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Tower Hamlets People Network

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On Tuesday, 20 December 2011, we issued a Newsflash containing the full text of Stephen Howlett’s reply to Tom Ridge‘s letter of 16 December 2011. Here is Tom Ridge’s reply of 21 December 2011.

 

After you have read all three letters we feel sure that you will want to write in support of the Campaign’s request for a meeting with Peabody and Tower Hamlets Council. Please write to Stephen Howlett (stephen.howlett@peabody.co.uk), and send copies to Owen Whalley (owen.whalley@towerhamlets.gov.uk) and the press.


Dear Mr. Howlett,

 

Thank you for your e-mail of 20 December, in which you neither accept nor reject my recent request to meet with you and Tower Hamlets Council to reach an amicable settlement, as suggested by the Minister for Tourism and Heritage.

 

As was evident at Peabody’s public consultation meeting on 7 November 2011, there are probably more objectors than supporters living in the vicinity of your proposed scheme.

 

We do not doubt that your interest in the site has always been to provide the “maximum amount of affordable homes”. However, of the 33 proposed homes only 9 are for affordable rent, whilst 11 are for shared ownership (which is beyond the means of families living in “B&Bs and hostels”) and 9 for sale on the open market.

 

Your so-called “options for retaining the existing buildings” were only “explored” as a response to the campaign to save the two cottages. Furthermore, they were “explored” by architects utterly convinced of the superiority of their proposed new buildings. And not by independent architects, as offered by Will Palin of SAVE Britain’s Heritage – an offer made in an e-mail to you, which you failed to even acknowledge.

 

You say that retaining the two cottages would result in the loss of “six 3 or 4-bed family homes with private gardens for social rented tenants”. But, on the plans which I have seen, the only “homes with private gardens” are along the south boundary and separated from the cottages and your five-storey block on Underwood Road by an extensive area of well-planned amenity space.

 

Your e-mail also ignores the fact that the campaign is proposing the retention of the two cottages as two family homes, which would be a living memorial to a unique maternity hospital. This is not, therefore, a simple case of prioritising the needs of some of the poorest people in London “above the retention of bricks and mortar”. You also ignore the fact that the “bricks and mortar” are now “non-designated heritage assets, in accordance with PPS5”. And that it is for this reason that the Labour Group motion (unanimously voted for at the Full Council Meeting on 29 November 2011) stated that Peabody has a duty to provide affordable homes and respect the Borough’s heritage.

 

English Heritage did not decide that the buildings “lack sufficient architectural merit to be retained”. It decided that the buildings lacked sufficient architectural interest to be listed. Furthermore, it described the former Jewish Maternity Hospital as a “rare Jewish welfare building in London’s East End”.

 

We are not opposed to the accurate commemoration of the former Jewish Maternity Hospital. But we also believe that, as the largest and possibly most important of the three surviving former Jewish welfare buildings in London’s East End, its two smallest buildings must be retained as valuable built evidence of the Jewish East End and the fact that the East End is renowned as a historic point of arrival for migrants from all over the world.

 

There is no substitute for a proper bricks-and-mortar memorial which is also two much-needed homes for families needing a place to call home.

 

On behalf of the 760 or so signatories to the petition, I therefore renew my request to meet you and Tower Hamlets Council to achieve the amicable settlement suggested by the Minister for Tourism and Heritage.

 

And also ask that, as this meeting is likely to be in the New Year, you instruct your demolition contractors to secure the loose tarpaulins on the cottage at 24 Underwood Road and ensure that rainwater is being shed away from the building. Also, please instruct them to leave the cottages when they resume work.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Tom Ridge

Save Mother Levy’s Campaign

December 21st, 2011

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Stephen Howlett replies to Tom Ridge. Sent Tuesday  (20/12/12) at 12.15

 

Dear Mr Ridge

 

Thank you for your e-mail of 16 December 2011.

 

Peabody understands that there are many people who would like us to retain the cottages. There are also many others who are supportive of the scheme, particularly those who live closest to the building and will be most affected by our works. Peabody is a charity which has relieved poverty in London throughout its 150-year history. Our interest in the site has always been to provide the maximum amount of affordable homes. This is fundamental to our purpose. As you no doubt know this was the basis on which the Borough agreed to sell us the site.

 

We have explored a number of options for retaining the existing buildings but none are feasible as they would limit both the number of new homes and the layout of any new residential development. Through retaining the two cottages there would be a loss of seven homes. Six of these homes are 3 or 4-bed family homes with private gardens for social rented tenants. These homes will help alleviate the severe housing shortage in Tower Hamlets and enable families currently living in unsuitable temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and hostels to have a real home. I have written personally to Lord Janner and have explained this position to him.

