Sunday, 9 October 2016

If you love Dalston's character then now's your chance to say so

If you love Dalston's architectural and historic character you have until 31 October to make you views known. Hackney Council's is consulting on long awaited plans to extend the Dalston Lane (West) Conservation Area [DL(W)CA]. Extending the conservation area will give the Council planners wider control to ensure that changes to the local environment preserve and enhance the area's character  - for example changes affecting its buildings (by demolition or alteration), its public and private open spaces, its gardens and trees (which are affected by overshadowing), its road layouts and surfaces (which also affect air quality) and other important features in our environment.

This map shows Hackney's existing DL(W)CA outlined in blue and the proposed extension of it outlined in red. The extension includes many of the historic buildings and streets to the north and west. It highlights in red and yellow the buildings which are already 'listed' and, in pink, the buildings which it considers are of 'townscape merit' importance. It highlights in green 'important trees and green spaces'. 

Do you think anything has been missed out? Your views will count. You can make your comments using Hackney's consultation leaflet here or by making comments online hereWe hope you'll tell the Council if you support its proposals - but don't forget to also tell them about anything else which you think deserves protection and should be included. 

The Eastern Curve Garden  is not shown as an "important green space" on the Council's DL(W) CA map although the appraisal describes it as an "ever-changing community space, where plants, trees and grass contribute to a diverse ecology". Although the Garden's land, and the Peace Mural, will be within the extended DL(W)CA, the use of the Garden's land itself is presently planned by Hackney for re-development as a "shopping circuit" . 

The former CLR James library dates from 1957-9 and was designed by architects Burley and Moore. It is described as a "redevelopment site" ie one for demolition and redevelopment, and is one of the Dalston "Cultural Quarter" sites which Hackney plans to sell

Four locally listed Georgian properties, at Nos. 16-18 and 20-22 Dalston Lane, have survived re-development to date. They will be within the extended DL(W)CA  but are also part of the Dalston "Cultural Quarter" sites which Hackney plans to sell

For a fascinating account of  Dalston's historical development, and why certain buildings, places and views are considered of conservation value, you can read Hackney's appraisal of the proposed conservation area extension here researched and written by an independent heritage consultant, the erudite Dr Ann Robey. 

The last surviving Georgian houses of the Dalston Lane terrace, which the original DL(W)CA conservation area was designed to protect, are no longer shown as buildings of townscape merit on the Council's new DL(W)CA map. Hackney has already given permission to demolish everything and just rebuild  skin-deep facades in "heritage likeness" -  they describe it as a "genuine conservation led regeneration" ( Genuine? Ed.)

OPEN Dalston members have campaigned long and hard to preserve local character and identity. So much has already been lost to redevelopment.

Conservation Area status has not always prevented neglect and development vandalism but finally, it seems, the Council is recognising Dalston's unique value by extending the Dalston Lane (West) Conservation Area.  (Better late than never! Ed.)

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Dalston's Bridget Riley op-art building unveiled (NOT)

OPEN Dalston readers will remember the outcry back in 2013 when Hackney gave planning permission for huge blocks containing 120 flats on the corner of Dalston Lane and Martell Place. Now the wraps are coming off as the new development nears completion. 

The community's objections in 2013 weren't just that only 15 of the 120 flats would be for affordable rent ( a derisory 12% when the target at the time was 50%), or that existing affordable workspace for 60 artists and two businesses would be lost, or that Hackney was selling  the developer our neighbouring green space which had been earmarked for a playground.

Without any local safe playground, Dalston's older kids are forced to play on the street and skateboard on the station's underused bus turnaround

There were 136 letters from objectors, who included our local Councillors, and a petition. Local residents, with their kids, attended the Planning Committee to object in person. All objectors agreed that that the blocks of 5-10 storeys amounted to overdevelopment of a site which had been designated for 4-6 storeys in the Dalston Area Action Plan. What had been described as a "corner site" was now claimed to be a "landmark site"
"It would form an inpenetrable cliff along the Eastern Curve" our Dalston Conservation Advisory Committee said "Its' sheer size will have an adverse impact on the neighbouring Conservation Areas."

