Demolition for nursery built on Spitalfields graveyard

An exceptionally long running and expensive court case has concluded with the decision to demolish a recently built nursery next to a famous church.

The East London landmark, Spitalfield’s Christ Church designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor built a nursery in its grounds back in 2012 after receiving £1.2 million from Tower Hamlets council towards its costs.

The fairly pleasing building however upset the Friends of Christ Church, who raised a lot of money to support the restoration of the church, but objected to the building in what was the church’s graveyard in olden times, and more recently, a 1970s youth centre building.

The Friends had been funding a long running court case to stop the nursery being built.

In 2012, the Chancellor of the diocese of London granted permission for the old buildings to be demolished, and the nursery to be built, subject to the understanding that the land was unconsecrated and that no graves would be disturbed.

However, later that year, graves were found, and moved to a burial vault, with a service performed by the Rector, the Revd Andrew Rider.

Another local pressure group was formed, Spitalfields Open Space to fight the construction of the nursery arguing that the preservation of open space (even if already occupied by a building as this was) was essential in the area, and they used the reburial and confusion over whether the land was deconsecrated as their weapons.

The row became increasingly entrenched over the years, with both sides spending a small fortune on legal fees. In essence, it had become the sort of dispute between neighbours which often consume more time and money than they could ever justify simply because mediation has failed to resolve the dispute.

It probably didn’t help calm tempers when in 2014 the building was shortlisted in an annual engineering award by the Institution of Structural Engineers.

In December 2014, the campaigners lost one round in the legal fight, but won the appeal in July 2015 — as the impressively named Court of Arches of Canterbury — agreed with the campaigners that construction had contravened the Disused Burial Grounds Act 1884 as burials were disturbed during the building works.

The protestors faced a setback in December 2017 though, when the court ruled that while the building was in breach of the Act in one way, as no burials had taken place for 50 years on the site, it was allowed on the other.

Considering the nearly £100,000 costs of removing the nursery, and the £1.5 million costs of construction, the court felt that the costs did not justify the fairly small plot of open space that would be released by its removal.

By now, the £1.5 million nursery had soaked up an estimated additional £750,000 in legal fees.

And still the fight continued.

Earlier this week, the fight ended though, as the Court of Arches of Canterbury has issued its final declaration – stating that the nursery will have to be removed.

However, in a slight blow to the protestors, the court has given the nursery a stay of ten years before demolition will take place, so that that taxpayers investment in its construction wouldn’t be entirely wasted. Restoration of the site is not expected to take place until 2029, by which time the nursery would have been operating for 13 years.

In the ruling, the court concluded by noting that “This highly unusual litigation arose from a misunderstanding of the relevant law which ought never to have occurred”, and following the “bitterly fought battle”, that “sadly, it will take time for the wounds to heal on both sides. ”

The court did note optimistically “what appeared, during the hearing of the appeal, to be the first, if very tentative, steps towards a rapprochement between the parties”

The school’s slogan is “Building bright futures”, which seems a bit hollow at the moment.


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