So, sit back, relax, and cast your mind back to the start of 2016. It was a more innocent time…
January was dominated by discussions about Ridley Road Market, which was the subject of a regeneration row (see previous article about 2016).
In February our then mayor Jules Pipe predicted a “howl of protest by a bunch of tree-huggers” at the idea of building a new football ground on Hackney Marshes. The reaction? A howl of protest at this apparent slur.
Pipe said later apologised. Months later he was gone, off to join Sadiq as the capital’s regeneration chief. The curse of the tree-huggers, or a chance to turn over a new leaf? Whichever, his departure allowed new shoots to grow.
“Foster children ‘at risk of abuse’” was the headline on a disturbing story on the front page of the Hackney Citizen in March. It told how procedural flaws stopped information from being passed on to the Town Hall which could have prevented five children placed in care by the council from being abused between 1998 and 2005.
In the same month, the council was accused of wielding the austerity axe by agreeing to make savings (cuts) of £22 million over the course of the year. Town Hall politicians also voted to raise council tax for the first time in more than a decade.
April brought with it the resignation of two councillors, triggering by-elections in Stoke Newington and Hackney Downs. St Mary’s Lodge, that historic house in Lordship Road, continued to crumble into dust, and politicians from rival parties went “Kerpow!” over Gotham City-like skyscrapers planned for the Bishopsgate Goodsyard. The terrible towers were to contain virtually no affordable housing, so perhaps they were designed by the Joker. Also on the planning agenda, the Duke of Wellington pub was granted protected status. Cheers!
As Sadiq Khan swept to victory in the London mayoral election in May, Hackney was graced by broadcasting royalty. Sir David Attenborough visited the borough to officially open the Woodberry Wetlands nature reserve.
It was that rarest of species, almost never sighted, and thought extinct: A good news story.
June followed May, as it must. It brought with it…. But you’re sick of hearing about Brexit.
In July we bade farewell to Jules Pipe. Both he and his onetime deputy Sophie Linden trooped off to City Hall. Linden soon came under fire, accused of handing in the “worst CV ever”. In the same month, Hackney Council was criticised for “epic hubris” for acting as applicant, developer and decision maker on plans for high rise towers close to Hackney Downs. The scheme contained no on site affordable housing. Bishopsgate Goodsyard deja vu anyone?
By the time August rolled around we were all captivated by the Olympics in Rio. But the authorities in charge of delivering the legacy from London 2012 were getting ready to boot out artists from an area designated an Olympics cultural quarter. Meanwhile, residents in one corner of Stoke Newington were super angry about a superhighway.
September brought with it more ballot box fun, with both the Hackney mayoral and Labour leadership elections. Philip Glanville, Labour’s candidate for the post of Mayor of Hackney, had already declared he would not vote in the poll to decide who would lead his party nationally. The results brought few surprises: Glanville won. Corbyn won. And poor old Owen Smith was fast forgotten.
October was a honeymoon period for our new mayor. Not literally – he and husband Giles got married some time ago – but it was that rarest of periods in the professional life of a politician, a time to bask in that post-victory glow when the novelty factor and a desire to curry favour means everyone is suddenly your best mate. It never lasts. Let’s hope he savoured it.
In November the council was accused of trying to resurrect, via a crafty route, its controversial plan to ban rough sleeping. The Town Hall had initially sought to do this using Public Space Protection Order laws, but it backed down, only to go down the route of issuing something called Community Protection Notices, which can spark court action against the homeless. Officials insisted they never take enforcement action against rough sleeping, but the revelations prompted renewed debate about an issue that never seems to go away.
As the year reached its culmination, the Hackney Citizen itself became the story. Our editor was locked in a tussle with the Town Hall in December as Whitehall slapped the council with a final warning over its Hackney Today freesheet, which is accused of unfairly competing with the independent press.
A fitting way to end a year in which issues of freedom, democracy and fairness seemed ever more pressing worldwide.
Happy New Year!