 

Alice Model MBE dedicated her life to helping those less fortunate then herself. It is our sincere hope that were she alive to today, she would understand that supporting the needs of some of the poorest people in London must be prioritised above the retention of bricks and mortar. English Heritage has decided that the buildings lack sufficient architectural merit to be retained. It is the social history of the site that is recognised as being significant and the social history that will be celebrated through our completed development. This will be achieved both through our design and the way the history is commemorated but also by virtue of the fact that this neglected site will once again help the local community by providing much-needed affordable homes in Tower Hamlets. In time the new homes we build here will become part of London’s heritage too, and part of the continuing story of this area of the East End.

 

Peabody is committed to working with the local community to ensure that a sensitive and appropriate memorial is realised. Should you wish to be involved in this process we would welcome your contribution. While I appreciate that a memorial is not the building you would like to keep, there is no substitute for having a place to call home. This is the situation facing many families in London and it is for this reason that the buildings will be demolished.

 

Kind regards

 

Stephen Howlett

Stephen Howlett | Chief Executive | Peabody

 


Above is the response to an email from Tom Ridge on 16th December 2011 (See below)

 

Subject: Re Former Jewish Maternity Hospital

 

Dear Mr. Howlett,

 

Further to the 14 December letter from Dr. Sharman Kadish, and on behalf of the 760 or so signatories to the petition, I formally request that you meet with campaign representatives and Tower Hamlets Council to achieve the amicable settlement, as suggested by the Minister for Tourism and Heritage.

 

We look forward to meeting you early next week, bearing in mind the unanimous decision by Tower Hamlets Councillors at their full council meeting on 29 November. Also Councillor Rabina Khan’s 1 December letter to you as Lead Member for Housing. And Lord Janner’s 12 December letter to you in support of the Campaign, in which he looks forward to hearing from you that the cottages have been saved.

 

Would you also, as a matter of extreme urgency, please instruct your demolition contractors to secure the tarpaulin on the cottage at 24 Underwood Road and ensure that rainwater is being shed away from the building. Also, please instruct them to leave the cottages when they resume work.

 

Yours sincerely,

Tom Ridge
Save Mother Levy’s Campaign

December 20th, 2011

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Following the unanimous decision by Councillors at the Tower Hamlets Council meeting on 29 November 2011 (press release 30 November), Cllr. Rabina Khan wrote to Peabody’s Chief Executive, Stephen Howlett. She informed him of the decision and pointed out that the cottages were now non-designated heritage assets and, in accordance with PPS5, her officers had a duty to protect them. Peabody should, therefore, alter their Option 3 plans so that each cottage is converted to a family home.

In his reply of 5 December 2011, Stephen Howlett acknowledged that the buildings had recently been given the status of non-designated heritage assets but failed to “see how the position

JMH in 1936

has changed”. He then referred to the English Heritage decision not to list the buildings and clearly thinks that this means that they can be demolished, regardless of their new status.

He must stop using the 2010 refusal to list as a justification for demolition and accept the fact that English Heritage described the former Jewish Maternity Hospital as a “rare Jewish welfare building in London’s East End“. Also that the Council’s 17 October 2011 recognition of the buildings as “non-designated heritage assets in accordance with PPS5” means that their retention is now a material consideration in planning terms. And that Peabody has a responsibility to at least retain and convert the two cottages.

On 8 December, campaign representatives met with one of the Mayor’s advisors. And on 12 December, Lord Janner of Braunstone QC wrote to Stephen Howlett saying that he would be grateful to know that the cottages have been saved. We understand that Lord Janner fully supports the campaign and is working to help achieve its aims.

Dr. Sharman Kadish, the Director of Jewish Heritage UK, wrote to Stephen Howlett on 14 December with a copy of a letter from the Minister for Tourism and Heritage. John Penrose MP suggested “engagement between the Campaign, Tower Hamlets Council and the developers, Peabody Housing Trust, for an amicable settlement”. Dr. Kadish suggested to Stephen Howlett that we take this advice and reach a settlement.

On 16 December, Tom Ridge wrote to Stephen Howlett on behalf of the 760 or so signatories to the Campaign’s petition, formally requesting that he meet with campaign representatives and Tower Hamlets Council, as soon as possible.

Later the same day, we received an email from Tower Hamlets Head of Planning, Owen Whalley, saying that he had written to Peabody asking for a meeting “to further discuss the retention of the cottages”, and that Stephen Howlett had agreed to meet and a date is being finalised.

Tom Ridge
17 December 2011

December 18th, 2011

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PRESS RELEASE

PEABODY PRESS RELEASE ABOUT FORMER
JEWISH MATERNITY HOSPITAL

Probably in response to our press release 30 November 2011, Peabody issued a press release later the same day. (Read it here)

 

1. “PLANNING PERMISSION”

Tower Hamlets Council has not given Peabody “planning permission to demolish the existing buildings”. This suggests that a normal planning application has been made, put out to public consultation and determined by officers or a committee of councillors. Officers have simply given “prior approval of the method of demolition” in response to Peabody’s application for “prior notification of demolition”.

