Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Twelve days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

... Twelve legends dining

This image, by OPEN's Brian Cumming, shows some of the stars of popular entertainment who were associated with the now demolished 1886 Dalston Circus and Theatre buildings. They include Sir Robert Fossett (1886 circus owner), Marie Lloyd (1870-1922 Hackney's very own international music hall star), Stevie Wonder (played there in 1963 with his American band), The Club Four Aces produced Desmond Dekker (in 1969 - with his first UK reggae hit 'The Israelites'), Bob Marley (ate curry goat there), The Prodigy (began their career at the Labyrinth) and then there was Sid and Nancy.

You can learn about the demolition of old Dalston by watching Winstan Whitter's short film "Save our Heritage" .

Hackney Council demolished the historic buildings in 2007 and sold the land (for a peppercorn) to help fund New Dalston's unaffordable private towerblock flats, brand name shops and a bus station on The Slab in Dalston The Slab turned out to cost £63 million but is only to be used by one bus - the 488 extended route from Clapton.

... Eleven pipers piping

This year Hackney Mayor Pipe's Cabinet approved the grant of a lease of the new Dalston Square Library's cafe to a local business selling Starbucks coffee. The Council's report bemoaned the failure of its extensive marketing to attract a national cafe chain store as a direct lessee but recommended that some Starbucks franchise branding was better than nothing.

The retail units in Dalston Square were originally planned and built to try and attract national chain stores. Nevertheless the Starbucks news provoked outrage amongst Dalston's twiterati. "Up and coming Dalston just became got up and left" said one. Dalston's twiterati champion local character and the numerous independent businesses opening in Dalston. If the Council pursues its love affair with brand stores could Dalston eventually become an identikit town centre, a non-place, which could be anywhere?

.......Ten Lords a leaping

(Click on image to enlarge)

OPEN's Patron is Lord Low of Dalston. A non-party, cross bench, peer who speaks for the greater common good. He is the President of the European Blind Union amongst his many accomplishments. This year the Low Commission, which Colin Low chaired, has recently achieved substantial reversals of the government's proposed cuts to welfare benefits for disabled people. For many thousands it will "make a difference between existing and a life worth living".

Lord Coe is chairman of the London Olympic Committee for which he is paid over £350,000 pa. He also acts as a global adviser to NIKE and reportedly receives another £100,000 pa from AMT-Sybex, a software company whose client, Thames Water, landed an exclusive deal for the 2012 Olympics shortly after Lord Coe joined them.

Lord Coe is said to have been "instrumental in all of the commercial deals for the Olympics". Oops! One of his companies which had assets of £2.375m last year has written them off and plunged £280K in the red this year. Still, he also collected some £7,000 for Committee attendances... every little helps.

.......Nine Ladies Dancing

Hundreds of local residents' jobs, and safe working conditions for women, were saved this year when the Council did a U-Turn on its planned borough wide policy of "Nil" tolerance towards striptease venues. The Licensing Committee planned to refuse licenses to 'sex entertainment' venues borough-wide which would have criminalised erotic entertainment - striptease, burlesque, gay cabaret - and banned shops selling products which "encourage sexual activity" . The policy targeted two striptease pubs owned by women in Shoreditch.

Local council estate Tenants' Associations, Hackney Trades Unions and the Reverend Paul Turp of Shoreditch Church, feared the return of underground illegal venues, exploitation of women and gangsterism. A successful community campaign, in which 75% of consultees in Shoreditch opposed the "Nil" policy, resulted in the Council making a policy exception and renewing the licenses in Shoreditch this year.

You can find out more about the campaign by watching this short film "Hands Off" in which dancers, costumiers, business owners, the Vicar of St Leonards Church and others all have their say.

Tower Hamlets is currently considering a borough wide "Nil" policy.

........Eight days a week

The Eastern Curve Garden has been so busy it fitted eight days of activities into each seven day week. And it's been so successful it has won the national Landscape Institute President's Award. There has been pumpkin carving, African Tango, lantern making, pizza baking, healthy herbs, grizzley gargoyles, harvest festival, giant crystal light orbs, big banquets, film making, art teaching, garden dens, summer days, brazilian nights, theatre shows, afternoon teas, fundraising, furniture making, terrific totems, story telling, real nappies, scary scarecrows, carnival arts and bar-b-ques.

And that's not even mentioning the gardening activities (see photo) and the next project to build a pineapple hot house (you can help by donating). The events list at Eastern Curve Garden is never ending. Lets hope it never ends. (Watch this space. Carefully! Ed.)

.......Seven years for looting

The courts sat day and night to deliver swift and severe punishments to rioters and looters. Some Hackney residents got long jail sentences, particularly the one who smashed up a police car.

Pauline Pearce was discovered when this internet film of her, the Hackney Heroine of Clarence Road calling for social solidarity, went viral with over two million hits. She was feted by the media and leading politicians. Later she was set up for a journalists' sting but she has bounced back. Some independent businesses fought off the looters but others were devastated by the riots until the local community rallied round and helped them back to their feet. Meanwhile the government delays paying out the riot compensation payments which are legally due.

