refused to apologise’ because he had not, he insisted, compared British Land of being ‘in any form… like the Nazi Germany’.

‘That wouldn’t help anyone and doesn’t make any sense,’ he added. ‘There is a debate and a difference of opinion and we will have it out in the normal way. There is nothing sinister about it.’

According to Cruickshank, his allusion to Nazi Germany was in response to a question from a member of the audience who doubted a small campaign group could defeat a major developer.

‘It was a reference in the moment to a British historical reference – to a Churchillian speech about a struggle against a powerful opposition,’ he said. ‘And that you don’t give into opponents just because they were powerful. That was the reference to the Nazi Germany.’

The reference had ‘nothing to do with British Land’s business practice’, he added.

‘That would obviously be a nonsensical and ridiculous accusation. They are a company and in fact British Land’s behaviour has been quite good.’

The row marks a reawakening of acrimony between British Land and Cruickshank, who successfully fended off its plans to redevelop Elder Street in Spitalfields in 1977.

Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust has claimed the development will obliterate the conservation area and has proposed an alternative vision that ‘respects rather than destroys the history and architectural precedent’ of the area.

British Land has previously defended the development by describing its plans as inspired by Georgian houses in the area.

The firm’s head of development Nigel Webb told AJ in February that it had been through a process of ‘constructive engagement’ with Tower Hamlets Council, English Heritage and CABE.

‘This is a heritage-led scheme in a conservation area, which will not only integrate with its surroundings, but provide a bridge between the City of London and Shoreditch,’ he added.

Cruickshank’s comments were first reported in Building Design.


Readers' comments (6)

  • Corey Ross

    The AJ writer has been did wrong in fact. It is unethical as a professional.

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  • The use of that 4 letter word is when journalists get enthused and then whole thing becomes high profile. Mr Cruickshank is surely aware of this.

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  • British Land refers to a 'heritage-led scheme' - is this developer-speak for large scale demolition of an area? It's surely rather gracious of Mr Cruickshank to suggest that British Land's behaviour has been quite good.

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  • Having seen the proposals I find the criticisms of them highly overblown, and the Nazi reference as unpleasant as it is irrelevant. The architects have tried hard to inmprove and enhance the existing, and have done so in a way that is coherent and relevant to context -- as was AHMM's work at the Tea Building not so far away. All the drawings and inspirations have been on public display, and perhaps AJ could print a selection. Tarring all architects and all developments with the same brush is lazy and dishonest -- whether you live in the area or not.

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  • John Allan
    If the Planning Consent for this site obtained by Avanti Architects for the City of London in 2011 had been implemented all this acrimony might have been avoided.

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  • What is clear is that the steamroller of big finance, progressively crushes out all innovative and creative locally-generated activities. Once the social capital it created by people who live &/or work there, high-finance moves in, re-designating a place an “opportunity area”.

    Another example is Lambeth, where the council is assisting this process around Brixton & Myatts Field, hell-bent on the destruction of its own honourable record in social-housing of the late ‘60s early 70s

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