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The Gentle Author’s Verdict

May 11, 2016
by the gentle author

Yesterday a dark cloud burst over the East End and enough tears fell from the sky to engulf Spitalfields, entirely coincidental with the Judge’s verdict at the High Court in favour of the Mayor of London and against the Spitalfields Trust in their campaign to halt British Land’s destruction of Norton Folgate. Read the full details here

A fortnight ago, at the hearing, Justice Gilbart warned the Mayor’s lawyer that a defence based upon the Mayor’s planning ‘expertise’ was a risk, when an email revealed the Mayor had decided to determine the Norton Folgate application even before he had received it. The Judge questioned what kind of ‘expertise’ permitted the Mayor to ignore over five hundred letters of objection accompanying the application when he had an obligation to public consultation.

Yet, although Justice Gilbart confirmed in his verdict that the Mayor’s call-in of the planning application had been mishandled, he concluded that this was not sufficient to invalidate the Mayor’s approval of the scheme. In plain words, powerful people can break the rules and get away with it.

The pathos of the moment was overwhelming, as another episode in the history of violence in Spitalfields unfurled. Before long we may expect to see a vast ugly hole in Norton Folgate just as we are currently witnessing upon the site of the Fruit & Wool Exchange, another development waved through by Boris Johnson in his eagerness to bypass democracy to keep property developers happy. Thus Old Spitalfields is being disembowelled simultaneously at either end for the insertion of steel monoliths.

Spitalfields owes its origin to the Priory of St Mary Spital founded 1197 by Walter & Roisia Brunus. I often wonder if this was a convenient means for the City of London to banish street people, homeless and beggars from their territory by sending them a mile up the road. This complex was destroyed in the sixteenth century by Henry VIII in his ‘dissolution’ of the monasteries, when he turned the precincts into his Artillery Ground and granted apartments in the priory buildings to a few of his favoured people.

In more recent centuries, enforced redevelopment saw thousands evicted from their homes to permit the arrival of the railway in Shoreditch, the construction of Liverpool St Station and the cutting-through of Commercial St, bisecting Spitalfields from north to south, so that traffic from the Docks might not congest the City of London.

Over the last thousand years, Spitalfields has repeatedly proven a testing ground between the interests of the financial might of the City and the human needs of those who seek to make their living outside the walls. Recent events offer an eloquent testimony of the balance of power in our own time, setting contemporary institutionalised violence against the perspective of a brutal history.

You may also like to take a look at

A Letter to the Times

An Offer to Buy Norton Folgate

Standing up to the Mayor of London

An New Scheme For Norton Folgate

Joining Hands to Save Norton Folgate

Dan Cruickshank in Norton Folgate

Taking Liberties in Norton Folgate

Inside the Nicholls & Clarke Buildings

Stories of Norton Folgate

Save Norton Folgate

49 Responses leave one →
  1. Robert Green permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Obviously like everyone concerned about the future of Spitalfields and the way redevelopment is tearing it apart I was hoping in my heart the planning consent would be overturned but in all honesty I think in our heads we all knew it wouldn’t, in my oppinion this decission only go’s to reinforce what I already believe to be true, there is NO REAL democracy in this country, and as for INDEPENDENT judiciary ? ? ? ? I believe that if the “right” people want something done it GETS DONE and if they do not want it done NOTHING the general public do will ever overcome “them”, the faceless people who make up the “establishment” in this country have access to the kind of power and influence that the average person would find dificult to even comprehend let alone infiltrate, politicians pay lip service to “social justice” “inclusion” and “community” when they want your vote, but give them a position of REAL power and a chance to get their foot in the door and you will quickly see those sentiments melt away like snow on a hot day, there is no real democracy in this country only a false, fake, plastic sham democracy that the faceless establishment use to PATRONIZE the general public by pretending to give you the chance to determine your own destiny = NOT.

  2. May 11, 2016

    A black day indeed for Norton Folgate, Spitalfields and our democracy, which doesn’t seem to be worth much any more. Valerie

  3. May 11, 2016

    Too sad.

  4. Michael Kutapan permalink
    May 11, 2016

    The damage done upon London by him will live long after Boris Johnson has left office. A truly dreadful Mayor, which can be said because now his term has finished. Is there nothing the new Mayor, Sadiq Khan can do about this?

