London’s historic India Club saved from demolition

London: The India Club in London, a hub for Indian nationalists in the UK during the Indian independence movement in the 1930s and 40s, has been saved from demolition after the city council panel refused to give permission to bring the historic building down to make way for a luxury hotel.  Westminster City Council’s planning committee has refused permission to Marston Properties, the building’s freeholders, to demolish the Club housed within the Strand Continental Hotel, to build a new luxury hotel.

In a unanimous decision at a planning meeting on Tuesday evening, the committee concluded: “The application is considered unacceptable due to the loss of the India Club, an important cultural and night time entertainment use and is accordingly recommended for refusal.” India Club, with its roots in the India League which campaigned for Indian independence in Britain, had attracted over 26,000 signatures for its online “Save India Club” petition over the last few months.

“The Committee members noted that India Club was a very important cultural institution, which had strong historical links with the India League. They also noted that India Club made a significant contribution to the cultural diversity and night time entertainment provision in Westminster,” said Phiroza Marker, the manager of India Club.

Marker had earlier led an application to Historic England for the Club, to be listed as a historically important landmark in an additional bid to prevent its demolition.  While that application was turned down on the grounds that there were similar organisations operating for the Indian community at the time, a decision on its appeal is awaited from the UK government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS).

“The India Club is a constant reminder of Westminster’s multicultural identity and Indo-British friendship. We will continue to campaign for the building’s long-term preservation, including applying to Westminster for its designation as an ‘Asset of Community Value’,” added Marker.

The Club, which has functioned as an Indian restaurant on The Strand in the heart of London since 1946, is located on the first floor of the 26-room Strand Continental hotel.

Marston Properties, which had put in an application with Westminster City Council for the “partial demolition and extension of existing seven-storey building with alterations at ground and basement levels” to create a new hotel, refused to comment on the Council’s decision to turn down its application this week.

The application had attracted an unprecedented 26 public appeals against such a move, with the Club being categorised a “secret gem” and as having “unique historical value to Londoners and visitors”.

Parsi-origin Yadgar Marker has been running the establishment with his wife Freny and daughter Phiroza since they rescued it from ruin in 1997 as the director of Goldsand Hotels Limited. The family has been campaigning to prevent demolition ever since the news first emerged in 2016.

The Club is the contemporary incarnation of the India League – established by Annie Besant in 1921 and then revived by Krishna Menon, India’s first High Commissioner to the UK, in 1929.

A number of Indian and British parliamentarians, including Lord Karan Bilimoria and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, had backed the campaign to preserve its legacy with endorsement letters.

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Free Press Journal