'Heritage vandalism' plans to redevelop Whitechapel Bell Foundry approved

14 November 2019, 22:16

Protest against hotel development at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry
Protest against hotel development at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Picture: Getty
Sylvia De Luca

By Sylvia De Luca

Controversial plans to redevelop the former home of the bell foundry that made Big Ben have narrowly been given the green light.

Campaigners have branded the proposal to turn part of the former home of Britain's oldest manufacturing company into a 103-room hotel "heritage vandalism".

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry was established in east London in 1570 and is famous for making Big Ben and the Liberty Bell, the symbol of American independence.

But in 2017, owners Alan and Kathryn Hughes announced the closure of their Whitechapel Road foundry due to a "downturn in orders" and moved the operation elsewhere in the UK.

On Thursday the contentious hotel planning application was approved by Tower Hamlets Council's development committee.

Campaigners have said they will consider the decision and then decide whether to launch a judicial review.

In an online petition to save the bell, campaigners wrote: "How is Britain allowing this national treasure to slip through our fingers?"

Campaigners ring hand bells in protest ahead of a meeting with Tower Hamlets Council's planning committee
Campaigners ring hand bells in protest ahead of a meeting with Tower Hamlets Council's planning committee. Picture: PA
Save The Whitechapel Bell Foundry Protest
Save The Whitechapel Bell Foundry Protest. Picture: Getty

Chairman Stephen Musgrave said he was "very disappointed" with the committee's decision.

The redevelopment would see an unlisted 1980s extension to the rear of the site demolished and replaced with a hotel along Plumbers Row and Fieldgate Street.

Part of the listed foundry building would be refurbished to provide new workshops and a cafe, which will serve as a "living museum" and provide "long-term public access through the site", a council report on the application said.

While the plans were recommended for approval, there were around 780 objections and two petitions against the scheme lodged with the council.

However the foundry's former owners said they both supported the plans, according to the council report.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Picture: Getty

Councillor Ehtasham Haque told the committee that approving the plans would amount to "historical vandalism".

He said: "There is no justification for this substantial harm because a, the hotel can be built anyway, and b, the foundry can continue as a working foundry.

"Stop this heritage vandalism and throw out this application."

The foundry is listed in the Guinness World Records as the oldest manufacturing firm in Britain and moved to the Whitechapel Road site in 1738.

Its most famous creation was Big Ben, the bell in Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry's most famous creation was Big Ben
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry's most famous creation was Big Ben. Picture: PA

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