Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners is facing criticism from heritage campaigners over plans to build homes inside two historic gasholders in east London
The Stirling Prize-winning practice is preparing to submit a planning application to Tower Hamlets Council for the redevelopment of the 1.82ha Marian Place gasholder site in Bethnal Green.
The scheme, next to the Regent’s Canal, includes up to 650 homes which would be built within two retained gasholders as well as in three new circular buildings on the south of the site.
But heritage campaigners are objecting to the plans for the gasholders – the smaller named No 2 and the larger No 5 – which they argue would strip them of their authenticity.
Building homes inside gasholder No 2 would require dismantling it. The campaigners say the holder has the world’s oldest surviving guideframes, and the work would risk damaging them.
Tom Ridge, founder of the East End Waterway Group, has been fighting to save the gasholders for 15 years and has launched a petition against the scheme.
He said: ‘We feel very strongly they should conserve the guideframes in situ and with gasholder 2 they should leave grassed open space in its centre, rather than this so-called retention.
‘If not, these unique and remarkable structures will have lost a great deal of their authenticity and integrity.’
Ridge said the Bethnal Green gasholders were a different case to the set at King’s Cross, redeveloped into housing by Wilkinson Eyre, since those had to be dismantled because of the extension of the trainline.
He said he thought the rest of the RHSP scheme was ‘well-designed’, but that building inside the gasholders would damage their historic significance.
The gasholders were built in the 1860s to store gas made at the Shoreditch Gas Works – where Haggerston Park is today – but were fully decommissioned in 2012.
The proposals for the site are being drawn up by St William, a joint venture between National Grid and the Berkeley Group which is regenerating a number of gasholder sites across London and the South East. Other schemes include the Leven Gas Works in Poplar and the Oval in Kennington.
A spokesperson for the joint venture said: ‘St William recognises the local interest and significance of the gasholder structures on the Regent’s Canal and, following extensive engagement with the community, our proposals, which have now been submitted to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, include the retention of both the No 2 and No 5 gasholders.
‘The proposed redevelopment of this site will both celebrate the unique character of the area, and open up this currently inaccessible space to provide much-needed new homes, including affordable homes; jobs and 1.75 acres [0.7ha] of public open space.
‘In addition to the retention of the gasholders, our proposal will provide public access to the site, including a substantial stretch of the Regent’s Canal, for the first time in more than 150 years.’
The developer added that it would work with specialist consultants, engineers and contractors on a plan for refurbishing the gasholder structures.
The site, currently inaccessible to the public, is earmarked for redevelopment in Tower Hamlets’ emerging Local Plan, with its site allocation requiring housing and employment floor space to be provided as part of any prospective development.
The plans were presented to Tower Hamlets council in November, and a full planning application is expected to be submitted in the coming months.
RSHP declined to comment.
Bethnal green in 1998 from towpath (mtt report bg 1of6)
Source: Malcolm Tucker