Friday, 16 December 2011

Then and now.

This is how Stepney's looked until bought by developers. Perhaps not in perfect condition,  but kept in decent condition and certainly not the eyesore it is today.

However, Stepney's has not been looked after since it fell into the hands of developers. In fact, quite the opposite. Note that technically, Stepney's should still enjoy some protection by virtue of its adjoining a listed building.

Have Swan received public money to build private flats?

On Swan's website, singing their own praises for their plans, it is stated that:

"Swan has received public subsidy from the Housing Corporation to re-develop the club and build flats for affordable rent and shared ownership."

However, we now know that Swan's latest planning application is to put up 6 private residences, not social or affordable flats. What kind of funds did Swan receive? Did it go towards the purchase of the land? Has the money been repaid?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Don't deafen our neighbours!

Swan's Environmental noise report undertaken on Stepneys shows that the Planning Permission for a residential development should be refused due to the level of noise! 

The report states that at day time the site would fall into NEC C and at night time as D.  According to the Planning Permission Guidance 24, Planning permission to develop dwelling houses should normally be refused for NEC D and should not normally be granted for NEC C!  

Swan is trying to argue that the council has the discretion to increment the noise thresholds so that the site becomes NEC C (which is still very loud) at day and night . But, is that what is best for our community? Would that set precedent for future applications? Is it fair to build what will become someone's home in a location that they know is too loud?

Yes, we want to protect the cultural heritage of this community but also those prospective buyers of the development! 

What to do with Stepneys?

It's all well and good asking you to save Stepney's, but what to do with it? We're well aware that, from the outside, the building is currently is not pleasant to look at and we don't want it to just sit there crumbling. We want to see Stepneys put to good use for the good of the community of the area and the entire artistic community of London.

Stepney's is a superb performance space with a unique aesthetic. Until the venue fell into the ownership of Swan Housing Association, the interior of the venue had been kept in a good state. Although it would now need some restoration, it could soon be put back into useable condition with some TLC.

The space would make an ideal venue for music, a space for arts and dance and many other activities, and could be used by the community of the whole. It could be a fantastic outlet for the youth of the community in particular.

That's what we think. Do you agree? What would you like to see Stepney's used for?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Do as the nice monkey says.

Saving Stepneys

Why does Stepneys need saving? Swan Housing Association are planning to demolish the iconic 60s nightclub to build a development of commercial units and flats on the site. The nightclub has London's last remaining light-up dance floor and has been used by artists from Pete Doherty to Nick Cave, not to mention Pulp's 'Common People' video.

This is not the first time Swan has proposed similar plans. Their previous attempt was unsuccessful as the plans were deemed to be well out of character with the local Conservation Area. Although the plans have been modified somewhat this time around, they still retain much of the modernist look that would put the development greatly at odds with the character of the area, including the Grade II listed George Tavern next door.

The current plans, one/two bedroom flats with balconies and roof terraces look positively luxurious. It is difficult to accept that these flats are at all of the kind the area is in need of, not to mention the fact that we believe that the site is unfit for residential purposes.

We want to see Stepneys put to good use rather than sitting and decaying or being demolished to make way for a nondescript block of expensive flats that most likely won't benefit the people of the area and harm the character of the Conservation Area. We would like to find a use for Stepneys that can benefit the people of the area and if possible preserve its musical heritage, such as a community centre or musical studios of some sort.

If you agree with us and want to help us out, please see the previous post for a template letter of objection to the plans, and email this to Tower Hamlets' planning officer. We believe we can still make a difference, and prevent the further erosion of London's musical and cultural heritage!

Save Stepneys Template Objection Letter

The following is a template letter objecting to the proposed development on the site of Stepneys Nightclub. Time is very short as the deadline for objections is this Friday, 16th December, so please act quickly to show your objection to these plans!

The letter can be emailed to:


or sent by post to:

Benson Olaseni
The Planning Department,
5th Floor,
Anchorage House,
5 Clove Crescent,
E14 2BG.

Please copy and paste the template into your word processor to add your name, address and postcode so that the objection is accepted and any personal comments you would like to add in section 6 at the end of the letter.

PA/11/03301, 03302 and 03367, 
AT: 373 Commercial Road, London E1 OLA

I ........................................   object to the current proposals to demolish the building known as Stepney’s Nightclub, and to replace it with the proposed private flats and shops, for the following reasons:

1) The proposal viewed from the eastern approach, along Commercial Road, still overwhelms the size of The George Tavern.

Recreation of the nineteenth century terrace would not have presented such a large form. Nor did the nineteenth century buildings. The extension of the new building across the rear of the Aylward Street building has created a much larger visual form than was originally there. It is this enlargement that gives the proposed building the appearance of such size, and which overwhelms The George Tavern, viewed from the east. 

Looking at the applicant's submitted view from the east it, is quite apparent that the visual size of the proposal overwhelms the George from this important angle. This is considered to be harmful to the appearance and to the setting of the George, disturbing its traditional predominance of the point it occupies.

