Monday 31 July 2006

Destruction of Dalston Lane continues

In 2002 Hackney Council faced a £70million debt and its Chief Executive ordered the sale of all surplus assets. It flooded the market with the community's "family silver". This included the auction of 16 Georgian houses at 60-76 Dalston Lane which, despite the Council's policy to offer them first to the existing business tenants, were sold for £1.8million as one lot to an off-shore company. A similar sell off had happened in Broadway Market, to a related off-shore company, where the tenants also lost out.

The new owners wanted to demolish and redevelop the site, but English Heritage, and later a government inspector, found the houses to be "remarkable suvivors of Georgian architecture". Permission to demolish the houses was refused.

The Council had been running down, emptying and boarding up the houses for years. Since their sale the destruction has continued. Between the time of the auction and the planning decision, three of the houses burnt down. Of the 16 businesses originally transferred to the Council by the GLC in 1982, only four now remained in occupation. The houses, the local economy and the environment were being destroyed.

In January 2005 Hackney Council declared the terrace part of a conservation area . "The future is looking very good for businesses and residents" claimed Guy Nicholson, Hackney Council's Cabinet member for regeneration, "We're keen conservation areas are used to bring buildings back into use and create improvements to the built environment"

But since then another of the houses has burnt down and two more of the businesses have been evicted. There have been 8 major fires in Dalston in the last 2 years, all affecting buildings subject to redevelopment plans, including the Council's former housing office in Roseberry Place.

Following a Council inquiry into its mass property sell offs, the Council agreed in March 2006 to begin work immediately to asses the use of enforcement and compulsory purchase powers to regenerate the houses. Nothing has happended since then despite the fine words - except further deliberate damage which has destabilised two more of the houses. A cloud of suspicion hangs over Dalston Lane.

Wednesday 26 July 2006

Save our Past. Save our Future

On 30 March Hackney Council granted Transport for London planning permission to build a £39million concrete slab above the new Dalston Junction railway station and a bus station, a 20 storey tower and other blocks of flats and shops on top of the slab. All the flats will be for private sale. The photo shows the scale of the development. The government has said it will not intervene - because the bus/rail interchange development is "an essential part of the transport improvements required for the London Olympics 2012".

The Council also wants to sell a 125 year lease of its own neighbouring land to a developer. On 13 July it granted the London Development Agency planning permission to demolish Dalston's historic buildings and build 19 and 10 storey towers and other blocks on its land. 75% of the flats will be for private sale.Of all 533 new flats on both sites, only 28 will be for rented social housing.

The authorities say the demolitions are needed to maximise the profit from the Council's site to pay for the concrete slab on TfL's site for which there is presently a £19million funding shortfall.

TfLs bus/rail interchange is to benefit London-wide commuters but why the Council have agreed with the authorities that Hackney's tax payers are to fund TfL's development, and that Dalston must be blighted, remains a mystery. The agreement is "confidential".

The demolitions include the 1886 former circus entrance, the oldest in the country, at 12 Dalston Lane - more recently the legendary Four Aces reggae and soul music club.

The Council made these decisions despite a year of public consultation when hundreds of objections were made to them. The consultants' reports now reveal that the authorities had already agreed last year that profit from developing the Council's neigbouring land would be used to fund TfL's private development - and not to finance affordable homes, open green space and refurbishing our heritage buildings to benefit our present and future community.

Con” - noun: a complicated confidence trick planned and executed with great care; - verb: to deprive of by deceit; - colloquial: abbreviation of consultation

Save our past. Save our future.

The developers will not be building the new Jerusalem in Dalston but towerblock flats for sale which will overshadow and blight the area. They may be seen as a buy-to-let opportunity to house a transient population and become the slums of the future. We will see our children living at height with nothing for them except a tiny dark playground at the bottom of the canyon between the skyscrapers. It is a hypocritical betrayal of Dalston’s community, and of hard won Council policies, to condemn future generations to this and wipe out our childrens’ and grandchildren’s heritage into the bargain. We do not want to live in the past, but we do want to live with it.

Thursday 20 July 2006

Yet more tall storeys - Hackney’s Dalston Lane South site –

Underneath Dalston Lane, at the north end of both TfL’s and Hackney’s site, is the planned route for the Chelsea/Hackney tube line (Crossrail2)– a benefit to Hackney of far greater significance than TfLs proposed shuttle service from Dalston to Whitechapel tube station. Although OPEN alerted Crossrail2 to the London Development Agency’s revised plans, to increase the height of the northern block from 7 to 10 storeys, Crossrail2’s enquires with Hackney Council in April were initially met with a denial that the LDA’s planning application lodged in March even existed. Crossrail2 is a statutory consultee and, after further enquiries, it eventually received an invitation from Hackney to comment and duly replied requiring certain planning conditions to ensure that the foundation works for the proposed towers do not interfere with the land safeguarded for the new tube tunnel. Imagine Crossrail2’s surprise to learn that the Council’s Officers had reported to its Planning Sub-Committee last Thursday 13 July that there was “No Response” from Crossrail2. Members duly approved the LDAs application, without Crossrail2’s conditions, by use of the Vice-Chair’s casting vote. Crossrail2 is now even crosser.

