Preservation group ‘appalled’ by Historic England’s ‘protect and destroy’ stance towards ex-hospital

Photograph: Herry Lawford via Flickr
The former London Chest Hospital. Photograph: Herry Lawford via Flickr

An amenity group campaigning for the conservation of the East End’s architectural heritage has slammed what it describes as the government’s two-faced stance towards preserving an historic building in Bethnal Green.

Historian Tom Ridge from the East End Waterway Group (EEWG) released a statement saying he was “appalled” by the “protect and destroy” approach of Historic England, a non-departmental government body, towards the fate of the former London Chest Hospital.

The hospital was one of the earliest dedicated to diseases of the chest and was founded by City philanthropists to combat consumption in north and east London.

The foundation stone was laid by Prince Albert in 1851 and the main building was opened in 1855 for tuberculosis patients in the East End.

Circle Housing bought the site from the NHS for £47 million after the hospital closed last year.

Earlier this year Historic England indicated that it will give its blessing to plans by developers Circle Housing and Crest Nicholson that would sweep away parts of its listed south wing – on the proviso that various “interventions of heritage value” are carried out on the building as a whole.

Ridge said he reluctantly accepts the loss of the listed south wing because the development would deliver up to 395 homes, including affordable homes.

But he described as “totally unacceptable” proposed changes to the roof and windows and other work that he said would alter parts of the building beyond recognition and harm its “integrity”.

He also accused Historic England of ceasing to promote a “conservation-led approach” and is now urging all those concerned about the site’s future to write to Sir Laurie Magnus, the chairman of Historic England, and Tower Hamlets Council’s planning department.

A spokesman for Historic England said: “Historic England has been in discussion with London Borough of Tower Hamlets and the developer of the Grade II Former London Chest Hospital, providing advice on the emerging scheme for the site.

“We support an approach to redevelopment that retains and enhances the most important elements of the listed building and its setting. We believe the slightly later Victorian South Wing is of architectural and historic significance and any proposals to demolish it would need to be clearly justified.

“The proposals are still at pre-application stage, so once full planning and listed building consent applications have been submitted, we will be providing our formal comments on the scheme.”

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