New Era Estate Hoxton
Photograph: Hackney Citizen

Residents of Hoxton’s New Era estate have spoken out in support of plans approved by Hackney’s planning committee last night to redevelop their home.

New Era was at the heart of protests supported by Russell Brand back in 2014 after private equity firm and owners Westbrook threatened 10 per cent rent hikes which could have led to homelessness amongst the tight-knit community.

Now plans submitted by charity Dolphin Living guarantee that the current original 78 tenants be able to stay in the redeveloped site with the right to return to a flat of equivalent size in a redeveloped New Era, with the same number of bedrooms, at a rent level no higher than if the estate had not been developed.

Lindsey Garrett, chair of the New Era residents’ association, said: “We fought quite a huge campaign some years ago to try to keep our community together. We’ve been through hell and back trying to keep together and remain on affordable rents.

“Dolphin came along and purchased the estate, and have given residents the opportunity to remain together as a community. Our current flats are not fit for purpose. There are problems with damp, no adequate fire escapes, and there are disabled or terminally ill residents who would not be able to get out in a fire.

“We have no lifts, no suitable areas for children. If I was completely honest, would I like Hackney to remain how it has always been? Of course I would, but it is not an option for us.

“We’ve been bought out by Dolphin, who have given us the option to stay together, and it is something I am determined to do for the community who are continuing to live in the New Era estate.

“We’re in total support of the propositions from Dolphin, which is to rebuild and will hopefully make our lives safer, have a better quality of life as long as we can continue to have affordable rents and our families can stay together – for me that is the most imortant thing.

“We’re working class people that want to stay in the area that we were born and bred in – Dolphin have given us that opportunity, so of course we’re going to support them. Nobody else did.

“For me, we fully support the opportunity to remain as a comunity.”

Artist’s impression of redeveloped New Era estate.

Dolphin’s stated mission is to provide genuinely affordable housing for working Londoners, and has developed a personalised rent system for existing tenants since it acquired the estate based on households’ available resources.

The redevelopment of the estate, which was built in the 1930s for local workers, has been done in consultation with existing tenants, with Dolphin saying a ballot of residents had 91 per cent in support of the plans.

Hackney Council Speaker Cllr Kam Adams said: “The feedback I have received from residents of the estate has been positive and residents were generally happy and said that the new rent arrangement has worked well for the estate.

“I have also been contacted by other constituents about the rebuild regarding what would happen to their rent and to the resident while the estate is demolished. They also raised the issue of the cost of moving.

“I raised these matters with Dolphin and they listened and addressed these concerns by promising the residents that they will be offered a new home while the estate is being rebuilt and residents will pay no more rent than they would have paid had the estate not been rebuilt.

“They also promised to offer the residents somewhere to live while the estate is being rebuilt and residents will be reimbursed for the cost of moving.

“I am in support of the rebuilding of the estate because it will increase the number of homes to rent in the local area, provide affordable housing into perpetuity, deliver high-quality homes to the existing community, keep the existing community together and increase accessibility for residents and provide both shared and private amenity spaces for residents.”

The redevelopment, unanimously voted through by Hackney’s planning committee councillors, will see 199 residential units and 344sqm of flexible retail floorspace provided across buildings ranging from three to 14 storeys.

Officers were quizzed by councillors over the level of affordable housing to be provided by Dolphin in the redeveloped New Era. While original tenants will see no change to their rental arrangements, once they move out their successors will not enjoy the same deals.

In total, 35 per cent of the newly redeveloped estate will be affordable, with 47 flats let at up to 80 per cent of market rent and 21 at London Living rent levels, well below the 50 per cent of affordable housing expected under Hackney’s policies and slammed as “unacceptable” by the Greater London Authority.

The planning report makes clear that, as an 80 per cent discount of market rent is not genuinely affordable in Hoxton, that the true level of affordability in the new development equates to 10 per cent of the scheme.

Officers stressed to listening councillors that adding more affordable homes to the redeveloped estate would make the new scheme more unviable, with Dolphin already aiming to seek affordable housing grant funding from either Hackney Council or the GLA now that planning permission has been given.

Concerns were also raised around the potential for the development to blot out light for the neighbouring Comet Nursery School & Children’s Centre.

Headteacher Lisa Clarke said: “We have real issues around the height of the building, with the balconies considerably closer and taller than the properties are at the moment.

“Our learning environment is not just inside. There’s talk about a seventy per cent drop in sunlight inside the nursery, but we’re more ocncerned about hte outside, where our children are always playing from the minute they get in.

“Our chlildren often live in high-rise places and don’t get to see the sunlight much, so I think you need to take that into account.”

The council responded to Clarke’s concerns by saying that at least 50 per cent of the ground will receive at least two hours of sunlight in the spring equinox, which conforms to national guidelines.

Dolphin’s plans for the schemes have also been criticised by the Hackney Society, who point to the high levels of density of the scheme as “excessive over-intensification,” a criticism responded to by officers with the argument that the New Era should be judged on Central London criteria.

The Hackney Society warned: “The proposals are an obtrusive and incompatible form of development and harmful to the character and appearance of the area. The scheme has 200 per cent higher density than recommended in the London Plan.

“The proposed housing is sub standard. A decrease of active street frontage as a result of loss of shop frontages will result in loss of local amenity and
employment and is a missed opportunity to reinforce a vibrant local public
place.”

Olivia Harris of Dolphin Living said: “Dolphin acquired the New Era in 2014. We made a number of promses to residents, including no-one would have to leave the estate because they couldn’t afford hte rent.

“We’ve introduced a rent policy that matches rents to household composition and income to ensure residents pay affordable rent relative to their circumstances.

“New Era is in need of significant repairs and does not meet the current needs of the community. Our proposal will deliver 199 new homes, surrounded by a shared courtyard garden and replacement retail space.”

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