Government Green Light for TfL’s Dalston Junction site

On 18.7.06 the Government Office for London replied to OPEN to explain the Secretary of State’s decision not to call in TfL’s planning permission to build a bus station, shops and towerblock flats for sale above their proposed new Dalston Junction station. The nub appears to be that the proposed transport interchange is “an essential part of the transport improvements required for the London Olympics 2012” and that the local objections made (that the development blights the area and provides no adequate community benefit) do not raise sufficient conflict with national policies to merit intervention. OPEN has also learnt that TfL require the value of Hackney Council’s neighbouring site to contribute to the £19million funding shortfall on the cost of TfLs over-station slab and the demolition of Dalston’s historic buildings on that site to maximize its value. Last year the authorities denied that this had anything to do with the Olympics and everything to do with “regeneration”.

Monday 17 July 2006

One man, two votes: Hackney Planning Committee votes for demolition and towerblocks

On 13 July Hackney Council’s Planning Committee, in the presence of numerous local people and groups of objectors, was divided on whether to grant planning permission to the London Development Agency to demolish Dalston’s historic buildings and build a 19-storey tower and other blocks on the site.
The Committee were faced with a decision to demolish all or none of the historic buildings but no option to retain any of them although the need to consider alternative options had been pointed out to the Council by their own independent environmental consultants, White Young Green, who reported on 1 June that “a more detailed analysis of the alternative development schemes considered for this site would be helpful in justifying the choice based on a range of environmental and socio-economic reasons”. Independent planning and heritage consultants, Prometheus, had undertaken an assessment at OPEN's suggestion and written to the Council demonstrating their financial viability. The Council officers did not refer the Committee to this assessment.
The Chair of the Committee withdrew prior to the debate, having previously expressed objections to transport aspects of the scheme and the LDA’s “tired old arguments”. The Vice-Chair, Darren Parker, chaired the Committee. He is an employee of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) which stated that it was "very supportive of the scheme” (although it is not known what alternatives CABE considered). Councillor Parker voted in favour, and then used his second casting vote to obtain a majority in favour.
CABE’s support was subject to two caveats. To ensure the success of the scheme arrangements for the management and maintenance of the housing and open space must be secured and the architects needed to be retained through to completion to ensure the quality of detailing and the finishes. The Committee reserved its position on the open space only.

Tuesday 11 July 2006

Dalston Lane South Planning Application

The London Development Agency’s application for the demolition of the Dalston Theatre/Four Aces Club, and redevelopment of the Council’s DLS site has been recommended for approval by Hackney Council officers. The site is south of Dalston Lane between Beechwood Road and Roseberry Place and adjoins TfLs Dalston Junction railway site.The Planning Committee will consider the application on 13th July. The Council plan to sell the entire site to a private developer on a 125 year lease.

The plans are for:
• a high-density development of tall and very tall buildings of between 10 and 19 storeys. Buildings exceeding a maximum of 12-15 storeys directly contravene the Council’s own brief for the site which it agreed in July 2005. The towers will not create "attractive landmarks" or "enhance local character", contrary to London Plan policies, but will appear as an imposition derived from the Council’s desire to maximise density without regard to local conditions and streetscape.

•there are only 11-14 metres distance between the buildings leading to noise pollution and loss of privacy for the high-rise residents – the Council’s policy is for 21 metres distance between such buildings.

• 244 flats but only 24 of them will be 4-bed and over – failing to meet the greatest need locally for large family accommodation and the Council’s own policy requiring sufficient larger properties in new developments.

• the family size flats will be distributed vertically throughout the blocks – there will be children living at height, directly contravening the Council’s policy not to house children in its own stock above the 5th floor

• only 58 (24%) flats will be “affordable” to local people of which only 28 (11%) will be for rented social housing - failing to meet the Council’s own policy of 50% affordable housing of which 70% should be for rented social housing. All the social rented housing will be contained within one block

• of all the 553 new flats planned across the Council’s and TfL’s neighbouring development only 5% are for social rented housing and only 10.5% will be “affordable housing”. All the rest will be for sale.

• closure of Roseberry place to create a mainly granite-surfaced open space of 4900 sqm but only 2600sqm of which will in fact be usable by the public as such, the remainder being thoroughfares and service roads. Orientated north/south in a canyon between the towers most of the open space will on average be in shadow or darkness for 22 hours per day. Only 110sqm (2% of total open space) is reserved for children’s play.

• the towerblocks will cause overlooking and overshadowing of neighbouring homes on Beechwood Road many of which will fall below minimum daylight/sunlight levels.

