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.