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Town Hall’s new Britannia scheme gets the planning go-ahead

Hackney Council’s planning sub-committee meeting, 7 November. Photograph: Hackney Citizen.

Hackney Council’s plans for a new Britannia leisure centre, accompanied by a new school building and residential blocks, have been approved.

Subject to approval by the Greater London Authority, the Town Hall hopes to begin construction on the leisure centre and school in early 2019 and complete in 2021.

Town Hall reps declared their excitement and delight at the approval of the council-led development on Shoreditch Park at the end of an occasionally fractious 7 November planning sub-committee meeting, which saw a debate between the council and the Save Britannia Leisure Centre campaign (SBLC).

The SBLC staged a protest on the Town Hall steps ahead of the meeting, which was also attended by representatives of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the Trade Union Socialist Coalition (TUSC).

The Britannia scheme will provide 481 new homes, 81 of which will be ‘genuinely affordable’, a housing mixture which SBLC campaigners had previously criticised as .

Speaking after the meeting, Deputy Mayor Cllr Feryal Demirci said: “If the council had the money to deliver this without having to build the private housing, they would have of course done that. But in the circumstances, we have to be creative. We are not sitting on our hands and hoping for someone to come and rescue us.

“I grew up in Hackney in the worst era, and I watched the politicians at that time not provide the solutions. I lived in the worst social houses in Hackney, and I went to school where my windows were blue plastic bags.

“Hackney has got better, and is giving its children and its residents much better opportunities, and I’m not going to apologise for that.

“It’s not acceptable that the residents of Hoxton East and West don’t have access to a state-of-the-art facility. We are delighted that the committee has agreed the scheme, and really excited that we will have lots of social infrastructure in the area that will serve the hundreds of estate housing in the area.”

Colville Estate resident Michael Jones spoke in objection to the scheme, saying: “Who are these expensive homes for? This means all the council’s families’ homes will only be in one of the blocks. This can’t be right.”

Hackney’s own public health department had warned as part of the application that a housing mix amounting to 17 per cent of affordable homes was well below the 50 per cent recommended level for developments of the type visualised under the Britannia scheme.

Hackney’s group director of finance Ian Williams stated at the meeting that “on balance it is a very good proposal,” saying that a higher level of affordable homes in the scheme would have an impact on the council’s ability to deliver the promised 1,140-place secondary school and sixth form, as well as the new leisure centre.

Development management officer Steve Fraser-Lim said: “We do have a core strategy with a target of 50 per cent affordable housing in a development project, but this is a target subject to site-specific circumstances and overall scheme viability, so the policy does allow flexibility in circumstances where the development can’t provide that amount.”

SBLC campaigners on Hackney Town Hall steps, 7 November.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, SBLC campaigner Pat Turnbull questioned the need of replacing the Britannia, stating: “The Britannia as it stands is fit for purpose for another 20 years, which I think is rather a long time, when you consider the new buildings that can be found to be not fit for purpose and have things done to them as soon as they’re built.

“Britannia is obviously a sturdy building, and has been there for 38 years. It could be refurbished for £17.5m and sit there for another twenty years. This is a very important argument for keeping it.”

The council have stated cost of construction for the new Britannia is approximately double the cost of the refurbishment, though it has also pointed out that maintaining the older building would entail “significant ongoing costs.”

The loss of open space, as well as the significant impact the new blocks will have on neighbouring properties’ light levels, were also complaints brought up by objectors.

Alice Roberts of CPRE London said: “This is one of the worst cases I’ve seen in a long time. Shoreditch Park is one of the only green spaces in a very wide area, and it is contrary to local, London and national policy to build on a local park.”

The council aim to build on ‘hard-standing’ asphalt tennis and basketball courts within Shoreditch Park, which is similarly designated as ‘open space’ alongside the green parkland itself.

As part of the examination of the council’s application to build the scheme, questions were raised as to the viability of the Britannia were the flats not to sell as expected. However, as these were not “material planning considerations,” this topic could not be pursued by the committee.

Cllr Katie Hanson (Lab, Victoria), who chaired the meeting, said: “The political decision by the council to develop this site isn’t in itself a planning consideration. The rules require us to only take account of those. The overall political direction of the council in deciding to build housing isn’t a planning question per se.”

Also barred from being subject to questions by the committee were the fact of the 172 objections to the scheme, which officers said had already been taken into account as part of the council’s application.

SBLC’s petition, ‘Save Britannia Leisure Centre,’ had attracted over 4,500 signatures to its cause, though Cllr Steve Race (Lab, Hoxton East & Shoreditch) accused the campaign of misinformation, saying that it did not make sufficiently clear that the old Britannia would only be demolished once the new centre had been built.

Cllr Race said: “Britannia is not being demolished. There is a new Britannia, and once the new Britannia is opened, the old Britannia will be demolished. The community is getting a much more advanced leisure centre.

“It shows what an activist, progressive Labour council Hackney is. At a time of austerity, we’re finding ways of rejuvenating infrastructure and Shoreditch Park, and providing a new secondary school.”

Cllr Race added that the Britannia will continue to be run by Better & GLL, with continuity of membership and fees.

The committee voted to approve the scheme, subject to scrutiny around the replacement and replanting of 65 trees which will be lost during construction, including a 100-year-old plane tree.

Campaigners speaking after the meeting expressed their disappointment with the process.

Rebecca Neil, planning advisor to the SBLC campaign, said: “It’s so stacked against the residents. Every single one of these people has had months and months to prepare.

“Existing residents’ properties are going to be severely impacted by the scheme, particularly in terms of daylight. It is what it is. It’s not the first time it’s happened in London, and it’s not going to be the last.”


Edit – This article was amended at 10:35 on 09/11/18. Cllr Katie Hanson was originally quoted as stating that the political decision for the council to develop the site was not a planning ‘condition.’ This now reads ‘consideration.’

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