Friday 24 October 2008

Dalston's market traders told to get out

Electric to the Ridley Road market traders' coldstore is about to be disconnected. The Council has told traders to vacate the Birkbeck Road building within 14 days. The power is about to be cut off. It comes at a time when the building has been identified as a "development opportunity" site.

The Council says that, following a fire, the building is a "potential health and safety hazard". Building Control are said to have declared it a "dangerous structure". Management have said that the building is "uneconomic to repair", "should be demolished" and that the Council has "no obligation to provide a market store". The Council has offered the displaced traders some containers for rent in the car park next door for the time being.

This latest shutdown of electrics follows the disconnection of the Council supply to all market stalls last May. That supply is still not restored. The traders have been relying on generators and local shops for lighting. Ridley Road Market Traders Association (RRMTA) made a Freedom of Information Act request for the reports which, the Council said in May, justified the electric shutdown on health and safety grounds. The Council now say there weren't any reports. The Council also alleged at the time that traders had vandalised the facilities. The RRMTA has appointed an independent electrical engineer.

All these photos are from the 1970s and 80s when Ridley Road market had proper lighting. But today there is none. The nights are drawing in and very soon the clocks will go back.

The displacement of Ridley Road's market traders is a torturous tale. At one time the market storage yard and sheds were where Sainsburys is now.

But the Dalston Cross shopping centre development displaced the market traders who were moved to a new store in Birkbeck Road.

Birkbeck Road has had a troubled history of its own. This photo shows the fire in the mews in 1979. The new market store was built on the land cleared after the fire. But 5 years ago the new store itself caught fire and is now to be demolished - a commonplace event in Dalston these days. The Council left it unrepaired ever since the fire and has refused to accept traders' rents and has denied their tenancies.

Now, once again, Birkbeck Road has been identified as a "development opportunity" site. Along with the whole of Ridley Road market. Hackney's Mayor Pipe has denied any intention to sell off market land for redevelopment but more recently the Council has opened talks with RRMTA regarding redevelopment of the market.

With the loss of the Birkbeck Road store for perishable goods, the lack of secure lighting and power to the stalls, the wave of Council prosecutions and licence revocations and with new market Regulations planned, which will stretch to 17 pages, it is becoming impossible for the Ridley Road stallholders to sustain their businesses. The supermarkets and developers must be delighted.

All the photos here have been taken over the years by Alan Denney. You can see collections of his work here.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Dalston author, Iain Sinclair, banned from speaking on Hackney premises

Hackney Council has banned Dalston's best selling author, Iain Sinclair, from discussing his forthcoming book in its libraries and other Council premises. A long-standing invitation to discuss the book, which chronicles his 40 years living in Hackney, has been withdrawn on the instruction of the Council's Corporate Director of Community Services. The book is not due to be published until February but Hackney sought to justify its decision because the author has expressed opinions which are critical of the Olympics and the authorities regeneration schemes. You can read what Iain Sinclair has to say here and hear him speak:

From the Today Programme - Radio 4, Tuesday 21 October 2008

This is what a Hackney Council spokesperson said: "Ian Sinclair is well known as an author who has expressed controversial opinions on local issues, such as regeneration and the 2012 Olympic legacy. A decision was taken that it would be inappropriate to launch this book about Hackney in a Council owned facility, as we do not wish it to appear that the Council condones or shares opinions expressed within the book. The same decision would be taken about launching any book expressing controversial or political opinions from a Council owned facility. The Council is happy to advise Mr Sinclair's publishers on more suitable venues in the borough, such as independent bookstores."

Saturday 18 October 2008

Hackney's prosecutions policy goes pear shaped

Such howls of derision greeted the news last week, that Hackney has been prosecuting Dalston's Ridley Road market trader Janet Devers, that the government has stepped in. Stepped in what? You might ask.

Janet defended herself at her sixth appearance before the Courts last week on charges of not displaying kilos when selling fresh salad and veg in pounds and ounces or by the bowl or the bunch. Like the other "metric martyrs" before her, she was convicted. Janet was given a conditional discharge - the minimum possible punishment. Four further charges still await a jury trial.

