Wednesday 26 May 2010

Boris is coming! Quick!! Demolish Old Dalston

OPEN has learned from demolition contractors on site that four old houses at 2- 8 Ashwin Street must be pulled down and levelled by 5th June because Boris is coming.

2 Ashwin Street - the ninth "opportunity site" to burn down in Dalston in recent years. A squatter threw himself from an upper floor, during the fire on 31.7.08, with tragic consequences.

Hackney has owned the terrace of charming old houses since the 1980s. But it has never maintained or repaired them. It says that their condition has now become so dangerous they must be demolished immediately. There is no time to even consult the public or get planning permission to demolish them.

So the timing of the demolitions, by 5th June, is apparently nothing to do with the Council's "Dalston Connected" street party on Sunday 6th June to take place in Ashwin Street. This PR event is to celebrate the Dalston Junction overground station re-opening and Dalston's new £40million Olympic bus stop. Boris is to be the guest of honour.

2-8 Ashwin Street front walls were shored up after the fire, to stablise them, over 12 months ago. But the rear walls got no such protection.

In the Council's various public consultations since 2005 onwards our community has expressed a clear preference for re-use of the historic Ashwin Street old houses. Re-use is sustainable and would preserve the human scale and character of Dalston.

OPEN, Arcola Theatre and other community groups sent a deputation to Hackney's Mayor, Jules Pipe, on 26th October 2009. His Cabinet agreed "to defer demolition subject to further survey and discussion with interested parties, to determine the feasibility of retention". But there's been no such discussion and Hackney has refused to supply the survey report.

But at the same Cabinet meeting, OPEN has discovered, the Cabinet also agreed "that the Council lets the contract for the demolition to Clifford Devlin for the sum of £170K".

And over the same period the Council has also been buying up other sites in Ashwin Street, one at over market value, for redevelopment "as a natural progession of the Dalston Square development to the south" .

Looking north at 2-8 Ashwin Street and Barratt's Dalston Square towerblocks under construction

OPEN solicitors have written to the Council demanding to know why the buildings suddenly have to be demolished by 5th June and why no planning application is first to be made and the public consulted.

We are grateful for the research assistance of Loving Dalston, the independent Hackney news site.

Thursday 20 May 2010

A satirical image

This satirical image showing Lord Low and Lord Coe, with Phase 1 of Dalston's tower blocks under construction in the background, has been circulating in the public domain in Hackney for quite some time now.

(Click on image to enlarge)

In view of the emerging scandal of Dalston's £40million Olympic bus stop OPEN would like to take this opportunity to correct some of the glaring inaccuracies this image contains.

Just for starters. Lord Low of Dalston's job is NOT to represent Dalston - he is a cross bench "people's peer" who sits in the House of Lords for the greater good.

And secondly, for the record, Lord Coe DID come first (two Olympic Gold Medals in fact when he was just humble Seb Coe).

If you wish to point out any other inaccuracies please add them as Comments below. It's (still) free. Ed

Thursday 13 May 2010

Lord Low condemns the authorities' gross extravagance

Readers of this blog will recall last week that OPEN revealed the scandal of Dalston's £40million bus stop. The scandal hit the front page and this week The 'Agony's editorial, entitled "A slab in the face" (!!), reports that there is "understandable outrage from many Dalston residents".

That sense of outrage is palpable. It hangs like a black cloud over Dalston, along with the smoke of nine development sites that have burnt down in Dalston recently. But the outrage isn't because we wanted to see more buses terminating at TfL's Transport Interchange. OPEN had objected to the whole scheme from the beginning. And in 2006 we told the authorities that building The Slab was "not a prudent use of financial and natural resources" and that, if they went ahead, it would be "The most expensive bus stand in history".

In February 2007 OPEN's Patron, Lord Low of Dalston, alluded to the pending scandal when making his maiden speech in the House of Lords.

Colin Low, CBE, is Lord Low of Dalston, Vice-President of the Royal National Institute for the Blind and President of the European Blind Union. He lives in Dalston

But the authorities pursued their reckless Slab scheme and Lord Low went into further detail in a later speech in the Lords which you can read here.
Lord Low has written to the local paper's Editor this week to explain OPEN's position further regarding The Slab. This is what he wrote:

Colin Low, Lord Low of Dalston, CBE

The Editor
Hackney Gazette 15th May, 2010
Dear Sir
With reference to the lead story in your issue of 6 May and last week’s editorial, you highlight the fact that the use by just one bus route of Dalston's new £40million Transport Interchange is a great disappointment to the residents of Dalston and an appalling waste of public money. But this rather misses the point. Having more buses using this so-called transport interchange (which by the way links only with the Overground and not the tube), breaking their journeys there and putting passengers to unnecessary inconvenience and possibly expense, is not what Dalston wants. OPEN, of which I am Patron, has never advocated or wished for this as you suggest. Indeed we vigorously opposed the whole development from the outset. Having more buses now use the interchange in the manner you suggest would only make it worse.
TfL originally claimed that the "Transport Interchange" was essential for its bus operations and that there was "no alternative location" except to build it on a £40million concrete slab over the new Dalston Junction station. To fund this,they said, "high revenue generating forms of development" were essential. That is why Barratt will be building 9 further tower blocks of up to 20 storeys, all for sale but with no affordable housing, crammed onto the slab. Despite Hackney itself acknowledging that the designs were "austere" and below its own design standards, it granted TfL planning permission.
TfL told OPEN at the time that its scheme would not affect the use of the neighbouring Hackney site. This was untrue. We later learned that, because of the outstanding £18million deficit for funding the slab, TfL also required Hackney to demolish Dalston's historic buildings and dispose of the land as a development site to Barratt. Hackney succumbed to this pressure and agreed a deal which was so unfavourable to its taxpayers that it had to get government approval to dispose of its public land at undervalue. All Hackney got in return was a peppercorn rent and four floors to fit out as a library which they were obliged to rent from Barratt.
Had the authorities been willing to seriously consider the more modest alternative scheme promoted by Dalston's Bootstraps Company and OPEN, we could now be seeing a scheme with 100 % affordable housing, independent shops and new businesses in affordable commercial units, community facilities and Dalston's historic buildings preserved and converted. And Hackney could have retained much of its land value.
The government also contributed £10million to help fund the slab. It said the "Transport Interchange" was essential for the 2012 Olympics. But none of the buses or trains using the "Interchange" go there. Perhaps TfL may yet use the slab for hopper buses to take people from the station to the Olympic site. But this was never presented as a justification for the slab at the time and £40million will seem a grossly extravagant subsidy for a 6 week event, especially to the people of Dalston.
Yours faithfully
Colin Low
(Lord Low of Dalston)