Updated: Jun 20
What is it about disused breweries in London?
Two of them – the former Truman Brewery in Spitalfields and the former Stag Brewery in Mortlake, have been fighting redevelopment proposals for over a decade and both are currently approaching critical junctures that will determine their futures and that of their local communities.
The Truman Brewery
Brewing in Brick Lane began after the Great Plague with the establishment of a brewery whose employee, Joseph Truman, took over in the late 17th century. Truman’s brewery grew to become Truman, Hanbury & Buxton- the largest brewing company in the world, ultimately closing in 1989. The beer lives on in several varieties -- brewed in Hackney Wick, it’s served in pubs across the country.
The brewery met with a different outcome.
Bought by the Zeloof family in 1989, the spaces were let out for reuse by start-ups and markets. All seemed well until the next generation acquired corporate ambitions to monetise the site. Over time, large corporate tenants moved in too and now a planning application has been submitted for a high end shopping mall with four floors of corporate offices on top. If this is granted, it will set a precedent for conversion of the entire site into a corporate plaza with multiple towers.
Meanwhile the needs of the people living in Spitalfields are for genuinely affordable housing and workspaces. But the new development offers them nothing and will drive up land values, pushing up rents on Brick Lane and pushing out the curry houses and independent shops that give the place its identity. In short, it will wipe out the British Bangladeshi community who call this place home.
Despite a record over 7000 letters of objection, Tower Hamlets Council remains chronically indifferent to the needs of local people and is determined to drive the development through.
The Stag Brewery
Brewing has taken place on the Stag site in Mortlake for over 500 years, providing sustenance to locals such as Thomas Cromwell in the 16th century whose house in Mortlake lies buried beneath the brewery site. Hilary Mantel described this in The Mirror and the Light.
Fast forward to modern times, when in 2010 the site’s owner, InBev, announced it would cease production and leave the site within 5 years. The Mortlake Brewery Community Group was formed to work with London Borough of Richmond upon Thames to develop an outline planning brief. In the period between outline and full planning briefs, the site was sold to City Development Ltd, a listed Singapore developer whose London subsidiary is Reselton Properties, fronted by its agent Dartmouth Capital. Additionally, the council’s leadership changed and with it the planning brief, so what LBRuT approved in January 2020 is very different to what was outlined way back in 2011.
But the changes didn’t stop there; the Mayor of London subsequently called in the application in May 2021 and worked with the developer to increase the density and heights and change the layout of the proposed redevelopment. An FOI request revealed that in the period between call-in and consultation, the Mayor’s planning team met with the developer 23 times, while ignoring requests to meet with the MBCG.
The community awaits the Mayor’s public hearing on the Stag Brewery. Stay tuned.
In the real world of planning, both sites are considered brownfield and therefore ripe for redevelopment without the annoyance of green campaigners to block them.
After all, Londoners need houses, right? And where best to place these but in old breweries, where regeneration beckons like the phoenix rising from the ashes and there’s a sufficient listed/heritage element to keep the facade looking attractively vintage. As an added bonus, the developer may attract a microbrewery to create a modern twist to the site’s industrial heritage.
Except these old breweries lie within communities. Communities that are human and have needs and wants, like clean air, better public transport, public health amenities, access to green space, and even something nice to look at. They are open to change if it comes in the form of improvement to their daily lives, and have articulated their visions with great care and professionalism, in the form of the Mortlake Brewery Community Plan and the Brick Lane Community Vision.
Both campaign groups are saying “Listen to us” in a constructive and engaging way while saying “No” to the proposed developments on their local brownfield breweries. Loudly, collectively, emphatically and continuously.
They’re saying “no” outside of formal channels for engaging with developers and planning authorities because these channels either don’t exist or are not fit for purpose. In the case of the Stag Brewery, the Mayor of London worked with the applicant to increase the density, heights and number of units by 50% more than what the London Borough of Richmond had approved, without any community engagement until the “official” consultation. Documents on the GLA website are nigh on impossible to access, and Impact Assessments related to transport, environment and health do not resemble reality as they were produced remotely without local input.
Equally, as urban brownfield sites both brewery redevelopments lie within wider community settings that are undergoing extensive redevelopment, compounding the impact locally.
The two breweries are tests for London planning authorities and the Mayor of London, because when neighbourhoods are changed and populations shifted without community consent, what next?
Please support these community groups as they advance their campaigns.
Mortlake Brewery Community Group
The Spitalfields Trust
The Battle for Brick Lane
Listen to Locals
18 June 2021