Demolition of the Toilet Block in Museum Gardens
PA/12/2233 and 2234
I strongly object to the application to demolish the closed toilet block in Museum Gardens, and to replace it with a multi-purpose bicycle park. The application ignores the fact that the toilet block is part of Museum Gardens. And Museum Gardens (together with Paradise Gardens) is on the English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
This is a material consideration and as such the application must be withdrawn to allow the Council to make proposals which respect the site’s double protection (as part of a designated heritage asset within the Bethnal Green Gardens Conservation Area); and fully address the several problems in the vicinity.
The English Heritage registration of the two gardens recognises them as former parts of the manorial common or waste known as Bethnal Green, and subject to the Poor’s Land Trust deed of 1690 “for the prevention of any new buildings thereon“. Consequently, The London Museum Site Act of 1868 authorised the Trustees to sell land for a proposed museum provided that certain conditions were met. Two of the conditions recited in the conveyance were that the land was for museum buildings only; and that the land not needed for the museum “shall be laid out and for ever maintained .. as an ornamental garden“. The government which provided the museum was therefore also obliged to open the land not needed for the museum as a public garden. Bethnal Green Museum Garden was opened and “dedicated to the public forever” in May 1875. Ownership and maintenance was subsequently passed to the London County Council, on its formation in 1888.
In 1958, the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green was urgently seeking a site for a public convenience at the crossroads. The LCC gave permission for a toilet block provided its design was approved by the LCC; and (mindful of its legal responsibilities) granted a licence which the Borough was obliged to renew on a yearly basis. The low single-storey block was opened in 1960 in a sufficiently restrained style to respect St John’s Church and Museum Gardens, and a single entrance only from Cambridge Heath Road via the ‘landing’ at the top of the northern staircase to the tube station.
I recognise that there is an urgent need to provide a public convenience at the crossroads, proper bicycle storage for tube passengers, and a refreshment facility to replace the unsightly and obstructive coffee stall on the ‘landing’ at the top of the northern staircase to the tube station. However, the proposed reuse of the toilet block site appears to have been driven move by the availability of funds for improving bicycle provision and a spare Automativ Public Convenience (APC) than a genuine desire to provide facilities without destroying the special character of this part of the Bethnal Green Gardens Conservation Area.
In my opinion, too many conflicting uses are being crammed onto this small site with no consideration given to the site as part of a doubly-protected heritage asset; and the need to ensure that the site is safe for all users and does not add to the several problems in the vicinity.
A far less sensitive location at the crossroads would be at or near the southern end of the registered Paradise Gardens. This also has the great merit of being open to Cambridge Heath Road and Bethnal Green Road: and cyclists would be more willing to use it than the proposed enclosed bicycle park where thieves could more easily operate. However, it should not be of a size detrimental to Paradise Gardens and the listed Georgian terrace.
An additional and larger bicycle park could and should be provided on one or both sides of the very wide footpath between Cambridge Heath Road and Bethnal Green Library. From here it is but a short walk to the south-eastern staircase to the tube station (on the corner of Cambridge Heath Road and Roman Road).
Both alternative sites would provide stands for all the bicycles currently chained to railings and pavement fences; and the wide footpath to the library could accommodate more stands as necessary. Furthermore, neither site would involve the cost of demolition, and the available funds would probably more than cover the costs for both sites. As practically all the bicycles belong to tube passengers it should be the responsibility of Transport for London to remove improperly chained bicycles in the vicinity of the tube station.
The provision of the two alternative sites would remove cyclists and their bicycles from one of the busiest pedestrian areas in the Borough; and allow the refurbished and adapted 1960 toilet block to be reopened as a more than adequate and safe refreshment facility and public convenience for people using Museum Gardens, Paradise Gardens and Bethnal Green Gardens (including visitors to the Stairway to Heaven); and tube and bus passengers, local residents, visitors and tourists, especially those staying at all the new hotels in Cambridge Heath Road.
Having allowed these hotels, the Council should at least ensure that, after years of neglect, the heart of Bethnal Green ‘town centre’ is improved to the highest possible standard to complement the Stairway to Heaven and associated improvements in Bethnal Green Gardens, near the south-eastern tube entrance.