FOI response tells us what we already knew about Exemplar’s motives over chapel

A courtesy letter to us from Westminster City Council in response to our petition to preserve the name Middlesex Hospital Chapel did not tell us very much. But documents obtained from The Council under the Freedom of Information Act were more enlightening.

Scanned email.

An email sent to Westminster City Council explained that Exemplar didn’t want to mention “Middlesex” or “Hospital” in re-naming the Chapel. The words were not welcome and confusing.

On 15 April 2014 Councillor Robert Davis, deputy leader of Westminster City Council, wrote to us saying that he had made enquiries and he reported that Exemplar “deny that there is any existing proposal to rename the building ‘Pearson Chapel’”.

He said: “A Steering Group has been set up to form a Chapel Trust, which will take overall responsibility of the Community Centre Building upon its completion. I have been assured that no new name has been agreed, as they have not progressed as far as appointing trustees yet.

“Once Trustees have agreed upon a name, it has to be submitted to the City Council for our approval under Part ll of the London Building (Amendmen) Act 1939. lt is my sincere hope that the Trustees take into account local views before submitting an application,” he wrote. (Copy of letter here)

However, documents obtained by Fitzrovia News under the Freedom of Information Act on 30 April have revealed that Exemplar were considering a number of different names for the Middlesex Hospital Chapel.

Exemplar were referring to the Middlesex Hospital Chapel as “Fitzroy Place Chapel” from at least as far back as November 2012. A 2012 document setting out the mechanism for setting up the Chapel Trust was sent to the City Council and refers to “Fitzroy Place Chapel Trust”.

Michael Bucknell, a director at Exemplar, wrote to Westminster City Council on 10 March 2014 confirming that they wanted to change the name and drop any reference to Middlesex Hospital saying “… future occupiers both commercial and residential do not necessarily embrace the fact that the site used to be a hospital and due to differing levels of sensitivities, don’t welcome overpowering references to the hospital.”

The email stated: “The naming of the chapel will again need to balance the memory of the past with the requirements of the future.” The email says a “legal name has been proposed, ‘Fitzrovia Chapel Foundation'” but that “no ‘trading’ name has been agreed and no trustees have yet been appointed.”

Exemplar propose a plaque inside the chapel saying: “This plaque was laid to remember the Middlesex Hospital which occupied this site between 1757 and 2006 and to celebrate the restoration of this chapel by Exemplar in 2014.”

The information received merely confirms what we already knew: Exemplar don’t want to use the words “Middlesex” and “Hospital” and have scant regard for the history of the place.

The name Pearson Chapel came under consideration after the failure to name the new street through the site Fitzroy Place. (Westminster City Council rejected it as a street name but Exemplar continue to use the name for marketing the site.) The new street name Pearson Square was agreed by Westminster council in 2013. Exemplar then considered the names “Pearson Chapel” or “Pearson Hall”. Both these names were used verbally to people visiting the site and in discussions about the restoration of the chapel.

The first we heard of the name “Fitzrovia Chapel” was in the March email.

Bucknell´s email of March 2014 (and Exemplar´s marketing brochure) suggests that Exemplar were promoting the chapel as an asset (actually as a venue) to add value to the sales of flats and commercial space. Exemplar were therefore pre-empting the set up of the Chapel Trust (which would manage the building) and its approval by Westminster council. Exemplar were obliged to restore the chapel and set up the trust as part of the planning permission. In marketing the chapel in a particular way they are acting ahead of any decisions yet to be made by the chapel trust.

Again, Exemplar have declined to comment to us other than to say that they will make an announcement in the middle of the summer this year. And so it goes on.

The full FOI response is below.

30 April 2014

Dear Mr Rees

I am writing in response to your recent request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

1.    What the “corporation” has approved with regard to the “Trust” as described at paragraph 2, page 22 of the s106 agreement. I”d like to know who are the potential trustees of the Trust as well as what “mechanism” has been approved.

Nothing has been approved in this regard. The owner has submitted the attached document but its content has yet to be agreed by the City Council.   

2.    At what date the “corporation” expects the Trust to be established, as indicated at paragraph 3, page 22.

Unknown at present.

3.    If this trust has already been established, I’d like to see what details the corporation has been given and it has approved, as indicated in paragraph 4, page 22.

The Trust has not been established.

4.    I’d like to know if the corporation regards occupation of 90% (as described at paragraph 4, page 22) as being that same as 90% sold by the owner. (The reason for asking is that many of the flats are believed to have been sold as investment property only and might not be occupied in the next few years). I”d also like to see copies of any communication between the corporation and the owner with regard to discussions about this point.

On the face of it the City Council would consider that ‘occupation’ in the context of the legal agreement would mean whenever the units are sold rather than the physical act of their occupation.  However, it is accepted that there may be a different interpretation as there is some ambiguity involved here. That said, there has been no approach to the City Council from the owner on the matter and therefore no correspondence to release.

5.    I’d like to see any copies of communication between the Corporation and the owner with regard to the name of the Middlesex Hospital Chapel and any discussion to change its name to Pearson Chapel or any other name.

In response to a telephone query from the City Council, the attached email was received from the Development Director regarding the name of the Chapel.  The final paragraph of the email has been redacted as its content contains material which is exempt under Section 44(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Section2 (1) of Part II of the Local Government Act 1986 because it relates to material which appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.

Email to Westminster City Council 10 March 2014.

Document outlining the mechanism for setting up Fitzroy Place Chapel Trust.

%d bloggers like this: