Hundreds oppose bid to sell alcohol ‘till late’ at former Clerkenwell Green courthouse

Anger: �Leora �Penchina �(third� right), �George�Devonport �(fourth� left) �and �Dan �Neidle �(holdi

Anger: �Leora �Penchina �(third� right), �George�Devonport �(fourth� left) �and �Dan �Neidle �(holding� child)�with �fellow �protesters�� outside� the �Old �Sessions �House� on �Sunday.� In �the �background �is� the �Clerkenwell �Green �Estate� sheltered �housing �where �Mr� Devonport �lives. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Developers bought up Clerkenwell Green’s Old Sessions House in 2014 and last year had plans approved to turn it into a private members’ club with a rooftop pool. Now neighbours have united to try to stop the council giving it a drinks licence. Sophie Inge reports.

The exterior of Old Sessions House as it is now. Picture: Satila Studios/Dino Soldin

The exterior of Old Sessions House as it is now. Picture: Satila Studios/Dino Soldin - Credit: Archant

Furious neighbours have joined forces to try and stop Islington Council granting an alcohol licence to the developers of a former courthouse in Clerkenwell Green.

Plans to turn the Grade II-listed building into a “late-night” members’ club and bar would be hugely disruptive for the neighbourhood, they claim.

Old Sessions House, which was also an old Masonic lodge, was bought by Swedish developers Oliver and Ted Grebelius in 2014.

The brothers were then granted planning permission by Islington Council in March 2015 to convert the building into a club, restaurant and bar with a pool on the roof.

In March this year, they submitted an application to the council for an alcohol licence – which is due to be ruled on later this month. The brothers argue it is inaccurate to call the application a late-night drinking venue as it will be shutting at midnight on weekdays and half an hour later at weekends.

But more than 150 people living around Clerkenwell Green have objected to the plans, which the developers insist will make an “amazing positive contribution” to the neighbourhood.

The inside of the old magistrates' dining room, which developers want to turn into a restaurant and

The inside of the old magistrates' dining room, which developers want to turn into a restaurant and wine bar. Picture: Satila Studios - Credit: Archant

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George Devonport, 82, who has lived on the Clerkenwell Green Estate opposite Old Sessions House for 28 years, said: “The developers aren’t listening to local residents. This is too big, too disruptive and wrong for Clerkenwell. We’re very worried because it’s just 19 metres from our homes.”

Dan Neidle, who lives off Clerkenwell Green, added: “I’ve never seen so many people so angry about a licence application. We’re horrified at the thought of a vast late-night drinking venue so near to where hundreds of people live.”

The residents have the backing of Clerkenwell councillor Raphael Andrews, who says the developers are trying to commercialise the area.

“They’re treating it as if it’s a place like King’s Cross or Smithfield, but it’s mainly a residential area,” he said.

Leora Penchina, who started a petition against the license, said: “On any given night, there are already 300 people outside drinking [at other establishments] – and this new development has a capacity of 1,000.

“There are already problems with traffic and there are too many drinkers standing on the pavement and pushing pedestrians on to the road.”

The developers have hit back at their new neighbours’ claims.

“The idea of us doing a nightclub or an alcohol-led drinking venue of the whole building is entirely false,” Oliver Grebelius told the Gazette. “What we are proposing is a historically-led reinstatement of one of London’s true diamonds in the rough.”

The proposal he said, is to create “a public social hub with a food focus, where people can gather for breakfast, lunch and dinner and drinks”.

He added: “The licence which has been applied for stops alcohol being served at midnight on most days and at 12.30am three days per week, and most venues will be open the whole day. Thus it would certainly not be accurate to call it either late-night or alcohol-focused, which typically would mean opening and closing much later. We will employ a robust management plan and noise remedial measures, and 90 per cent of the building will exit towards Farringdon station for easy access to transportation – away from residential buildings.

“We are extremely confident it will become an amazing positive contribution to the area, and once again let the public into a landmark building that has been locked away from access for more than 100 years.”