Last month, planning permission was granted for Tower Hamlets’ new town hall. It will be based in the former Royal London Hospital, and is a key part of the most ambitious and transformational regeneration project to happen in our borough for decades. It’s also a crucial part of our plans to deliver cost efficiencies, and to ensure the council is right at the heart of the community.
- Project: Tower Hamlets Town Hall
- Objectives: To convert the Grade II listed former Royal London Hospital building into a new council building, with services for residents, a library, café and public spaces all under one roof
- Timescale: 2015: Former Royal London Hospital building purchased; 2016: Design work commenced; 2017: Planning application submitted; 2018: Construction to commence; 2021: Practical completion; 2022: New town hall opens
- Cost to authority: Estimated £105m
- Number of staff working on project: Six core staff
- Outcomes: A new town hall in the centre of the borough where residents can access a range of public services in one place, as well as securing ongoing annual savings of at least £5m. Savings/income: Capital receipts: £78.2m to £91.2m from potential disposals; Revenue savings: At least £5m from rental of current accommodation, additional savings from more efficient working
- Officer contact details: Ann Sutcliffe
Founded by philanthropists in 1740 to care for the sick and poor among the merchant seaman and manufacturing classes of the East End, thousands of residents of the borough have a very personal connection to the Royal London Hospital site. Countless births, operations and treatments have taken place there.
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That is one reason why it’s the perfect venue for our new town hall – there had always been a desire to bring it to the heart of the borough. When the Whitechapel hospital site became available it made sense to bring an iconic listed public building back to life. This means we can increase visibility and accessibility for our residents, so they have a tangible sense of their council’s services and democracy in action. It also provides a great civic amenity to serve the people of the borough.
We expect significant cost savings from the project too. We estimate we’ll recoup £78m from the sale of old council buildings that will no longer be needed once staff have moved, which will go towards the £105m estimated total cost of the new civic centre. Additionally, we currently spend £5m a year renting our current town hall space. The lease savings alone will pay for our new town hall in just 21 years.
Opening in 2022, the new town hall will be part of Whitechapel Vision. One of London’s largest regeneration projects, it also includes the opening of Crossrail at Whitechapel Station in 2018; a life sciences centre supported by partners including the council, Greater London Authority, Queen Mary University of London and Barts Health NHS Trust; seven new public spaces; and the creation of 5,000 jobs. Despite its proximity to the City, this is a corner of London that is still both economically and socially disadvantaged. Our vision for Whitechapel will help to change that.
The entire ground floor of the new town hall will be dedicated to public use. A new Idea Store – our library, learning and information service – will include supported access to a full range of council services alongside books, a café, drop in space and new public square. Our existing innovative Whitechapel Idea Store will become part of a learning campus with a stronger focus on learning, skills and supporting residents into work.
Our ground floor council chamber, meanwhile, will showcase Tower Hamlets as a champion of open and accessible local government. We are also moving more teams from other council buildings into the new town hall, along with partner services like our almo Tower Hamlets Homes and the clinical commissioning group.
The design of the new town hall will celebrate the rich history of the building – with a new building ‘wrapping’ around the old to create dynamic and flexible spaces for the 21st century workforce. By moving from our current council offices to Whitechapel, the council will be relocating to the centre of the borough.
Over the last three years, a group comprising me as the project sponsor, our chief executive, the executive mayor and other key directors along with an in-house project team have led the project from concept through to design.
We are all excited at the prospect of building work starting later this year. We have worked closely with our appointed architects to secure an outstanding design – the absence of any objections at all through the planning process is testimony to that. We are now working with the design team and contractor to agree a fixed price lump sum contract before major works start later this year.
We are designing spaces for the future – a future during which ways of working will change and the services we provide will be transformed. We will create spaces that will both support and respond to that change, with cellular spaces in the existing listed building complemented by open plan floor plates in the new. This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to frame a space that will deliver for the residents of the borough and council staff – working in new ways while leaving a hugely improved local environment.
The council’s strategic development committee voted overwhelmingly in support of the scheme in February. The decision is subject to approval by the mayor of London over the coming weeks.
Empty since 2012, when the new hospital complex opened nearby, the site has been a listed Grade II building with a priceless history. By 2022 this iconic building will be brought back to life as a new town hall for Tower Hamlets – securing its future as a building that will serve residents for another 100 years to come.
Ann Sutcliffe, acting corporate director (place), Tower Hamlets LBC