Hackney's consultation with Ridley Road street market traders, about their new licence for slavery, has descended into farce.
It started with some Council notices on lamp posts in Ridley Road announcing consultation meetings on Friday 15th and Tuesday 19th November in their Ridley Road office. Traders went along, only to be told by the receptionist on both occasions that she knew nothing about it.
Next a meeting was announced at the Mare Street Town Hall at noon on 21st November - right in the middle of the traders' working day. A few attended. It was agreed to hold a local meeting and the minutes recorded that for 5th December at 5.30pm - but no venue. Traders didn't know where to go. Ah well, say the Council officers, the consultation is only a "courtesy and not a legal right " (Wrong! Ed.)
Meanwhile Hackney are rushing through their increase in traders' fees and charges, without even the appearance of proper consultation.
Imposing bossy top down regulations, in this case 280 clauses and sub-clauses over 34 pages, puts all the traders livelihoods at risk. It causes them stress and fear of speaking out - especially for the many casual traders who have no right of appeal to an independent Court. The new Hackney market trading conditions are not just a licence for slavery but a licence for bullying and bribery. Sadly that has been part of the history in Ridley Road market. The new conditions and charges will make it even worse and put its survival at risk. (Use it or lose it. Shop local! Ed )
On 13 December Hackney Council decided that Ridley Road Shopping Village (the covered market building and land at 51-63 Ridley Road) is an Asset of Community Value (ACV). Hackney's Director of Strategic Property Services' decision results from an application made by Save Ridley Road campaigners last October.
The decision noted that the ground floor had longstanding uses as small retail units and storage areas, with some open space fronting the building, and upper floors used by artists and others in the creative industries. The decision concluded that, in view of the current use, the building and land "furthered the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community" and "was of community value" .
The Shopping Village has been a contested space in Ridley Road since its purchase for £6.5m by off-shore investors in 2016. The developers have an outstanding application to turn most of it into upmarket offices and flats. You can read the latest campaign news here.
The community rallied in October last year and resisted the developers demand that traders get out within 14 days
The Council's decision also noted that "there was no reason to think that the building and land could not continue to further the social wellbeing or social interests of the community,whether or not in the same way". The developer now has 8 weeks to request the Council to review its decision.
The developer has recently submitted some design changes to its planning application. It has now omitted building over the forecourt's open space ( which will be landscaped) and it proposes to retain 21 of the existing 60 small retail units on the ground floor and to retain 360m² (50%) of the 718m² of existing basement storage facilities. It still proposes conversion of all the artists' studios into “high standard commercial accommodation” ( 10% of these offices will be "affordable") and a new storey with 5 “very high standard” family flats (now of increased size to meet minimum standards).
The Council's Planning Committee will in due course have to decide whether the developers application should be given planning permission.
More news: Hackney will allow free parking around Ridley Road from 14th to 21st December to help boost the market's economy.
Hackney is presently consulting Ridley Road and its other street market traders on new licensing conditions. They run to 33 pages with 280 conditions. If traders slip up on the licensing conditions they can be fined and their licence to trade can be varied, suspended or revoked and lead to a loss of their livelihood. Breach of conditions can also be criminal offences with the risk of prosecution. Fees for licensing and Council storage are also increasing, some by 12%-20%, and their container storage charges will double. The traders right to object has been extended until 31 December 2019.
Hackney have employed new staff to manage Ridley Road market. The chief enforcer is a former police officer who was reported to have been dismissed from the Met Police for misconduct. The Police have confirmed that he was dismissed without notice following a gross misconduct hearing at which the allegations were found proven. the new chief manager, formerly of Havering Council, has had a career in both public and private markets. He says the Council will "tighten up on enforcement issues...be forwarned". In their enthusiasm, some enforcement actions under the new conditions seem to have already begun even before the consultation period has ended and the new conditions adopted.
Many of Hackney's licensed traders are up before dawn to get their stock from the wholesale markets between 3am and 6am. Hackney's new conditions require them to have set up their stalls by 8.30am ( or lose their pitch), sign in a the office by 9.30am ( or be sent home), be personally present for 51% of the day, sign out by 6pm and clear their stuff from the street by 7pm. That's a 16 hour day/six day week, Monday to Saturday, or face losing your licence. Plus no holidays exceeding 2 weeks without Hackney's permission. The new conditions are a licence for slavery. And the new licence fees and storage charges could be the final nail in the coffin for many traders.
As one trader said "There are 101 ways to lose your licence". In fact there are 280 conditions and sub-conditions which go into the minutest detail and all must be complied with to the letter or the trader will face enforcement action. The new Council conditions will pull the rug from under traders' feet by creating insecurity, stress and expose them to bullying and victimisation.
Hackney has been working with developers of private buildings along Ridley Road. Larochette claims that construction access for their Shopping Village redevelopment will require closure of 28 market traders pitches. The new licensing conditions include the requirement for traders to move their pitch, and change the design of stalls and awnings, if it is considered to be in the interest of "redevelopment of a particular area". These new conditions seem designed to assist the gentrification of Ridley Road even though the market provides essential affordable fresh food and goods for our community in this age of austerity.
