Saturday, 12 January 2008

Don't miss this OPENshoreditch meeting

Click images to enlarge. For more detail, see below.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

The developers' vision casts shadows over Shoreditch

The image above was produced by the major City developer, Hammerson, to illustrate its vision of a "City Fringe Masterplan". Hammerson has planned massive developments in south Hackney and Bethnal Green. They plan to extend a curtain of towers from Shoreditch High Street eastwards across the Bishopsgate Goodsyard to Brick Lane with buildings up to and exceeding 50 storeys.
You can be assured that these plans have been discussed, and even agreed in principle, with the Hackney and Tower Hamlets Councils and with the Greater London Authority. Hackney's "Tall Buildings Strategy" has already identified parts of south Shoreditch as an "opportunity area for the location of tall buildings".

The first step in this encroachment of City towerblock development into Shoreditch is to be Hammerson's Bishops Place development designed by Norman Foster's architects. It will seek to redefine the City's boundaries. The planning application for this is to be considered by Hackney's Planning C ommittee on 23 January 2008.An inital report on the scheme by the Greater London Authority dated 12 December 2007 states that "the principle of the development is supported".

In 1990 English Heritage had objected to earlier proposals for developing the Bishops Place site because it made "no attempt to step down in scale from the height and mass... to the traditional and historic scale... of the buildings in Shoreditch... fails to pay any attention to the setting of the conservation area". Hammerson's scheme is twice the height and also completely fails to acknowledge its context.

The many listed and locally listed buildings of Shoreditch presently reflect its fascinating history. In 1991 the Hackney Council identified Shoreditch as a priority area and designated 2 conservaton areas "to offer protection to those publicly cherished historic areas under threat from redevelopment or unsympathetic change... [there is] a significant threat of redevelopment connected with the incursion of office functions from the City"

Hammerson's new proposals for Bishops Place have attracted extensive criticism from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. CABE identifies the scheme's canyon effect, its overdevelopment, the difficulty to navigate particularly for the visually impaired, its overbearing nature, the real risk of creating inhospitable microclimates and a "failure to relate to the inherent grain or character of South Shoreditch in terms of use and scale [which] represents a fundimental flaw in the proposals... We do not think the proposal should gain planning permission in its current form"

Developments of this scale will not only destroy the setting of Shoreditch's historic streetscape, they will also cast many commercial and residential buildings into shade. The developers will have already considered this and hired big guns to present their proposals most favourably. They will also have budgeted for compensation payments to those with rights to light and assessed the risk of Court injunctions being upheld to stop the redevelopment.
Although CABE opposes the present scheme, will this stop Hackney? Hackney Council owns land on the footprint of the proposed Bishops Place development. It has a substantial financial interest in the outcome of the application being made to its Planning Committee by Hammerson. Hackney stands to receive around £10 million in "planning gain" (Section 106) money. In addition Hackney will receive a significant capital receipt from the sale of its site to Hammerson under a long standing "option agreement". Regretable the sale proceeds won't be reinvested to benefit Shoreditch's prosperity - because they are already earmarked to pay for the Council's £45 million Town Hall extension plans. A recent report on those plans acknowledges their dependance on the Hammerson sale and describes the risk of not getting planning permission as "slim"

Also on the site stands The Light which was built in 1893. The Light played an important role in the evolution of the Great Eastern Railways when it generated the first electric light to Liverpool Street Station and the Great Eastern Hotel. It continued to provide electricity until the 1930s but the building then fell into disrepair. The current owners have transformed it into a popular bar and restaurant.

Hackney say that The Light was not included in the Shoreditch Conservation area in 1991, although some area maps show the contrary. Councillors' subsequent recommendations, and independent experts' reports, regarding a possible extension of the conservation area to include The Light have mysteriously not yet been produced or formally considered by Hackney Council. Inclusion within the Conservation Area could protect this important building. The Light, and neighbouring historic buildings, are under direct threat of demolition by the Hammerson/Hackney scheme. English Heritage have previously objected to the demolition of The Light which had been "repaired and converted... in an exemplary manner, which enhances the setting of the conservation area", but the GLA report states that "the loss of the building is regretted".

Hammerson's proposed Bishops Place development is being contrasted with an alternative scheme designed by local architects Willingale Associates which provides a similar mix of uses in a development of comparable scale but which retains the historic buildings and creates a new route through Shoreditch. Willingale’s plan accommodates large floorplate offices at high level while retaining the historic streets and passages below. It also retains The Light, while creating a new pedestrian route on the line of the former Broadgate Viaduct through to a focal point of the conservation area on Great Eastern Street. This alternative schemes shows that destruction of Shoreditch's historic environment is completely unnecessary.

Hackney and East London suffered badly in the 1960s from ill-considered residential tower blocks dominating and destroying communities. Will the same mistake happen again in the second millennium? Keeping The Light would preserve a historic industrial building that needs no ongoing funding. It supports a thriving business and employs local people. Saving buildings like The Light, and protecting the setting of local landmarks and listed buildings within the Shoreditch Conservation Area, which could sit comfortably alongside appropriate modern development, will balance out the street scene, provide historic continuity and connect us to our heritage and identity. The Hackney Society said “We hope the building, which has occupied a landmark position in the area for over a century, is preserved for future generations."Thousands of people have signed a petition calling for the planning application to be turned down. In 2000 over 1500 friends and customers helped The Light successfully fight a planning application by Railtrack to demolish The Light and construct a raft over the train lines of Liverpool Street station. See Save The Light

OPEN is to hold a public meeting on 17th January to discuss these proposals.

Contact for further details or watch this space.