The battle for Bishopsgate: £800-million proposal for 1,350 homes in new Shoreditch "tech-focused" quarter

In an attempt to woo the local community in Shoreditch, a new scheme will go to City planners this week promising an £800-million transformation of Bishopsgate’s old railway goods yard into a neighbourhood of new homes, warehouse-style office spaces and hundreds of shops.
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Simmering tensions between the City and Shoreditch have come to a head over plans for the £800 million redevelopment of historic Bishopsgate Goodsyard, a 10.3-acre site that has been derelict for 50 years. 

This prized former railway depot is the battleground in a war being fought between developers — who want a scheme that will transform the entire area — and community groups that want the district’s character preserved.

From mid-June, developers will submit revised plans to create a “tech-focused” quarter with 1,356 new homes, warehouse-style office spaces, up to 100 new shops, “ateliers” and studios for start-up businesses, plus a 2.4-acre elevated public park built on a listed railway viaduct, similar to New York’s High Line. 

Shoreditch has grown organically over 20 years into a destination for young design and tech companies, with factory lofts, fashion boutiques, cool clubs and cafés. It has become  an energising area of innovative enterprise. 


Close proximity to the financial district has helped seed this regeneration, which began when the first dot-com entrepreneurs arrived. But throughout, blossoming Shoreditch has always had an uneasy relationship with the neighbouring Square Mile.

Grand plans
The latest plans for development are in response to an active Save Shoreditch campaign led by a community that fears the City’s corporates will strangle life out of the area. 

Protesters insist they are not anti-development, but question the scale of the new buildings. They fear that new skyscrapers will overpower the historic fabric of surrounding conservation areas and overshadow the low-rise Shoreditch streets. 

A big concern is the low level of affordable housing included, at about 10 per cent of the total. Campaigners fear that the new private homes will be the preserve of rich City bankers and overseas investors. The conflict is, perhaps, a parable for modern London, touching on issues such as gentrification and social exclusion, cultural and urban identity. 

In recent years, part of the goods yard has become Boxpark, a “pop-up mall” created from a line of 60 recycled shipping containers. Now retail units, they form a street market that has come to symbolise the spirit and energy of the new Shoreditch.

Built in 1840, the goods yard was originally a train station, later converted to a depot and in operation until 1964, when it was badly damaged by fire. Redevelopment proposals have been on the drawing board since 2000.
City-fringe buzz in Shoreditch

Ballymore and Hammerson, the developers, have scaled down the height of residential towers by up to four floors — the tallest is now 46 storeys — and are proposing townhouses for families as well as a public park at the heart of the scheme. New streets will be cut through the site to open up routes to Brick Lane and Spitalfields, while refurbished arches and vaults will become shops.

The architecture, of brick instead of shiny glass and steel, reflects the robust character of the old depot rather than the ultra-modern skyscrapers of the City. As well as large modern offices, there will be loft-style workplaces for smaller tech companies, creating a mixed business community. Dissected by train tracks, with tunnels below, this is a complicated urban site compounded by a borough boundary — Tower Hamlets and Hackney — running through the middle. 

Jonathan Weston, senior development manager at Ballymore, says: “We’ve been challenged to look at things differently and believe the scheme is better for it. The balance is right.” 

The Shoreditch campaigners do not agree. “We’ve yet to see the amended planning application, but I fear the changes are cosmetic,” says Rebecca Collings, a local resident and gallery owner. 

“The building on the north side needs to be reduced in height by 50 per cent to address the problems of daylight and shadows. So I assume the developers have shaved off a few floors in the hope council planners will wave it through.”

However, not all locals are opposed to such City-fringe regeneration, and some accuse the new Shoreditch “establishment” of nimbyism, arguing that the protesters want to protect their own gentrified enclave of galleries and boutiques rather than improve the lives of jobless people living on run-down council estates.

Spitalfields Market is an example of successful earlier redevelopment that now has corporate offices and a shopping parade. Today, occupiers include international law firm Allen & Overy, with its headquarters alongside craft stalls and street kiosks, in a seemingly harmonious mix. 

The Tea Building, formerly a storage warehouse, sits opposite the goods yard and is now a creative “village”, with more than 50 firms ranging from advertising agencies to architects. Yet there was strong opposition to this scheme at first.
Tension: it is claimed the arrival of new skyscrapers and corporate flats could dilute Shoreditch's creative character

Creative history
Shoreditch’s entrepreneurial and live-work roots go back to the late 17th century when Huguenot silk weavers fleeing persecution in France brought wealth and left a legacy of splendid terraces, such as in Fournier Street. 

At the height of the British Empire, the area was part of the “workshop of the world”, with factories churning out a wide range of products. 

Decline set in, but was arrested in the Nineties, when empty buildings and cheap rents attracted an arty counterculture and a young community flexing its muscles in the fledgling internet world. Since then the speed of change and the smartening-up has been remarkable. Property prices have  spiralled and £1 million-plus price tags are becoming common.

Homes in the heartland around Hoxton Square, Curtain Road and Redchurch Street command the biggest prices, but gentrification is spreading east towards Bethnal Green, once gangland and the stomping ground of the notorious Kray twins.

The latest projects aim to move away from individualistic loft living in converted factories and warehouses to corporate-style flats in purpose-built high-rise blocks, fully serviced, with amenities on tap.

Principal Tower is being built as trophy homes for City bankers. Designed by renowned architects  Foster + Partners, the landmark 50-storey tower within the mixed-use Principal Place development has 243 apartments, a spectacular entrance lobby with a showpiece spiral steel staircase and sheer stone walls to display pieces of modern art. 

Concierge staff will be on call 24 hours a day, and residents will be able to make use of a private cinema, a club and lounge for business meetings or entertaining, and keep fit in a lap pool and fitness centre, plus there is underground parking. Prices from £778,000. Call JLL on 020 7087 5660.

Coming later this year is another big project called The Stage, which includes a 40-storey residential skyscraper as well as incorporating the excavated remains of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre, where the play Romeo and Juliet was first performed. “These are the homes that City workers, who previously headed west to live in  Fulham, Putney and Chelsea, want to live in,” says Nick Davies of estate agents Stirling Ackroyd. 

Like it or not, Shoreditch is becoming a place for fashionistas and finance professionals.

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