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The Limehouse Triangle Saga

How Tower Hamlets Council Ignore Local Residents and Professional Bodies

The Liveable Streets proposal in Bow has been postponed as resident’s battle to be heard on the borough-wide consultation. The Limehouse Triangle group have experienced a four-year battle with Tower Hamlets Council on behalf of residents living near The Limehouse Triangle in Salmon Lane, E14.

It was a rugged biodiverse site that used to contain eighteen mature trees and was once identified as a potential site of significant importance for nature conversation on the Blue-Ribbon Network.

This will now be destroyed to make way for an imposing eight storey tower block of seventeen homes. The Group appreciates that housing in London is urgently required but their campaign was focused on building on suitable sites. They do not consider narrow, busy polluted roads which are opposite schools and stacked by a narrow pavement on the edge of a canal are suitable conditions for a development.

The Group knows they are not alone in the way residents have been treated by Tower Hamlets Council when it comes to consultations which at present are misleading and nothing but a tick box exercise.

With the assistance of the Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, bulbs were planted in the area by the council. The Friends put forward planting ideas and fifty metres of native hedge was planted. The Council knew the site was under consideration as an area of significant importance for nature conversation. However, despite this knowledge they bulldozed everything without warning.

Another plan was introduced which involved bees. The story was featured on TV London Live. The idea was to enhance this natural habitat, and the local community was fighting hard to see this project implemented. Ideas were submitted, including turning it into a workable organic council site. A beekeeper, who lived within the borough, was engaged because he was looking for an additional site for his hives.

Donations of benches, herbs, plants, and bulbs were received plus help from the nearby Stepney City Farm, trainee landscape gardeners, River of Flowers and others who were willing to champion the scheme and help.

There are three primary schools nearby and this could have been a great educational space for children living in the city, especially now, when a healthy environment is so important. Directly opposite the triangle the Sir William Burrough school is situated and seventy-five yards away is the Stepney Green Coat school. In addition, two hundred yards away, there is the Stephen Hawking School for children with severe or profound learning difficulties.

There has always been strong support from locals and petitions were presented to the Council in 2017 and 2018 but were ignored. The most recent online petition has attracted almost 600 names.

From the beginning there has been fierce backing from local counsellors - Cllr Andrew Wood and Cllr Andrew Cregan.

Local councils are required to ensure that they consult on planning proposals, not only with residents living in the area but also have a duty to consult with certain statutory organisations such as the London Fire Brigade. In this case, one of the statutory bodies consulted was The Canal and River Trust and they also objected to the tower block. It is astounding that the Council also ignored them as well. Canal and River Trust raised health and safety concerns about the building and the impact it would have on the canal and The Blue-Ribbon Network.

Cllr David Edgar, a cabinet member for Environment has been notably absent during this process despite attempts to engage with him about the campaign on many occasions. Two years later he has put his name to the Tower Hamlets Local Biodiversity Action Plan 2019-2024 which appears to have stolen ideas from the local campaign group.

Numerous queries were raised with the Planning Department but none of the concerns were taken seriously. Most of the time they didn’t even have the courtesy of giving a response.

The development proposal was rejected three times by the Committee Members of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. In 2017, 2018, and again in 2018 when it was deferred because recommendations had not been followed. Cllr John Pearce, Board member for East End Homes and Tower Hamlets Homes, and Cllr Daniel Hassell, Cabinet Member for Children and Schools, always voted for the development.

Suddenly, in 2019, a new committee was installed. Cllr Rachel Blake, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Wellbeing, turned up to the meeting at the last minute and spoke in support of pushing the rejected application through.

Likewise, the local councillor in the Limehouse ward, Cllr Puru Miah who NEVER met residents to discuss their concerns, wrote this blog forty-eight hours before the committee meeting supported the application.

The Limehouse Group attended all Council Committee Planning Meetings in the Town Hall relating to the Triangle to object to the application. However, the process is unfair because it is geared towards the applicant and against those wishing to object. In this particular case, it was a Council Application in front of its own committee, so the local residents never stood a chance.

When challenging a planning application each objector has to register in advance and is allocated a maximum of three minutes to formulate their case. They are only allowed to speak once and cannot ask any questions, but they are required to answer questions asked by anyone on the panel. At the 2017 meeting, Council representatives, including architects and planning officials, spoke for almost one and a half hours. In 2018 they spoke for two hours.

The building application was rejected three times by most of the Committee Members and deferred a third time on grounds that improvements had not been made. The untruths being told at the hearing were unbelievable, especially in 2019 when Cllr Miah said he had taken part in a door knocking session to residents, yet those opposing were not allowed to correct this inaccuracy. After his speech Cllr Miah then left the committee meeting before the final decision was made! 

The local residents and the local campaign group have not heard from Cllr Miah since, or anyone else. This shows how Tower Hamlets Council treats the residents who elect them to represent their interests.

The planning application had NOT changed but despite this, received approval from the Council to proceed.

Residents secured two meetings with the Executive Mayor, who has the power to reverse decisions, and he replied, “I’ll look into it”. Matters discussed included the impact of mental health, ULEZ, the ‘rat run’ to the A13, educating a community, the benefits of a sensory space and a semi allotment, and its original biodiversity value.

The Executive Mayor was chased for answers over a period of eight months, but he wasn’t interested. The Council wanted to build, and it didn’t matter what anyone said.

In 2018 the Council removed eighteen trees from inside the triangle without consulting or informing the residents. Then, months later, school children planted a cherry tree to create their own ‘play street’ in Limehouse.

The Council has since granted approval for a fried chicken shop, now open, fifteen yards from the same school gate. Tower Hamlets Council choose to not to listen to the residents they represent, and their minds are made up before they even start a consultation.

If it was really about liveable streets, clean air, healthy living, protecting children’s lungs, then why are they building on this tiny site? And why is a fried chicken shop given permission to open outside a primary school?

Residents living on what the Council describe as ‘social housing estates’, also want to be healthy and enjoy clean living. This is their right.

Residents objected to the building of seventeen properties on the grounds of Health and Safety, yet these objections were ignored during the ‘so called’ consultation process. Instead, they plan to build directly in front of primary school resulting in loss of daylight and intrusion on existing residents.

In a letter to the Mayor, other more suitable locations surrounding Salmon Lane were suggested as alternative sites on which to build the seventeen properties, and which would provide better access for the two wheelchair properties promised by the Council.

Instead, these alternatives were ignored and the block of seventeen properties is almost complete. In addition, a football pitch and tennis court were taken over by Tower Hamlets Council in 2014 to embark on a major program. The locals never got these back.

Cllr Blake was challenged as to why the Council was taking away a community space which clearly she’d never visited because she described it as garages! Despite having no knowledge of the site and never speaking to local residents, she voted to support the proposal.

These are the reasons why residents are right to be concerned about the building of seventeen properties on The Limehouse Triangle.

The local residents are going to keep on campaigning!