Wednesday 6 December 2006

Hackney prepares for demolition

It's finally curtains for Dalston Theatre

and for the Four Aces Club

and it looks like curtains for the oldest surviving circus entrance in England

where Sir Robert Fosset's circus performed in its first season 1886

The Council is finally to achieve its objective. In 1995 the Council declared the Dalston Theatre a site for redevelopment. In 1997, despite a petition of 25,000 signatures and 12 deputations, the Council still decided to evict the Four Aces, Labrynth and community organisations from the buildings so that it could sell the site to a developer. The development didn't materialise. Then in 2003, after the buildings had remained boarded up and on death row for 5 years, the Secretary of State gave outline approval on appeal for their demolition and redevelopment. Since December 2005 OPEN has obtained court injunctions to stay the Council's hand and urged the authorities to consider reusing at least some of the buildings. But the decision to fund New Dalston's Olympic bus station, by demolishing historic Dalston and selling the land for towerblock developments, had already been taken before the recent public consultation started. The Council, the Greater London Authority and the Secretary of State have refused to change the plans. Next they will implement the demolition plans for Dalston Lane north. All these decisions have contributed to the planned destruction of old Dalston.

The Philistines
Noun: the natives or inhabitants of ancient Philistia
Adjective: those who pursue only material gain and who place no value on beauty, culture or artistic creations;
Philistinism: the vandalism of our heritage and culture as justified by institutional policy.

Hackney Council free to demolish Dalston’s heritage buildings

High Court Judge refuses OPEN permission to proceed with legal challenge
On 29 November Judge Gilbart QC refused OPEN permission to proceed with judicial review of the planning permissions granted by Hackney Council to demolish the Dalston Theatre, the locally listed Georgian houses and the oldest Circus entrance in the UK at 4-12 Dalston Lane E8. The planning permission entitles the London Development Agency (LDA) to replace the historic buildings with residential towerblocks of up to 20 storeys but which will have only 24% affordable housing. The Greater London Authority and the Secretary of State have refused to intervene.

The Judge found, in effect, that the Council has a very wide discretion as to how it may deal with its property. The Council was, for example, entitled to depart from its policies which aim to protect and retain historic buildings, and was not under a duty to consider an alternative scheme for the site which would incorporate any of the historic buildings or to asses their viability for re-use, particularly when there was a redevelopment scheme proposed which the Council approved. The Judge’s view conflicts with the legal advice which OPEN had previously received.

The Judge also refused OPEN’s application for there to be a cap on the legal costs which might be claimed by Hackney Council from OPEN should the case proceed and ultimately be lost.

The Council has produced documented evidence that it had been charged over £90,000 by a security firm for the eviction of the theatre occupiers on 2 November and that it is paying for 24 hour guards on the site, at a cost of over £22,000 per week, to secure the site until the demolition. The Council required OPENs agreement to meet those expenses if the injunction protecting the buildings from demolition were to be extended.

Injunction discharged – Hackney Council free to demolish Dalston’s heritage buildings
In view of the Judge's decision, and the prospect of facing an unlimited liability for costs and possibly a claim for the Council’s security expenses should the case continue and be lost at the end of the day, OPEN Directors felt unable to pursue the claim for an extension of the injunction. On this basis the injunction protecting the historic buildings has been discharged by agreement on 1 December. Hackney Council is now free to proceed with demolition.

London Development Agency and Transport for London claim immediate decision had to be made
Lord Low of Dalston had arranged a meeting on 17 November between the London Development Agency’s Chief Executive Manny Lewis and OPEN’s representatives, to discuss the numerous concerns about the LDA’s plans for Dalston. On 29 November the LDA responded to the issues raised, saying that it could take around 15 months for a major redesign of the scheme and that there would be substantial expense to incorporate any of the historic buildings.
The TfL scheme is to be subsidised by the sale of its own and the Council’s demolished site to a developer, Barratt’s. The LDA stated that Transport for London’s timescale, to conclude the contract to build a concrete slab over the railway cutting to support a bus station and private towerblock flats, meant that an immediate decision needed to be made whether to proceed with the two schemes which had been granted planning permission by Hackney Council.

Expert Opinion said Theatre and Georgian houses could be saved at reasonable cost
When reviewing the structural engineer’s reports obtained by the Council OPENs independent structural engineer Brian Morton MBE said “The condition of the historic buildings has been brought about by the deliberate neglect of the owners....We have repaired many buildings in similar condition, indeed some in much worse condition, and these works have not proved significantly expensive”.

Consultation a sham
For 18 months OPEN has been urging the authorities to consider preserving something of Dalston’s unique historic character to assist the regeneration of the area. What has become clear is that they agreed to demolish everything long before the public consultation started so they could maximize the profit from the sale of the Council’s site to finance TfLs new bus station. The hundreds of legitimate objections from the local business and residential community, and from national societies and trusts, have fallen on deaf ears. Now they say that it is too late to change their plans.
A history of this site can be seen below at "The story that was never told".
OPEN’s campaigns for genuine public consultation and sustainable developments which meet local needs will continue