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Council urges move away from fashion to bring Hackney Walk back to life

Hackney Walk
Hackney Walk on its opening. Photograph: Hackney Council

Hackney Council are seeking to bring railway arches in the struggling Hackney Walk fashion district back into use, with only a handful of units still trading in an area once trailed by the borough’s former Mayor Jules Pipe as “a clear ambition to create local opportunity”.

The Town Hall is now hoping to convince new managers Intermediate Capital Group (ICG) at a crunch meeting on Monday to put forward new plans to widen out who can trade there, with the scheme currently specifically restricted to uses related to fashion.

Cllr Guy Nicholson (Lab, Homerton), the Town Hall’s cabinet member for planning, admitted his “frustration” at the failure of the scheme at a council meeting last night when asked what could have been done differently with hindsight.

Cllr Nicholson said: “As the council doesn’t own the land at Hackney Walk, our role is to continue to engage and encourage the owners of the site to progress with a scheme to diversify the uses on the site and ensure that the vacant units are occupied as soon as possible with a mix of uses.

“All I would say is from our council’s perspective, what we have is an effective area regeneration team that can hopefully set about squaring the circle down on Morning Lane. I think it’s a struggle.

“What could have made it easier, perhaps if the council owned the land, it would put it into a very different category.”

Cllr Polly Billington (Lab, De Beauvoir) responded: “I’d be a fabulous unicorn, Cllr Nicholson, and I never could be a fabulous unicorn, so unless we’re going to buy it, we need to think what the realities are that we’re working with.”

The planning boss made clear to his fellow councillors that the Town Hall is not in the market to acquire a property interest in the scheme.

Cllr Nicholson had written to former owners of Hackney Walk, LabTech, to ask “what is holding them back” from bringing the vacants on the site back to life, and according to council officers, the company was planning to put in an application to diversify the site into workspace, cafes, and leisure uses.

However, it was revealed at last night’s meeting that LabTech is now “out of the picture”, with management now falling to new players ICG.

The Town Hall received £5.3m in public money from City Hall as regeneration money for the area following the 2011 London riots, with £1.5m allocated to the railway arches and public spaces on Morning Lane, but now only four of the original 12 retailers remain operational.

Cllr Mete Coban MBE (Lab, Stoke Newington), who chaired the meeting, criticised the conception of the scheme, pointing out that “most residents in Hackney could not afford the products of the businesses that are based there”, expressing his hope that any new scheme would look at being an “asset for local people” as well as a destination.

ICG were approached for comment, but had not responded by time of going to press.

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