The new blocks under construction. Although the ground floors are of conventional concrete construction, all the upper floors structures are made entirely from cross-laminated timber

At the meeting Planning Committee members' concerns about the overall size of the scheme were allayed when samples of the proposed facade cladding - multicoloured glass reinforced concrete panels - were passed around. The design and effect of the ornamental panels, the Committee were advised, would make the blocks appear smaller rather than overscale and monolithic. This advice was reinforced with a picture of  the artist Bridget Riley and of her brilliant op-art images. Planning permission was granted  

 "Ornament (pattern) becomes a pervasive surface condition, the variation of which here, are based on an intensity of pixellization" - Waugh Thistleton, Architects

But now the are wraps coming off  we can see that the new blocks aren't  faced with multicoloured glass panels at all.

The new blocks are faced with brick. And the blocks look huge, looming over Dalston Lane and the neighbouring Conservation Area 

Cross-laminated timber ( multiple layers of wood bonded with plastic resin) has been used to construct the blocks. It is said to be far more sustainable than building in concrete, which produces 1 tonne of CO2 for every 1 tonne of concrete. Plus the units are factory manufactured and delivered, like flat-pack IKEA boxes, for quick assembly on site. But these contruction savings don't seem to have made affordable rental flats more viable, with only 15 planned out of 120 flats (12%). Nor can cross-laminated timber, unlike solid timber, be recycled. This has led to some controversial exchanges with the Chair of Hackney's Planning Committee, Vincent Stops.

(Note: The original planning permission required Hackney to seek the views of the Hackney Design Review Panel regarding final external finishes, but this was not done when Hackney agreed to substitute brick finishes on the basis that “Drawing upon a warehouse and factory building typology…the brick is in keeping with the character of adjacent conservation areas” Ed.)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Passing Clouds and the battle against the bland

The iconic Dalston live music club - Passing Clouds - is calling on all lovers of live music and cultural diversity to join its protest this Saturday 17th September against the closure of countless London's music clubs in recent years and its own recent eviction.

"It is vital that developers and planners recognise that it is venues like these that contribute so much to make areas desirable. " Meg Hillier MP, Hackney South

Campaigners will assemble in Hoxton Square at 4pm and process to Passing Clouds for a presentation at 6pm to Landhold Developments ( who have evicted the club from their premises). At 6:30pm campaigners will meet in Gillett Square for an event featuring musicians (including Dele Sosimi and Winton Reedy), representatives of closed or threatened venues including the 12 Bar, the Silver Bullett, Shapes, the Passage, the Spitz and Fabric and speeches from representatives including the Mayor of London's office and the Music Venue Trust. The event will undoubtedly feature Passing Clouds legendary friendliness, flamboyance and fun 

"Passing Clouds is a marker of place. The locality needs it. The city at large needs the noise it makes and the life it contains." Iain Sinclair

OPEN members will recall the earlier battles, to save the iconic Four Aces Club and Labrynth music venues which now lie beneath the privatised towers of Dalston Square. We also remember that Passing Clouds graciously hosted OPEN's fund raising event to fight the demolition of our Georgian houses in Dalston Lane.

Michael Rosen performing with the Dulce Tones at our Passing Clouds OPEN fundraiser 

Sadly Passing Clouds itself is now another casualty of the relentless rise in land values and predatory capital . This leads to the eviction of cultural enterprises for more profitable redevelopment. We are fighting a battle for local character and for diversity against the homogenisation  of our cultural landscape. It is a battle against the bland.

Campaigners are seeking to raise awareness of planning authorities powers under the Community Asset Register and the Article 4 Planning Directions to protect cultural industries and the other local assets which sustain our local economy and contribute vibrancy to our community.  All power to them.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Dalston resident wins Court battle to save the sunshine for nursery school kids

After lengthy and hotly contested court proceedings, a local resident has won her battle to save the sunlight for future generations of school children. A senior judge of the Planning Court has revoked Hackney's grant of planning permission for a three storey block of private flats which was to overshadow a nursery school's outdoor space.

Kids and parents of Clovestone school celebrate the Court victory which has saved their sunshine

The block of flats was to be built right across the southern boundary of the nursery's playground/outdoor classroom at the Grade II Listed Colvestone Primary School off Dalston's Ridley Road.

An artists impression showing the scale of the development which has now been defeated

Before making their planning application the developer/architects' firm, Chan and Eayrs, had personally surveyed the site. They had even counted the bricks to establish the height of the walls which surround  the Nursery school's outside space. But their sunlight expert modelled the outside space as if it were virtually in full sun, with only fence posts and not the high brick walls which enclose and already partially shade the space. The expert then calculated and advised the Council that the area would still remain "well lit" after the planned development. 

