Bunhill Fields tower block plan: 11-floor building ‘will overshadow Blake’s grave’

Bunhill Fields graveyard in Islington looking towards Featherstone Street

Bunhill Fields graveyard in Islington looking towards Featherstone Street - Credit: Archant

A controversial 11-storey block that would tower over a historic Islington graveyard has been dragged back onto the planning table by the Mayor of London.

The proposed 11-storey tower block by Bunhill Fields

The proposed 11-storey tower block by Bunhill Fields - Credit: Archant

Boris Johnson has wrested the decision on Monmouth House in City Road out of the council’s hands, leaving planning bosses powerless to stop it – something they had hoped to do.

Conservationists say the enormous 43-metre skyscraper would “bully” the graveyard and “overwhelm” Bunhill Fields, where Londoners and tourists regularly visit the 120,000 graves.

The Grade I registered park is the final resting place of artist and poet William Blake and writer Daniel Defoe.

Ironically, the Blake Society has itself spent seven years trying unsuccessfully to get planning permission for its own “development” – a 1m headstone to mark the poet and artist’s original burial spot, which is currently unmarked. His existing grave stone is in the wrong place.

Developers want to flatten buildings overlooking the famed graveyard and replace them with four blocks, two of which would be 10 and 11 storeys high.

The council had already slammed the plans as unacceptable, arguing the design could cause “significant harm” to the park, classed as a “garden of special historic interest”.

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The Ancient Monument Society (AMS) and the Blake Society have added their voices to the dissenters.

In a letter to the Mayor of London seen by the Gazette, the AMS said: “The newcomer is just too vast. Part of the character of Bunhill is that sense of modern life crowding in but not spoiling it – its mood is the more rarefied precisely because of that tension.”

The society added the development would “overwhelm” and “bully” the site.

Tim Heath, chairman of the Blake Society, said the group had spent seven years trying to get planning permission for a full headstone at Blake’s original burial spot in Bunhill Fields, but had been forced to keep the stone flat due to planning restrictions.

“It’s remarkably unfair that an 11-storey building is allowed when we aren’t even allowed to put up a traditional gravestone,” he said. “So something is not consistent.”

Mr Johnson on Monday “called in” the planning application, meaning Islington Council no longer has the authority to decide on the plans.

Cllr James Murray, the council’s executive member for housing and development, said: “Once again, the Mayor has ignored local decision-making for a major planning application. He has also disregarded our concerns that the applicants have not provided the evidence needed to properly assess how this proposal will affect local residents.”

It isn’t the first time the Mayor has called in a planning application in Islington. In January 2014, he took control of a decision on the Mount Pleasant site after the council complained abou the lack of affordable housing – a month after doing the same for the City Forum development in City Road after the council refused the applications. Both have now been passed.

A spokesman for the Mayor said there was a “critical need” for new work space for the hundreds of thousands of new jobs that will be created over the next 20 years in the capital.

“The Mayor has called in this application to carry out a more detailed assessment of plans that propose to increase office space, and he will consider all of the planning issues as well as addressing any other concerns raised before making a decision,” he added.