Mayor John Biggs has responded to suggestions he wants to build a “palace” in Whitechapel.
The Independent group of councillors in Tower Hamlets has asked whether the mayor plans to build a “Blairite Biggsy Palace”, referring to plans to build a new civic centre on the old Royal London Hospital site in Whitechapel Road.
The group has accused the mayor of making a U-turn on misgivings he had about the plans when they were first introduced under Lutfur Rahman.
But Mr Biggs said he wanted to work with all councillors to keep costs to a minimum.
“I am not a ‘Blairite’,” said mayor Biggs. “I am a Labour mayor representing all strands of the Labour Party.
“I made sure all groups – Tory, Labour and Indep endent – were involved in the decision and I am delighted the Independents still think it’s the best option.
“My duty, given the past, was to look closely at the proposals and check they made sense. I want a reference group, including the Independent and Tory councillors, to monitor the project to make sure it doesn’t get out of control or, for example, become a palace. I will be watching it very closely too.”
A Tower Hamlets Independent Group spokesman had said: “Blairite Biggs and his Tower Hamlets Labour accused the previous executive of playing ‘party politics’ and called our proposal – to move the current Town Hall to a new Civic Centre in Whitechapel – an ‘extravagant plan’ and a ‘palace’. Does mayor Biggs’s U-turn mean that we now have a ‘Blairite Biggsy Palace’?”
Mayor Biggs and his cabinet agreed at a meeting on Tuesday, November 3 , to look further into the possibility of building a new civic centre and town hall on the old hospital site.
The council needs to find a new home as its lease on its current Mulberry Place headquarters runs out in 2020.
A statement from Mr Biggs on the plans said: “I don’t take any great pleasure in spending council money on an administrative building – our money should go into services, and I want to keep its costs down while creating a good working environment and making the council more effective and efficient.
“However, we have little choice and I think, after careful and detailed examination, this is the best option. Given the size and the scope of the plans it’s crucial to ensure that the numbers stacked up and we are delivering a scheme which provides residents with the best deal available.
“Moving to a Grade Two building presents its own challenges but the Old London Hospital building has been an icon at the heart of the East End since the 1700s. It’s good that its façade will remain and that the building will continue in its role as a place of public service, belonging to us all.
“The decision also allows for the creation of more than 700 new homes on land we won’t need, and we will ensure that as many of these as possible are truly affordable for local people.”