  5. Dianne permalink
    May 11, 2016

    This so saddens my heart. In two months’ time we arrive to visit Spittlefields and I had hoped that it would be on the back of a win for the people against those who seek to destroy history. Sadly it seems that might and the dollar/pound have won over the will of people yet again. So it becomes even more necessary to see London as it is (in parts) before so much of it is replaced with ugly concrete and steel monstrosities that block out the sun and which will become old fashioned far faster than the craftsman made buildings of the past.

    My sincere condolences to all those who put so much time and effort into this cause.

  6. May 11, 2016

    Unbelievable, surely something fishy going on here…

  7. May 11, 2016

    Oh no.

  8. Frances Mayhew permalink
    May 11, 2016

    I’m so devastated by this news. It stinks and I agree with everything the articulate author says. In particular I feel for the Spitalfields Trust and Spitalfields Life who fought so hard, put everything they had on the line and galvanised us all into action, a true David and Goliath situation. The achievement of bringing a judicial review is no small feat. Marchands!

  9. May 11, 2016

    On the basis of this judgment, surely an appeal would be allowed? Let the fund-raising commence!

  10. Greg Tingey permalink
    May 11, 2016

    See also “Londonist”:
    … and my comment there.
    It is to be hoped that it “Ain’t over yet”

  11. May 11, 2016

    Heartbreaking and anger making. So sad to hear this.

  12. David Guy permalink
    May 11, 2016

    I am shocked and saddened by the decision and cannot believe that the judicial review can condone such a flagrant breach of planning process. What price democracy and local determination of local issues from now on. A really dangerous precedent has been set…money talks and to hell with the will of local people. Shame on Boris. What a legacy!

  13. Georgina Briody permalink
    May 11, 2016

    A sad day.

  14. Annie S permalink
    May 11, 2016

    I had seen this sad news on the BBC website yesterday afternoon – what can you say 🙁
    I was really hoping there might be a positive outcome but not to be, money talks.

  15. Malcolm permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Entirely predictable outcome I’m afraid. We live in an age of avarice, hubris and selfish corporate greed. Wouldn’t it have been so refreshing if, just for once, someone with the authority to stop the rape of London – in this case Justice Gilbert – had exercised that authority in the right way and shone a light of hope for the people versus the money?
    But it was never to be.
    As Bob Dylan succinctly put it: “Money doesn’t talk, it swears”

    I am disheartened with the justice system in this country and thoroughly disgusted with the way Boris Johnson has been allowed to get away with his brazen abuse of power by calling in planning appeals and passing every single one, resulting in the wholesale rape and destruction of a great swathe of London’s history. Even the Germans didn’t cause so much damage as this blustering idiot. His tenure at City Hall reminds me very much of how things are done in Moscow. He is no different to Stalin in his assumption of absolute power. May he suffer the curse of Norton Folgate.

  16. Roy Clark permalink
    May 11, 2016

    A totally predictable decision … and a totally despicable one.
    Hopefully the fight to save Shepherds Bush market is now won. The victory of locals and traders won’t be challenged and overturned by incoming mayor Sadiq Khan.

    God help us all if Boris Johnson ever becomes prime minister.

  17. May 11, 2016

    The spirit of Norton Folgate must rise like the ‘phoenix from the ashes’. There will be more battles to be won. Dust yourselves off and move on reluctantly accept the Courts decision. Unless there is a dramatic turn-around. I expect the area to be regenerated has been fully documented, if not, more emergency surveys will be required on the ground and perhaps drones. The developers should have an input and have some responsibility, after all its their heritage as well.

    Cold comfort try and make the bitter pill sweet: When the area is redeveloped make sure you have lots of plaques in place to tell us and future generations we tried our best to save a London heritage. From a sad blogger John

  18. Nella Logan permalink
    May 11, 2016

    So very sad to read this news.

  19. Brigitte permalink
    May 11, 2016

    I too am rushing to London to see what’s left before it disappears. I am sure they will leave St Paul’s, The Tower, and Buckingham Palace to attract the tourists but I fear a bit further down the track and you will not be able to tell if you are in London, Pittsburgh or Brisbane.
    This is all about money and profit.
    I count myself very lucky to have known London in the 70s and am very thankful that some wonderful people have thought to record the history and places of the everyday Londoners so I can still look at MY London – albeit electronically.
    Thanks to the Gentle Author, Spitalfieldslife and it’s like-minded followers.

