St Mary's Lodge
In February 2002 the property was scheduled to go up for auction, with a reserve price of £750,000. The prospectus for the sale (HERE) stated that "as the building is of local significance Hackney Council Planning would seek to
retain and enhance the existing structure. ... applications for a residential development
comprising the conversion of the existing building to flats
and the construction of four 1 bedroom flats and two 2
bedroom flats in a new structure together with one 3
bedroom and one 4 bedroom house would be
acceptable subject to consents."
Somewhat mysteriously, the property was withdrawn from the auction the day before it was due to go on the block, and sold to the trustees of the Torah Etz Chaim Synagogue (located next to St Mary's Lodge) for £705,000 - £45k below the published auction reserve price and some £400,000 below the market value of the property's 0.14 hectares of inner-London land alone. Additionally, Hackney Planning's original guidelines for the site's development were not kept as a condition of sale. Instead, the Land Registry documentation of the transaction (HERE) shows the Borough to have changed its position, such that the property may now only be used for "community/educational uses".
It must be emphasized that this doesn't mean that Hackney's Planning Office has determined that the property has to be used for community/education purposes. The restrictions on the property's use were made by Hackney Property Services, who are responsible only for the buying and selling of Council properties. They don't actually make planning-and-use decisions per se.
Hackney Property Services' position was that Torah Etz Chaim's stated intention - to use the property as an addition to their existing religious education facility - was of sufficient General Benefit to the Community to make a below-market-value sale price a reasonable concession. The community/educational restriction was formally attached to the sale just to ensure that the buyers would go through with the plans that earned them the below-market price.
If Torah Etz Chaim were subsequently to come to the conclusion that their community/educational plans won't work (if, for example, Hackney Planning were to refuse their application for change-of-use), and that they instead want to develop the property for residential use, Hackney Property Services would almost certainly lift the restriction - but only after being paid the difference between the £705,000 and the property's residential market value.
Perhaps more significant than the issue of the property's use, however, is the fact that there is no mention in the terms of sale of any requirement to restore - or keep - the property's existing structures. Torah Etz Chaim members say they consider the building unsalvageable, and that the plan is indeed to demolish the structure. Hackney Planning has not approved any such plan. Not yet, in any case.
As far as the terms of the sale are concerned, however, the owners can legally tear down St Mary's Lodge and turn the land into a car park, as long as the car park is for the use of the educational facility next door.
It's also curious that Hackney Property Services did not require evidence that Torah Etz Chaim had adequate funds available to develop the property within a reasonable timeframe following its sale. Such proof-of-adequate-resources stipulations are practically universal in situations such as this one, where a public asset is sold at a knock-down price.
Considering the amount of ire and ill-will Torah Etz Chaim's conduct has evoked over the past three years, local residents' response to any eventual planning permission applications should be interesting, to say the least.
Nov 18 2003 Update: A company called "Addison Groundworks and Demolition" is currently erecting a hoarding around the property. Rumours originating from Torah Etz Chaim members suggest that the building of new flats is planned, though Maeve Melvin at Hackney Planning says her department has not received any planning application or request for change-of-use.
Hackney Property Services and Hackney Planning disagree on the interpretation of Hackney's "Locally Listed Buildings" policy. While Hackney Planning says it doesn't have the power to prevent demolition of the building, Peter Scott of Property Services has said that UDP policy EQ20 states that "planning permission will be required for the proposed demolition of [any locally listed] building".
Nov 24 2003 Update: According to Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe, St Mary's Lodge is covered by the local-listing "must seek planning permission for demolition" rule, and Mayor Pipe has personally informed Torah Etz Chaim of this fact. Torah Etz Chaim have assured the Mayor that Addison Groundworks and Demolition were only ever hired to erect the new hoarding, and that permission from Hackney Planning will duly be sought before any redevelopment of the property is undertaken. See November 27 Hackney Gazette article HERE and Hackney Today's version HERE. (Either article may take half a minute or so to download with slower internet connections.)
