A communal living development planned for Kingsland Basin by local landowner Edward Benyon is coming under renewed scrutiny amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The flats, ranging 32 square metres down to just 19, were slammed as “rabbit hutches” by objectors to the proposals earlier in the year.
Co-living spaces are designed to offer flexibility and the use of private facilities to those who live in them, but neighbours have also expressed concerns about developers using such schemes to maximise profit by cramming as many properties as possible onto one site.
The Hackney Society has now added its voice to the criticism, sounding a note of caution to councillors on the Town Hall’s planning committee that this development, in the context of the current lockdown, would make “healthy independent living impossible”.
The Society said: “We are under no doubt there is space in a normal functioning market for quality housing with some degree of shared facilities, and there are individuals who would very much want to live in them. But they must not distort the housing market in a race to provide less space for more money.
“It is not being over-dramatic to observe that the relative paucity of private amenity space in London, and our collective dependency on just-in-time shopping and consumer services, have a life-and-death consequence in the face of a global pandemic.
“It is in this context that we should take the utmost caution in progressing any novel tenure where healthy independent living is impossible. We must pause and reflect.
“We need to ensure there are sufficient safeguards – both in broad policy terms and in the specifics of any proposed communal or co-living scheme – against undesirable living conditions, should we face similar measures in the future.”
It is understood that 60 residents in Kingsland Basin co-signed a letter to Benyon on 12 March, raising fears over the project which ranged from noise and environmental impacts to “community tensions” caused by the proposal.
Back in January, objectors predicted that the density of the seven-storey building could put pressure on local services, with the majority of local people unlikely to be able to afford the rent, as well as it potentially affecting the biodiversity of the area by harming local fish and kingfisher populations.
Basin locals echoed the Hackney Society’s characterisation of the type of housing being proposed, calling it “new and experimental”, and claiming other co-living schemes are located on “industrial estates, dual carriageways or in busy town centres” rather than in residential areas.
The 12 March letter reads: “We all want to see sustainable development in our area; development that enhances our community but we continue to have serious concerns with regard to the proposal.
“The current plan does nothing for the 13,000 people in Hackney on the waiting list for social housing, or the 3,000 of those – families with children – that have to live in cramped temporary accommodation because genuinely affordable homes are not being built in the area.
“Local landowners must have some degree of capacity to support more socially minded development.”
The letter also added that neighbours are “very concerned” about the increase in noise, adding: “Noise, though we might all prefer it didn’t, does travel in every direction.”
It was reported last year that Benyon claimed that noise from the development would travel upwards and outwards, not downwards.
Residents went on to add that they were not “anti-development”, praising the Benyon Estate for its care for the local community and ethical investment through the New Era Estate.
They wrote: “We look forward to finding a way forward, being able to support your redevelopment and working together to realise the potential of this area we share and value.”
A spokeswoman for the Benyon Estate said: “There is a significant need for new homes in the London borough of Hackney and a co-living development on the site of the former Travis Perkins in Kingsland Road will provide a mix of accommodation in a community-inspired environment for a broad range of people who need somewhere to live.
“The location is highly sustainable, being close to employment, public transport, local facilities and amenities.
“The Benyon Estate has been part of the community in Hackney for many hundreds of years, providing good quality, comfortable, well looked-after homes for families and individuals and a range of commercial spaces for businesses to thrive.
“We are also proud to support many important community and biodiversity projects in our neighbourhood.”