THE construction of a new nursery and community building on an
"extremely sensitive" site, a few feet away from Christ Church,
Spitalfields, a Grade I listed building designed by Nicholas
Hawskmoor, is under way, after "much passionate debate".
The application to build on land between Christ Church Gardens
and Christ Church C of E Primary School, a conservation area that
was originally the churchyard (pictured, above), was
submitted by the trustees of the school, and approved by Tower
Hamlets Borough Council in July last year.
Campaigners, however, argue that the council has taken
"potentially unlawful steps" in recent months. In a letter to the
interim chief executive of the council, and the Chancellor and
Registrar of the diocese of London, four local residents involved
in interest groups - the Friends of Christ Church, Spitalfields
(FCCS), the Spitalfields Trust, the Spitalfields Society, and
Spitalfields Open Space - argue that Christ Church Gardens is the
site of a disused burial ground, which has not been deconsecrated,
and that no provision has been made for reburying the in- terred
They also argue that the land, held in charitable trust by the
council, should not be "taken out of public recreational
Philip Vracas, of the Spitalfields Society, said this month that
the campaign opposing the building was "ongoing. . . The preferred
outcome is we should decide whether we are a law-abiding community
or not, and, if we are, then it needs to be torn down, and the
churchyard needs to be restored for the benefit of the public and
of the heritage setting." The school should consider "acquiring a
plot next door to the school, or building in its own existing
On its website, the FCCS argues that the partially completed
building, which replaces a youth centre constructed in 1969, with
temporary permission, is "intrusive and unsympathetic" to the
setting. FCCS wants to see the churchyard gardens "reinstated in
full", with no building to the south of the church.
In March, the leaders of all three main political parties on the
council wrote to the Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Peter Delaney,
asking him to "revisit" the proposals.
A total of 315 letters opposing the plans were received by the
council, 252 of which came from people resident outside the
borough. Letters of support from 242 people included 176 from those
living inside the borough. A petition addressed to the Bishop of
London opposing the building attracted 650 supporters.
A spokeswoman for the council said that its development
committee believed the building to be a "significant improvement"
on the earlier youth centre: it is lower in height, and would
create a larger space between it and the church.
The school needed "additional educational space", and the
building would deliver "wider benefits for the community", who
would be able to use it out of hours. The spokeswoman argued that
the land was "not on public open space", and was "currently closed
off" to members of the public.
Although the planning application had been thoroughly looked at,
the spokeswoman, when asked about the concerns relating to the
disused burial ground, said that "the granting of planning and
other associated conservation-area consent does not obviate the
possible need for other permissions."
In a submission to the council last year, English Heritage said
that the new building was "more sympathetic to the setting of the
A statement from the diocese of London said that the development
had been reviewed by the diocesan advisory committee for the care
of churches, and had been granted a faculty by the Diocesan
Chancellor. It said that the development of the gardens and youth
centre would mean that the public space would double in size, and
that "the new development will create a substantial area of
beautiful public green space and a versatile new building, all of
which will be of enormous benefit to the school, church, and
The building is scheduled to be completed by May next year.