Strongroom boss vows to take planning battle to High Court if Hackney Council delivers ‘death knell’ office block approval

PUBLISHED: 16:49 12 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:49 12 December 2018

Strongroom and 118 Curtain Road which could be developed. Picture: Mike Banks

Strongroom and 118 Curtain Road which could be developed. Picture: Mike Banks

The iconic recording studio Strongroom has hosted the likes of the likes of the Spice Girls, The Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy. Tonight its fate hangs in the balance, as the planning committee decides whether to grant approval to a six-storey office block next door.

Owners Paul Woolf and Richard Boote. Picture: Rob KellyOwners Paul Woolf and Richard Boote. Picture: Rob Kelly

Battle lines have been drawn in Curtain Road where the bosses of an iconic recording studio have vowed they will not hesitate to take action at the High Court over an unknown developer’s plans to build a six-storey office block next door.

Owners Paul Woolf and Richard Boote fear construction of the proposed development – with which they share a party wall - will cripple Strongroom, which has seen the likes of the Spice Girls, Chemical Brothers and Prodigy record chart topping hits there.

The noise and vibration would render it impossible for artists to record there for at least 18 months, they say.

So great the threat, they have already spent £30,000 on legal fees and are prepared to spend another £150,000 on a Judicial Review should it get waved through by Hackney Council’s planning committee members, who are voting on the plans tonight.

Producer/Engineer Ben Baptie in Strongroom studio 1. Picture: Mike BanksProducer/Engineer Ben Baptie in Strongroom studio 1. Picture: Mike Banks

Although the consultation period did not end until yesterday, it was penned in to come before the planning committee the following day. Planning officer Barry Coughlan had already filed his report a week in advance, recommending approval with no planning restrictions to bring the derelict building back into use.

Mr Woolf has complained not all the evidence been submitted by that point, and Mr Coughlan was therefore unable to give due weight to all the arguments raised.

He had already spent two years fighting another planning application against a basement in Hampstead which threatened his other recording studios Air, and “couldn’t believe it” when he found out about this latest development – the day after they won the first battle. He has noticed a big difference between the attitude of the two councils.

“We have been going backwards and forwards with the planning officer about the flawed consultation process, and he’s been determined it will go ahead on the 12th,” said Mr Woolf. “It looks like he’s calculatedly trying to ram this through and we can’t understand why. What is the rush of a six-storey office block? Our barristers and solicitors are bemused.”

Producer Danton Supple in Strongroom Studio 4. Picture: Mike BanksProducer Danton Supple in Strongroom Studio 4. Picture: Mike Banks

The bid to change the building’s use from ‘storage and distribution’ to ‘business’ and to extend upwards by three storeys has been submitted by an unknown applicant, represented by consultancy firm CMA Planning.

Mr Woolf believes refurbishing the building rather than building upwards would be more acceptable.

“They are our neighbours and we accept you can’t have silence – but two years of noise will put us out of business for the developer to make vast amounts of money,” he said.

Richard Boote, who set up the studio in 1984, received the businessman of the year award from Jules Pipe in 2006 for his work rejuvenating Shoreditch through the firm.

Producer Phil Harding at Strongroom's studio 3. Picture: Mike BanksProducer Phil Harding at Strongroom's studio 3. Picture: Mike Banks

“It’s ironic we find ourselves threatened, as myself and Strongroom played a large part in creating the place people want to now be,” he told the Gazette. “In 1983 there was absolutely nothing here at all. We almost had to send an Ordnance Survey map for people to work out where we were. “The reason I added a bar in 1990 was there was nowhere else in Shoreditch you could get food or drink other than one greasy café, believe it or not.”

While he can’t divulge many anecdotes of incidents at the studios over the years, he remembers the Spice Girls practising their routines in the car park.

“People would look at them thinking: ‘What’s all this about?’ and then overnight they were a big sensation. I remember Jay Kay from Jamiroquai crashing his first fast car he bought after getting a record deal, as he was leaving the carpark. The Prodigy had just finished recording Firestarter and said: ‘What do you think of this?’ It’s great to hear things like that and you know it’s going to be huge.

“Over the years endless people have been through the place. They are all standing up for me now. It almost makes me want to cry.”

Producer and engineer Marta Salogni at Strongroom. Picture: Mike BanksProducer and engineer Marta Salogni at Strongroom. Picture: Mike Banks

The council’s business chief Cllr Guy Nicholson said: “The application has undergone a lengthy and thorough assessment by officers and consultants representing all parties in regards to managing and mitigating the impacts of the proposed construction on Strongroom.

“The planning authority will always accept written representations about any application up until the day of the planning sub-committee meeting and relay any representations either before or at the meeting.”

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