Thursday, 13 August 2009

Community campaign makes the developer see the light

Following a long running campaign by OPEN Shoreditch a major developer has now abandoned its plans to demolish and redevelop The Light building at 233, Shoreditch High Street.

The Light, previously derelict, but now repaired and converted to commercial uses. A landmark building on the border between Shoreditch and The City

Hammerson's Managing Director, Martin Jepson, announced yesterday that "Following the local campaign to preserve the Light Bar building, we are preparing amended proposals for our Bishops Place regeneration project. We believe we have found a way to incorporate the building into the proposals. We are now preparing a scheme to submit to the Council that recognises this Shoreditch landmark alongside delivering much needed investment for Hackney."

The Light would have been extinguished had the original redevelopment scheme not been dropped.

Local campaigners formed OPEN Shoreditch in January 2008 to resist inappropriate development in the area which offered insufficient community benefits and which threatened some of its unique buildings, the settings of its conservation areas and aspects of its local economy. You can read further details of the campaign here and here.

One particular concern was Hammerson's planning application for the demolition and redevelopment of The Light. The Light is on a former railway site now partly owned by Hackney Council and partly by Hammerson. OPEN Shoreditch, with other local interests, presented well argued objections to the Council's Planning Committee which deferred its decision .

Hammerson's planning application was for a 50 storey tower to provide a hotel, private flats and 87,000 sq ft of office accommodation. The newly revised scheme has not yet been unveiled for public view.

After deferral of the planning application OPEN Shoreditch then successfully campaigned for the inclusion of the building within the Council's newly defined Shoreditch Conservation Area boundaries. Inclusion would provide protection from uncontrolled demolition. OPEN lobbied the Secretary of State and English Heritage which had commended the building's restoration and strongly recommended its inclusion in the Conservation Area. They have power to intervene and themselves designate conservation areas where the local authority finds itself in a position of conflict of interests, as in this case where Hackney stand to make millions if a redevelopment scheme is given planning permission. Hackney Council eventually relented, on the advice of English Heritage, and the buiding is now within the conservation area.

OPEN has previously reported on the credit crunch difficulties facing property developers.

The Worship of Mammon 1909 by Evelyn de Morgan. Updated in 2009 by

Hammerson has continued to experience a chilling economic environment . No doubt a grant of planning permission for a revised scheme now will give great comfort to its shareholders and to Hackney Council which has already earmarked the proceeds of the land sale for its new Town Hall extension and has also been banking on the Section 106 money arising from planning permission.

Following Hammerson's announcement, OPEN Shoreditch's Co-Chair, Rebecca Collings said "We are delighted with this news. We continue to promote a community planning process with both the developers and the local planning authorities over the future of the Bishopsgate Goodsyard. The changes to the Bishop's Place scheme indicate that the developers are more willing to listen. We hope to move forward in search of the win/win - benefits for the community and sustainable development proposals for both the developers and the local authority.”

The wall of towers, including three of over 50 storeys, which had been planned for the Bishopsgate Goodsyard site without any comunity planning or consulation.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Victory for Queen's Market campaigners

On Wednesday 13th May 2009 the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson directed Newham Council to refuse planning permission for plans to redevelop Queen’s Market in Upton Park, which include the construction of a 96 metre high residential tower block.

The Friends of Queens Market have fought a long running campaign to reach this point. A spokesperson, Lucy Rogers, said: “I feel fantastic. We can hardly believe it. I feel in some boroughs, especially in East London, there is a brutish redevelopment agenda going on which doesn't represent what people want. We are very glad the Mayor has listened. This is exactly what he should be for.”

When plans were submitted to the Mayor for consultation in May 2008, the applicant was advised that they did not conform with the London Plan on several counts, including the quality of the design of the proposed tower.

The applicant subsequently revised the plans but these still failed to address the Mayor’s concerns on the appearance and, in particular the attractiveness of the proposed tower. The plans also failed to demonstrate that a tall building of the design proposed would be appropriate on the site.