The Nursery Head Teacher had written twice to Hackney's planning officer to object to the modelling error. Others, including the school's Head Teacher, went to the Committee meeting last September 2015 and objected in person. An adjournment to obtain an independent sunlight report, to correct the error, was refused. The Committee members voted for and against granting the planning permission in equal numbers but, on the recommendation of Hackney's case officer, permission was given by the use of the Committee Chairman's casting vote.

Chair of Hackney's Planning Committee, Councillor Vincent Stops, in happier times

The developer/artchitect Zoe Chan, pictured below with her partner Merlin Eayrs, attended the Committee meeting, with their sunlight expert, and heard the community's objections but neither said anything about the error in their report. Ms Chan was later named as an 'interested party' in the judicial review Court proceedings, but took no part in them.

After the decision to grant planning permission, local resident Judith Watt paid for an independent sunlight opinion. It advised, contrary to the developer's opinion, of a potential "increase of two to three times the existing levels of overshadowing". An application was immediately made to the High Court for a judicial review of Hackney's planning permission. Judith also wrote to Hackney's Mayor, who said he shared her concern about the effect of the development but that he was powerless to intervene in planning decisions. ( True. Planners and Committee members must act independently from political influence. Ed.) Judith's judical review application was initially rejected by the Court but she appealed successfully and battled on. And now she was getting the benefit of a second independent expert's advice and reports, which were paid for by the Council's own Hackney Learning Trust.( So public money was used both to fight the case as well as to defend it. Thanks Hackney! Ed). 

Eventually in April, six months after the Court case started, the developer's expert acknowledged his error -  the surrounding brick walls had been omitted from his calculations. The loss of sunlight, he now calculated, would be more than double what the Committee had been told.

But, despite this set back, Hackney not only continued to defend its Planning Committee's decision but it produced further evidence from the same developer's expert who had mislead the Committee originally. Hackney argued that the original error would have made no difference because more than 50% of the outdoor area would still have a yearly average of at least two hours direct sunshine a day and this exceeded the British Research Establishment (BRE) minimum guideline for playgrounds. The fact that most of the sunshine would be during the summer holidays, and that in winter the area would become totally overshadowed, was not considered relevant. As for any adverse impact on the health, education and well being of the children, Hackney said that the Court had no power to interfer with the planning permission because the Committee members were well aware of the consequences from what the Head Teacher had told them before the decision was made.

The Judge, His Honour Mr Justice Gilbart, revoked Hackney's planning permission. He found that the effect on the children from the loss of sunlight was an issue of critical importance. The error in the developers' advice to the Committee had, he said, created a "misleading picture" which had resulted in "unfairness".
 It was also argued, for Judith, that the BRE guideline was not a formula to be applied mechanically in every case, regardless of the actual context and effects of the loss of sunlight. The Judge found that, even though the accepted guideline on minimum sunlight for playgrounds would be exceeded, the Committee could still have refused permission.

Steely and determined, Judith Watt arrives at Court 2 of the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand. She's a woman with a passion for social and environmental justice and her win is on behalf of future generations of Dalston's children.

Judith expressed delight at the Court's decision saying "Only one in ten of applications for judicial review are successful so we've beaten the odds. It has been a long slog to get to this point but worth it to protect the children’s right to sunshine."

Judith's solicitor, Bill Parry-Davies, who acted under a "no win no fee" agreement, commented "It has set a useful precedent for challenging decisions where later evidence shows that a planning authority had been misled, innocently or otherwise, by a developer . The judgment also reflects the importance of carefully considering and safeguarding the benefit of sunlight in the context of each individual case and treating guildelines as just that and not as fixed rules. Sunlight is so important, paticularly for the health and well being of children - indeed, it's essential to life itself" 

The case has been reported here in the Hackney Citizen

Although the planning permission has been revoked, Dalston residents should watch out because there is likely to be a new application to develop the site in due course. Let's hope that it will be more respectful of local needs.

