Hackney Central could be drastically revamped with a series of new towerblocks, pedestrianised streets and a public square for events and activities as part of a grand vision for the next decade unveiled by Town Hall masterplanners.
The council wants to see the Tesco site in Morning Lane completely altered, with residential blocks stacked on top of a rebuilt supermarket.
But strikingly similar plans drawn up by Tesco involving 13-storey ziggurat blocks and a modernised store were turned down by a Town Hall committee six years ago amid concerns about traffic.
Hackney Council does not own 55 Morning Lane but has flagged it as one of several “opportunity sites” that its urban designers feel are key to injecting a new lease of life into the area.
The draft masterplan effectively amounts to an open invitation to Tesco to resubmit a substantially similar application to the one it drew up as early as 2008 but which was spurned by the council.
Laurie Elks from Hackney Historic Buildings Trust, who at the time raised concerns about the scheme dubbed “Tesco Towers”, said he would not be surprised if the grocer now snubbed the council in return.
He said: “At the time Tesco were absolutely livid that this had been going on for years and then it was turned down at planning. I just wonder what Tesco will think if they are now being told by the planners, right, let’s try this again.
“I think they might be a bit cautious.”
He added: “I’m not sure that Tesco are going to be that enthusiastic about starting this process all over again without some kind of political assurances.”
Elks said that redevelopment of the Tesco site was “inevitable”, however, adding: “No one can say that the massive car park is the best use of the space.” And he said concerns about the original Tesco Towers scheme had been taken on board by the council.
The Hackney Citizen has asked Tesco’s planning office whether a new application for 55 Morning Lane will now be forthcoming and is awaiting their response.
Other ideas contained within the council documents – described as an exercise in blue sky thinking rather than a cast iron blueprint – include shifting the bus garage away from the bottom of the Narrow Way to make the area more “breathable” for pedestrians and improve connectivity between Mare Street and the historic churchyard.
Supermarkets feature prominently in the documents, which were worked on by architecture firm Hawkins/Brown and bemoan “the impact of traffic and the low quality pedestrian experience” currently blighting Hackney Central.
The planners describe “poor urban structure” which has “led to a seemingly disconnected urban structure” in the area, which they say is not punching its weight in terms of trade.
The council says it hopes to “encourage refurbishment” of Marks and Spencer. This “may include the introduction of new uses and an active frontage on to Amhurst Road” as well as “infill development” to provide new housing around the M&S store.
Also on the council’s wish list is “mixed use development of 333-337 Mare Street (Iceland site)” and a redevelopment of the Well Street branch of Lidl – although, as with 55 Morning Lane, neither of these sites is actually owned by the council.
The masterplan notes plans for the new Crossrail 2 station in Hackney Central. The council pedestrianised the Narrow Way three years ago and is still working on schemes to revitalise it. In 2013 an artist’s impression of the new Narrow Way was criticised by race campaigners who pointed out that almost everyone in the image was white.
In images of the council’s new masterplan there are black as well as white people, and individuals wearing identifiably Muslim garb are also visible.
The council is now consulting on the plans, which can be viewed at www.hackney.gov.uk/spd – and people can have their say by calling 020 8356 1318 or visit one of the following drop-in sessions:
Thursday 20 October, 2-5pm – Bottom of the Narrow Way, opposite Marks and Spencer
Tuesday 1 November, 10am-1pm – Hackney Central Library
Thursday 10 November, 3-6pm – Junction of Mare Street and Westgate Street, opposite Space Studios
Update at 9.30am on 19 October 2016: A Tesco spokesperson told the Hackney Citizen: “We know the council is consulting on their masterplan for Hackney Central and they have identified our Morning Lane site as an area that could contribute to delivery of some of their aspirations. We will continue to engage with the council.”