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.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Looking forward to 2016. A Dalston future.

In the post of March last year we celebrated OPENs tenth birthday which concluded by foreshadowing some developments for 2016.

We welcomed, after three years of campaigning, the proposed new Dalston Conservation Area (which it is hoped will go before the Council for approval in January). But we also raised concerns about areas which had been missed out -  what Hackney has called Dalston's "Cultural Quarter" - the Reeves Printhouse, the Railway Tavern, the old houses at 10-16 Ashwin Street and 16-22 Dalston Lane, Why was Hackney not conferring Conservation Area protection on them as well, we asked? Was there another plan?

It now appears that on 23 November Hackney's Cabinet approved plans to sell four of these Dalston sites in a single development agreement with a private sector partner. It's Finance Director confirmed that the plan would "maximise capital and rental values" for the Council. The Council had not consulted anybody about whether such a strategic decision, affecting many of Dalston's much loved public buildings and cultural enterprises including the Eastern Curve Garden, should be disposed of in such a manner or, indeed, at all.

The Council responded to the Hackney Citizen by saying it would be consulting on the plan. But how can the Council consult genuinely now, after the strategic decision has already taken by its Cabinet?

We also foreshadowed the planned implementation of Crossrail 2, aka the Chelsea to Hackney tube (although it will no longer being going to Hackney Central). The plans now appear to threaten demolition not only of historic buildings in Dalston and Kingsland but possibly whole streets of businesses and homes, for example Bradbury Street. Transport for London have allowed until only 8th January for the public to respond to its proposals. You can read our review of the plans, "Look out Dalston! Dont Get Hit By A Runaway Train ", and you can make your views known to TfL here, Consultation closes on 8th January.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Hackney to sell Dalston's "Cultural Quarter"

Hackney has resolved to sell four of its central Dalston sites as one "comprehensive development/ refurbishment package" for "regeneration".  Hackney's Cabinet reached its decision on 23 November without any prior public consultation.

The four sites, to be marketed as the "Dalston Quarter", include the Council's land on part of the Eastern Curve Garden, the former Railway Tavern and the 1865 houses on Ashwin Street, the former CLR James library and the last surviving 1790 Georgian Houses on Dalston Lane.

Hackney owns the entrance land of the hugely popular Eastern Curve Garden. The Kingsland Shopping Centre owns the remainder of the land. The Garden, within Site 1, would be unlikely to survive as we know it if  part were to be developed in a way which compromised present uses.

Although some of the sites are vacant, following demolitions, a number include historic buildings. The Council report states that "buildings with heritage significance will be cherished" but it also reminds of its duty to obtain "best consideration."

Hackney is presently converting the former Railway Tavern,within Site 1, into flats and is marketing the ground floor and basement for commercial uses

V22 Gallery presently occupy these three houses, within Site 1, at 10-16 Ashwin Street for exhibitions and artists' studios

Many of the buildings are occupied by social and cultural enterprises which will be directly affected by the Council's plans for a "comprehensive development/ refurbishment package" . Tenants are often required to give up possession to enable "refurbishment" to proceed. Hackney's report states that the cluster of businesses are "major assets to the character of the town centre" but has also not ruled out private residential development

The last surviving 1790 Georgian houses, within Site 3 at 16-22  Dalston Lane, are occupied in part by Hackney Co-Operative developments and the Farm Shop

The former CLR James library is part of the Council plan. It is part of Site 3 and is presently occupied by Hackney Community Voluntary Services

For three years, since the leaked report "Dalston's heritage under threat", OPEN has been pressing for an extension of Dalston Lane (West) Conservation Area. Although Hackney plan to designate a seperate new Conservation Area covering the High Street, it has done virtually nothing so far to give these town centre buildings heritage protection. Its reasons for delay remain questionable.

Although the Council's "vision" is for a "vibrant exciting quarter"  with "spill out places" and "pedestrian meandering"  (That's enough estate agency waffle. Ed.) it is clear that the existing businesses and diversity already within the area could be at serious risk from the "comprehensive" treatment of all 4 sites, as a single package, which the Council is planning.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Look out Dalston! Don't get hit by a runaway train (Crossrail2)

£30 billion Crossrail2 is coming through Dalston. Hurrah! We'll finally be on the tube.

But look out Dalston! Transport for London has also outlined proposals to demolish and re-develop many of our much loved streets and houses which, they say, is necessary to make Crossrail2 happen.  

Let us take you on a walk around the Dalston streets which TfL have got their eyes on. And consider the implications.  Are there alternatives? Read more here   

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Luxury flats will make Colvestone School nursery "resemble a prison"

The featureless rear wall of a block of luxury flats "would not only block the sunlight over much of the playground for most of the day  – making the space dark, damp and cold – but it will also resemble a prison wall" said Dalston's Judith Watt  who has issued Court action against Hackney Council to challenge its' grant of planning permission for the development next to a Dalston nursery. You can help the parents' campaign by signing the petition and Judith's claim by donating towards expenses.

This view from Ridley Road market shows the development site and Grade II Listed Colvestone School. The school nursery's open space is between the site and the school and currently receives adequate sunlight. The three storey block of flats, with ground floor cafe, could be built right on its southern boundary. 

(Judith tells me that, at 9.55m, the wall is about three times the height of the Berlin Wall. Ed.)

The development will block sunshine from the playground as well as the view of the school which is at the western entrance of the St Mark's Conservation Area. The Head Teacher told the planners that the development would make the open space less useable and cause a risk to the toddler's health and their sense of well being. The Council Committee granted permission using the Chair's casting vote  

An architect's shadow diagram showing the nursery school and the overshadowing effect of the new block of flats.

Apart from the shadow making the nursery's play/learning area slippery with moss, slime and ice, sunlight deprivation is recognised as a serious risk factor for toddlers developing rickets which causes deformed bones. Children with darker skin, which absorbs less Vitamin D, are particularly at risk. Due to the increase in cases of rickets England's Chief Medical Officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies said in 2013 that all children should be offered vitamin supplements to safeguard their health. Hackney has since offered free vitamin supplements to all local school children 

The developers, Chan and Eayrs, say on their website, "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".

(Indeed it does. Perhaps the developers would donate their profits to Hackney to help pay for the vitamin supplements for future generations of our school kids. Ed)