Skip to content

Save Brick Lane!

September 10, 2021
by the gentle author

Photo © David Hoffman 


Despite 7,476 objections and only 82 letters of support, next Tuesday 14th September, Tower Hamlets Council’s Development Committee appears set upon approving the Truman Brewery’s application for an ugly shopping mall with four floors of offices on top, as the first step in the redevelopment of the entire former brewery site into a corporate plaza.

Back in the spring, the committee deferred the decision when concerns were raised about the damage the development would do to Brick Lane, pushing up rents which in turn will drive out the small independent shops and curry restaurants that characterise Spitalfields. Speaking with admirable social conscience, Councillor Sufia Alam expressed disappointment at the lack of housing in the development when there is a such a chronic shortage locally.

Chairman of the committee Councillor Abdul Mukit recognised the disastrous impact that the proposed brewery development would have upon the Bangladeshi community in particular and was unconvinced by the paltry ‘social benefits’ offered. ‘It’s not enough!’ he declared repeatedly at the meeting with Dickensian eloquence.

So now the Truman Brewery have come back with an enhanced offer to the community and it is still pitiful. In the new development, so-called ‘affordable workspace’ discount is increased from 10% of space at 30% market rent to 10% of space at 45% market rent, but still far above current rents locally. No discount at all is being offered on shops in the mall. The developer’s estimate of £6 per day spent locally on lunch by construction workers is increased to £15 per day when the office workers move in and, no doubt, the usual takeaway food chains open.

If it was not enough before, no-one could reasonably claim it is enough now. But the likely approval of the Truman Brewery shopping mall would unfortunately be true to form for Tower Hamlets Council who are responsible for a line of recent bad decisions including approving the conversion of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a boutique hotel, the digging up of the five-hundred-year-old Bethnal Green Mulberry Tree (now quashed) and the disastrous Liveable Streets programme which would see the obliteration of the historic streetscape at Arnold Circus.

I have grow increasingly disillusioned by the leaders of Tower Hamlets Council under Mayor John Biggs who call themselves ‘Labour’ yet pursue neo-liberal policies of furthering developers’ interests at any cost, destroying old buildings and encouraging social cleansing of neighbourhoods, in callous disregard of community and cultural heritage.

The council has been spinning the line that they ‘have no choice’ but to approve the Truman Brewery development since the developer could win on appeal. Yet they have rejected two nearby applications recently by Second Home and Banglatown Supermarket on the basis of harm to the Brick Lane Conservation Area.

To approve the Truman Brewery development would be an abnegation of the council’s responsibility and a betrayal of their constituents, advocating the interests of big money over the needs of residents when there are solid and defensible legal reasons in planning law for rejection. The councillors need to be mindful of the local elections next spring and the widespread disenchantment with their policies across the borough.

By contrast, we are delighted that Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green & Bow, has declared her support for a community-led master plan for the whole brewery site which could set parameters for future development, ensuring local needs are not ignored.

Planning expert Alec Forshaw of the Spitalfields Trust has prepared a list of reasons why the committee should reject the current Truman Brewery application which you can read below. We hope the councillors will do the right thing next Tuesday and vote in the interests of those who elected them rather than submit to any sinister ‘party line’ which supports development uncritically.


Join the protest march this Sunday 12th September, meeting at Altab Ali Park at 11:30am.

The Battle for Brick Lane exhibition I curated for Spitalfields Trust is open this Saturday and Sunday at 25 Princelet St from noon until 6pm.


A big block on Brick Lane

Shopping mall

Corporate plaza



The proposed Truman Brewery development of a shopping mall with four floors of corporate offices on top will push up rents and drive out the small independent shops and restaurants which define Brick Lane. Also it will overshadow the low-rise nineteenth century terrace in Woodseer Street and its generic architecture will damage the Brick Lane Conservation Area.

A radical rethink is needed to assess what the entire site of the former Truman Brewery could offer to sustain and strengthen the community in Spitalfields.

There are sound reasons to reject the current proposal, which can be successfully defended at appeal without expensive legal representation, and Tower Hamlets Development Committee must refuse the application on these grounds.


Tower Hamlets Council’s Local Plan requires a mix of uses to revitalise the ‘Brick Lane Town Centre’ and reinforce its character of small independent shops and businesses alongside residential streets (TH Local Plan page 205).

The inclusion of large floor-plate offices in the Truman Brewery development will be harmful to ‘Brick Lane Town Centre.’ Whitechapel and Aldgate Town Centres ARE identified for office growth, but Tower Hamlets’ Local Plan does NOT promote offices in Brick Lane.