Hackney's prosecutors, despite being ridiculed in the national press as "jobsworths" and "petty bureaucrats", expressed satisfaction with the outcome. Perhaps their satisfaction was with the order that Janet must pay them £4,800 in legal costs. Hackney has lost tens of thousands of pounds of public money pursuing Janet and other market traders through the Courts.

It seemed as though the Hackney disease had become contagious. In Doncaster the local Council is threatening to prosecute a Polish restauranteur because draught beer imported in litres is not being sold in pint glasses. The European Vice-President has been quick to confirm that it's not the EU's knickers that are in a twist.

Hackney has been going bananas in Ridley Road market. But it's prosecutions policy has now gone pear shaped. Announcing new guidance, which will effectively restore imperial measurements, the Government's Minister for Innovation (sic) has declared Hackney's prosecutions to be "not in the public interest". Janet said she was pleased with this development and that "Hackney got more than they bargained for when they came to my stall that day."

Latest News: Hackney Council has still not restored the electric lighting to Ridley Road market stalls which it cut off last May. Traders are relying on generators and local shops for power. Now Hackney has given traders 14 days to get out of the market's coldstore (recently identified as a "development opportunity site") which, it says, has to be demolished.

For more about Ridley Road market click here

Watch the video
Neneh Cherry and Andi Oliver buy some bunches of callaloo from Janet Devers in Ridley Road. It's the home of the bargain!

Sunday 12 October 2008

Hackney Streets is an auditory extravaganza where four choruses surround the audience and take them on a journey though time and Hackney. The cast of characters includes: Shakespeare, James Burbage, Parkes – the inventor of plastic, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Anna Swell, Morris Beckman and the street cries of Ridley Road market. Poetry highlights are: “Evening falls between the trees”, The Turkish Baber and the much loved “Number 38 Bus”.

At the Rosemary Branch Theatre
2 Shepperton Road London N1 3DT
Tues 28 Oct – Sat 1 Nov @ 7.30pm Sun 2 Nov @ 4.00pm
Tickets £6.50 (concs £5)
24-hour Box Office 020 7704 6665

Dalston resident Michael Rosen is a writer and broadcaster, poet and performer, best known as a prolific writer of children’s books. He is currently children’s laureate.

Find more info on Michael here

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Hackney Council to "redevelop" Ridley Road market

Hackney Council has opened talks with Ridley Road Market Traders Association (RRMTA) about its plans to redevelop Dalston's market within 2 years. In Hackney Beancounters Go Bananas we reported how the Council had previously denied the existence of any plans.

The redevelopment plans have been revealed in the context of a continuing wave of Hackney Council prosecutions of Ridley Road traders and attempts to revoke their licences. We questioned Hackney Council's motives for this punitive approach in "A spectre of corporate malice is said to stalk Ridley Road".

Hackney Council have now admitted that, because it's redevelopment plans will require moving traders off their pitches, there could be difficulties implementing its plans if traders had permanent rather than "casual" licences. Permanent licensees have legal safeguards including rights of appeal to the Courts in cases of injustice.

Hackney's Mayor Pipe has stated that it is "absolute nonsense" that there are plans to sell off market land for redevelopment and that the Council's enforcement officers are using their "Regulations" to get rid of Ridley Road's traders. But the Council is currently revising it's market Rules and Regulations - from 6 to 17 pages! Traders have voiced concerns regarding their ability to trade if such draconian rules are implemented.

Market redevelopment schemes have given rise to controversy all over the county - you can read about some of them here and here.

