Campaigners who have fought against plans to redevelop the building housing London’s iconic India Club have welcomed a decision by Westminster City Council to reject a planning application from the property company that owns the premises.
Following a meeting on Tuesday, Westminster’s subcommittee on planning applications rejected the proposal from Marston Properties Ltd that would have revamped the six-storey building on the Strand in Central London, pointing to the fact that it would have led to the loss of “an important cultural and night time entertainment” venue”.
The club had “strong associations with the expat Indian community dating back to 1951 and is considered to be of significant cultural importance,” the committee explained in its decision.
“We are extremely pleased… the Club shouldn’t just be seen as the site of a connection to the Indian League but that it is also of significant cultural importance to the area, and the South Asian community of this country as a whole, and beyond that,” said William Gould, a professor of Indian history at the University of Leeds, who helped draft an application to Historic England, the public body tasked with looking after Britain’s historic environment, to get the Club a “listed building” status.
Historic England rejected the application earlier this year, despite the “public affection for the building and its history” on the grounds that listing was not designed to preserve a particular use for a building. The decision left the fate of the India Club in the planning committee’s hands.
“We are delighted that Westminster Council has refused an application that would have seen a unique and iconic piece of London’s history disappear,” said Yagdar Marker, who has run the restaurant since 1997.
He added that they would continue to campaign for the building’s long-term preservation, and would be applying to Westminster to become an Asset of Community Value. When contacted, Marston Properties declined to comment on the developments.
The India Club has been at the location since 1964, though the club itself had strong connections to the India League and the independence movement. Since then, it has become an important centre of diaspora events in London, as well as being a hub for students, lawyers, journalists and others in the area.
Frozen in time
In a city full of posh Indian restaurants, the Club is something of an anomaly, appearing in many ways frozen in time, with much of its original features, including Formica tables and chairs and stained glass windows, as well as old portraits of figures such as Dadabhai Naoroj and a rare framed photo of Jawarharlal Nehru.
The Marker’s campaign to save the club elicited strong support from historians, politicians and other prominent figures from Shashi Tharoor to Cobra beer founder Lord Bilimoria and author Will Self.
Since last year, over 26,000 people — including many beyond the South Asian diaspora — have signed a petition calling for it to be saved, in order to be able to preserve the “rich cultural history” it represented.
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