Big Ben bell foundry plan approved by government

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image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe Queen has visited Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Plans to redevelop the foundry where Big Ben was cast have been given the green light by the government.

The plans for a boutique hotel had already been approved by Tower Hamlets Council, but the communities secretary decided to call them in - taking the decision out of the council's hands.

Whitechapel Bell Foundry started up in east London in 1570.

It is the oldest manufacturing firm in Britain.

The foundry, which also made the Liberty Bell that hangs in Philadelphia, is listed in the Guinness World Records as the oldest manufacturing firm in Britain.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe Liberty Bell in Philadelphia became a symbol for campaigners wanting to abolish slavery in the US

It had been based on the site on the Whitechapel Road since 1738, but in 2016 its owners announced the operation would move elsewhere in the UK due to a downturn in orders.

Whitechapel tower bells are now being cast by the Westley Group Ltd, near Stoke-on-Trent, while Whitechapel hand-bells are being cast in south London.

The proposals, submitted by Raycliff Whitechapel LLP, will see the refurbishment of part of the Grade II*-listed foundry to create new workshops and a café, while an unlisted 1980s extension at the rear will be demolished and replaced with a 103-room hotel.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe foundry began operating on the premises in 1738

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said in his decision note that the project would "greatly enhance both the character and the appearance of the Whitechapel High Street Conservation Area", create "affordable workspace" and bring overall economic benefits.

After the plans were submitted to Tower Hamlets Council, there were about 780 objections to the scheme - one councillor told the development committee the redevelopment would amount to "historical vandalism".

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe Great Bell, better known as Big Ben, was installed in the Elizabeth Tower in 1858

If a planning application is called in, there will be a public inquiry chaired by a planning inspector, or lawyer, who will make a recommendation to the secretary of state.

Very few applications are called in. Those that are normally concern applications raising issues of national significance.

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