Saturday 7 December 2019

Is the Council really trying to help Ridley Road market?

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, including compulsory attendance over a 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.

Following a police raid, in which cannabis and cash were found, 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 not stating who the agreement was with. Agreement of 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's planning application to re-develop the Shopping Village is progressing, with some further amendments lodged last week. Although Hackney states it is "set on negotiating maximum affordable workspace", its policy is not for 100% but only10% affordable workspace.

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.

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