‘Homes not hotels’: Protestors lose out at planning committee as ‘harmful’ Chocolate Studios development gets go-ahead

Homes Not Hotels: Chocolate Studios residents protest planned hotel. Photograph: Hackney Citizen.

The cry of ‘homes not hotels’ rang out from Hackney Town Hall steps on the evening of 12 December, as residents and businesses of Chocolate Studios demonstrated against the construction of a luxury hotel which will cause a loss of visible sky and daylight in their properties.

The application to build the upcoming Hampton by Hilton hotel on Westland Place accepted at that evening’s meeting of Hackney’s planning sub-committee, despite council officers accepting that the bulk of the hotel up to 3m away from residents’ and businesses’ windows would cause some “significant harm”.

The occupants of the historic Shoreditch chocolate factory were assisted in their fight by Cllr Yvonne Maxwell (Lab, Hoxton West), who with fellow ward councillor Cllr Clayeon McKenzie (Lab, Hoxton West), questioned the attitude of developers Westcombe Group.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Maxwell said: “We’re very disappointed. The developers quite clearly stated they couldn’t be bothered to speak to the residents.

“The residents were not against a development, they were against that one. The whole scale of it will affect people’s quality of life, and the traffic there’s going to be – people aren’t going to a hotel on a bicycle.

“The businesses had one visit from a surveyor months ago . He arrived unannounced and explained a hotel was being built and in order to do so they would block the entrance and windows and knock through the back of their office.

“At the moment we have small successful businesses under threat and the outcome could be very little employment gained and with very limited light hard to rent out space in the Chocolate Studios.”

Residents and professor of architecture Alexandra Stara added: “Our area does not need more hotels. The hotel is double in size in comparison to a previously accepted plan, three times closer to our windows and multifold in harm.

“This planning process has been hugely fraught with conflicting evidence the planners’ report does not represent, including crucial information that we had to raise at great cost repeatedly that planners had missed.

“There are no measurements on the submitted drawings so no-one can see crucial distances and much more.”

Agents acting for the developers stated in the planning meeting that they had not consulted with residents as they would prefer to have any debate in the planning process.

A planning report prepared for councillors to vote on accepted that loss of light would cause “significant harm” to many of the residents and businesses in the block, but asserted that many office occupiers prefer to have lower levels of natural light.

In officers’ judgment, the impact on Chocolate Studios would be mitigated by the fact that the car park on which building will take place is  underdeveloped, and that a smaller building would look “odd” in the current streetscape.

Cllr Clare Joseph (Lab, Victoria), said: “I’m a little troubled by the concept of inevitability. We’re sort of saying that this is significant harm, but that no matter what happens, whatever comes here is likely to cause harm anyway.

“I thought we were looking at proposals on its own merits. This doesn’t seem to be doing that, if we’re saying that somebody else might come along and be just as bad, so we should accept it.”

Whilst Hackney’s upcoming local plans place a lower priority on demand for hotel rooms in Shoreditch, this policy is currently up for consultation, leaving councillors to vote the Hampton by Hilton in on the basis of an unmet demand for hotel rooms.

As plans currently stand, the hotel’s basement will have a glass roof, over which Chocolate Studios residents will have to walk to enter their homes.

It is understood that objectors to the plans are considering taking their case to judicial review.

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