Plans for a £900m redevelopment of Whitechapel are set to transform the area over the next 15-years as Tower Hamlets Council seeks to take advantage of the new Crossrail station opening in 2018.
The proposals set-out a revitalised Whitechapel Road with new offices, shops and homes funded by a mix of grants and private finance. The surrounding areas will also see a comprehensive regeneration programme particularly on Durward Street (behind Whitechapel Station) and behind the old Royal London Hospital where a medical research hub will be located dubbed Med-City.
The council’s consultation paper says the project will provide 3,500 new homes, 5,000 new jobs, a new shopping centre and market layout, leisure and community facilities, a new civic hub, an ‘iconic’ high-rise mixed use building and seven new public squares.
If the plans get off the ground the major works are expected to start by 2019 with a few smaller projects starting in 2024. A number of projects, including a new leisure centre on Vallance Road and the regeneration of old Barts buildings behind the old hospital, are expected to be completed by 2018 when the Crossrail station opens on Whitechapel Road.
The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, believes the new Crossrail station – that connects Whitechapel to Canary Wharf and Heathrow airport via central London – will put the area on the map and proceed a sharp increase in footfall and population growth.
Although it isn’t clear if the council is encouraging the increase or attempting to manage it with the consultation paper stating on one hand that the plans were intended ‘to encourage people out of the station and to shop, socialise and live in the area’ while on the other ‘the purpose of the Masterplan is to manage the expected growth’.
Given the population in Whitechapel grew by 33% between 2001 and 2011 (to 17,600) when there was a fraction of the development proposed it can probably be taken to be both.
However the full project is far from assured. While the Council are likely to rubber-stamp the move agreement has to be reached with key stakeholders including Transport for London, Queen Mary University, Royal London Hospital, Royal Mail as well as several smaller companies including Sainsburys, Safestore and Barclays, who all own property and land necessary for the project to proceed.
Private developers must also be found to invest tens, if not hundreds, of millions in expensive new homes, shops and offices in return for carrying out work for the council.
The Mayor said the programme of works will be to the benefit of residents, but it could be those same residents who benefit least.
While there are no plans to knock down significant amounts of council housing to make way for the new development, property prices and rents are expected to rise significantly on the back of it forcing people on low incomes and benefits out of the area.
The plans suggest 33% of the 3,500 new homes to be built will be ‘affordable’ – allegedly a mix of social, shared ownership and for sale – but ‘affordable to who’ is the common response with new social rents set at 80% of market value and buyers needing to earn £100k+ to buy a no-frills flat.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. For those who are left – and who don’t mind an increasingly gentrified Whitechapel – there will be a welcome facelift to the area with much improved facilities and services.
Here’s a list of the main programme of works:
- Old Royal London Hospital Building: convert into a civic hub to provide public services and potentially acting as a satellite town hall holding council meetings. Also retail space, a media hub and community and leisure facilities. (2013 to 2023)
- Whitechapel Road shopping experience: improved retail space on both sides of the road and additional units on the south to create a High Street feel. (2013 to 2023)
- Improved market: improved market layout with better storage and stalls. Extend market stalls to south side of Whitechapel Road. (2013 to 2018)
- Durward Street Crossrail exit: development next to main station exit to include retail, leisure and entertainment on lower floors and high-density residential on upper floors. Also potential for high-rise mixed-use ‘iconic’ building. (2019 to 2023)
- Durward Street leisure centre: create new leisure centre on site of old with retail space on ground floor and high-density residential units above. Will replace existing council-owned social housing. (2013 to 2018)
- Sainsburys and car park: build bigger Sainsburys with high-density residential units above. (2013 to 2023)
- Old Barts buildings: redevelopment of old hospital-owned buildings on New Road and behind old RLH building on Varden Street and Ashfield Street – including nurses accommodation – into high-density residential quarter with retail, office and research space called Med-City. (2013 to 2018)
- Post Office building: redevelop and replace with ‘iconic’ building providing retail and commercial space on ground floor and high-density residential on upper floors. (2018 to 2023)
- Cavell Street: relocate homeless charity Whitechapel Mission – on corner of Whitechapel Road and Cavell Street – and replace with public space potentially used as night market. New area by entrance to hospital for patients and visitors to relax. (2013 to 2023)
- Raven Row: replace Safestore warehouse (between Royal Mail and Sydney Street) with small business and retail space, leisure, hotel and community facilities and residential blocks. (2018 to 2023)
- Barclays Bank: redevelop bank on corner of Whitechapel Road and Sydney Street into retail space on ground floor and residential on upper floors. (2024+)