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)


  1. Thanks for this. It's the pattern of the Thatcher and post-Thatcher era: planning hi-jacked by 'developers' who muscle in on sites, finding ways that require local and public authorities to subsidize their demolitions and building-for-profit schemes. The consequence is always the same, minimal or no conservation, maximum use-for-profit (usually high rise), minimal or no 'social housing', maximum loss to the council tax payer, maximum profit to the developer.

    OPEN has been vigilant and detailed in its pursuit of the truth over the Dalston development. And we've been fobbed off with triumphalist crap from the Labour regime in Hackney Town Hall.

  2. Although OPEN Dalston collected the support of literally thousands for its opposition to this appallingly brutal redevelopment, it was of course not alone in doing so. Many other local organisations and individuals went to great efforts to make the Council see sense, only to discover, after the event and again thanks to OPEN's efforts, that the whole proposal had been developed beforehand by a shameless collaboration among the LDA, Transport for London and Hackney Council's own then Head of Planning, who lied openly to the Council's Planning Committee in order to force the scheme through.
    This has become such a notorious abuse of planning "consultation" that a number of studies have already used it to demonstrate how NOT to "regenerate" urban communities. Hackney Council, however, has since vastly expanded its proposals for the wholesale demolition and similarly inappropriate redevelopment of the already vastly overcrowded Dalston area - apparently to save most of the rest of the borough from having to bear its share of increased housing provision.


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