Controversial Britannia scheme recommended for approval

An artist’s impression of the plans. Image: Hackney Council

Plans for the redevelopment of the Britannia Leisure Centre have been recommended to the Town Hall’s planning committee for approval.

The current proposal would see the demolition of the existing building to make way for a new leisure centre, a 1,140-place secondary school and sixth form, and up to 481 new homes, of which up to 81 will be “genuinely affordable”.

However, the Save Britannia Leisure Centre (SBLC) campaign has voiced its displeasure at the progression of the plans.

Campaigner Pat Turnbull said: “I felt very sad and disappointed when I saw the recommendation to grant the application.

“Building towers of market flats up to 25 storeys high is like giving the green light to developers to do likewise. Is this the kind of example Hackney Council wants to set?

“Councillors have a broader responsibility to consider the likely effects of this development on Hackney citizens.

“The number of 48 social rented homes out of 481 is far distant from the council policy of 50 per cent affordable, particularly regrettable on a scheme where the council is the developer. Even adding the 30 or so shared ownership homes leaves us far from this goal.

“This will not meet the desperate housing needs of almost 13,000 people on the council waiting list and 3,000 in temporary accommodation, never mind those living on the streets. In fact, it is likely to contribute to driving up housing costs still further, making Hackney unaffordable for even more people.”

Turnbull also cited the potential impact on the daylight and sunlight levels of surrounding properties from the density and height of the planned blocks, the “dangerous precedent” of building on open space on Shoreditch Park, and an overloading of bus services by the new school at a time of planned transport cuts to the borough.

The campaign also repeated its dissatisfaction with the level of consultation undertaken by the council on the plans.

Boost: Pat Turnbull (third from left) with fellow campaigners. Photograph: SBLC

‘Disappointed’: Pat Turnbull (third from left) with fellow campaigners. Photograph: SBLC

According to the application, of the 160 letters from residents the council received on the plans, 147 were objections, with 17 in support, leaving 54 ‘comments’.

SBLC’s concerns are also shared to some extent by TfL Buses and the council’s own public health department.

Whilst TfL has voiced its overall support for the plans, documents submitted to the council state that TfL Buses remain concerned that the new college could cause Kingsland Road routes to become oversubscribed.

The council’s own public health team also submitted mixed reactions to the application.

Hackney Public Health (HPH) praised the car-free nature of the development, as well as the additional jobs it is set to create and the social cohesion its public spaces are designed to foster.

However, it sounds a cautionary note on the low level of affordable homes in the development – 17 per cent, well below the recommended level of 50 per cent of all homes built in projects of its type.

HPH also points out a “significant adverse loss of daylight and/or sunlight” to surrounding properties from the new blocks alongside a lack of children’s play space.

The application accepts that this level is “below target”, going on to say: “The reason for this shortfall is that the development is conceived as an enabling development with the private residential cross subsidising the provision of other social infrastructure i.e. the school and leisure centre.

“Given the significant scale of social infrastructure proposed in the form of the school and leisure centre, this approach is accepted.”

Also represented in the application as a voice of opposition is Anthology, the developer of adjacent site Hoxton Press.

Anthology states that “the application scheme as designed is not viable to build”, and echoes SBLC’s complaints of daylight and sunlight impact from the bulk of the development.

It adds: “The scheme plainly does not reflect value for money for the residents of Hackney. [One building] in fact takes money away from the Britannia Leisure Centre regeneration project by making an estimated loss of between £12 and £15 million, combined with its haemorrhagic effect on cash flow due to phasing.”

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville defended the plans, pointing out that the council acting as a property developer itself meant dividends would be reinvested in the community, and cited a lack of central government funding to pay for new leisure facilities, social housing or schools.

He also stated that the open spaces being built on are currently asphalt tennis and basketball courts, rather than green parkland.

Mayor Glanville said: “If we waited until we found an ideal site which no one objected to, received an unexpected cash windfall to cover the costs, and were able to balance perfectly nostalgia and the need for 21st century facilities in a way that pleased everyone, nothing would ever get built.

“It’s taken us years of planning, wide-ranging consultations and many hours of public meetings to get to this stage, and we’ve listened to residents and taken onboard their feedback throughout.

“The 400 homes for market sale, which will be built once the leisure centre, school and 81 homes for social rent and shared ownership are complete, are what we think will be required to pay enough of the costs so the council can cover the rest.

“The current leisure centre is increasingly expensive to patch-up and maintain, and simply doesn’t deliver the standard of provision or access that Hackney’s diverse communities expect, need and deserve now and in the future.”


Edit – This article was updated at 12:54 on Wednesday 31 October. Mayor Philip Glanville was originally cited as stating that “the open spaces being built on are currently asphalt tennis and basketball courts, rather than parkland.” Changes have now been made to reflect that the courts may technically be parkland, but are not green parkland.

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