The Mayor said:

“I have carefully considered this application. However, it is obvious that a tower of this size, so much higher than any existing tall buildings in the area, is neither attractive or in proportion or suited to any of the surrounding buildings, streets or the general urban realm of Newham.

“I am not opposed to the improvements to Queen’s Market, but I am against this inappropriate tower and have, therefore, instructed Newham not to approve these current plans.”

To download a copy of the Mayor’s Planning Decision here

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Mammon. From superhero to sub-zero

As the credit freeze tightens its icy grip on our shattered economy the worshippers of mammon shiver with disbelief. The mammonists said Hell would never freeze over. But now, in the economic winter, the glittering prizes they craved have slipped through their frozen fingers.

The Worship of Mammon 1909 by Evelyn de Morgan. Updated in 2009 by

Eighteen months ago, in June 2006, Hammerson unveiled its planned £700m Bishops Place scheme in Shoreditch. Its Chief Executive told analysts and shareholders of Hammerson's "unparalleled record of securing and delivering developments to make big profits for shareholders"
Foster and Partners vision for Hammerson's Bishops Place - a landmark tombstone development of 65,000sq m of private housing, offices, shops and a hotel.

Last July Hammerson sought planning permission to demolish The Light and build the 50 storey Bishops Place tower. But by then developers had started to feel the chill of the impending economic winter.Although the demolition would proceed immediately Hammerson could not confirm when construction would actually start. Facing overwhelming community opposition Hackney Council deferred the application. Hammerson's shareholders looked glum.

The Light as it could be - saved from redevelopment

A second coordinated community campaign forced Hackney Council, on the advice of English Heritage, to finally concede that The Light merits the protection of conservation area status. That decision followed threatening letters to Hackney from City lawyers and was greeted with dismay by Hammerson. Achieving planning permission underpins the value of development sites. Hammerson may yet renew its planning application to demolish and redevelop The Light as Bishops Place but a refusal now could drive an icicle through Hammerson's heart.

Now, in the depths of economic winter, property developers are stricken by the value of their sites being locked into the permafrost of the credit freeze. Hammerson is Britain's fourth biggest property company. Its debt rating has recently been downgraded from stable to negative by credit ratings agency Moodys. It share value has crashed by 60% from a high in April 2007 of £1747p to a fractured 397p today. J P Morgan stated that it was at risk of breaching its bond covenants. Hammerson is reported to have put its flagship Bishops Place (the controversial redevelopment of Spitalfields Market) up for sale - for £60 million less than it was valued in June 2008. Now it also needs to raise £600million by a deeply discounted rights issue to improve its balance sheet.

Private sector pre-credit crunch plans for redevelopment of the Bishopsgate Goodsyard

With the carnage in financial services, and tens of thousands more City jobs in peril, the developers' dreams of "regenerating" Shoreditch's Bishopsgate Goodsyard, with a wall of high-rise offices, now looks like a distant mirage. Even if the credit could be raised to build them, and for businesses to buy in, there will be no-one to work there.

Another major developer, Telford Homes, has also been caught out in the East London frosts. Last May Telford was granted planning permission for The Block, a 25 storey twin-towers development in Bethnal Green. OPEN protested that Tower Hamlets' supression of its own Design and Conservation Team's strong advice, to reject the scheme, was a breach of environmental justice. In responding to OPEN's High Court proceedings Telford revealed that, on this site alone, it was sustaining losses of £185,000 every month and that any delay imperiled negotiations with its bankers. Its QC said progress “...has all had to be put on hold pending these judicial review proceedings.”

The Block - Telford's 25storey Bethnal Green Road scheme which would dominate and blight the surrounding conservation areas

In fact, a week before the Court hearing, Telford's Chief Executive Andrew Wiseman had already announced that construction of The Block, together with other major schemes, would not be proceeding. "Delivery of these schemes" he said, "...will depend on the availability of finance for Telford and for our customers and our ability to secure future revenues." The schemes are on ice.

