Nando’s chickens out of opening restaurant in Canning Town Library

Nando's have axed plans to open a branch in Canning Town Library into a branch. Pic: Rachael Burford

Nando's have axed plans to open a branch in Canning Town Library into a branch. Pic: Rachael Burford - Credit: Archant

Restaurant chain Nando’s has dropped its plan to take Canning Town Library, next to where the GMB was born, after pressure from the trade union.

The Grade II listed building, and the neighbouring public hall in Barking Road, hosted famous Left-wing political speakers such as trade unionist Keir Hardie and suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst.

After a meeting there in 1889, Will Thorne formed the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers, which later became the GMB. Thorne also helped organise the London Dock Strike of the same year.

The company was in negotiations to transform the first floor of the library into its latest branch and the plans were recommended for approval by Newham Council.

However, the GMB fought the idea, saying it was “bird-brained” and showed an “utter disregard for East London’s proud history”.

It wants to turn the building into offices for its staff.

Commenting on Nando’s backing down, Warren Kenny, GMB regional secretary for London, said: “We’re delighted Nando’s has seen sense and shelved this proposal before it hatched. There is a time and a place for chicken, but a historic library that forms part of the fabric of Newham’s community was never it.

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“GMB looks forward to working with the council to develop a plan that ensures the historic legacy of the building lives on as a community asset for generations to come.”

At a meeting last week, the borough’s planning committee deferred the plan until a later date after almost 40 councillors and both Newham MPs, Lyn Brown and Stephen Timms, signed a letter against it.

The council argued the building was costing “£2,000 per week to maintain” and said Nando’s was its “preferred occupier”.

GMB regional organiser Gordon White said: “The library is part of the great history of GMB and the UK Labour Party. We can’t let historic buildings like this slip away for the sake of a short-term gain.

“It’s nothing against Nando’s but to have something like that there would have been disrespectful.”

A spokesman for Nando’s said: “It has become clear that the history of the library building and its deep association with certain groups in the community means there are very strong feelings about how it should be used.

“As a result of these unique circumstances, we have decided not to proceed with our application.”

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said: “I’ve made it clear that under my administration, our residents will be at the heart of everything we do as a council and that includes regeneration.

“As the newly elected mayor, I am having to deal with a number of inherited programmes that were not started under my administration, and this was one of them.

“One of my priorities is to radically improve the provision for young people. I plan to meet young people in Canning Town and across Newham to find out what might work as a youth hub. It would be lovely if the old library could be considered as one of the options for local young people.”