As we reported last week, after decades of squatting and then dereliction, Hackney are now hell bent on demolishing rather than retaining anything of its four charming old houses at 2-8 Ashwin Street.
This is how the facades of 2-8 Ashwin Street looked in 2003, after 20 years of Hackney ownership.
Following extensive public consultation last summer, in which OPEN led a detailed community response, Hackney's draft Dalston Area Action Plan acknowledged the importance of the old houses to the Ashwin Street Character Area.
This is what the Plan says:
Development at 2 – 8 Ashwin Street: Any redevelopment and/or refurbishment of Nos. 2 – 8 Ashwin Street is encouraged to consider the retention of the existing buildings and/or existing building façade. However, if full or partial retention is not viable, and is clearly demonstrated that demolition is the only practicable option, its removal will be considered as part of any proposals to develop the properties for a landmark exemplar building that will contribute positively to the character of Ashwin Street and Dalston Park.
So why is demolition proceeding now? Particularly when it is not part of any proposal for a "landmark exemplar building" to replace the old houses?
OPEN has now heard back from Hackney's solicitor who informs that the decision to demolish was made by it's Chief Executive "to maintain public safety" following "police reports". The houses have fallen into a dangerous condition.
We have also received a copy of Hackney's recent structural engineer's report following an external inspection. His report commented on distortion to the front walls of the houses, worsened by fire damage, and that "to ascertain the exact extent of wall sections worth retaining, would require a full... survey". But, it appears, no such full survey was undertaken. Hackney has refused OPEN's specialist engineer access to provide a second opinion. Hackney are proceeding to demolish the lot.
Ashwin Street on the morning when Number 8 was gutted by fire on 31.7.08 . The facades of the old houses frame the view of the locally listed Reeves Printhouse.
Where a building has become unsafe due to dereliction there is an exception to an owner's right to demolish. It is designed to prevent the mischief of owners using their own neglect or vandalism as an excuse to demolish residential houses without planning control. In those cases the owner must apply for full planning permission - unless it can show the building can not practicably be made safe or temporarily supported.
In the present case there already is shoring supporting the houses. And Hackney's engineer has described what would be needed to retain part and rebuild the remainder of the houses' facades. But no advice was given about what is needed to make the houses safe. But, despite ignoring that requirement, Hackney claim there is no need to apply for planning permission to demolish them.
2 Ashwin Street today, half demolished, with a glimpse of the Dalston Lane Peace Mural in the background.
Regular readers of this blog may now be experiencing of sense of deja vu. When Hackney sought to justify demolition of Dalston's circus buildings and locally listed Georgian houses in 2005 it also referred to fires (whereas there had been none), that its surveyors had inspected all the buildings (which they had not), that they were all beyond repair (which they were not) and that they did not need planning permission to demolish them (but a High Court Judge agreed with OPEN that they did).
But then Hackney went on to grant itself planning permission and destroyed them anyway. And now Ashwin Street follows on.
If you believe what Hackney says of itself ("We are the champions of the historic environment") then why is Building Design magazine this week publishing accusations by national and local amenity societies of Hackney's "cultural vandalism" ?
The former site of Dalston's Circus and Georgian houses destroyed by Hackney Council with the approval and agreement of Transport for London, the London Development Agency, the Greater London Authority and the Secretary of State, to fund Dalston's £40million bus stop.
The Vandals: an eastern Germanic tribe which earned notoriety by sacking Rome in the 5th century but which was defeated by the Goths.
Vandalism: the gratuitous anti-social destruction of the environment and artistic creations.
Municipal vandalism: the destruction of our cultural heritage by corporate ignorance, deliberate neglect, vanity and greed all in the name of progress.
How did it happen?
Read the posting "The story that was never told" for a more detailed history.