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Three Sneaky Developers

September 25, 2020
by the gentle author

Why should I be surprised by developers being sneaky? Yet three recent local examples have caused me to gasp in wonder at the staggering audacity on display. Apparently the words ‘retain’ and ‘preserve’ now mean the opposite of what we thought they meant.

George Orwell would not be surprised by this doublespeak. In his book ‘Beyond Hypocrisy,’ Edward S. Herman outlines the principal characteristics thus, ‘What is really important in the world of doublespeak is the ability to lie, whether knowingly or unconsciously, and to get away with it, and the ability to use lies and choose and shape facts selectively, blocking out those that don’t fit an agenda or program.’

Three Regency canal-side cottages dated 1828-31 in Bethnal Green

Cottages demolished

Developers’ visualisation of the future scheme

These three bow-fronted Regency cottages, built between 1826 and 1831 and facing the canal in Corbridge Crescent, Bethnal Green, were an attractive local landmark and beloved of many.

In the planning application of November 2019 for their housing scheme the developer, Aitch Group, requested permission for ‘retention, restoration, external alteration and residential conversion of the existing Regency and Victorian Cottages.’

Yet now they have demolished the cottages  – presumably to be replaced by replicas – and no-one can get to the bottom of whether this was lawful or not.

Rex Cinema opened in Bethnal Green Rd in 1938

Facade demolished

Developer’s visualisation of the future scheme

Originally Smart’s Picture House in 1913, this was remodelled in a magnificent Art Deco style by architect George Coles for Odeon impresario Oscar Deutsch as the Rex Cinema in 1938, becoming the Essoldo in 1949 and latterly Fankle Trimmings. Now it is to become a ninety-three room budget hotel developed by Accor in partnership with Keys Asset Management.

The developers’ ‘façade retention’ proposal of 2017 includes the sentence: ‘The façade restoration works will include a measured survey of the existing Bethnal Green Rd façade elevation to ensure the features of this element are maintained in the design.’

Even the councillors who approved the application did not understand that ‘façade restoration works’ meant demolition and construction of a new one.

Raycliff, the developers who plan to turn the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a bell-themed boutique hotel, have flooded Whitechapel and Spitalfields with these leaflets encouraging local people to support their development as a means to ‘Preserve the Bell Foundry ®.’

In Raycliff’s original proposal, the old foundry buildings were to become an upmarket restaurant and private members’ club, but when UK Historic Building Preservation Trust challenged this by offering to buy the buildings at market value and re-open them as a fully working foundry, then Raycliff announced they would continue the tradition by casting bells in their hotel coffee bar.

We hope the Inspector at the Public Inquiry into the future of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry will recognise that bell founding and cappuccinos are not compatible.

The Public Inquiry into the future of the WHITECHAPEL BELL FOUNDRY is to be an online event, streamed live commencing Tuesday 6th Oct for 10 days. For a link to watch or to request to speak, send an email in advance to

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26 Responses leave one →
  1. Vanda permalink
    September 25, 2020

    In today’s world everything revolves around money. Many historical building are been demolished and in their place we see little match stick boxes been built. It sad but it’s the reality, perhaps if the council’s did not let these building go to rack and ruin there would be no need to demolish them.

  2. Janet Stevenson permalink
    September 25, 2020

    I would have thought these acts were clearly illegal- if not actually criminal.

    There is such an offence, however so described in English law, of ‘Obtaining a benefit by deception’. Surely these acts fit the case.

    Criminal in anyone’s language.

  3. Susan permalink
    September 25, 2020

    gentle author – I think the word you actually meant to use was “slimy”.

    My question in these circumstances is – will the circa 1830 buildings that were demolished be replaced by buildings of such quality that they will still be standing 190 years from now? Somehow I doubt the answer is “yes”.

  4. September 25, 2020

    I hope to God someone from Tower Hapless’s legal department is going to fight and prosecute, because if they don’t it will set a serious precedent.

  5. Eve permalink
    September 25, 2020

    Not everything is for sale – some things can’t be replaced ever! Shame on the councils & a curse on the wretched developers

  6. Mary permalink
    September 25, 2020

    These are perfect examples of using the pandemic to get away with deceit. These developers knew there would be few to scrutinise their nefarious activities at this time. I would suggest that the local councils are being, at best naive, and at worst complicit.
    Let us hope that the loss of the cottages and the cinema will be a wake-up call to all for what the developers are planning for the Bell Foundry.

  7. Joyce Hampton permalink
    September 25, 2020

    I am appalled at this blatant lack of concern for local history – when it comes to money over matter it seems that finances are always the top consideration. Planners and the applicants should have the same strategy – to preseve and enhance any area of historic interest, afterall this country earned much needed income from both within its shores and from afar and why, because of our history.

    I remember only too well the Chest Hospital and the beautiful Mulberry Tree to name but one other example.

    I cannot visit London for now BUT if you need me to join the fight from a distance – please let me know. One voice is a solo and may only be heard by a few whereas a mighty choir can be hear loudly by many.

  8. aubrey permalink
    September 25, 2020

    One of my earliest memories is (was) attending the Rex cinema with my mother in the late forties. I think it was a saccharine Hollywood bio-pic about the life of George Gershwin. I think it was called “A Rhapsody in Blue”. Not too sure though. There was another cinema just around the corner off the Bethnal Green Road called the Essoldo. We called it the ‘flea pit’. I can’t think why!

  9. September 25, 2020

    This is all so sad. I have been to two consultations on site for the development of the Rex Cinema and both proposals was ok and next thing is the the plot has been sold for the third time and a hole new proposal that we did not see before the planing was granted. The developers are in for the long run and as neighbours they know that after years and endless new
    Proposals we end up loosing the strength to keep fighting and protesting. They are doing a paid daytime job and we are all using our spare time to question the process.

