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RSHP provokes anger with plan for flats inside Bethnal Green gasholders


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)

Bethnal green in 1998 from towpath (mtt report bg 1of6)

Source: Malcolm Tucker



Readers' comments (3)

  • Deadly.
    If you are going to redevelop within each gas-holder keep well back from the perimeter and make the housing plan shape square, oval, funny shape or whatever, with lightweight balconies either within the perimeter or passing through it, but not touching.
    The completed holders at Kings Cross totally fail to make a positive contribution either to the urban landscape or to enhancing the historic value of the structures

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  • Onward march the self-sanctified developers (aren't they abusing the title?) - they certainly run the risk of exploiting the housing crisis for all it's worth, and maybe taking the international commodification of London housing to new levels while (courtesy of their architects) showing scant respect for the unique design heritage of some of these structures.
    But then, perhaps the abuse of the listed Coal Drops buildings at Kings Cross railway yards have led the way in the latter regard.

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  • You've got to wonder whether the objections to this adaptive reuse of the Bethnal Green gasometers is as much a reaction against the new ugly proposed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, as it is a desire to preserve the romantic landscape of an industrial ruin, at least when seen in black+white photographs.

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