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News / 8 July, 2008

Plans hatch to make or break Dalston

Dalston – Hackney’s largest shopping area – is undergoing major changes. What will this mean for local residents?

Georgian properties, Dalston Lane

Georgian properties, Dalston Lane

A major new development of transport, housing and cultural facilities is currently under construction at Dalston Junction. Dalston Square, on the south side of Dalston Lane, will include a station on the East London Line together with a high-rise complex of 550 flats. A bus terminal, a new library, shops and a public square are also part of the plans.

Further down the line, more changes are in store for central Dalston. Consultation on the Council’s Masterplan closed at the end of May, and the plan will be formally approved by the end of the year.

Sites identified for possible redevelopment are mostly clustered near the area currently under construction. These include several places on Ashwin, Tyssen and Ramsgate Streets north of Dalston Lane, as well as historic buildings on Dalston Lane and parts of Ridley Road Market.

Though some local residents welcome these moves, others fear that the cultural soul of Dalston will be lost as a result of ‘regeneration’. The De Beauvoir Association, a local residents’ group, has been active in the campaign to challenge elements of the Dalston Lane South development, as has the Ridley Road Market Traders’ Association. Another such organisation is a local community group called OPEN Dalston (‘OPEN’ stands for Organisation for the Promotion of Environmental Needs), which has set itself up as a watchdog to monitor the proposed changes and their impact on the local community.

Supporters of this movement include renowned author Michael Rosen and Lord Low of Dalston, who has spoken about the matter in the House of Lords.

With the property development firm working on the Dalston Lane South in dire financial straits, what will happen to the blocks now going up?

Part of the complex currently under construction is being built by beleaguered property developer Barratt Homes. Barratt has lost more than ninety per cent of its value in the past year, with share prices tumbling dramatically in June and rumours that  the developer could face bankruptcy. What does this mean for the Dalston Square development?

Some fear that Hackney council tax payers might risk having to shell out to cover a portion of the shortfall, though the official line from the Council is that the London Borough of Hackney simply provided the land for the development and that “any overspend on the main development above ground would be the developer’s responsibility.”

Perhaps a more significant concern is that the recent downturn in the property market could mean that these blocks tower virtually empty over Dalston, as buyers shy away from investing. This development might then become a white elephant, contributing little to either cultural or economic regeneration.

Another cause for consternation is the high cost of the concrete slab on which the bus interchange will be built, and the implications of that cost for the nature of development that has been allowed to go ahead on the site.

Council documents suggest that the proportion of affordable housing to be included in the development has been determined by the need to make the scheme financially viable. Proposals for the precise mix of housing have changed several times, and the Council refuses to say what proportion will be classified as affordable, but it seems likely that the cost of the bus interchange has meant that the development built on this site will include far less than the 50 per cent affordable flats which is the London-wide target for new-build.

The East London Line comes to Hackney! But where will it take us?

Many local residents are jubilant that a new railway line is making its way to the borough. The long-awaited East London Line extension, which will include stations at Shoreditch, Hoxton, Haggerston and Dalston Junction, will be part of the London Overground network. This phase of the work will be completed by June 2010 with plans for a further extension in 2011 to link the line through to Highbury & Islington. The line will be hooked into local bus services through a bus interchange that forms part of the new Dalston Square development.

There has been confusion in some quarters, as the new line has at times been referred to as ‘the Tube’. This is not the case, though trains on the East London Line are meant to be of similar frequency to Underground trains – about one every five minutes.

Perhaps a more serious concern is the ambivalence that has arisen over the benefit of the new line, which will link Hackney residents directly to exciting places such as New Cross and West Croydon. Some will undoubtedly welcome the opportunity of easy access to points south.

However, the Croydon connection is of concern to others. The worry is not  that Dalston will be linked to Croydon, but that it will end up with the worst aspects of this south London transport hub town.

Is Dalston’s local architectural heritage at risk as development plans forge ahead?

Organised opposition to the Council’s regeneration plans for Dalston emerged in 2003 around plans to demolish the disused Dalston Theatre, several locally listed Georgian houses and the earliest surviving circus entrance in the country. OPEN claim that the Council had deliberately allowed the buildings to become derelict in order to demolish them, and that it had begun the move toward demolition without proper consultation.

“People were saying to us we’ve got to do something to try to change this – the years of deliberate neglect, the lack of consultation. It was destroying the local economy and environment,” says Bill Parry-Davies, a founding member of OPEN.

After gaining the support of the Georgian Group, SAVE Britain’s Heritage and other national charities, the group initiated a series of legal challenges on the grounds of the historical interest of the buildings. OPEN was successful in obtaining injunctions which delayed the demolition work for a time while seeking to persuade the Council to retain something of Dalston’s historic environment. But eventually in early 2007, the buildings were taken down and work on the Dalston Square site began.

OPEN is now working to prevent a similar fate befalling another terrace further along the south side of Dalston Lane. The 1820’s Georgian houses between 46 and 86 Dalston Lane are of historic significance; indeed, a conservation area was created in 2005 to protect them and a number of other buildings in the area.

Yet the condition of this terrace has deteriorated alarmingly in recent years. The majority of the houses were sold at auction by the Council in 2002 to an off-shore company. They subsequently suffered severe structural damage, including fire damage. The Council several times indicated that it intended to taken measures to preserve the buildings, yet their condition continued to decline, until by the autumn of 2007 those at 60-64 had become structurally unsound and had to be demolished.

In the words of Parry-Davies, “In Dalston, we’ve faced years of dereliction. If we feel ashamed of our environment and where we come from, then we can lose pride in ourselves. And if no one seems to care for our environment we can feel that no-one cares for us either.”

While the Dalston Masterplan consultation document designates the Dalston Lane terraces as an ‘opportunity site’, it remains to be seen what types of development the Council will deem acceptable for these buildings.


/ 8 July, 2008

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