Since March 2008 Telfords' value has crashed by 90% to its January valuation of £10.8million. Its lender, AIB (Allied Irish Bank), has recently been bailed out at Irish taxpayers expense. What preference AIB might now give Telford over the financial needs of its Irish business customers remains to be seen.

The Judge eventually dismissed OPEN's legal challange. But now it may already be too late for Telford's plans to build The Block in Bethnal Green Road for the forseeable future.

Neither have our public authorities escaped the chill of the economic winter. Speculative investments of public money are leading to huge losses. Hackney Council, with the GLA's London Development Agency and Transport for London, have invested over £40 million in The Slab at Dalston Junction - a massive concrete raft spanning the new station cutting intended to provide a turnaround site for 12 buses. Of 550 flats being built to pay for the scheme only 50 are reported to have been sold to date. Public awareness and unease continues to grow that Dalston Square will be left with half-finished concrete stumps.

The Slab where Barratt's are to build residential towers of up to 20 storeys. The private/public partnership hoped to sell 500 private flats and attract brand retailers to pay for scheme. With credit and mortgage lending frozen the prospects are now looking increasingly bleak.

The scheme was conceived and implemented by a handful of public officials and politicians. OPEN protested at the time that it was an extravagent waste of financial and natural resources and would blight Dalston. We brought three judicial review actions to oppose it and fought to conserve at least something of Dalston's architecural and cultural history. But our pleas fell on deaf ears. The authorities ripped the heart out of Dalston two years ago. If true as reported, that it is no longer 12 but only 7 bus stands that are now required on The Slab, the scheme's flawed logic, which underpinned the justification for the demolition of historic Dalston and its high-rise redevelopment, has started to fracture.
Then, last summer, there was panic. The developer, Barratt's, share price had crashed 90% and it would have to renegotiate its bank covenants. Barratt had £1.5 billion of debt.

If the Bishops Place scheme had gained planning permission last February Hackney hoped to take Hammerson's £14million planning contribution for "off-site affordable housing" in Shoreditch and spend it on The Slab scheme in Dalston - robbing Peter to pay Paul. Now Hackney's Mayor Pipe hopes to persuade the government's Homes and Communities Agency (formerly the Housing Corporation) to buy out some of the 550 private flats. If a "buy to let" scheme funded with yet more public money finds favour we will see, as OPEN predicted, families on housing benefit with children living up to the 20th floor. The slums of the future.

But of all the public authorities it would be revelations concerning the City of London's investments which attract the greatest public dismay. Since adopting its Vanity 2000 policy, to contest Canary Wharf's challange to become the nation's home of financial and professional services, the City has invested eyewatering sums of public money assembling sites in Shoreditch for office development.

Many of these investments, funded from its secretive "City cash" account, are joint ventures with its private sector partner, Hammerson. In the current economic climate Hammerson must be grateful to have such a well heeled and sympathetic friend in the City to help bear some of its risks.
A recent setback for this public/private partnership has been the defeat, by an articulate and well organised community opposition, of its appeal to redevelop Norton Folgate .

In the depths of our economic winter the Freemen of the City of London must shiver to hear some financial commentators reporting a 40% drop in Central London commercial property values and that speculative development sites now have a negative value. The £millions of City Cash, invested in property and land deals, are presently locked deep within the permafrosts of Shoreditch. When Spring comes round we may find that much of the City's frozen funds have melted away to slush.

The Worship of Mammon 1909 by Evelyn de Morgan. Updated in 2009 by

“mammon”: (noun) possibly of Aramaic origin, meaning riches. First personified in English as the false god of wealth, avarice and injustice in the mediaeval poem Piers Plowman and later as the fallen angel, Lucifer, in Milton's Paradise Lost.
“mammonistic”: (adjective) consumed by the desire for wealth at the expense of beauty, creativity and the human soul.
"mammonists" : (secretive) the dark forces, including Philistines, pursuing material gain by the obliteration of heritage, identity, culture and sunlight in the name of regeneration, best value, necessity and progress.


