Delayed plans to build a controversial 350-room designer hotel in the heart of Shoreditch are being revised to include a hundred new flats amid reports the project stalled following the recession.
The 18-story Art’otel was scheduled to open this year on the former site of alternative arts venue and bar the Foundry after it was granted planning permission in 2010, but a brick is yet to be laid.
The site on the junction of Old Street and Great Eastern Street has been left empty since the Foundry closed in May 2010 until a coffee shop opened last year.
The new plans will be submitted to Hackney Council’s planning committee later this year and will include a scaled-down 150-room, 20-story hotel along with restaurants, art galleries and leisure facilities, according to a spokesman for the Reuben brothers, who are developing the project in conjunction with Park Plaza Hotels.
Explaining the delay and changes, the spokesman said: “This is a highly complex building on a prominent site and it has taken a long time to come up with the right solution, one that works for the hotel operator, the developer, the council and the community.It was decided that a trendy 350 guestroom art’otel was too big for this location and that considerable synergies would result from combining a smaller hotel with cutting edge apartments. We are convinced that the new scheme will be exciting and well received. A public exhibition and consultation will be organized in the near future for the benefit of neighbours.”
No start or completion date has been given, but the earliest it could expect to be completed by is 2017 assuming permission was granted; more than three years behind schedule.
The hotel’s original planning application, granted in 2010, was the subject of a well publicised and passionate campaign by artists, patrons and residents in a bid to save the Foundry from closure.
The venue was renowned for its alternative arts programme and open-door policy for artists looking to exhibit and perform and described as an incubator of creative talent.
English Heritage and CABE (Commission of Architects and the Built Environment), a quango that advised the government on building design, also opposed the design, height and location of the hotel.
The site falls within a conservation area that local planning guidelines stipulate that buildings should be in keeping with the area and not more than six-stories tall.
Alastair Brotchie, a local resident of 15 years and an outspoken critic of the original design, criticised the council and developers who had given such importance to the site.
He said: “This was going to be the gateway to Shoreditch and in the mean time they have just covered it in bill boards. It looks awful, but then the council and the developers have already shown their contempt for the conservation area. How was this aluminium monstrosity allowed. It’s totally out of scale.”
It is not clear if the proposed building’s exterior aluminium design will remain the same or be
Hackney Council said the 18-story hotel should be seen in context with the buildings outside of the conservation area.
Despite the campaign’s best efforts to save the Foundry there was little that could be done to prevent landowners the Reuben brothers from evicting, but there were strong grounds for Hackney Council to help find it a new home.
Hackney Council’s Arts, Cultural and Entertainment (ACE) policy states that the council ‘resists the loss of an arts, cultural or entertainment facility unless it is satisfied that an adequate replacement can be made’.
But the Foundry’s owners, Jonathan and Tracy Moberly, were told by the council it didn’t qualify for ACE protection as it was only a bar and not an arts venue – despite putting on 2,000 exhibitions and performances during its 12-year existence and its planning permission specifying ‘restaurant with gallery and theatre group activities’.
The council also blamed the Moberlys for failing to apply for ACE status, but in a Freedom of Information request it contradictorily said there there was no ACE status to apply for, rather, it was determined by its creative output.
Jonathan suspected the real reason Hackney Council failed to help was that an alternative arts venue such as the Foundry and its clientele were not in keeping with Hackney Council’s vision for the area.
A documentary team from Brazil, which hosts the Olympics in 2016, has used the Foundry’s experience to ‘explore the danger to cultural venues in the face of Olympics-inspired development pressure’.
Jonathan said: “The closure of the Foundry was a completely pointless exercise. The existence of a community-run cultural hub such as the Foundry was clearly considered by the planners and developers to be the greatest threat to their ability to force through plans that were only of benefit to their own corporate interests and had nothing to offer to either the local community or the broader east end economy.”
He said despite their best efforts to find a new venue, their efforts have been frustrated and exhausted their enthusiasm to open a new venue leaving the Foundry’s displaced community still without a home.
* First published in the Hackney Citizen in June 2013