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Hipster Heritage Clashes With New Development At London Scheme

The new plans for part of the Old Truman Brewery

The decision on whether to grant approval to a new development at what was once the world’s largest brewery, located in east London’s hipster heartland, has been deferred by the local authority, amidst thousands of complaints against the plans. 

Planners at Tower Hamlets Council had recommended for approval the scheme at the Old Truman Brewery in Spitalfields, with a decision on whether to grant approval due to be taken by councillors last week. 

But councillors deferred taking the decision amidst concerns that the new scheme would push out small businesses that use the site, including retailers, office tenants and manufacturers; and that part of the scheme might block the light of nearby residents. Councillors said that deferring the decision would allow them to gather more evidence about how likely this is to happen. 

A planning application was lodged with Tower Hamlets earlier this year for a new 122K SF scheme, slated to be around two-thirds office space, with the rest given over to shops, restaurants and a gym.

The plans would be a continuance of the development of former industrial sites on the fringe of the City of London, like nearby Spitalfields Market and the former Fruit & Wool Exchange.

Old Truman Brewery is a 10-acre site that straddles Brick Lane, an area long synonymous with London’s Bangladeshi community, but which in the past two decades has become a hipster hangout due to the number of creative firms renting space in the Spitalfields area.

A brewery was first established on the site in the 1660s, shortly after the Great Fire of London, and in the 19th century it was the largest brewery in the world, famous for a thick brown ale that came to be known as porter, after the London ship porters who drank it. 

But through the 20th century, a series of corporate deals for parts of the Truman brewing company, as well as the rise of lighter beers like lager, gradually drove down production at the site, and by the 1990s it was derelict. 

It was bought by the Zeloof family in the late 1990s, and they renovated the multiple buildings, renting space to creative firms and independent art galleries, bars, nightclubs and retailers, turning the site into a thriving cultural destination.

Planning documents show the scheme currently under consideration by the council could be the first part of a wider development comprising the whole site. The scheme has been designed by architecture firm Buckley Gray Yeoman.

Part of the new scheme is an office block that rises to five storeys. 

One objector to the scheme said that this could reduce the amount of daylight she receives in her home by 40%.

"This would make us suffer," Marian Goodridge told councillors at last week’s planning meeting, as reported by the East London Advertiser. "My living room has always depended on daylight from the street. We'll be overpowered by five-storey towers either end of the street.”

The scheme received more than 7,000 objections compared to 79 letters in favour, the Advertiser reported. 

The Old Spitalfields Trust argued that the scheme was based on an “antiquated business model,” and that there will be less demand for shops and offices post pandemic. 

Jason Zeelof, one of the family that owns the site, assured councillors that the new scheme would continue to support small businesses.