Monday, 12 January 2009

Has Hackney Council finally seen The Light?

Further progress has been made in protecting the character of Shoreditch and Bethnal Green from City developers. Hackney Council's Urban Design and Conservation Manager has finally agreed to recommend that The Light, at 233 Shoreditch High Street, should be included within the extended boundary of the Shoreditch High Street Conservation Area. The recommendation is shortly to be made to the Council's Cabinet and then, if agreed, its full Council.

The Light before redevelopment

Hackney had previously recommended that The Light be excluded from the Conservation Area but its change of heart follows OPEN and others making representations to English Heritage and the Secretary of State to urgently use their overarching powers to designate The Light within the conservation area. Hammerson had made clear, in Court proceedings against the current occupiers of The Light in December, that "demolition will be carried out immediately upon it obtaining vacant possession of the property.....irrespective of whether or not the Claimant is given planning permission for the major site scheme".

The Light extinguished after redevelopment

The recommendation follows a long campaign by OPEN, representing the local residential community, and by local and national amenity societies including the Save the Light Campaign, Hackney Society, Shoreditch Conservation Area Advisory Committee, SAVE Britains Heritage and the Victorian Society.It stands on a site where City developers Hammerson recently applied, to a specially convened Planning Committee, for permission to demolish and redevelop with a 50 storey tower to provide a hotel, private flats and 87,000 sq ft of office accommodation.

The development threatens to overshadow and dominate the local historic buildings. Hackney own a large part of the site and stands to make £millions from an option agreement with Hammerson, the proceeds of which had been earmarked to fund its new Town Hall extension. Hackney had been in a dreadful muddle trying to justify exclusion of The Light from the Conservation Area. Hackney also plan to rob Peter to pay Paul by using the developer's financial contribution, to "off-site affordable housing" in Shoreditch, to cram some social housing onto its Dalston Square development of 550 private flats where, contrary to it's and the GLA's 50% affordable housing target, there will be only 28 flats (5%) for social renting.

Barratt's development of 10 to 20 storey residential towers on Hackney Council's Dalston Square site where Dalston's historic buildings once stood. 522 of the 550 new flats will be for sale to help pay for New Dalston's £40million concrete slab for a Transport for London bus turnaround above the new railway station next door. News of Barratt's credit crunch crash caused fears that we'd be left with half-finished concrete stumps.

Even if The Light is eventualy given conservation area status its survival is not finally secure. Although the recent Planning Committee deferred Hammerson's application, with a strong indication that Hammerson should try to incorporate The Light in its new development, Hammerson may still argue that this is not possible. Changes to the composition of the Hackney Planning Committee could well produce a decision which is more sympathetic to the developer and the desperate for cash Council landowner.

Hammerson's redevelopment plans are part of much wider plans to redevelop the 12 acre Bishopsgate Goodsyard, with further towers of over 50 storeys high for office development, which threaten to drive out local thriving creative industries in favour of a lunchtime sandwich bar economy servicing City workers and which provide little benefit to the local community. Parts of Shoreditch and Bethnal Green could experience the equivalent of three solcar eclipses a day if the plans proceed.

Hammersons (pre-credit crunch) plans for development of the Bishopsgate Goodsyard

In Edition 7 of Hackney Podcast Francesca Panetta is joined by Joanna Smith from English Heritage for a tour of the buildings at the heart of the furniture trade in Victorian and Edwardian Shoreditch. The tour was organised by the Hackney Society. Francesca interviews Brad Lochore of OPEN Shoreditch. George Galloway MP for Bethnal Green and Bow argues for sustainable development on the advancing City Fringe. Children’s Laureate and Dalston resident Michael Rosen performs his agitprop Regeneration Blues, recorded at a recent OPEN event at Cafe OTO. Francesca also visits the art gallery FormContent, a curatorial project space in Ridley Road.