It is also considered to be harmful to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area, since this predominance of the George at this junction (Jubilee Street, Commercial Road and Sutton Street) is such an important part of the Character and history of the Commercial Road Conservation Area. PPS5, Practive Guide, 111 [both sub clauses 1) and 2)], clauses 113, 114, 115, 116, 118, 119 and 120 are relevant. So also is HE10.2, to which the proposal is contrary. 

The London Plan, Sustainable Development Policies 2A.9 is relevant, as also are Policy 4B.8 (Respect local context and communities) and policy 4B.4 London's Buildings (retro fitting). The Proposal is contrary to CP49 b) and d) of the Core strategy, as the historic environment, including character and setting of the Listed buildings and the conservation area  are not being protected and enhanced. Also contrary to Clause 1a and 1b of CON1.1, CON1.2, CON2.1 a) and b) of the Core strategy. Proposal is contrary to DEV 25, 26, 28, 29 AND 39 of the UDP.

2) The proposal makes no reference to an archaeological dig.

The position of the Ward boundary runs 'six feet' from the northern face of the George and the Aylward Street building. It has run here at least since the eighteenth century, possibly earlier. It is witnessed by the two plaques in this wall, recording it. This boundary turns slightly right just after the Aylward Street building, heading south easterly, approximately towards the church. It is this boundary, that was also present on early maps of the Halfway House, which demonstrate conclusively, that the present building at least lies on the same site as the George tavern. 

The Halfway house actually articulated itself around this Ward boundary, as did the old road to the docks and Canterbury, as the boundary changed direction southwards.This can be seen in the map of Stepney and suburbs in 1600 [The growth of Stuart London, 1923]; John Stow's map of 1590 and 1605, Morgan's map of 1677 and Gascoigne's map of 1720 all show the Halfway House articulated around this ward boundary. 

This continues to be shown on maps, and is visible for instance on the 1875-1880, the 1916, 1921 and the 1948-1951 Ordnance Surveys of London, and it is still the ward boundary today. A copy of the 1921 OS map is attached. Copies of the other OS maps are included in the applicants Heritage Statement under title of Historical Maps. All show the ward boundary except the 1973-76 OS map. How much of the building relates to this earlier building is an interesting question, and is a good subject for professional study.

The subject of this objection is that as the halfway House is on this site, remains as old as 1270 are likely to be found, as the area to the south of the Halfway House contained ancillary buildings, all trace of which may not have been swept away by the Victorian terrace. The terrace did not reach back to the George, so some land may be relatively undisturbed. There may also be a well.

In conclusion, there is much evidence of a building older than 1802 still extant in the George,
further confirming that it is on the same site as the Halfway House, and this evidence substantiates the need for an archaeological dig, were the present Nightclub to be demolished.  

Something more than a desktop study must be carried out if the nightclub were to be removed, prior to construction of any new building. HE 12 of PPS5 Practice guide is relevant.The proposal is contrary to CP49.h of the Core Strategy. Contrary to PPS6, Clause 3.2, the proposal is contrary to DEV 43. DEV 44 is relevant; both of the Council's UDP.

3. The size and proportions of the proposed elevation onto Commercial Road challenge the size of the George.

The applicant's Heritage Statement wrongly states that the subdivision of this proposed elevation into two parts reflects the Victorian terrace. The Victorian terrace was subdivided into three distinct forms, as shown on 1875,1896,1916 and 1948-51 OS maps, and also as glimpsed in part on the Photograph prior to demolition of the terrace in the 1960's.

The significance is that none of the three victorian buildings approached the size of the George, which can also be seen clearly from the applicants photo claiming to be from the 1970's. The terrace houses were all smaller, more compact. The subdivision of the elevation onto Commercial Road into two parts means that both challenge the George for prominence. They may not be as tall, but their gaunt bland forms, especially the large shopfront windows, demand attention-at the cost of the George, and do challenge it.

This is evident in the proposed elevation onto Commercial Road, and that both parts of the proposed elevation do equate to the size of the George is admitted by the applicant in the Heritage statement. This is wholly unnecessary. It is considered the size and proportions of this elevation are harmful to the setting of the George Tavern, to its historic pre-eminence of this junction of the streets, and to the Character and appearance of the Commercial Road Conservation Area at this same junction.

PPS5, Practive Guide, 111 [both sub clauses 1)and 2)], clauses 113, 114, 115, 116, 118, 119, and 120 are relevant. The London Plan, Sustainable Development Policies 2A.9 is relevant, as also is Policy 4B.8 (Respect local context and communities) and policy 4B.4 London's buildings (retro fitting). Proposal is contrary to CP49 b) and d) of the Core strategy, as the historic environment, including character and setting of the Listed buildings and the conservation area are not being protected and enhanced. Also contrary to Clause 1a and 1b of CON1.1, CON1.2, CON2.1 a) and b) of the Core strategy Proposal is contrary to DEV 25, 26, 28, 29AND 39 of the UDP.