  10. September 25, 2020

    I’m gobsmacked that the lovely houses on the canal have been demolished! I totally agree with what Mary has said above. This wheeling and dealing activity is being sneaked through under the cover of covid, in the hope that everyone will be otherwise occupied; talk about opportunistic! Of course it’s happening all over London. In West London where I live many changes being pushed through without consultation or due consideration to views of the local people, or even English Heritage.

  11. Peter permalink
    September 25, 2020

    Can’t wait until planning controls are further relaxed!

  12. mlaiuppa permalink
    September 25, 2020

    Sadly I am not surprised at all.

    Similar has happened in my city.

    To me Developer is a dirty word synonymous with thief and liar.

  13. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    September 25, 2020

    The hypocrisy of developers knows no limits. We had the misfortune to get one elected President of the United States. We don’t need to wonder at how that turned out.

    I had hoped to be in England in October; instead I send best wishes and positive thoughts for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

  14. paul loften permalink
    September 25, 2020

    George Orwell must have had a crystal ball to see the future . His writing also had the gift of being crystal clear . Those who have studied it and have degrees in it are now the heads of big business , political parties and local authorities.
    Where there is corruption just look for doublespeak and you will know what is going on.

  15. Glenda permalink
    September 25, 2020

    Not only “Sneaky Developers” to blame….we now have many Borough Councillors in London and our other big cities who have absolutely no interest in, or understanding of, our history or culture and who will allow developers to get away with virtually anything nowadays.

  16. Sue Mayer permalink
    September 25, 2020

    This is very depressing. Why are the powers that be content to allow our historical buildings to be destroyed and lost forever. Money must be the answer. London will soon look like any other city in other countries and yet tourists come to see and learn our history.

    I am still trying to cope with the idea that saving a facade is a good idea.

    We have lost so much already I don’t want to see more lost. I hope the bell foundry can be saved.

  17. Eric Forward permalink
    September 25, 2020

    Real shame about the cottages, that section of the canal is one of my favourite bits. They’d also been used quite a a lot in various TV programs. My gut tells me that there is probably a disproportionately small penalty for this action. We see it all the time, big companies get slaps on the little finger, even when fined millions the rewards were in the billions making crime actually pay.

  18. September 25, 2020

    Further to Vanda’s comment, I really believe there should be a law requiring landlords to maintain properties that they own, or risk forfeiting them… so often you see developers buy properties and purposefully let them deteriorate to the point where demolition becomes a viable prospect.

  19. Saba permalink
    September 25, 2020

    We are equally betrayed in New York State. I live in Montgomery, NY. The preservationists did succeed in getting a small section of the lovely old town set aside as an Historic District with at least some zoning laws. Anywhere, no matter how close, outside the Historic District is fair game for huge warehouses allowing thousands of trucks to billow diesel fumes into the town and ugly stores to open. An additional small row of historic houses did not receive special zoning so hundreds of cars zoom up and down the small streets daily headed for a new night club, and the woods are gone and the animals are disappearing. The politicians make everything possible despite a strong voice of opposition from village residents. The politicians and the most residents are very conservative Republicans, so the politicians get reelected.

  20. September 25, 2020

    When they started demolishing parts of the houses I contacted the planning office, they apparntly spoke to the contractors and said that the demolition undertaken up to then was in line with the approved method statement approved in their planning application PA/18/01701/S ( The contractors have now clearly demolished more than in the approved method statement and should be held accountable. Unfortunately planning law has very little teeth and councils are overstretched, underfunded and ill equiped to face developers like this.
    More complaints from the public about this sort of vandalism will go some way to helping prioritise action if developers have overstepped their permissions and might give future proposals more scrutiny.
    I would urge you to and to lodge complaints if you feel developers are not following the permissions granted to them.

  21. Robin permalink
    September 26, 2020

    This is outrageous. We can’t let this happen to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

  22. Jill wilson permalink
    September 26, 2020

    Sneaky… slimey…

  23. September 26, 2020

    I totally endorse Janet Stephenson’s words above.
    And if Council planning departments don’t understand the wording on applications, they have no right to be in office. If words sound ambiguous at all, they should immediately challenge the application.
    As far properties left empty to go to rack and ruin, that too should be dealt with robustly.
    It’s happening all over the country, but it’s time all this crooked dealing and skullduggery is stopped in its tracks – now!

  24. Jane permalink
    September 28, 2020

    It’s incredibly depressing. Nothing is left of these wonderful cottages.
    I contacted Aitch group and received the following reply:

    ‘I can confirm that we are acting wholly in accordance with our approved planning application and conditions. The LBTH Planning Enforcement Team contacted us recently owing to further concerns having been raised. They have reached the same conclusion. ‘

    I have contacted the planning dept at TH and my two local councillors asking for an explanation as to how Aitch have been allowed to get away with this. I was under the impression these cottages were protected.

    Aitch and the like won’t be happy until our city is one shiny, bland mass.

  25. Ria permalink
    October 14, 2020

    Depressingly happening everywhere in London. Denmark street and Soho being redeveloped due to the Crossrail project. Reference John Roger’s video on YouTube.

  26. Fred Phipps permalink
    October 17, 2020

    The loss of these 3 Regency bow fronted cottages in Corbridge Crescent is a tragedy for which
    the developers should be severely punished. These cottages with their unusual features were
    a significant landmark by the canal which couldn’t be compared to anything else. I’m very saddened by their loss as I always enjoyed looking at them while cycling along the canal towpath. Given their age and character why weren’t they properly protected?

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