Whitechapel scheme sets dangerous precedent for historic East End

An application for a 19-storey development in Whitechapel will set a very dangerous precedent for future developments in the historic East End of London if it is granted consent.

The application involves the demolition of several 19th century buildings on the corner of Commercial Street and Whitechapel High Street to be replaced with a large-scale development, up to 19 storeys at its highest point. The façade of 103-105 Whitechapel High St will be retained as part of the development, but will be surrounded by the new development on all sides and above.

This site forms part of the comparatively small Whitechapel High Street Conservation Area, which also includes several listed buildings including the Whitechapel Art Gallery and the former Whitechapel Bell Foundry. The Victorian Society believe the proposed development will cause substantial harm to the conservation area as a whole and have registered their strong objections.

The location of the site is particularly important when evaluating the harm of the application. The Whitechapel High Street Conservation Area Appraisal specifically states that this conservation area should be “seen as a definable boundary between the commercial development pressures encroaching from the City to the west, and the historic communities of the east”.

Tom Taylor, Conservation Adviser for the Victorian Society, says: “The majority of this application judges the site from a predominately western gaze, arguing that the larger, commercial developments to the west would put the site in context and justify its height and bulk. But judge the application from an eastern viewpoint and the entire context changes: set against that backdrop of predominantly low-rise, fine-grained Edwardian buildings the proposed building looks entirely alien and does not respect the historic context of this conservation area.”

It is often the case that a new proposed high-rise building fails to take into account, or at least adequately justify, its impact on the surrounding low-rise streetscape, and this is certainly the case with this application. However, here the substantial harm goes further into not only the wider conservation area, but the very fabric of the East End itself.

Tom Taylor says, “Because of the unique position of this application site, the decision of the Tower Hamlets authority will have far-reaching implications for the future of the historic East End. The next permitted high-rise could be further to the east, and then further, until London’s modern cityscape completely eradicates what remains of the East End’s historic landscape, taking much of our knowledge and appreciation of the past with it.”

The application reference number is PA/18/02615/A1. If you wish to view or comment on the application you can do so via the Tower Hamlets planning portal here.


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