Larry Julian, long time Chair of Ridley Road Market Traders Association, said "We'd be very happy to see much needed repairs and improvements to the market. We would also expect to participate as partners with the Council in any plans for the redevelopment of the market. But the Council's present policies are causing untold misery and there is huge public expense from Court cases which it should have avoided"

Hackney's Mayor Pipe also stated (on the Hackney Podcast) that the traders' electricity supplies are being paid for from the public purse and he even implied that traders have been stealing electricity. The RRMTA still await Mayor Pipe's apology for this untrue and defamatory statement. Council documents have been mysteriously overlooked which appear to show that electricity costs have been included in the service charges paid by traders for over a decade. But despite already paying for the service, Ridley Road traders' electricity supplies have still not been reinstated. Their businesses will suffer even more now as the nights are drawing in.

In the face of the Council's punitive campaign some Ridley traders have been tempted by offers of "casual" licences rather than face the risk of losing their livelihoods permanently. But most traders are not prepared to be bullied or bribed by bureaucrats. One such trader who has stood up for his rights is Leslie "Bonner" Ware.

Bonner's story
Bonner was born in Dalston. He attended Colvestone Primary and William Ellis schools. He played for Hackney Schools football team which reached the All England finals at White Hart Lane. Some of his team mates turned professional - George Adams went on to play for Manchester City and Brian Brown for Chelsea. Bonner's is one of Dalston's oldest families of market traders - so old that his great-grandparents stall was moved off Kingsland Road into the more secluded Ridley Road when cars were invented.

A tank sold off by the army to Bonner's great grandfather, Mr Julian, after the Great War.

Bonner joined the family business aged 17 and, like his parents and grandparents before him, has traded in Ridley all his working life.

This newspaper cutting from the Hackney Gazette shows traders lining Ridley Road to pay their respects to Bonner's mother who had suddenly passed away. It describes her family as being Dalston market traders for over a century.

For over 45 years Bonner has served the public at his stall without any problems from Hackney Council. He also served the Ridley Road Market Traders' Association as its Honorary Secretary for many years but he had to give up that post a while ago to focus on his family - his wife had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Bonner himself is now approaching retirement age.

Since the Council took away his bulk storage facilities in Birkbeck Road, Bonner, like other traders, had to spend more time away from the stall buying the stock to sell on a daily basis. He was also frequently called away to care for his wife. But the stall kept trading and the customers were served throughout the market trading hours with the help of Bonner's trusted assistant, Andrew.

Hackney Council officers knew all of this when they recommended that Bonner's licence be revoked. They said that, contrary to "Regulations", he had "no reasonable excuse" for not personally being on the stall for 51% of the licensed trading hours. His licence was then summarily revoked by Hackney Council's Market Licensing Panel. The Panel claims to be made up of "independent" Council officers -"independent" in the sense that one officer on the Panel is the immediate boss of the officer recommending revocation of the licences and, in turn, her boss is the Chair of the Panel.

Bonner lodged an appeal to the Magistrates Court but in the meantime Hackney Council refused his application for a new license to trade until the appeal was decided. So Bonner and Andrew were out of work and without an income.

Hackney Council quickly dropped relying on its regulations when faced with Bonner's Court appeal. The Council realised it couldn't produce evidence that it had consulted anyone, let alone the traders, before introducing the regulations last year. Thames Magistrates were not impressed. After three court appearances and a whole day's trial, it upheld Bonner's appeal. It found that, provided the stall was trading, there was no requirement for the licensee to be personally present on the stall at all! All of Hackney Council's legal costs will be paid by Council Tax payers.

Bonner said afterwards "Hackney Council seems to think it is the law. It treats us market traders like serfs. It's degrading and intolerable"

Dalston Area Action Plan
The planned redevelopment of Ridley Road Market is part of the authorities Dalston Area Action Plan to redevelop Dalston town centre. Two years ago in The story that was never told we concluded that, with the announcement to extend Dalston Junction rail link to the Overground at Highbury, the authorities had already started work planning Dalston Lane North. Traders' negotiations for new leases of the market's storage yards were suspended. The market's foodstore in Birkbeck Road was not repaired following a fire and vandalism. Many of the properties on Kingsland Road and Ashwin Street have now been boarded up or made derelict and ready for demolition.

The extent of the authorities plans for Dalston are shortly to be revealed. The writing is on the wall.

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