May 18 2004 Update: Perhaps in connection with Hackney's recent announcement that Lordship Park has been designated a Conservation Area, (see the Designation Report and Appraisal on Hackney's website HERE) the following notice from Hackney's Environment Directorate was posted today on the hoarding around St Mary's Lodge:
Hackney Environment Directorate
Jon Judah, Director of Environment
May 18 2004
To: Torah Etz Chaim
re: St Mary's Lodge
It has come to my attention that you may be considering the demolition of the above building. It is my understanding this work may be imminent given that you have erected hoardings around the site in preparation of such works. I have written to you before on this very matter on November 21 2003 and you are aware of the issues and the implications.
You should be aware that the building is located within a designated conservation area - Lordship Park - and as such requires Conservation Area Consent for any demolition works. The building is also a residential building and requires approval before any demolition works is [sic] carried out - in the form of a Prior Approval Application - in order for the local planning authority to consider whether demolition is appropriate. I would further add that any approval for demolition is unlikely to be approved and should you proceed with demolition the Council is likely to initiate legal proceedings.
You should accept this letter therefore as Formal Notice that if the Council considers that you may seek to demolition [sic] the building the Council will take appropriate legal action to prevent any such demolition.
IT IS NOT IN YOUR INTEREST TO IGNORE THIS LETTER.
January 31 2005 Update: No sign or any refurbishment/redevelopment yet. However, in response to reported Hackney Council pressure to prevent the building from further succumbing to the elements, the owners of St Mary's Lodge have had workmen in to shutter windows, clear out soggy mattresses and other rubbish, patch a gaping hole in the roof and repair the site perimeter hoarding.
Surveyors have also been on-site taking measurements of the property.
August 11 2005 Update: St Mary's Lodge completely gutted by fire of unknown origin. Witnesses report seeing persons known to have been squatting the property leaving in haste shortly before smoke was seen coming from the building.
August 2006 Update: A year since the fire, and St Mary's Lodge remains a dilapidated shell. Scaffolding was erected around the structure in autumn 2005, but no activity has been seen on the site since then.
Torah Etz Chaim is apparently under legal pressure from Hackney Planning for another ongoing matter; namely, for ignoring a 1995 agreement with Hackney that the erection of the extensive portakabin structure at 69-71 Lordship Road (next to St Mary's Lodge) would only be allowed as a temporary structure, and was to be removed by March 2000. (See Hackney Planning Committee Officers' Report HERE).
Why Hackney has allowed Torah Etz Chaim to disregard Council decisions regarding both the portakabin and St Mary's Lodge for so long is unclear.
October 04, 2008 Update: After several instances of recent activity on the property were noticed by neighbourhood residents, it was discovered that St Mary's Lodge's grounds are now being used as an used-tyre tip.
Whether Torah Etz Chaim is benefitting financially by allowing St Mary's Lodge to be used for this purpose has not been established. The sheer number of tyres deposited - and the careful stacking of many of them (click thumbnail photos below to view full-sized versions) - would suggest that this has not been a one-off fly-tipping event.
November 3, 2008 Update: The tyres remain, despite the passing of Hackney Council's October 24 deadline requiring the property's owners to have them removed.
August 28, 2009 Update: Recent activity (late summer 2009) on the property has included apparent tradesmen loading bricks from the site into a van on one occasion, and on another occasion workmen up on the scaffolding at the back, apparently inspecting the rear elevation - which within a few days had suddenly "disappeared" (click thumbnail photo below for a larger version).
December 12, 2009 Update: Local residents recently received notice from Hackney Planning of an application to develop the St Mary's Lodge house into four two-bedroom flats. Additionally, upon the grounds it is proposed that one three-storey building and one two-story residential building - comprising six two-bedroom and two three-bedroom flats - be built, as well as a refuse storage outbuilding and a car park.