Planning policies for the City Fringe require a balance between residential and commercial development. National Planning Policy Framework paragraph 85 states that residential development plays a key role in sustaining town centres – a factor that is even more significant post-Covid.

Despite requests from the community, no Planning Brief or Master Plan exists for the Truman Brewery, a large site which is ideal for a mix of residential and commerce. Yet, if the rest of the brewery is redeveloped as a corporate plaza in line with the current application, there will be no residential.

The proposed commercial development site on Woodseer St would be a natural location for residential development. Currently a car park, it was previously housing and never part of the brewery operations.


Construction costs for the new building will be high because of the developer’s requirement of Grade A offices, high-end shops and a two storey basement. Consequently, rents will be expensive. Even with the suggested discounts, the offices will be unaffordable to local businesses and no reduction at all is being offered on shops.


Tower Hamlets’ Local Plan seeks to protect the historic character of Brick Lane, but – in considering the Truman Brewery shopping mall – the planning officer’s report ignores this.

The proposed design or the shopping mall is stridently unsympathetic and grossly out of scale. The corner of Brick Lane and Woodseer St will be twice the height of the corner building opposite, harming the setting of the fine Edwardian terrace at 124-138 Brick Lane.

Nowhere does the planning officer’s report acknowledge that Woodseer St contributes positively to the Conservation Area, even though Tower Hamlets Council’s own Conservation Area Appraisal confirms that it does. Like other streets off Brick Lane, Woodseer St is a quiet residential backwater. Busy shops and restaurants will harm its character.

Planning policies aim to protect Spitalfields’ intimate street pattern, including the narrow width of Woodseer St. So the widening of Woodseer St, as proposed in the Truman Brewery scheme, is not a positive response to preserving the existing local context.

The Truman Brewery’s chimney is identified by Tower Hamlets Council as an important landmark and views of it must be protected. The best view of the chimney in Brick Lane is south of Woodseer St. This is the only view of the chimney when approaching from the south and it will be cut in half by the height of the new shopping mall.


New shops and a new entry into the brewery on Woodseer St with increase foot-fall and deliveries. The proposed restaurant with external seating at the rear will cause disturbance to residents in Woodseer St. Previously, Tower Hamlets Council refused restaurant use at this location.

While some loss of daylight for residents on the south side of Woodseer St is inevitable if any building takes place on the north side, the proposed scale of the new shopping mall and offices, including the set-back top floors, results in excessive loss.

Tower Hamlets’ Local Plan ‘Vision for the City Fringe’ states “By 2031 the City Fringe will become a more attractive place to live, work and visit.” This scheme will not make Woodseer St a better place to live.


The report does not mention the environmental implications of digging a double storey basement, requiring the removal of around 50,000 cubic metres of spoil by an enormous number of heavy lorries driving through residential streets. No strategy has been set out for this or any analysis of the implications.

The planning officer’s report does not mention the trees on the site, which include the semi-mature False Acacia that attractively overhangs the street and the six young replacements which the Council made the owner plant after he had damaged the previous trees. Any new trees planted on the north pavement will struggle with a water-table drastically lowered by the proposed adjacent basements.


The location of the application is a part of the huge complex of buildings and empty spaces, straddling both sides of Brick Lane, which comprise the former Truman Brewery. There are many opportunities for new development, creating new public spaces and pedestrian routes, but – despite previous Council commitments – there is no Planning Brief or Master Plan for the site, and thus no mechanism for the Council to achieve the mix of uses (including residential) and deliver the public benefits that an area of this size should provide to the community.

The site of this application needs to be considered in the context of an overall plan. Of all the vacant sites within the former brewery, Woodseer St provides one of the most suitable for new housing, perhaps affordable live-work units, instead of offices, and perhaps two-storey prefabricated structures to minimise costs and achieve low rents.

A Planning Brief could be prepared, consulted upon and adopted within a six month period and need not present an unreasonable delay to the development process.


You may also like to read about

Trouble at the Truman Brewery

The Save Brick Lane Protest

12 Responses leave one →
  1. mlaiuppa permalink
    September 10, 2021

    One of the problems you face is that the council consists of representatives from many areas, not just Spitalfields and even if those local to you vote to protect the area, those representing other areas vote against and you lose. I’m sure there is a lot of NIMBY going on with them figuring better you than us.