The Council has a history of over-regulating and bullying Ridley Road's street market traders despite them being the life blood at the heart of Dalston. You can read some of the background here and here and here. Our market is where people of all races and backgrounds are united in a common purpose. This diversity is something that makes Ridley Road - and Dalston - unique, vibrant, attractive and sustainable. Long may it continue.
Evidence has come to light that, despite Hackney Council's pledges to "champion existing small businesses, protect Ridley Road market and secure affordable workspaces", its officers were closely involved in trying to close down the Shopping Village indoor market last year pending private redevelopment. Hackney is also now seeking to impose draconian new terms on its street market traders. A compulsory 16 hour day and six day week. You can read about those terms here - it is a licence for slavery.
The Shopping Village indoor market had been purchased in November 2016 for £6.5million by the off-shore developer, Larochette Real Estate Inc.. It claims to be incorporated in the British Virgin Islands secrecy jurisdiction, but of that there is no public evidence.
In March 2018 it made a planning application to Hackney to convert the building into luxury offices and flats. The application incorrectly described the building as vacant - although at the time there were more than 25 independent small traders on the ground floor, 60 artists in occupation of the 1st and 2nd floors and street market storage.
On 11 October 2018 Larochette's lessee, which managed the Shopping Village, wrote to all the indoor market traders stating " we have been in discussions with London Borough of Hackney and the Metropolitan Police who both have been considering applying to the Court for a Closure Order of the Ridley Road Shopping Village due to numerous allegations of anti-social behavior etc....Unfortunately despite all our efforts the police have now served us with a notice". The letter gave all of the traders just 14 days notice to get out, despite many having traded there for decades. In parallel, the artists on the two upper floors were also told to leave by 31 December.
An ITV news report from November 2018
The owners actions caused uproar. A vociferous community campaign led to reports in the national media. It emerged that in fact there had been no closure order but a police Community Protection Notice (CPN)requiring improved security at the Shopping Village. Hackney was quick to respond, with the Mayor issuing as press release stating "I am appalled at the actions of the market owners....They have chosen to use a CPN as an excuse to close the market early and damage a number of small businesses". A note added that the closure was "earlier than originally agreed"- although agreement by the traders to leave had never been sought.To assist their departure, the Council offered the traders "fast track" access to stalls in the street market.
Now new evidence has emerged of Hackney Council officers' involvement in the planned closure of the Shopping Village. Minutes of a meeting last month, with street market traders to discuss new licensing conditions, record Hackney's Service Area Manager boasting about "all the great work the markets team have done to improve ASB, closed down the indoor market...etc.". But as Hackney's Area Manager should know, the Shopping Village was not closed. (We're paying for all that great work. Thanks guys! Ed)
The Shopping Village is still trading. Despite repeated demands from the owner's lawyers for vacant possession, the indoor market traders stood firm. With support from the Save Ridley Road community campaign the traders formed an association, crowdfunded, instructed solicitors and finally reached agreement with the owners to remain in occupation until development actually takes place and then with further benefits should that happen.
Larochette claims that construction access for the redevelopment will require closure of 28 market traders pitches. In parallel, the Council are proposing new street traders licensing terms including condition 5.14 which, despite Hackney's denials to Hackney Citizen, will enable them to cancel licences and move traders where necessary to facilitate redevelopment. At present developers have to negotiate with the affected traders, but the new Council rules will pull the rug from under traders' feet.
On Tuesday 3rd December the Save Ridley Road campaign is inviting local people to join them from 5pm for the unveiling of a new campaign banner followed with an evening of talks, music, dancing, laughter, food and drink in the Ridley Road Market Bar until late.
You will learn the latest situation concerning the indoor market traders who successfully battled the off-shore development company which tried to evict them from the Shopping Village on just 14 days notice. And how recently it gave just 3 days notice of its intention to lock-out the tenants using the basement storage units.
You will also learn about the community's application to Hackney Council to declare the Shopping Village an Asset of Community Value. The Shopping Village has been a longstanding community resource as a place for up to 60 small independent traders, as essential storage for street market traders, and for its cultural uses by 60 artists and creatives working on the upper floors. Its owner, Larochette, which is based in the British Virgin Islands secrecy jurisdiction, has applied for planning permission to turn the Shopping Village into luxury offices and flats.
And, if that wasn't enough trouble, you will learn of Hackney Council's emerging plans to impose new licensing regulations on Ridley Road's street market traders which run to 33 pages. One trader described the document as "101 ways to lose you licence". The changes include the Council's right to cancel street trading licences when required to enable private development. ( The Shopping Village developer claims that 28 pitches in Ridley Road will need to cease trading during the works Ed.). Hackney have recruited new staff to implement these changes including their enforcer who is reported to have been dismissed from the Met Police for misconduct following allegations of "discreditable conduct" and of using bullying and harassing language and behaviour. Another new manager is rumored to have had a career in privatising Council markets (I fear that this is not going to end well. Ed.)