Thursday 4 June 2009

Dalston! Paint it black

It was a shock to see how some of Dalston Lane's derelict houses had been clothed in black last week. A funereal dressing of paint over the graffiti on the Georgian brickwork and renders. A reminder of the charred finishes of the nine buildings burnt in Dalston over recent years and all on "development opportunity" sites.

Rumours are rife about who was responsible for these daubings. Lorries were parked up last week on the pavement, with a cherry picker and drums of black paint. A tabla rasa has been created for new tags. And a nightmare for conservationists to restore the original fair face brickwork.

In 2004 a government planning inspector had refused to let the landlord demolish the buildings. He declared the terraces, as did English Heritage, to be a "remarkable survivor of Georgian architecture". But not before two in the terrace of houses had been burnt down (Jon's Scooters at 62 & 64 - since demolished). In January 2005 the Council then designated the Dalston Lane (West) Conservation Area. This gave some protection to the houses. But then two more houses were gutted by fire. Planning permission would normally be required for their demolition in a conservationarea. Three were then demolished without any application . In many conservation areas even external painting requires prior planning permission. No applications were made for Dalson Lane.

Last week the Council launched its public consultation regarding the future of our Dalston Lane Georgian terraces. You can learn more about it and comment here. You can also contribute your views during OPEN's own forthcoming consultation - so watch this space.

The Council recently demolished three of the Georgian houses following fires and vandalism.

What value would be placed upon Dalston's character and identity if the houses were now to be restored? One suggestion is to rebuild the burned and demolished Georgian houses as replicas and refurbish the remainder. Another is that additional floors and/or mansard roofs could be added to some buildings to make them "financially viable" to "regenerate". Is "financial viability" related to what the off-shore owner paid for them in the first place? In this case it purchased 16 of the houses for £1.8million at the 2002 Council auction.The Council gave the traders in occupation no opportunity themselves to buy the houses and, at the auction, the terraces were offered only as one lot. And how will the businesses of the surviving traders, who lost out before, be protected now that their leases have expired?

The Star Bakery was one of the businesses evicted after the auctions. Court orders were granted on the landlord's evidence that it intended to do works requiring vacant possession. Bakers have been in Dalston Lane since at least the turn of the century. Now they've gone but the building has been left on death row ever since.

The Dalston Lane terraces have a troubled history. Many of Dalston's historic buildings have been neglected and demolished despite local people making their opposition to this well known. The surviving fragments of our local economy and architectural legacy in Dalston Lane deserve a better fate.

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