A standing room-only meeting at a community hall on the Trelawney Estate saw impassioned residents quiz the Mayor of Hackney on the redevelopment of the borough’s town centre.
Developers Hackney Walk Ltd are working up plans for a residential, office and retail hub on the site of the Morning Lane Tesco, which sits on land purchased for £55m by Hackney Council in 2017.
Last night’s meeting saw residents demanding further information over the scheme, which could see over 500 private homes built in the heart of the borough, in towers which could range between four to 19 storeys high, at a currently unknown level of affordability.
Campaigner Adam Forman said: “Twenty per cent of the homes are being offered as ‘affordable’, and I’m not going to use that phrase again, because it’s a condemned phrase.
“Hackney Walk are famous for the rather disastrous fashion hub, most of which now lies empty. Why wasn’t there a possibility of an open competition that involved the local community, what was needed and what people wanted?
“The next question is: where is the meaningful consultation? They said they sent out 19,000 letters to local residents. We know of one person who received the letter.
“We should be able to renegotiate the deal with developers, and if we have a strong enough campaign, we should absolutely force that. If we put together a strong campaign for social housing and for amenities and Tesco provision, I think it should be eminently possible to renegotiate.”
Demands are also being made by the campaign that the workspace and retail units be made available for local businesses at affordable rates, with concerns raised over the impact that large skyscrapers would have on the nearby Grade II-listed Church of St-John-at-Hackney.
Forman added that community members spoken to by the campaign were concerned that the Tesco is set to shrink in size.
The meeting was characterised as a “tough crowd” for Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville (Lab & Co-op), who was pressed hard on the need for a scheme with high levels of genuinely affordable housing, a goal that the borough leader stressed he shares.
Mayor Glanville said: “I want to say upfront that there’s nobody who wants to build social housing more than this council.
“I was actually clapped at Labour party meetings for buying the Tesco site as Mayor. It was an exercise in long-term investment in our town centre, and trying to gain control of the site that previously Tesco had tried to bring forward as purely private-led development.
“Hackney Walk has a duty to come forward with a planning application that meets certain objectives. My expectation back to any application that comes forward is ensuring we hit those 35 or 50 per cent targets on site, not the 20 per cent floor.
“There’s two years left to run on the options agreement. I’m not going to spend public money getting into a legal discussion around tearing up that options agreement. They still have to conform to planning policy and they have to conform to the options agreement.
“Hackney Walk have the right to bring something to the public in a consultation hopefully soon, and then go through the planning process. I hope they do that, and I hope that we all put pressure on them to conform. If they then fail, it returns to the council, and then maybe we can do something else.”
Planning policy for the area targets 50 per cent of all homes to be affordable, with a tenure split of 60 per cent social rent to 40 per cent intermediate.
The Mayor added that the council at a minimum would preserve the Tesco for locals and aim for a scheme with a primary use of commercial employment and retail with affordable workspace, as well as pressing for high levels of affordable housing as part of the scheme.
It is understood that the Town Hall, as part of the agreement with Hackney Walk, will receive five per cent on the commercial rents coming from the scheme in perpetuity, as well receiving the £55m cost of acquiring the land back from the developer if the scheme gets the go-ahead.
The Mayor also underlined that he was strongly against the potential privatisation of public land, promising that the scheme would be “permeable,” and revealing that whenever Hackney Walk had presented parks as part of the plans, he has said: “Who has access to it? That should be a public park.”
The listening crowd pressed Glanville on whether more retail was what the area needed, with many calling for housing to be prioritised over everything else.
The Mayor explained that the current 20 per cent floor of affordable housing “felt right” in 2017 under then London Mayor Boris Johnson, and that at the time there was “no sense that we’d have a Mayor of London like we do now that is using the planning system to back up councils that want genuinely affordable housing”.
In a sign that the word ‘affordable’ is being viewed with increasing mistrust by locals who are finding themselves priced out of Hackney’s housing market, the evening saw many question the Mayor on how he defined the word.
Glanville responded that affordability is defined as “a third of your income at whatever level of your income”, with the “entire purpose” of the borough’s developments to build more council housing, while advocating for private renters to have a chance of getting on the housing ladder locally.
The number of social lets the Town Hall was able for 2018/19 stood at 640, down from 1,132 the year before. House prices saw the steepest 20-year increase in the UK between 1998 and 2018, at an increase of 568 per cent.
When quizzed by the Hackney Citizen, a spokesperson for Hackney Walk agreed that further consultation was delayed due to the “complexity” of delivering the scheme, with the developer negotiating factors including the nearby Channel Tunnel rail link, as well as expectations around affordability, height of the buildings and the continual provision of a Tesco branch.
A spokesperson for Hackney Walk Ltd said: “Our proposals will deliver a range of homes for the area, helping to meet the huge need for new housing in Hackney.
“The original agreement made between the Council and Hackney Walk Ltd set the affordable housing at a minimum of 20 per cent. However, we are working very hard to ensure that this is exceeded and that the proposals deliver as many affordable homes as possible.
“We have conducted early consultation with local people in order to understand people’s priorities for the site.
“This includes meetings with local groups in 2018 and five consultation events in July 2019 for the wider public – attended by 138 people with a flyer sent to over 10,000 addresses. This is just the start of the engagement process and we are committed to a series of further public events as our plans evolve.”
At last night’s meeting, Forman rubbished the announcement that 138 people had been consulted at the events, claiming that campaigners had spoken to more people than that in their first two hours of leafletting.
One campaigner addressing the meeting said: “How early can we have a consultation with the developers and architects, and can we have a public competition for the architects?
“We want family friendly community orientated social housing, quality building. No more Grenfell, no tower blocks. If Norwich can build award-winning street level property with the same sort of densities, let’s be brave and do something with this. It’s Hackney’s land.”