London, United Kingdom – Despite a months-long campaign against the redevelopment of Brick Lane in East London, a local council committee voted in favor of plans to build a shopping center and corporate office block in the historic multicultural area, which has been home to successive waves of immigrant communities.
There were 7,000 objections to the project, which aims to rebuild the old Truman Brewery buildings, including the Bengali East End Heritage Society.
This week’s decision was criticized by activists and organizers who argue that the plans to rebuild harm minority communities and are part of a gentrification program across London targeting working-class areas.
Founded in 1666, the Truman Brewery was one of the largest in the world and shipped India Pale Ale (IPA) to the British Raj.
Since its closure in 1989, it has become a cultural center used primarily by 300 small businesses and run by the Zeloof Partnership.
In terms of location, Brick Lane is in the heart of the UK Bangladeshi community and is immortalized as a cultural melting pot throughout British history.
Previous settlers in the area came from French, Irish, and Jewish working-class communities. A French Huguenot chapel built in 1742 was later used by Christian missionaries, and then consecrated in 1898 as a synagogue. In 1976, the building was converted into a mosque.
Nijjormanush, a group set up to organize Bengalis and Bangladeshis in the UK that has been campaigning against the Brick Lane redevelopment plan, was “deeply disappointed” with the recent outcome.
“The vote was a breach of duty on the part of the councilors and exposed a deeper rot within the Tower Hamlets Council. This reflects a broader trend of inner-city city councils, particularly those dominated by the Labor Party, offering full support for big business and gentrification schemes in their working-class constituencies, ”said a spokesman.
The broader gentrification of Brick Lane and its surrounding areas did not begin with the Truman Brewery proposal; In recent years, the area has transformed from a largely inexpensive South Asian center to an expensive nonconformist settlement.
Nijjormanush members said locals described to them how decades of change had made them “feel strange in the place they long called home.”
Poplar & Limehouse Labor MP Apsana Begum took to Twitter to express her disappointment with the decision to allow the plan to go ahead.
“Very disappointing decision despite more than 7000 local objections, including from my constituents. Local businesses and individuals will be driven out by rising rents. The rich cultural vitality and legacy of the East End should never have been lost in the pursuit of financial gain, ”he tweeted.
In Brick Lane, things went on as usual with people trying to attract customers to their famous curry houses, but opinion was divided.
Mohamed, 20, owner of Curry Bazaar, told Al Jazeera: “We are just recovering from the pandemic. For us, it is more harm than good. The mall will attract more people to the area, but only to the mall, not here. “
Sitting outside a vaporizer store, Munim, 34, told Al Jazeera that he is undecided about remodeling plans but hopes the local community will be considered.
“It could be good and it could be bad,” said the longtime Brick Lane resident. “I have been here for many years. If they have a scheme where they can really incorporate some of the jobs that the youth will be given here, then it will bring more to the community.
“I’m not saying I’m in favor, but they can make it look like it’s for the community.”
Shamsuddin, the 62-year-old owner of the Monsoon restaurant since 1976, is optimistic but called for the focus to shift from construction plans to community funding.
“The mall is a good idea. You don’t need to go west [London] to buy something, you can come here and the community will benefit from it, ”he said.
The Tower Hamlets board said in a statement that while the committee agreed to the plan, permission to build would only be granted if the scheme “creates public benefits, including updated proposals for affordable workspaces and independent retail.”
But Nijjormanush still doubts that the project can do anything good.
“At a time when the Bangladeshi community has experienced the worst impact of COVID,” the spokesperson said, referring to the disproportionate effect of the virus on some communities. “We don’t see how our communities can recover from this.”