The politicians said the rioting was 'pure criminality' - so nothing to do then with this or this or this or this or this

.......Six blackened buildings

In previous years they burned down old buildings on Dalston's development sites and last year they painted our surviving Georgian houses black - a somber reminder of the charred remains or a dark vision of more funeral pyres to come? Last year, after four fires, three demolitions and OPEN Dalston's long campaign, Hackney finally bought the terraces back from the off-shore slum landlord (For double what it had sold them to him for at the auction in 2002 - Ed).

Now, in the age of austerity when money is scarce, and despite the Council's proposed 'conservation led ' scheme, the buildings remain derelict and the two surviving businesses are at risk.

The Council proposes to sell the terraces off to a developer and has consulted on a re-development scheme where only the facades of the buildings will be retained.

.........Five Gold Rings

Gold Dust from Mike Wells on Vimeo.
This year saw the publication of banned Hackney author Iain Sinclair's latest book "Ghost Milk". His ban from speaking on Hackney Council premises has never been lifted but he was able to present his book at Dalston's Vortex jazz club.

Some of the book focuses on the profligate failures of grand Olympic projects and highlights the extensive radioactive contamination across the London Olympic 2012 park . The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) was entrusted, as both planning authority and developer, to self-regulate the excavation, stockpiling, and burial of 7,000 tonnes of radioactive waste on the site - which it did without any prior planning permission at all!

Then there is the further environmental scandal of the 2012 Olympic's - its sponsorship by Dow Chemical, which purchased the corporate mass-poisoner Union Carbide, and which is now fighting claims for continuing fouled water and deformed babies in Bhopal, India .

What will the environmental legacy be for the future generations who will live on the 2012 site ? Consultants have advised that they shouldn't eat anything grown in their gardens.

.........Four Aces Club

OPEN Dalston member Winstan's Whitter's documentary Legacy in the dust tells the story of Dalston's legendary reggae club, its relationship with the Council and the police and how it went on to become the rave venue Labyrinth.

In 2007 the authorities demolished the club's original home in the historic Dalston Theatre buildings at 14 Dalston Lane. They crushed it, ground it up and used it in the foundations for Barratt's New Dalston tower block development of unaffordable flats.

Thus we lost our historic buildings in Dalston and the thirty year cultural legacy of our African-Carribean community. So now the authorities are calling the new tower blocks after the artists who performed in the club they demolished - Sledge Tower, Wonder House, Marley House etc. Patronising hypocrisy...or what?

Did anyone ask Stevie Wonder if he wanted a Dalston tower block named after him?

........Three French hens

The Worship of Mammon 1909 by Evelyn de Morgan - updated in the age of austerity

In the fourth year of the credit freeze, after the bubble burst and banks went bust, sustainable innovation continues in Dalston. There were three hens on the roof of FARM:Shop; Bootstrap roof's garden was harvested, eaten and then morphed into a cinema for Hackney Film Festival, its car park was transformed into a night market; Cafe Oto saw the return of the Arkestra; Arcola Theatre opened its circus tent; Kingsland Road shop windows are turning into art galleries; the perennial Vortex never fails to attract; Dalston is turning into Cupcake Alley with all the new coffee shops and Passing Clouds still grooves 'til the sun comes up.

........Two subsidies

Barratt's Dalston Square. Phase 1 on the left. Phase 2, on the Slab above the station, on the right.

This year Barratt, who are building the Dalston Square towers, succeeded where Oliver Twist failed. It got second helpings of the tasty tax- payers subsidy which it first had earlier in the year.With house builders struggling, and banks asking for 25% deposits on new build properties, the government has set aside a further £400 million to lend first time buyers towards their deposits on Barratt's and other flats. The deal initially seems attractive to borrowers (until they have to pay it back). Barratt loves it - it helps keep prices, and profit margins, high. With insufficient homes, and rents soaring, buy-to-let landlords think they have found a safe haven and taken 60% of the East London new build market.

Barratt have also been pulling strings to support the recently announced "simplification" of planning rules - the "presumption in favour of development". Hello to the Big Business Society. Goodbye bio-diversity and local character and, if you can't pay the rent or the bank, then its goodbye to you too.
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
...a retail opportunity

This year the Council approved an amended Dalston Area Action Plan.Two years ago OPEN Dalston consulted the local community and responded to Hackney's proposals for a massive residential/retail led 8-storey redevelopment of Dalston Cross shopping centre. The new DAAP is now proposing "creating the conditions for national high street stores to be attracted to the area", building two 15-story towers to dominate Kingsland Road and developing extensive "shopping circuits" which include turning the community's Eastern Curve Garden into a "green shopping mall".(Are they mad? -Ed)

Who is persuading the Council of the benefits of such schemes ? It turns out that the "Dressed in Green" tower (see photo) is being promoted by the PR company, Four Communications, which has recruited Hackney's Deputy Mayor Karen Alcock and Councillor Alan Laing (formerly a member of Barratt's PR firm Hard Hat)

"We are keen to use Alan’s extensive network of contacts within London politics" said Councillor Laing's new Managing Director whose company is also promoting the new Sainsburys planned for Stoke Newington and the controversial Stamford Hill school development