Back stories:

Dalston resident wins right to fight for children's sunlight
Luxury flats will make Colvestone School Nursery resemble a prison
Independent report reveal loss of sunlight to Colvestone School Nursery
Hackney Plannning Committee deicison blights Dalston Nursery Schoool

Thursday, 24 March 2016

London Fields 'Quietway' causes massive local row

If you've been approached recently by cycle campaigners on-line, or on Broadway Market and Queensbridge Road,  you will be aware of the traffic planning scheme to install 13 road blocks in the London Fields area and to create, as its centerpiece, a cyclists Quietway along Middleton Road. You might also have seen local residents arguing with the cycle campaigners and read the recent story in the Hackney Citizen. The planned TfL Quietway has turned into a massive local row.

This map is a snapshot of annual mean air pollution in the London Fields area based on 2010 data. The red and orange corridors show that Mare Street, Richmond Road and Queensbridge Road exceeded the World Health Organisation's, and the EU Directive limit for safe air , namely  40ug/m3 for  nitrogen dioxide (NO2) - a poisonous and  carcinogenic gas produced by vehicles.

The new Quiteway cycle routes are part of  the GLA Mayor's policies, and Transport for London's plans, to promote cycling and discourage driving in London which in some places, frequently, suffer from the highest level of air pollution of any world city. It is estimated that at least 9,000 Londoners suffer early deaths every year from air pollution.

Research has shown that children exposed to air pollution are the most vulnerable to intellectual and physical detriments including higher incidences of asthma and other chronic diseases like strokes, heart disease and cancer.

But the massive local row isn't between car owners and cyclists, nor about the lifetime illnesses which traffic pollution causes. No one wants fume filled streets. The row is about the transparency of the traffic planning process and whether construction of up to 13 roadblocks will make a bad thing even worse.

The TfL Quietway2 route includes a cycle path crossing the middle of London Fields and along Middleton Road

The general public first became aware of TfLs plans, for the construction of the Wathamstow to Bloomsbury Cycle Quietway route, from a press release in December 2014. TfLs agent, Sustrans, had been working with local Council's  and the London Cycling Campaign for over a year previously on the plans. Sustrans were later awarded the 3 year contract, after OJEC public advertisement,  to implement the Quietways.

TfL publically states that Quietway route consultations will be carried out by Council's locally. But Hackney's consultation is not about the route.  Local residents and park users are not being consulted about the the carve up through London Fields (already used by up to 4,000 cyclists per day) and whether it should run along Middleton Road. Hackney Consultation is limited to whether to instal up to thirteen road blocks around the Middleton Road route.

"Just tell them its common land and so we can do whatever we want with it"

London Fields is common land, also called Lammas Land, like the lands that were requisitioned by the GLA for the London 2012 Olympics. London's common land is protected by the Metropolitan Commons Act 1866. The Bye Laws for Hackney's public open spaces forbid cycling and building structures on them without express Council permission. The exclusion of the commoners from any part of the common land would first require a local inquiry by the Secretary of State.

Hackney's consultation presents a number of Options.  Option 1 proposes thirteen roadblocks, and two bus gates, which divide the area into 3 'cells', which preclude through traffic crossing the area, but enables local residents to have access via a limited number of entry/exit points. This option is opposed by four local residents' associations but supported by TfL and the Council. Cycle campaigners argue roadblocks are needed to ensure a safe Quietway route for cyclists of all abilities along Middleton Road .

Such was Hackney's enthusiasm to be one of the first London Councils to have a Quietway, it decided to immediately implement all thirteen roadblocks, and divide London Fields, as a "trial". Without any public consultation at all. There were red faces all round and an embarrassing climb down when the Council was faced with democratic outrage.

Unless drivers switch to other modes of transport (walking, cycling buses etc) the Option1 roadblocks will inevitably increase the distances travelled by local and through traffic to reach their destinations, and so increase air pollution generally.

This illustration was produced by the Mapledene Area Residents Association to highlight its concerns, regarding increased air pollution, and increased cycle traffic across the London Fields common land. It recommends Option 4  -  width restriction on Middleton Road to stop HGVs using it.

Another effect of the roadblocks will be to concentrate traffic, and its pollution, by pushing significantly more vehicles onto unrestricted roads, particularly Richmond and Queensbridge Roads which are not only already the most polluted roads locally but also where many schools and nurseries are situated.

You can read the Council's documents and make your views known to them about the London Fields scheme here.  NOTE: public consultation closes at midnight Easter Sunday 27th March 2016.