It is unclear how this plan squares with the fact that in 2002, Hackney Council pulled the property from a scheduled public auction and sold it instead to the current owners - at a below-market price - on the basis that "The Transferee and its successors in title and occupiers of the Property shall not use or permit to be used the Property or any part of the Property except for the purposes of community uses and / or for the provision of education". (Quote taken from the List of Covenants of the property's Land Registry title document.)
The planning application documents can be seen via Hackney's planning website HERE (document 1) and HERE (document 2).
Or see the drawings directly HERE.
December 2, 2010 Update: The owners of the property are now allowing a commercial enterprise to use the grounds for sorting, dumping, and burning construction waste (see YouTube clip below).
January 6, 2012 Update: It has just been noticed that the property's owners submitted a radically revised application for planning permission in September 2011. Now, rather than redevelopment into flats, it is proposed that St Mary's Lodge be redeveloped for use as a boys' school. The application specifies that the refurbished house would feature PVC windows, an asphalt roof, and possibly bricks different from the original yellow london stock bricks.
The September 2011 planning application documents can be downloaded from HERE
March 26, 2012 Update: It transpires that St Mary's Lodge has been sold within the last few months to Keren Habinyan Ltd, a recently-formed company apparently operating on behalf of the local Vishnitz-sect Hasidic community. Its directors are listed as Abraham Glick, Saul Weiss, and Israel Kahan. It is this organisation which submitted the September 2011 redevelopment planning application to Hackney Planning.
January 31, 2013 Update: According to a 31-01-13 Hackney Gazette article, "A Council spokesperson said officers met with developers on January 14 and are expecting to receive a planning application shortly. In the meantime we are continuing to monitor the condition of the property".
March 25, 2014 Update: SML's future to be debated at Hackney Council mtg tomorrow, Weds March 26th, 6.45pm Hackney Town Hall.
March 30, 2014 Update: The questions raised at the Council Assembly meeting on the 26th have re-ignited public and media support for St Mary's Lodge to be restored without further delay. Please help us use this momentum by signing the "Save St Mary's Lodge" e-petition on Hackney's website. Click HERE for details.
May 26, 2014 Update: The "Save St Mary's Lodge" ePetition is now closed to new signatures. Thanks to everyone who signed (and also to the many supporters who said they would've signed but weren't allowed to as they were not Hackney residents/workers).
We're very pleased to say that the petition got the second-highest number of signers on a Hackney ePetition ever! Just proves what we always suspected - that St Mary's Lodge is a piece of Hackney's heritage that is treasured not only by a hard core of local history nutters (guilty as charged), but by hundreds of our more "normal" Hackney neighbours as well!
More good news is that the 3 new Hackney Councillors representing the ward in which St Mary's Lodge is situated (Clissold ward) have declared themselves as being enthusiastic supporters of the SML cause. Let's hope these good people will consider the preservation of SML a personal legacy goal they aim to achieve during their first term in office.
November 2016 Update: Hackney Planning officers met with local Councillors and representatives of the Lordship Park Conservation Area Advisory Committee and several St Mary's Lodge neighbours to discuss actions being considered to ensure the preservation/renovation and acceptable development of the house and grounds. Those present were impressed by Hackney's clear recognition of this last-of-its-era building's heritage and aesthetic value.
St Mary's Lodge in the media
An ad hoc "St Mary's Lodge Preservation Committee" is currently working to make people aware of the building's history and value - and of the need to let the Borough's decision-makers know how important the property is to the community.
Interested people are encouraged to communicate their concern for the future of St Mary's Lodge to their local councillor, their MP, and especially to:
Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney
Naturally, since the sale price of St Mary's Lodge was greatly reduced (at Council Tax payers' expense) in light of Torah Etz Chaim's promise to create a community educational facility, it's a pretty safe bet that the Mayor, Hackney's Lordship Ward councillors, Stoke Newington MP Diane Abbott, and the building's new owners themselves are looking forward to hearing from each of us... to get our ideas on ways the new community facility can be utilised to serve as great a proportion of our multicultural borough as possible.