Warning of ‘Croydonisation’ of Hackney Central under council’s ‘masterplan’ vision

Laurie Elks. Photograph: Jordan Milne

Warnings: Laurie Elks. Photograph: Jordan Milne

Guardians of precious buildings say a masterplan to change the face of Hackney Central would undermine protections for St Augustine’s Tower and the surrounding churchyard and cause the collapse of urban design standards locally.

Trustees of the Hackney Historic Buildings Trust warned of the “Croydonisation” of one of the most historically significant corners of the borough.

In a detailed letter to Hackney Council, seen by the Hackney Citizen, they described a grand vision for the area, which was unveiled last month, as “fundamentally flawed” and a recipe for “denser and more intrusive development”.

St Augustine's Tower hackney Photograph: Jordan Milne

St Augustine’s Tower was built around 1275. Photograph: Jordan Milne

Their warnings will ring alarm bells for building conservationists and prompt renewed debate over how best to proceed with rejuvenating an area of Hackney acknowledged by planners as in need of a facelift.

The masterplan, a draft version of which was subject to a public consultation that has now closed, could result in residential flats being stacked above a rebuilt Tesco supermarket on Morning Lane.

The bus garage at the bottom of the Narrow Way is also likely to be shifted to improve connectivity between Mare Street and the historic churchyard.

In their eight-page letter on behalf of the Trust, Chairman Patrick Hammill and trustee Laurie Elks describe plans to fling up 15 storey towers on the Tesco site as the “maximisation of development [taking] precedence over urban design.”

“We feel that development on this scale would be a step towards the ‘Croydonisation’ of Hackney Central,” the letter states. “We think that this simply fails to respond to the historic context of Hackney and will lead to the collapse rather than the enhancement of urban design standards.”

The Trust, which is responsible for the upkeep of St Augustine’s Tower, is concerned new developments around the edge of St John’s Churchyard and Gardens would destroy the tranquil nature of an area regarded as Hackney’s historic core.

“Its seclusion and separation from adjoining spaces forms the essence of its character. It is within but not part of Hackney Central, a true oasis,” states the letter.

It adds: “We are concerned that despite honeyed words, the commitment to safeguarding the special and tranquil nature of St John’s Churchyard is proposed to be diluted in significant respects.”

Design options show housing directly facing St John’s Churchyard, and the letter claims masterplanners are propose weakening the protection that the churchyard and its surroundings originally received in the council’s Area Action Plan of 2012.

See this month’s print issue of the Hackney Citizen (p.3) for a report on some of the weird and wonderful ideas being suggested by residents for the future of Hackney Central.

Update at 10am on 15 November 2016:

Cllr Guy Nicholson said: “The draft masterplan aims to provide a set of guidelines for future development in Hackney Central. It is an attempt to avoid a piecemeal approach being taken by land owners and ensure that any future development respects and compliments the character and heritage of the town centre.

“Hackney Central is a thriving hub for civic and cultural activities alongside retailing and hospitality. There is an increasing demand for more space for both making and selling. The draft Hackney Central and surrounds masterplan presents a number of proposals that will help meet this demand for more space whilst complimenting and protecting the unique character of our town centre.

“All the feedback received during the consultation will be assessed and used to help shape the final version of the masterplan.”