    With elections coming on you need to quickly organize to find your own candidates, run them and win. Not just in your area. You need to recruit representatives in every area that is up for election, vet them to make sure they are sensitive and open to your concerns, then support their campaigns and work to get them elected. You need to control the Tower Hamlets by electing your own people. It’s obvious the petitions, letters, testimony and pleas are useless. You need to make the majority of the council your people who will vote with the people rather than the developers.

  2. September 10, 2021

    Sending much positive thought to the success of the opposition to the callous proposal to redevelop the few remaining elements of historic East End

  3. Heather Dyer permalink
    September 10, 2021

    What you said about the council’s disastrous planning decisions rings so true – this council is not working for the local people and communities nor is it interested in preserving its rich architectural history – and yes you’re right as a life long Labour supporter I feel I can no longer vote for them. I think Rushanara Ali is a great local MP and I apologise to her but next local election I shall consider voting Green if the council nods this appalling insensitive greedy development through

  4. Amanda permalink
    September 10, 2021

    Shopping malls are dead. They are ‘old hat’ – all those l have entered since the sweeping trend of online shopping and the devastation of ‘lockdown’ have been empty with most shops inside closed and gone bust. There is a lot to be said for having a visible drive-by presence and the hidden away cavern of the shopping mall has become the ghost of retailing.

    Using the objection to an almost obsolete method of shopping will be avail judging by the committee’s hellbent agenda to obliterate local needs and heritage, tradition, l therefore heartily agree with the well though out tactic in MLIUPPA’S comment above.

    I am a great believer in not wasting energy fighting a negative entity only with objection, but by creating a new stronger force to be reckoned with – joining their ranks to even the balance seems an excellent forward plan.

  5. Lucy permalink
    September 10, 2021

    These good planning reasons for refusal show that Labour shouldn’t need a party whip in favour of the development, as so often happens.

    Agree with mlaiuppa – there’s an opportunity for radical change in the councillors who represent us.

  6. Sarah-Jane permalink
    September 10, 2021

    Most large companies are downsizing their office space as more people are working at home for most of the week. This proposed huge office space will most likely be obsolete before building even commences!!!

  7. David Antscherl permalink
    September 10, 2021

    I’ve seen some of these developers’ tricks before. Aerial views of the development minimise the actual height appearance of the project. A ground level point of view gives a more accurate impression. The ‘Shopping Mall” view posted looks thoroughly sterile and depressing. It reminds me of something out of the movie ‘Blade Runner’. ‘Corporate Plaza’ is no better with its scanty plantings that will receive insufficient sunlight to thrive. Ghastly!

    Were I not the other side of the Atlantic I’d march with you on Sunday. Best wishes on arresting this travesty of a ‘development’.

  8. Akhtar permalink
    September 10, 2021

    I heard from a local person that Tower Hamlets have over decades helped the Truman Brewery to publicise events there by using public funds – can anyone shed more light on this?

    The land owners recently removed the historic cobbled stones… where is the money coming from to carry out the whole scale development on the Truman Brewery site?

  9. Mary permalink
    September 10, 2021

    Unfortunately honesty and integrity are not values that can be ascribed to the vast majority of politicians. No matter whether they sit at the opposing ends of the political spectrum, or somewhere in between, they only have to get the scent of money being dangled in front of them and they will follow it.
    It is interesting to note that following the outrage in 2020, when the Minister of State rubber stamped the development of the Westferry Printworks site for Tory party donor Richard Desmond, just a day before a community infrastructure levy was to be introduced, therby avoiding him paying £40 million towards schools etc. Labour Mayor John Biggs said “It’s right that the Secretary of State’s decision is fully investigated so the public can have confidence proper processes are in place to stop costly deals between politicians and developers”. Hmmm! The Kettle and Pot analogy springs to mind!

  10. Lizebeth permalink
    September 10, 2021

    I join David in marching with you in spirit. It is truly hard to understand why this Council refuses to see the writing on the wall for projects such as these. It’s a new world, and huge office-cum-shopping malls are a thing of the past. This will be a white elephant that destroys its community just by the process of being built. Shameful. But I agree that those of us working to preserve our wonderful and diverse London histories and cultures must try and elect officials who are responsive to community needs. Not those of developers, as is the case with the current Council. Good luck with the fight.

  11. September 11, 2021

    Yet again, a council trots out the pusillanimous reply that we have to say yes now as we can’t afford the appeal. This is precisely what the developers are relying on, and it makes me furious that nobody ever seems to call them out!

  12. September 14, 2021

    I hope & pray you are successful in saving what is left of the east end. Development is not always for the best.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS