Thursday 15 September 2016

Passing Clouds and the battle against the bland

The iconic Dalston live music club - Passing Clouds - is calling on all lovers of live music and cultural diversity to join its protest this Saturday 17th September against the closure of countless London's music clubs in recent years and its own recent eviction.

"It is vital that developers and planners recognise that it is venues like these that contribute so much to make areas desirable. " Meg Hillier MP, Hackney South

Campaigners will assemble in Hoxton Square at 4pm and process to Passing Clouds for a presentation at 6pm to Landhold Developments ( who have evicted the club from their premises). At 6:30pm campaigners will meet in Gillett Square for an event featuring musicians (including Dele Sosimi and Winton Reedy), representatives of closed or threatened venues including the 12 Bar, the Silver Bullett, Shapes, the Passage, the Spitz and Fabric and speeches from representatives including the Mayor of London's office and the Music Venue Trust. The event will undoubtedly feature Passing Clouds legendary friendliness, flamboyance and fun 

"Passing Clouds is a marker of place. The locality needs it. The city at large needs the noise it makes and the life it contains." Iain Sinclair

OPEN members will recall the earlier battles, to save the iconic Four Aces Club and Labrynth music venues which now lie beneath the privatised towers of Dalston Square. We also remember that Passing Clouds graciously hosted OPEN's fund raising event to fight the demolition of our Georgian houses in Dalston Lane.

Michael Rosen performing with the Dulce Tones at our Passing Clouds OPEN fundraiser 

Sadly Passing Clouds itself is now another casualty of the relentless rise in land values and predatory capital . This leads to the eviction of cultural enterprises for more profitable redevelopment. We are fighting a battle for local character and for diversity against the homogenisation  of our cultural landscape. It is a battle against the bland.

Campaigners are seeking to raise awareness of planning authorities powers under the Community Asset Register and the Article 4 Planning Directions to protect cultural industries and the other local assets which sustain our local economy and contribute vibrancy to our community.  All power to them.

Monday 12 September 2016

Dalston resident wins Court battle to save the sunshine for nursery school kids

After lengthy and hotly contested court proceedings, a local resident has won her battle to save the sunlight for future generations of school children. A senior judge of the Planning Court has revoked Hackney's grant of planning permission for a three storey block of private flats which was to overshadow a nursery school's outdoor space.

Kids and parents of Clovestone school celebrate the Court victory which has saved their sunshine

The block of flats was to be built right across the southern boundary of the nursery's playground/outdoor classroom at the Grade II Listed Colvestone Primary School off Dalston's Ridley Road.

An artists impression showing the scale of the development which has now been defeated

Before making their planning application the developer/architects' firm, Chan and Eayrs, had personally surveyed the site. They had even counted the bricks to establish the height of the walls which surround  the Nursery school's outside space. But their sunlight expert modelled the outside space as if it were virtually in full sun, with only fence posts and not the high brick walls which enclose and already partially shade the space. The expert then calculated and advised the Council that the area would still remain "well lit" after the planned development. 

The Nursery Head Teacher had written twice to Hackney's planning officer to object to the modelling error. Others, including the school's Head Teacher, went to the Committee meeting last September 2015 and objected in person. An adjournment to obtain an independent sunlight report, to correct the error, was refused. The Committee members voted for and against granting the planning permission in equal numbers but, on the recommendation of Hackney's case officer, permission was given by the use of the Committee Chairman's casting vote.

Chair of Hackney's Planning Committee, Councillor Vincent Stops, in happier times

The developer/artchitect Zoe Chan, pictured below with her partner Merlin Eayrs, attended the Committee meeting, with their sunlight expert, and heard the community's objections but neither said anything about the error in their report. Ms Chan was later named as an 'interested party' in the judicial review Court proceedings, but took no part in them.

After the decision to grant planning permission, local resident Judith Watt paid for an independent sunlight opinion. It advised, contrary to the developer's opinion, of a potential "increase of two to three times the existing levels of overshadowing". An application was immediately made to the High Court for a judicial review of Hackney's planning permission. Judith also wrote to Hackney's Mayor, who said he shared her concern about the effect of the development but that he was powerless to intervene in planning decisions. ( True. Planners and Committee members must act independently from political influence. Ed.) Judith's judical review application was initially rejected by the Court but she appealed successfully and battled on. And now she was getting the benefit of a second independent expert's advice and reports, which were paid for by the Council's own Hackney Learning Trust.( So public money was used both to fight the case as well as to defend it. Thanks Hackney! Ed). 

Eventually in April, six months after the Court case started, the developer's expert acknowledged his error -  the surrounding brick walls had been omitted from his calculations. The loss of sunlight, he now calculated, would be more than double what the Committee had been told.

But, despite this set back, Hackney not only continued to defend its Planning Committee's decision but it produced further evidence from the same developer's expert who had mislead the Committee originally. Hackney argued that the original error would have made no difference because more than 50% of the outdoor area would still have a yearly average of at least two hours direct sunshine a day and this exceeded the British Research Establishment (BRE) minimum guideline for playgrounds. The fact that most of the sunshine would be during the summer holidays, and that in winter the area would become totally overshadowed, was not considered relevant. As for any adverse impact on the health, education and well being of the children, Hackney said that the Court had no power to interfer with the planning permission because the Committee members were well aware of the consequences from what the Head Teacher had told them before the decision was made.

The Judge, His Honour Mr Justice Gilbart, revoked Hackney's planning permission. He found that the effect on the children from the loss of sunlight was an issue of critical importance. The error in the developers' advice to the Committee had, he said, created a "misleading picture" which had resulted in "unfairness".
 It was also argued, for Judith, that the BRE guideline was not a formula to be applied mechanically in every case, regardless of the actual context and effects of the loss of sunlight. The Judge found that, even though the accepted guideline on minimum sunlight for playgrounds would be exceeded, the Committee could still have refused permission.

Steely and determined, Judith Watt arrives at Court 2 of the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand. She's a woman with a passion for social and environmental justice and her win is on behalf of future generations of Dalston's children.

Judith expressed delight at the Court's decision saying "Only one in ten of applications for judicial review are successful so we've beaten the odds. It has been a long slog to get to this point but worth it to protect the children’s right to sunshine."

Judith's solicitor, Bill Parry-Davies, who acted under a "no win no fee" agreement, commented "It has set a useful precedent for challenging decisions where later evidence shows that a planning authority had been misled, innocently or otherwise, by a developer . The judgment also reflects the importance of carefully considering and safeguarding the benefit of sunlight in the context of each individual case and treating guildelines as just that and not as fixed rules. Sunlight is so important, paticularly for the health and well being of children - indeed, it's essential to life itself" 

The case has been reported here in the Hackney Citizen

Although the planning permission has been revoked, Dalston residents should watch out because there is likely to be a new application to develop the site in due course. Let's hope that it will be more respectful of local needs.

Back stories:

Dalston resident wins right to fight for children's sunlight
Luxury flats will make Colvestone School Nursery resemble a prison
Independent report reveal loss of sunlight to Colvestone School Nursery
Hackney Plannning Committee deicison blights Dalston Nursery Schoool