On Monday night, Hackney Council approved proposals for the total demolition of the Victorian and Georgian heritage buildings at 4-14 Dalston Lane. The Council Planning Sub-Committee ignored the objections raised by local market traders, businesses, arts groups and residents of Dalston, and voted to level the site, while simultaneously acknowledging that Councillors have not been presented with any plans for what will replace the historic buildings.
The decision was greeted by loud protest from the 60 members of the public who had succeeded in attending the meeting, despite the council’s confused attempts earlier in the evening to limit public entry to just half the public gallery’s usual capacity. 100 members of OPEN had peacefully protested outside the Town Hall before the meeting started.
OPEN’s chairman, Bill Parry-Davies, reacted to the council’s decision with dismay. "This wastrel council has a reputation as philistines with no regard for Dalston’s history and culture and being only concerned with selling our property to finance their bankrupt ideas for the Town Hall Square. They didn’t take the chance to change that reputation tonight." He also expressed disbelief that there had been no leeway in the meeting for saving even those elements of the site that English Heritage and others had praised. "The application to demolish the whole site in its entirety, precluded any consideration of retaining the beautiful Georgian and Victorian frontages" he said. "It’s a disgrace that there was no opportunity for council members to vote on retaining any aspects of the site."
Last night’s Council Planning Sub-Committee was invited to consider the following written objections to the proposals to demolish:
The Theatres Trust (a statutory committee on planning applications):
"[We object to the proposals on the grounds that] we would need to be satisfied that the building is surplus to regeneration, cultural and community requirements before we could support an opportunity for demolition. We believe that the 1886 entrance is the earliest surviving circus entrance in the country."
SAVE Britain’s Heritage:
"This group of buildings… is of great interest, encapsulating the development of the area in one small group… [they] are eminently capable of economically viable reuse; their potential is obvious and there is no need whatsoever to tear them down. The alternatives to the demolition of these buildings have not been adequately considered."
The Spitalfields Trust:
"Nos.4-14 [Dalston Lane] comprise the most unusual, important and picturesque buildings in the street… one of the most interesting groups of historic buildings in this part of North London. Their demolition would be an unforgiveable oversight by Hackney Council… our built heritage is irreplaceable."
Charles Collins (tenant of the Dalston Theatre 1963-1999 and founder of the Club Four Aces reggae club):
"This [demolition] will destroy the memory and history of black culture in Dalston."
Ridley Road Market Traders Association:
"[These buildings] represent the heart and soul of Dalston. We believe they represent both the past and the future of Dalston’s prosperity. We want to see them restored so that we can show our grandchildren how Dalston used to be and so they can share our pride in our heritage and identity."
Last night’s decision disregarded all of these objections as well as the huge number of other objections which were sent to the Council by individuals.
A transparent planning process?
Hackney’s Property Services were unable to offer any explanation to Councillors why it was essential for them to approve demolition of Dalston’s heritage now, before there is even a planning application, let alone agreement, as to what will replace them.
OPEN is also concerned as to the Planning Department’s position in advising the Councillors on the demolition application. In early 2005, months before the current public consultation process on the future of the site had been started, the Council’s planners sat with Transport for London (TfL) and the London Development Agency on the GLA steering committee which decided the Dalston master-plan. This plan did not envisage any retention of the heritage buildings.
The heritage buildings at 4-14 Dalston Lane are safeguarded by a high court injunction for just two more weeks. Following Monday night’s decision the bulldozers can start work at 4pm, Tuesday, 21st February. OPEN’s campaign to save these buildings continues.