A local councillor has sharply criticised the planned demolition of a hub for creative businesses in London Fields to make way for flats for private sale and a “marginal increase” in commercial space.
Cllr Emma Plouviez (Lab, London Fields) spoke out in support of businesses and neighbouring residents of the Monohaus and Warehaus developments, some of whose flats will be plunged into darkness.
The Laundry is home to 26 workspaces covering music, arts, fashion and photography, with recording studio Urchin saying last week that it would be forced to look outside the borough for a new home.
Cllr Plouviez said: “The Laundry does not need be redeveloped. It contains a unique and rich ecosystem of creative talent. These people don’t want to move out.
“These businesses will struggle to find equivalent spaces in Hackney, and we’re kicking them out. For what exactly do we have a cultural strategy in Hackney if we are to support the demolition of this space?
“I don’t understand the economics of this, but why do we have an affordable housing policy if the combination of high land prices and uncertain housing values make it impossible to implement?”
The just over 2,000 square metres (sqm) of studio, cafe and event space will now make way for 2,455sqm of office space, plus the 58 flats – none of which will be affordable housing.
The London Fields councillor added that she would be pulling planning officers into a ward forum meeting to address concerns amongst residents that it had become the norm in the area to build eight-storey buildings, which Cllr Plouviez described as “insanity”.
She added: “The idea that every development has to fill up the whole space and be eight stories just can’t be right. If it is right, why do we have a planning committee? Why do we make decisions? That could just be the rule and we can say, go ahead, build what you like.”
The Laundry building lies in a council-designated Priority Employment Zone (PEZ), with planning officers explaining that no affordable housing in new developments in the area is “entirely in line with our policy”.
The policy on PEZs, which cover about five per cent of the borough, was outlined by planning officer Rob Brew as “to deliver the maximum of economically feasible employment space at the expense of affordable housing”.
The planned development at the Laundry, which is being brought forward by television magnate Raj Nayak in partnership with property developers Aitch Group, will comprise 63 per cent residential in order that it be financially viable.
Council officers have said that 10 per cent of the planned 2,687sqm of employment floorspace will be affordable, with 268sqm to be provided at 80 per cent of market rent in the basement of the new building.
Committee chair Cllr Vincent Stops (Lab, Hackney Central) explained that the function of councillors listening to Cllr Plouviez’s appeals was to protect the land use, rather than the users themselves.
Cllr Stops said: “The developer, for good or bad, is choosing to develop. They have put in an application and we have to put in that application.
“The users have very little influence on this position, although we do encourage positive assistance to users.”
The committee chair added that the council would “lose badly at appeal” if the demolition was turned down in order to aid the tenant businesses who stand to lose out.
Shouts of ‘Shame’, ‘Not wanted, not needed’, and ‘How did you pass that?’ came from listeners when the Laundry’s demolition was approved.
Many of those present were residents of Monohaus and Warehaus, neighbouring developments, many of whose flats will get less light as a result of the Laundry decision, as well as of a neighbouring development on Bayford Street which was also approved the same evening.
Planning officers agreed that the Laundry plans would have a significant negative impact on the light levels, but singled out the benefits of “quality and affordable workspace”, as well as delivering 58 new homes.
Planning agent Tim Gaskell said: “As eclectic and colourful as the Laundry building appears in its current state, the everyday operations are filled with problems that are rooted in the inherited layout and design.
“This planning application seeks to provide a new purpose-built hub for creative enterprises. The proposal also acknowledges that changes have takne place in the area since the Laundry building first opened.
“The vision is a streamlined offer for new creative local talent, a flexible landscape of space that serves growing-on space and can retain high growth businesses in the Mare Street Triangle.
“Whilst the Laundry does function and is a viable business at present, this is not something that can continue in the long term. All of the existing tenants have been made aware of the proposals, and have been for some time.”
Gaskell added that the developers have a team that will be helping tenants find premises nearby, and that existing tenants will get first refusal to return once the development was complete if they wanted to.