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.