Historic London Fruit Exchange saved—but tenants get notice to quit

07:00 10 June 2012

Brushfield St looking towards Fruit Exchange and Spitalfields Church

Brushfield St looking towards Fruit Exchange and Spitalfields Church

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Small businesses have been given notices to quit the historic London Fruit & Wool Exchange as the controversy over its future deepens.

The locally-listed building at Spitalfields in London’s East End, bordering the City, has been at the centre of a planning battle to stop developers bulldozing the area, including The Gun pub and nearby Dorset Street, and putting up a massive office and shopping complex.

Tower Hamlets council has twice blocked the scheme, now believed to be referred back to the Mayor of London.

Boris Johnson has to decide whether to back Tower Hamlets and protesters led by TV historian Dan Cruikshank and former BBC Breakfast presenter John Nicolson—who both live in the Spitalfields Conservation Area—or let developers go ahead.

Cruikshank, who chairs the Spitalfields Trust, told the Advertiser: “I would be surprised if Boris overturned the council’s rejection or ignored the massive local opposition.

“But we are prepared for the worst and will consider briefing a QC if it goes to a public inquiry.”

The controversy took a new twist this week when the City of London Corporation, which owns the 300,000 sq ft Exchange, issued leaseholders with notices to quit by December 1.

“It seems like Scrooge telling traders to go just before Christmas,” added Cruikshank.

“It’s mind boggling and absurd to empty the building for no reason and won’t impress anyone.”

The Exchange dates from 1929. The basement was used as a public air-raid shelter during the Blitz, with many of the shelterers’ cartoons and graffiti from 1941 still remaining on the walls seven decades on.

Protesters say the scale of redevelopment would destroy Spitalfields’ bohemian character with its historic roots back to the 17th century when French Huguenot refugees set up silk-weaving workshops.

It would have meant The Gun pub and the whole of Dorset Street disappearing where many silk-weavers’ terraced cottages survive today.

But the scheme was turfed out by Tower Hamlets councillors on May 31 after previously being rejected in March.

Broadcaster John Nicholson, who led a residents’ protest at the Town Hall, said afterwards: “It’s a victory for the community against a big developer who felt certain of victory.”

The authority rejected Exemplar’s offer to pay for social housing elsewhere in exchange for the office development.

A council spokesperson said later: “It was refused due to the extent of demolition and the impact on Brick Lane and the Fournier Street Conservation Area.”

Exemplar had agreed to more subsidised space for small enterprises and to put £1m into a kitty for projects stalled due to the recession.

But that wasn’t good enough for the council which insisted on housing being included and The Gun pub and Dorset Street being kept.

The application has to be referred back to the Mayor of London if developers want to continue, Tower Hamlets warned. The developers also have the right to appeal to the Secretary of State if Boris turns them down as well.

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