  20. James Mather permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Boris Johnson has a degree in Classics. Who is his hero from the Classical world, one wonders? Seemingly Nero, or Alaric perhaps.

    With which member/s of the Government was the Judge at school, or university?

  21. Juliet shipman permalink
    May 11, 2016

    It is devastating news. Is there nothing left that can done. ? I suppose they now have a valid planning permission but surely there is some avenue left?

  22. Liz L permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  23. May 11, 2016

    Johnson (Eton & Oxford) Gilbart (Westminster & Cambridge)

    How can it be that this vast decision should be permitted to be made by just two highly privileged, wealthy men?

    And if the conservationist Troels Holch Povlson offered to pay more than British Land back in January, this seems very suspect.

    It makes it worse somehow that this was rushed through, even though the evil one is no longer mayor.

    Would it be possible to challenge a decision made in the High Court? Maybe our kind Danish conservationist would help?

  24. Milo Bell permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Terrible news. Boris gets one last stab in before he goes.
    Can the new Mayor not overturn this? (I suppose not)

  25. Naomi Peck permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Can Khan intervene? London for all and not just the developers….?

  26. Helen Breen permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, sorry that the good people of Spitalfields did not prevail in this fight.

    Reiterating what Brigitte said above, we are “very thankful that some wonderful people have thought to record the history and places of the everyday Londoners so I can still look at MY London – albeit electronically.

    Thanks to the Gentle Author, Spitalfieldslife and it’s like-minded followers.”

  27. T. Wright permalink
    May 11, 2016

    NO! My heart just aches on hearing the news. Southampton says ‘Do NOT let this go!’.

  28. Linda Granfield permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Condolences from Toronto.

    You who have long supported and worked selflessly for Norton Folgate will be victors in the end because your spirit and your understanding of NF history will keep it alive–whatever way you can.
    It was a battle well-fought.
    Thank you to every Norton Folgate supporter.

  29. Nicholas Keeble permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Misjudgement, plain and simple.

  30. Juliet permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Oh no I am so sorry! I will be in Spitalfields June 7 and will enjoy it’s beauty then before more ruin is heaped upon it. I am in the states, and we too suffer from the one percenters getting there way in everything for the sake of making money.

  31. Shawdian permalink
    May 11, 2016

    DISGUSTED! OUTRAGED! At this total hypocrasy. How can the judge say one thing and then find Boris not guilty? ? ? This is the old British system of “LET US STICK TOGETHER’. I knew this would be the result before it even went to the High Court because this is ALWAYS how this type of case goes in England. I am APPALLED and very DISSAPOINTED in our Courts.

  32. May 11, 2016

    If I may contribute a kindred comment from the Hudson Valley in New York State……I often hear our local preservation experts use the phrase “When it’s gone, it’s GONE”. And as much as you have just experienced a very disappointing and discouraging outcome (hopefully, reversible) I would like to salute you, Gentle Author, for your daily efforts to keep your special part of the world real, intact, and visible — for the rest of us. As long as you keep at it, that special place will never be totally “gone”.
    When I lived in New York City, I was part of the effort to “landmark” the Lower Manhattan/Tribeca/Washington Market region of the City — and those efforts were often uphill/sideways/down-the-toilet, and every other direction. But, eventually, the “early urban pioneers” of that region prevailed, and now it is one of the most highly-protected parts of the City. Most of us have moved on, but we will always take pride in the fact that we helped to care take an important, historic part of Manhattan, before relators and developers ruined it. It was worth every ounce of blood, sweat and tears. Well, of course… is our City.

  33. Jill Fricker permalink
    May 11, 2016

    The ghastly Boris – and all those sickening ‘I’m one of the people’ stunts – proves he absolutely is not! He’s a man of privilege and power who has made a mockery of the democratic process in London in favour of his wealthy chums . . .

    Will there be an appeal?