Peabody probably made this application to stop the campaign’s efforts to save the two cottages. Knowing that the demolition site would not require an Environmental Impact Assessment. And, because officers would be obliged to approve (without consultation) the contractor’s method of demolition, Peabody could demolish the buildings and then make a planning application for their residential scheme on the cleared site.

All this without any opportunity for councillors, residents and others to comment on the desirability or otherwise of keeping some or all of the buildings and adapting them for re-use (as required in the Council’s 2008 planning statement).

 

2. “MUCH-NEED AFFORDABLE HOMES”

This suggests that Peabody’s scheme would be 100% affordable, as indeed they told officers in pre-application discussion. In fact, we understand that the scheme would provide 33 new homes: 9 for sale on the open market, 11 for shared ownership and only 13 for affordable rent.

 

3. “MOST APPROPRIATE WAY TO RECOGNISE THE HERITAGE OF THIS SITE”

The most appropriate way to recognise the heritage of 22-28 Underwood is to acknowledge that the two cottages are a vitally important part of
the scarce built evidence of the Jewish East End, and of the fact that the East End is renowned as a historic point of arrival for migrants from all over the world. And, that converted to much-needed affordable family homes, they would be a living memorial to a unique maternity hospital.

Especially as the Council recognised, in its screening opinion on the need for an Environmental Impact Assessment, that all four buildings on Underwood Road are “non-designated heritage assets, in accordance with PPS5”. This means that the Council has a duty to protect them as part of the historic environment and Peabody should be assisting the Council in fulfilling its statutory duty.

 

4. “WILL BECOME PART OF LONDON’S HERITAGE”

Peabody’s new residential scheme would only become part of London’s heritage should it include the two cottages.

 

5. “WHY CAN’T THE EXISTING BUILDINGS BE RETAINED AND EXTENDED?”

The campaign has always accepted the need to demolish the utilitarian buildings behind the four buildings on Underwood Road. Of the various
possibilities explored, Peabody’s architects produced an Option 3, which would keep the two cottages. The campaign thinks this is a well-designed scheme and has suggested to Peabody that this could also be a viable scheme if an extra storey was added to the proposed five-storey block on Underwood Road.

 

6. “WHY CAN’T THE FACADES OF THE BUILDINGS BE INCORPORATED INTO THEIR NEW DESIGN?”

The campaign has not asked for the retention of the facades, and is completely opposed to this fundamentally dishonest approach.

 

7. “WHY CAN’T THE COTTAGES BE REFURBISHED TO PROVIDE FAMILY HOUSES?”

The cottages could be family houses by the building of back additions for, say, bathrooms and kitchens. Option 3 includes a more than generous provision of amenity space behind the cottages and the proposed five-storey block on Underwood Road. Back extensions to the cottages would only take up a very small part of this amenity space.

 

8. “WHY DID DEMOLITION OCCUR PRIOR TO THE PUBLIC CONSULTATION MEETING IN NOVEMBER?”

Dr. Sharman Kadish, Director of Jewish Heritage UK, was given a written assurance that this would not take place. It is very good of the Squibb Group to accept responsibility, but surely an organisation of Peabody’s size and experience would have procedures in place to ensure that promises are kept.

Demolition was also “premature” in that it was started without a demolition notice being sent to the Council’s building control officers. It was as a consequence of this failure that Owen Whalley urged Peabody to stop the demolition of the 100-year-old cottage at 24 Underwood Road.

 

9. “WHEN THE BUILDINGS ARE DEMOLISHED THE HISTORY OF THIS SITE WILL BE LOST”

This is the case, as no amount of commemoration would substitute for actual built evidence. The former Jewish Maternity Hospital was, after all, the only Jewish maternity hospital in England (see also 3. above).

The fact that historic buildings have not been “occupied or used for some time” is no justification for their demolition. Nor is the ridiculous claim that they give “no indication of its history” – few historic buildings do.

 

10. ENGLISH HERITAGE

An application to list the former Jewish Maternity Hospital was made by Tom Ridge, but this was refused by English Heritage, by letter dated 23 April 2010. Their refusal is being used by Peabody Housing to justify their demolition of all the buildings at 22-28 Underwood Road.

Just because they are not sufficiently grand to be listed by English Heritage does not mean they have little or no architectural interest. In fact, Tower Hamlets Council has recognised that all four buildings on Underwood Road are “non-designated heritage assets”.

English Heritage also failed to acknowledge that the buildings constitute the only former Jewish maternity hospital in English.
Nevertheless, their letter states:

“The building (22-28 Underwood Road) has a claim to historic interest, as one of the few surviving buildings relating to the work
of Alice Model, and as a rare Jewish welfare building in London’s East End”.

In fact, the building is the only purpose-built example relating to the work of Alice Model. And it is the largest of the three surviving former Jewish welfare buildings, and the only hospital.

Tom Ridge

2 December 2011

 

December 2nd, 2011

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