THE FORMER JEWISH MATERNITY HOSPITAL
The former Jewish Maternity Hospital at 22-28 Underwood Road was sold by Tower Hamlets Council to Peabody Housing on 31 March 2011.
A 2008 Planning Statement "to guide the redevelopment of the site for residential uses" stated that "any redevelopment at this site must consider ... the potential to convert the existing building to residential uses."
However, an 11 November 2011 letter from Stephen Howlett states:
"Peabody has been clear throughout its involvement with this site and in agreeing the purchase from your council, that, in order to fully realise the potential to provide additional affordable homes in Tower Hamlets, it was our intention to demolish these buildings and to provide a new, high quality residential scheme on the site".
THE NEW RESIDENTIAL SCHEME
Brady Mallalieu Architects designed a five- or six-storey block on Underwood Road with amenity space and smaller buildings at the back, to replace all the former hospital buildings at 22-28 Underwood Road.
The campaign to save some or all of the four buildings on Underwood Road started in August 2011. And, as a result, Peabody "reviewed a number of options" for retention and conversion. Having decided that none were feasible, they applied to Tower Hamlets Council for "prior notification of demolition", knowing that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) would not be required and they could demolish the buildings and then make a planning application for their new residential scheme.
PRIOR NOTIFICATION OF DEMOLITION
This is a perfectly legal process but it is governed by strict regulations and does not involve consultation with councillors or residents.
Under this process, officers were first obliged to issue a screening opinion (17 October 2011) which concluded correctly that the proposed demolition did not require an EIA. The screening opinion acknowledged that the "buildings do represent a non-designated heritage asset in accordance with PPS5".
On the basis of the screening opinion, officers gave Peabody Housing "prior approval of the method of demolition". This effectively allowed Peabody to demolish all the buildings (to stop any further debate about their retention and conversion) and then make their planning application for permission to build Brady Mallalieu's new residential scheme on the cleared site. We understand that this would achieve 33 new homes: 9 for sale on the open market, 11 for shared ownership and 13 for affordable rent.
Despite written assurances, Peabody Housing started to demolish the 100-year-old cottage at 24 Underwood Road before their public consultation event on 7 November 2011. And without serving a demolition notice to building control. The campaign informed officers and action was taken to stop the demolition until the notice and the Council's counter notice were served.
PEABODY PUBLIC CONSULTATION EVENT
A representative of Peabody accepted our petition, and Angela Brady of Brady Mallalieu Architects agreed to look at the possibility of retaining and converting the two cottages.
During the week beginning 21 November 2011, we learnt that all the architects have done since 7 November is modify their proposed building on Underwood Road to incorporate the facades of the two cottages. This would be an insult to the memory of all the people associated with the maternity hospital.
Also, that they had already produced an optional scheme retaining the two cottages and converting them to flats. This more acceptable option (known as option 3) would achieve 26 rather than 33 homes. But an additional floor on their proposed five-storey block could surely accommodate the extra 7 homes need to make it a viable scheme. There is also space at the back of the cottages where back extensions could be built to make each cottage into an affordable family home, as requested by the campaign.
An application to list the former Jewish Maternity Hospital was made by Tom Ridge, but this was refused by English Heritage, by letter dated 23 April 2010. Their refusal is being used by Peabody Housing to justify their demolition of all the buildings at 22-28 Underwood Road.
Just because they are not sufficiently grand to be listed by English Heritage does not mean they have little or no architectural interest. In fact, Tower Hamlets Council has recognised that all four buildings on Underwood Road are "non-designated heritage assets".
English Heritage also failed to acknowledge that the buildings constitute the only former Jewish maternity hospital in English. Nevertheless, their letter states:
"The building (22-28 Underwood Road) has a claim to historic interest, as one of the few surviving buildings relating to the work of Alice Model, and as a rare Jewish welfare building in London's East End".
In fact, the buiding is the only purpose-built example relating to the work of Alice Model. And is the largest of the three surviving former Jewish welfare buildings, and the only hospital.