The controversial Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, has come under fire again for sanctioning the £9m purchase of the derelict Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, in order to turn it into a civic hub containing new council offices, meetings and retail spaces.
Tower Hamlets currently rents civic space at Mulberry Place in Docklands for £5m a year.
Rahman claimed the relocation of the Town Hall would save the council significant sums. “This stunning building has been a part of our history and our heritage for hundreds of years,” he said.
“It’s fitting that we have purchased this building, to make sure it continues to be a part of the community.”
With the opening of the new Crossrail station in 2018, Tower Hamlets has identified Whitechapel as a huge growth opportunity waiting to happen.
Critics have claimed ‘the Mayor’s Palace’ is a vanity project pushed forward by a Mayor facing a court case over alleged electoral fraud.
The Royal London Hospital is a grade II listed building and was where Joseph Merrick, dubbed ‘The Elephant Man’, died in 1890.
Head of the government’s property unit at the Cabinet Office, meanwhile, Bruce Mann, has said that Labour’s 2014 pledge to sell central London properties to reduce the national debt could not go ahead because only one of the assets mentioned – the QEII Centre in Westminster – was owned by the central government.
Mann noted that the properties targeted by Labour, including the Civil Service Club and Marlborough House, were technically Crown assets.
However, the newly refurbished QEII Centre is valued by Labour at over £25m and could still be put up for sale.
Francis Maude, the minister overseeing government property, said: “The argument that selling this [the QEII Centre] would be a serious contribution to reducing the deficit is for the birds”.
Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Labour’s Chris Leslie, said the properties mentioned were just “examples?to see if these could help generate revenues or be disposed of to help reduce the national debt”.
Chancellor George Osborne said the Shadow Chancellor “seems to have forgotten that [the QEII Centre] is the only bit of government that pays us any income”.
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