Tower Hamlets councillors last night approved plans to develop the former Truman Brewery premises on Brick Lane into an “office-led, mixed-use scheme” on a larger scale, building on its current use as an arts, events and fashion market complex and home to around 300 small businesses.
The application, which was previously considered in April but put back while development committee members sought further assurances from the site’s owners about the provision of affordable workspace and independent retail, had attracted over 7,000 objections, although only a minority were from residents of anywhere in Tower Hamlets.
The plans had been misleadingly described in the Evening Standard as proposing “a shopping mall and corporate offices” and a Guardian journalist, witnessing a protest outside the building, had claimed on Twitter that its owners wanted to go ahead “without consultations with locals”, despite the fact that the council’s statutory consultation had already taken place.
Under the plans, the building’s car park will be replaced by a new building of up to five storeys in height containing offices, shops and a gym, while the main existing building, where most of the small businesses are based, will be retained with some additional units added. An existing three-storey building will be refurbished and have two floors added to it.
Concerns that the development would lead to local rent increases to the detriment of Brick Lane businesses owned by Bangladeshi Londoners, notably its famous curry houses, were assigned “very little weight” by planning officers in view of the “small scale of changes proposed in relation to the wider Truman Brewery changes over recent decades”. Brewing stopped there in 1989. Its current owners purchased the site soon afterwards.
Following approval of the the scheme, planning committee member Councillor Kevin Brady issued a statement, saying it had been clear to him that the application complied with council planning policies, meaning there were “no grounds for refusal”, and pointing out that a large number of people being opposed to it “is not, in itself, a material planning consideration”.
He added that “whilst policy is limited on how much can be mandated” the brewery’s owners have stated that the current arrangement whereby a majority of tenants are small, independent traders will continue and that “unusual obligations” had been entered into to “maximise the extent to which [the scheme] will be independently and locally led.”
These include detailed commitments and definitions about affordable workspace, the marketing of business units, and the size and independence of businesses. Brady stressed that “The proposal doesn’t lend itself to large, corporate style offices and nor are the retail units of that scale”.
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