When Lanterns over Janet Viola saw her theatre and nursery space on the plans of the new Millharbour Urban Village she thought the future was secured.

The much-loved community arts and education facility had already faced eviction once – in 2008 – and was saved with a last-minute donation from the public purse.

In Galliard Homes Millharbour development Lanterns, and another Isle of Dogs institution – the Riverhouse Montessori – saw a safe berth. A third local authority school will be built from scratch.

And then came the crushing news. She would have to find up to £6million to make the dream move a reality. It was, she said, “a fantastic surprise” – which she heard about only after Galliard had advertising Lanterns’ presence in the public consultation.

Galliard Homes has denied all claims that it misled anyone in relation to Lanterns (see statement below).

Janet Viola with Elton John's piano, donated to the studio theatre by Yamaha

Janet said: “Galliard only visited Lanterns twice but produced extensive plans and drawings at the public forum using it as a major lever to gain planning permission.

“Galliard informed us at a later date that it was ‘merely an idea’ and if Lanterns wished to be included in the development we would need to raise [the money] to build it ourselves. They suggested we made alternative plans that were more affordable.

“They should meet their moral obligations to the community by building Lanterns into the development.”

Cllr Andrew Wood also expressed surprise. He said last week: “Until last Tuesday I had assumed that Lanterns would simply move across the road,” he said last week.

Speaking at a Tower Hamlets Borough council planning meeting on Thursday architect David West said: “A crucial part of our brief was to meet with Lanterns and understand their needs. It’s not for me to say that that person is there. I cannot control that. I am afraid that is the nature of the planning process.”

Galliard planning agent Paula Carney said: “We have dealt with all three schools in exactly the same way. We have visited to them, listened to their brief and all three I can confirm have been designed into the scheme.

“We would like all three of those schools to be in the scheme. That is what is proposed. All are being provided to shell and core or fully furnished as the operator requires it.”

Galliards has yet to respond to The Wharf on the claims that Lanterns and the public forums were “misled” by the inclusion of Lanterns on the application.

The council has no power to insist that Galliards instal Lanterns into the scheme as it is “a commercial relationship between two private entities”.

But concerns over Lanterns’ future as well as question marks over affordable housing and the density of the development prompted councillors to defer a decision. A site visit is planned.

An artist's impression of Millharbour Urban Village

Cllr Woods said: “I’d like councillors to do a site visit to Hong Kong. I’m serious. There is no area in London or Europe that’s going to be as dense as South Quay.

“We will have the tallest and densest residential developments in the UK. If you’re going to keep approving these developments you’re going to need to take responsibility to ensure that everything works for residents.”

Architect Mr West said: “We have openly discussed the crucial ingredients on how to create a high density environment and that is why it has been described by others including the Greater London Authority as an exemplary approach to high density living in London.”

The plan consists of four buildings offering six towers, between 32 and 42 storeys, with public parks, schools, commercial space and 1,500 homes, 26% affordable.


Galliard Homes issued this statement on June 17 in response to the claims.

"The suggestion that the owner of Lanterns and Cllr Wood had been led to believe that Lanterns would simply move into the new space is disingenuous in the extreme.

"Galliard Homes has maintained an extensive dialogue with Janet Viola (the director and owner of the business) going back to 2013 and at no time was there ever any suggestion that the premises were to be provided free of charge.

"The premises included in the development were designed specifically to Janet Viola’s specification including a very expensive 700 seater performance theatre. This specification was designed into GHL’s scheme at its own cost and formed part of the submission to Tower Hamlets development committee.

"GHL have supported Lanterns in its existing premises for many years and having enjoyed a lengthy rent free period at the commencement of the lease, Lanterns even now pays a substantially discounted rent.

"Whilst GHL is happy to support the business in its existing location in this way, Galliard Homes cannot be expected to do so indefinitely and certainly not in the proposed development in such bespoke and expensively engineered premises.

"At no time was Lanterns told that the business would need to pay £6million for the premises nor that it would need to build the premises itself.

"GHL have on several occasions encouraged Lanterns to appoint professional advisers so that a lease could be negotiated as would be normal in such a transaction but this has not happened. GHL have offered Lanterns terms for a new lease on the premises at a commercial rent and negotiations continue.

"Neither the development committee nor the public have been misled and GHL have been very open about our willingness to accommodate Lanterns within the development on commercial terms.

"GHL would be delighted to re-house Lanterns in its Millharbour Village Development and has made great efforts and allowances to do so including phasing the development so that Lanterns can remain where they are until the new premises are completed but we cannot be expected to simply give the space away when other similar occupiers have negotiated and agreed commercial terms.

"GHL looks forward to continuing and concluding negotiations for a lease for new premises with Lanterns and to their inclusion into the scheme."