  34. Margaret E. permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Oh, dear. This is dreadful. Have you tried starting a petition on It’s a website that succeeds in rounding up grass root movements and you may shame the judge and even the City of London into respecting the will of the people rather than those few who stand to make a profit. You might petition both the judge and whoever is over him. will provide international support for your cause, too. One might think if you also promoted this on your own website, you would get a sort of magnifying effect that would include an international base. Obviously you may need to coach someone to write up the petition in your place because the name, “the Gentle Author,” however terrific in a blog, won’t fly on this. Worth a try.

  35. Ros permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Ai-ee. My heart is heavy. The greed, bloated wealth and overbuilding seen all over London is very depressing. Perhaps that could have been said at many points in its history but it feels a real killer now.

  36. Suzanne King permalink
    May 11, 2016

    I can’t believe it. After all your hard work the elites just say NO. GO AWAY. Is this the end? Can Khan be asked to relook at the whole lengthy story. I have a picture in my mind of everyone holding hands around the site. Did Boris even visit the site? I am so so sad.

  37. Jiohn Daltrey permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Is there no other avenue left to appeal against this monstrous decision. I am not surprised by Boris Johnson, this crass ignorant bully of a man who has shown time and time again his complete indifference to the feelings shown by thousands of Londoners and others who appreciate London. He treats it like a plaything that he can manipulate for his VERY close friends in the property development game. He must be extremely valuable to them. God help us if this ridiculous pompous self-seeker ever becomes Prime Minister. A man who understands nothing but money. Also Judge Gilbart what a strange decision to uphold the action of a man who by the judge’s own words mis-handled this extremely important matter. Are they all just good friends? Where is the reasoning for this when as has been pointed out a completely viable alternative was available which would have meant retaining the atmosphere and integrity of this historically very important area. Lastly surely we can appeal to a higher court , or maybe the new mayor. I would willingly contribute what I can to a campaign.

  38. hello permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Can we pay Boris to shut up and get the f.. out for good?




  39. Claire D permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Very sad to hear this.

  40. Deby (from Canada) permalink
    May 11, 2016

    sad…but not surprised
    I so hope for the neighbourhood and people all over the world who love it
    that a final appeal can be made
    so much respect for all who worked tirelessly …

  41. pauline taylor permalink
    May 11, 2016

    Disgraceful!! But we all know how this happens don’t we, it is not what you know in this country but who you know, and, I suspect who you shake hands with!!

  42. May 11, 2016

    I’m disappointed but not at all surprised. I like the idea of a petition and will gladly sign, but this corrupt decision needs the sterilising light of publicity shone upon it.

    A petition on its own will be blatantly ignored, as were the wishes of the people who will have to live with the horrible results of this decision. But a petition can be the pivot around which a widely heard campaign can form.

  43. May 11, 2016

    Not the verdict I wanted to read about and celebrate in my own little way. Corporate beats the neighbourhood. The rainbow in your photo makes me feel that Spitalfields will survive or maybe, just maybe Mayor Khan will pull something out of the bag, if it’s not too late.

  44. Robin permalink
    May 12, 2016

    Dark day indeed.I’m saddened by this news. Those buildings survived so much only to be brought down by London’s own .How very sad. Will Christ Church be next? Bow Cemetery? How about the guildhalls; will they raze those as well in a few years? Or maybe the Tower is in the way of the endless march of progress?

  45. May 12, 2016

    Exactly how things go here in the U.S. , the judge weighs the evidence of the public and the experts, declares them credible and worthy and then decides in favor of the rich and powerful and selfish. Seems there are many grounds for appeal – a stall may provide time for politics or the economy to render the project unfeasible.

  46. May 12, 2016

    A sad day for Norton Folgate and for local democracy.

  47. Persevero permalink
    May 12, 2016

    I think that this is extremely sad, but the judge can only go with the law as it stands and there seems to be nothing wrong with his finding that the planning rules were followed. The provision that allows the Mayor of London to take over the determination of planning applications is yet another alarming piece of secondary legislation that Parliament did not get the opportunity to scrutinise.

  48. May 12, 2016

    It’s indeed most annoying. But what can one do now??

    Love & Peace

  49. Carole permalink
    May 12, 2016

    Like many others who have commented on here , I am disgusted by the outcome and feel it reeks of skullduggery . We must put this to Sadiq Khan in the hope that he can intervene .

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