4. The openings in the proposed front elevation onto Commercial Road are discordant with the proportions of the George Tavern, and also with those of the core buildings within the conservation area, especially those in close proximity to the George-its setting.

The gaunt, large proportions of the openings, the over elongated first floor windows, the wide balcony openings, and the stark size of the openings  for the entrance and the shopfronts bear
no resemblance to the character and proportions of the core buildings of the conservation area, and jar with those of The George Tavern itself. 

The stark gauntness of the forms and openings in the forms positively demand attention, challenging the George's traditional pre-eminence at this important junction. They are harmful to the George's setting, its historic pre-eminence at this road junction and are also harmful to the Character and appearance of the Commercial Road Conservation Area. 

Clauses 120 and 121 of PPS5 Planning Guidance are relevant to both the listed building and the conservation area. PPS5,Practive Guide,111 [both sub clauses 1)and 2)], clauses 113, 114, 115, 116, 118, 119, and 120 are relevant.

The London Plan, Sustainable Development Policies 2A.9 relevant, as also are Policy 4B.8 (Respect local context and communities) and Policy 4B.4 London's buildings (retro fitting). Proposal is contrary to CP49 b),and d) of the Core strategy, as the historic environment, including character and setting of the Listed buildings and the conservation area are not being protected and enhanced. Also contrary to Clause 1a and 1b of CON1.1, CON1.2, CON2.1 a) and b) of the Core Strategy Proposal is contrary to DEV 25, 26, 28, 29 AND 39 of the UDP.

5 The George Tavern is a performance pub. 

It was before the present owner took it, although was not then always reputable. For the last eight and a half years it has established itself as one of the most interesting, innovative and creative of London's performance pubs, and is frequently featured in guides to London's music scene, in magazines like ‘Time Out’, as well as in press articles about London's music and performance world.

The performances involve live music, poetry readings, drama and films and these are frequently loud. There are also art exhibitions and numerous community events, including Christmas lunch for those locally who would otherwise have Christmas lunch alone, and second hand clothes sales by locals on Sundays in Spring. 

It is rooted in the local community.

The pub also has an enviable reputation as a photo shoot for the famous;part of the reason for this being that it enjoys light from 360 degrees. The pub has had sound insulation boards prepared and installs these prior to performances, and to date has not had a problem with the local community over the sound levels. Indeed the position of the building on the east side of Jubilee street at its junction with Commercial Road, could be described as ideal for a performance pub, with very little residential accommodation near to it apart from the small block on the opposite side of Jubilee Street.

The proposal to provide private flats beside the George Tavern seems to be turning one's back on providence. This site is completely inappropriate for residential development. The two uses side by side are incompatible. There would inevitably be a conflict of interest between the two parties. This can be seen now, and is therefore avoidable. The planning department has indicated that it can only put an informative on the planning permission to the effect that there is a performance pub beside the site.
Such a response is missing the point. The point is that the two uses are indeed incompatible. The applicant's site would be better developed as offices or as studios for musicians, craftsmen and  artists. But residential use means that the livelihood of the present holders of the pub will inevitably be challenged and restrained. A decision to approve the application is to kill the performance pub, sooner or later.

This action of planning authorities in allowing residential use too close to performance pubs and clubs is currently being aired in the nation's press, as it has resulted in the loss of some of the best music venues in the country, including in Tower Hamlets.

Does the planning office and the Borough it represents realise this?

Does the Borough realise that an approval would be tantamount to terminating the current owner's livelihood?

Does the Borough realise that granting this application would be challenging the Historic Listed Pub's use, at a time when so many are failing?

As this is the case what compensation to the owners is the Borough prepared to offer if they approve this application? It is suggested this compensation is agreed before any permission is granted.

This use has been operating successfully for eight and a half years. Why introduce an inappropriate use next to it, when an appropriate use can be found?  

There is a shortage of residential accommodation, but surely the Borough does not wish for residential accommodation in inappropriate areas? 

Is not this approving accommodation that would be sub-standard? 

Is that what the Borough wishes for? 

Clause 120 of PPS5 Guidance Notes is relevant, in that approval of this application would damage the George's economic viability as a performance pub. The London Plan, Sustainable Development, is relevant [Policies in DPDs should clarify that, when assessing the suitability of land for development, the nature of the development and its locational requirements should be taken into account, along with the above criteria.] 

Also policy 2A.9 and policy 4B.4 London's buildings (retro fitting) are relevant. The proposal is contrary to policy CP19.2 of the Core Strategy; Contrary to the intent of CP28 Healthy Living. It is suggested that this proposal is also contrary to DEV 1.2, Dev2.1 of the UDP. Also to HSG2.3

6. In addition I would like to add the following personal objection:

In conclusion: It is respectfully requested that the Planning office and councillors consider the points raised in this letter of objection, and refuse this application.


Name in capitals: