Tuesday 30 June 2009

Don't look up! More towers planned for London Fields

Last Thursday Southern Housing Group (SHG), a charity, gave a public presentation to the local community of its scheme for a second towerblock at London Fields, eastside. SHG said it had considered feedback from meetings with Hackney Council and Boris's GLA planners when designing the "slender" 19 storey tower development of 78 very high density flats, houses and commercial units.

It was claimed that, compared with the existing site at 22-24 London Lane, the design and scale of the development would "enhance" the surrounding low rise buildings of the Mare Street Conservation Area. Admittedly it is not in a designated Tall Building Opportunity Area - but the professional view was that at street level people apparently don't notice towers (Don't look up!).

SHG said it wants "a scheme everyone is happy with" but members of the public voiced passionate objections to the development for a whole range of reasons. Perhaps people fear yet another charitable developer is seeking to exploit the London Fields location to the comunities disadvantage. Will SHG redesign its scheme to meet local objections or just plough on regardless?

If you can offer support or skills to help the the local community in London fields then you can find "No Hackney High-Rise" contact details here.

PS The meeting was held in Free Form Arts' Hothouse, an award winning development on London Fields east. Superbly designed and finished. A low-rise building delivering community benefits.

Friday 19 June 2009

High Court upholds Ridley Road Market trader's appeal.

A Ridley Road Market trader has had his appeal to the High Court upheld. We have previously told how Leslie 'Bonner' Ware had won his appeal to the Magistrates Court after the Council tried to revoke his market trading licence. But the Council refused to pay his legal costs. "It was taking liberties, so I appealed again" said Bonner "We went to trial in the High Court in The Strand. And we won again. Now its going to cost the Council double. It's all public money and an absolute disgrace"

OPEN has reported before about how Hackney Council's bean-counters were going bananas in Ridley Road Market. They had been revoking traders licences, cutting off the electric to their stalls, closing down the market store and prosecuting traders for selling by the bowl or the bunch. It was all getting rather personal. And then the Council's prosecutions policy went pear shaped when the government finally stepped in - it said that the prosecutions were "not in the public interest".

It emerged that Hackney Council planned to redevelop Ridley Road market. And that would be much easier if the traders only had "temporary" licences with no rights of appeal to the Courts. It has revoked numerous markets traders' licences. But most Ridely Road traders are not prepared to be bullied or bribed by bureaucrats. One such is Leslie "Bonner" Ware, a third generation Ridley Road market trader. We told his story here. "It is lucky that I could afford to take the risk of appealing" said Bonner " Many new young traders feel too intimidated." And so Bonner appealed to the Magistrates Court, and won. Then he appealed again to the High Court , for his legal costs to be paid, and won again. Hackney now have to pay the costs of both appeals.

In addition to the £thousands the Council has lost pursuing its policies it has also allocated some £300,000 in fees for consultants to come up with a redevelopment plan for the market. During OPEN's recent public consultation on the Council's "Dalston Area Action Plan - Masterplan" most people said that they don't want the market to be "redeveloped" or "regenerated".

Ridley Road market is at the heart of Dalston life. Most local people want to see its character, as a traditional outdoor street market selling affordable goods and fresh produce, preserved and to see decent conditions for traders and shoppers. Yes - there is plenty of room for improvements. A good start would be to restore lighting to the market stalls and repair the market store. It is now over a year since the Council cut off the electric.

Watch the video
Neneh Cherry and Andi Oliver buy some bunches of callaloo from Janet Devers in Ridley Road. They think Ridley is "The Home of the Bargain!" Long may it continue.

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.