Bunhill Fields: Will Self joins protest against tower blocks ‘choking off city’s life-blood’

Will Self with his book 'Umbrella', he is shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker prize for fiction, at

Will Self with his book 'Umbrella', he is shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker prize for fiction, at a photocall at the Royal Festival Hall in London. - Credit: PA WIRE

Celebrity writer Will Self and poet and actor Heathcote Williams have joined thousands of people protesting against the construction of tower blocks overlooking a historic graveyard.

Niall McDevitt by the gravestones of William Blake (R) and Daniel Defoe (L)

Niall McDevitt by the gravestones of William Blake (R) and Daniel Defoe (L) - Credit: Archant

In an open letter signed by the writers and addressed to local government secretary Greg Clark, campaigners make an emergency appeal to stop the development beside Bunhill Fields.

The plans include the construction of four blocks, two of which would be 10 and 11 storeys high.

Protesters say they would overwhelm and overshadow the graveyard, which is the final resting place of about 120,000 Londoners – including poet William Blake and authors John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe.

The letter, written by poet and tour guide Niall McDevitt, reads: “Its legacy as the most famous Non-Conformists’ cemetery in Britain – if not the world – marks it out as a unique site, but what makes it truly iconic is that it is the final resting place of three of English literature’s most enduring writers.”

It continues: “Office spaces are everywhere in London. Bunhill Fields is rare – a natural, historic and spiritual oasis. We are asking you, secretary of state, to be our culture hero and call off this construction, thus protecting Bunhill Fields from the orgy of development that is sure to ensue.”

Will Self added: “The eradication of genuinely public space in London is like [...] the tight fist of corporatisation choking off the city’s life-blood.”

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The appeal comes after the development was controversially approved last month when it was “called in” by London Mayor Boris Johnson – leaving Islington Council powerless to stop it.

Islington Council and conservationists had expressed concerns over the plans, with the Ancient Monuments Society (AMS) describing the development as a “neighbour that would overwhelm and bully” the Grade I registered cemetery.

Meanwhile, Mr McDevitt’s petition against the towers has collected more than 3,000 signatures, including Jet-Marie Payne, whose ancestors were buried in the cemetery.

A spokesman for the Mayor of London said: “London is growing at a record rate and it is of utmost importance new workspace is identified for the 861,000 new jobs that will be created over the next 20 years.

“Having visited this site personally, the Mayor is confident the scheme will rejuvenate an inefficient and unattractive office building into a development that will crucially deliver genuinely affordable workspace at less than market rent for local start-up businesses, whilst also preserving the character and historic importance of adjoining Bunhill Fields burial ground and conservation area.”

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