"....Towers for people who need gifts and coffee Only available from brandname shops...."
From "Regeneration Blues" by Michael Rosen

".... The latest blocks, blindly monolithic, devour pavements and abolish bus stops. They aspire to an occult geometry of capital: Queensbridge Quarter, Dalston Square. Everything is contained, separate, protected from flow and drift. No junk mail, please. No doorstep hawkers. No doorsteps. The big idea is to build in-station car parks, to control ‘pedestrian permeability’, so that clients of the transport system exit directly into a shopping mall. Where possible, a supermarket operator underwrites the whole development, erecting towers on site, so that Hackney becomes a suburb of Tesco, with streets, permanently under cosmetic revision, replaced by 24-hour aisles. Light and weather you can control. Behaviour is monitored by a discreet surveillance technology."
Iain Sinclair, London Review of Books, June 2009


  1. your constant bashing of dalston square has become boring tedious and predictable. dalston is changing, deal with it! at last there are some decent shops and cafe's in the immediate area, and the place has a real buzz these days. this is partly due to the new influx if residents in the square. would you rather it had remained the violent and dirty dump it was in the 80's and 90's?
    yes the flats in dalston square are not cheap, but per sq ft they are half the price of central islington, a short stroll away.

    please change the record and lay off dalston square.

  2. Anons comment at 4.40pm is tedious. S/he regurgitates the argument that unless they demolished the old town and subsidised a developer's dream Dalston would have remained derelict forever. Actually OPEN didn't oppose development in Dalston as such - only the top-down, profligate, myopic and destructive solution which spineless Hackney agreed to. It could have been so very much better. One could add that Dalston's resurgent local economy was well on the way up in spite of Dalston's redevelopment and before Dalston Square was occupied.

  3. I agree with the first comment. This is becoming an anti-Dalston Square blog and it's boring - not to mention pointless.
    Why not focus on other issues, like the lack of a functioning Enforcement Team at Hackney Planning which results in the borough having some of the worst conservation of period building stock to be found anywhere in London. Small "developers" often don't bother with planning permission anymore and simply alter buildings anyway they like - or build outside given permissions - safe in the knowledge that the council will almost certainly do nothing. Here's what the Local Government Ombudsman said of Hackney Enforcement 5 years ago and I've seen no improvement since;

  4. @ 4.40 anons..

    This blog says to me:

    Dalston = innovative, buzzing and DIVERSE community. OPEN promotes and celebrates unique local initiatives all over the show.

    Dalston Square = top-down and flatpack. If OPEN didn't kick up a fuss about the obscene waste it brought about, who would?

    I love influx and diversification in but not at the expense of working class families (part of your 80s/90s "dump" dystopia, right?) no longer being able to live in our communities!

  5. Benjamin is right about the lack of planning control - the Ombudsman's two reports were the tip of the iceberg. Why then was Hackney's Head of Planning at the time awarded a OBE? Could it have been for doing the authorities bidding - steering through the destructive and monolithic Dalston Square development which even the GLA are now trying to distance themselves from..

  6. Anon at 4.40pm & Banjamin: If you feel uncomfortable with this blogs analysis of how Dalston Square came about then you'd obviously feel much happier reading something that has views closer to your own....Barratt's marketing brochures are said to be very popular, particularly in the Far East.

  7. Dalston Square is the biggest development to happen in Dalston in 40, if not 140, years. It's history is highly controversial (and still emerging) and its development is still ongoing - with more towers now under construction. OPEN has, and will continue to report, and comment, on all of its aspects. "Twelve Days of Christmas" reviews many of the Dalston year's events, not just Dalston Square, so if some readers find the Dalston Square material repetitious, then move on. There are new residents and new readers who do want to know about it and there are also people who would prefer that they didn't.

  8. the reason i posted is that there has been so much rubbish written about dalston square and the people who live here. much of it i find offensive
    an asuption that everyone who lives here is middle class and works in the city. actually i am working class, born on a council estate and a key worker. many of the people i have met in the development are key workers also.
    that the flats are flat packed shoeboxes. every flat in my block and the block next door is over 1000 sq ft. very much larger than a new build house thses days. as for flat packed, what do people expect these days, thatched roofs?
    yes many of the flat were bought by buy to let investers. this happens everywere now in london, not just in dalston square.
    i bought in dalston square this year and paid under £400 per sq ft. trust me, you will not find anything else for that price in zone 2. i looked
    if people do not like the square, fine. but can people please keep their negative comments about those of us who live here to themselves

  9. Some peoples' perception that Dalston Square is yuppie flats is hardly surprising. TfL's stated intention was to 'regenerate' Dalston by "attracting a critical mass of better off people", the social and intermediate housing was minimal, and the crash of 2007/8 made it even more unaffordable. But my impression is that whilst people resent the politics and economics, and for some the architecture, of the development there is no ill will towards the new residents many of whom are active in Dalston social enterprises and the
    local economy.

  10. Pauline Pearce gets on the board of a free school - any thoughts?


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