The Council's consultation does not suggest any Quietway route except Middleton Road, although Albion Drive already has about 50% less traffic than the minimum for a Quietway, whilst Middleton Road has about 100% more. Hence the need for 13 roadblocks to make a safe Middleton Quietway possible - which is the route already upon decided by the authorities. 

Public transport money could perhaps be better targeted at reducing air pollution where there are the highest concentrations of Hackney inner-city children ie around schools and housing estates. Targeted schemes are being tried in other cities

It wont be the first time that TfL and Hackney Council have decided that the most expensive, and least beneficial transport scheme is the one that's good for us. Ed)

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Dalston resident wins right to fight for kids sunlight

Dalston resident, Judith Watt, has been granted permission to judicially review a decision by Hackney's Planning Committee. She is challenging a development of private flats which will severely overshadow Colvestone School Nursery's outdoor classroom.

A 9.5 metre high block will extend right across the southern boundary of the school's outdoor classroom , blocking out sunlight and obscuring views from Ridley Road market of the Grade II Listed school building

Councillor Stops,  Chair of  Hackney's Planning Committee, used his casting vote on 2nd September to ensure that the development was approved. He did the same to approve the demolition of Dalston Lane's Georgian terrace. Usually a casting vote is used to preserve the status quo until there is a majority for change - but not in Hackney.

Hackney's Mayor, Jules Pipe, has written to Judith to share his concern about the development but said that he was powerless to interfere with independent planning decisions. When it originally sold the development site in 2002 Hackney had sought to retain the "right to uninterrupted light" to the school, Hackney is still investigating whether it can enforce the sale restriction.

 Judges can only overrule a bad decision if a procedural error can be proved. In other words, Councils' are entitled to foul it up, provided they do so properly. Judith applied for permission to judicially review the decision at a Court hearing on 28 January and was successful. Judge Cranston found that her claims are arguable - that Hackney had misapplied sun lighting guidelines, failed to give weight to an earlier relevant planning refusal and had failed to consider national, London Plan and local policies designed to protect the health, education and well being of children. In due course there will be a one-day trial of her claims.

The developers, Chan and Eyres, whose planning permission is being challenged described their designs as "sensitive to the amenity of surrounding buildings" and to "maximise natural light into habitable rooms". Their website, before recent amendment, stated "We believe that simple things like the natural light that fills a space and awakens your spirits...enriches life in a way that is priceless"
But if Judith loses her judicial review and the development proceeds, the nursery school childrens' open space will lose most of its sunlight and be plunged into shadow.  

Friday, 8 January 2016

Crossrail2: OPEN Dalston's proposals to TfL for limiting the damage to Dalston.

OPEN Dalston has today responded to TfL's consultation plans for a Crossrail2 tube station in Dalston. Whilst welcoming the plans there are likely to be major impacts on local homes, businesses, amenities like Ridley Road market as well as to the historic environment. Whole streets may be demolished. You can read our proposals to TfL, which suggest alternatives to their plans, here.

You can let TfL know your views by completing their questionnaire or sending an email to . TfL's public consultation closes today 8th January at 5pm .

We reproduce an below an extract from our representations which relates to our proposals for surface level ventilation shafts.

6          Ventilation Shafts – design and location

Construction of surface ventilation shafts in a tight urban area like Dalston carries the risk of demolition of character buildings and an obvious potential to create a featureless void which will make a negative contribution to the surrounding area which, in Dalston’s case, is one of considerable sensitivity.

We wish to make proposals to Crossrail2 to consider mitigating this. We wish to explore with TfL

- the recovery of heat generated in the Underground to supply heat and/or hot water to neighbouring properties ( most likely to those developed on left-over land which Crossrail2 acquires for its railway construction operations)
-  the capture at surface level, the surplus heat and CO2 emissions from the Underground which would otherwise go to waste, for their use in plant growing.

The recycling of heat generated in underground railways is not a novel idea, and has been utilised in Stockholm, Paris and Islington. Heat recovery would contribute to significant energy saving.
The recycling of surplus heat and CO2 emissions for plant growing is innovative and would contribute to bio-diversity. The imaginative development of vent shafts could, by good design, create such functionality and mitigate the environmental damage caused to their locations. The capturing heat and CO2 has been devised and successfully trialed in Dalston by the award winning scientist Charlie Paton who also invented seawater greenhouses.