• The towerblocks will create micro-climates - Dalston Lane will be made windier and recessed entrances are planned within the development to provide necessary shelter and protection

• a new library/archive resource over three floors which is to be rented back from the new landowner. Dalston’s existing CLR James Library, & Hackney Archives’ premises in the Rose Lipman Community Centre building, will thus become surplus to their present uses but the realisable capital value of these sites has been conveniently omitted from the “financial viability” assessment seeking to justify the demolitions and the development’s lack of affordable and family housing

• no arts cultural and entertainment uses are planned following demolition of Dalston Theatre/Club Four Aces, despite the Council’s UDP policy to resist the loss of, and to replace, such uses

• just 1% of total floor areas are allocated for community use/workshops

• only some 87 permanent jobs may be created by the development

• the provision for car parking fails to meet Hackney Council’s policy standard of 0.5<1 spaces per dwelling and this, together with 616 cars, 17 vans and 3 HGVs which are predicted to visit the site daily once construction is completed, will increase parking pressure locally. The new car parking spaces are likely to be offered for sale for £15,000 each.

•the buildings for demolition are said by the Council to be “not of...such historic interest to warrant retention” – despite these including the oldest surviving circus building in the country

There is absolutely no doubt, based on my experience, that this building can be satisfactorily brought back to a situation where it can be reused. My experience suggests that repair and restoration will not be excessively expensive

Brian A Morton MBE C.Eng MICE Dip Conservation(AA) IHBC
Strucutral Engineer to Canterbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds Cathedral, Spitalfields Trust

The 1886 circus building was converted into a Victorian variety theatre in 1898, the largest cinema in the country in 1920, and a variety of uses since then inluding the Club Four Aces and Labrynth clubs since 1966. In 1999 the Council evicted all occupiers and allowed a process of "deliberate neglect" which has led to the destruction of the magnificent interiors.

Demolition is also proposed for the two earliest surviving Georgian houses on Dalston Lane which are locally listed and which the Council’s UDP policy is to retain and enhance and which are obviously capable of reuse.

On 6th February Council officers reported to Planning Sub-Committee that a structural engineer's report had been obtained by the Council which had concluded that major structural elements of the buildings had been damaged beyond repair. In fact the Council had not obtained such a report but the Committee voted to demolish the buildings.

More Tall Storeys

The Council has never intended the retention of any of these buildings although appearing to consult on the possibility.It agreed last summer to maximise the profit from the site and contribute any surplus to fund the construction of TfL's £39 million above-station concrete slab for which there is a £19 million shortfall. On 30 March the Council granted TfL planning permission to build a bus station, shops and 309 private flats for sale in high-rise blocks of up to 20 storeys, on the slab. Their consultant, Drivers Jonas, reports that "throughout the project it has been the intention ...that any land value arising from the DLS proposals would contribute to the construction of the slab". TfL has stated to OPEN that retention of the buildings "would adversely affect the viability of the air rights developments approved on Dalston Junction Interchange". Quite how the Council achieves "best value" by giving away Council taxpayers' funds to finance TfL's private development, which has no affordable housing or local community benefit to speak of and which overshadows Hackney's own site, remains a mystery.

The buildings are presently protected by a High Court injunction, granted to OPEN on 6th April, which is the subject of a forthcoming Court hearing.

Public Consultation

The Council’s brief for these sites, agreed in July 2005, included the statement that
local residents have expressed the desire to retain Dalston’s character, diversity, cultural and architectural heritage, in addition to expressing the need for encouragement of small-scale businesses & the local and night time economy, and for development to have regard to the need for facilities for children, families and people with disabilities

The brief also included the provision of entertainment, community and arts facilities, to its stated objectives for the sites.

Few of these objectives will be realised by the proposed development and, in fact, the opportunity for many of them will be irreversibly destroyed.

The Council, the LDA and TfL have never held any public consultation or presentation where the current proposals for these neighbouring sites could be seen and discussed together despite the stated intention for them to be jointly developed in a “complementary” way. Consulting on each site separately from the other created a misleading impression of the combined cumulative effect of these controversial developments.

Our local MP, Meg Hillier, stated that
Many of the broad parameters of development on this site have been set but the consultation will no doubt throw up residents’ and others’ views.”
This statement reaffirms OPEN’s view that the public consultation has not been “transparent, accessible and accountable” and nor has it “actively promoted (public) participation and involvement” but the strategy has been solely to tick off the landowners “legal consultation boxes” and there has been no intention on the Council’s & TfL’s part to vary the Masterplan which they and the GLA agencies decided upon in the summer of 2005.

Con” - noun: a complicated confidence trick planned and executed with great care; - verb: to deprive of by deceit; - colloquial: abbreviation of consultation

Save our past. Save our future.

OPEN members do not want to live in the past, but we do want to live with it.The developers will not be building the new Jerusalem in Dalston but towerblock flats for sale which will overshadow and blight the area. We will see our children living at height with nothing for them except a tiny dark playground at the bottom of the canyon between the skyscrapers. It would be a hypocritical betrayal of Dalston’s community, and of hard won Council policies, to condemn future generations to this and wipe out our childrens’ and grandchildren’s heritage into the bargain.