An artist’s impression of the Hackney Bridge development.
Image: courtesy Make Shift

Hackney Wick councillors have called for more dialogue with developers putting together a workspace and events hub at Clarnico Quay, claiming that the nature of the upcoming Hackney Bridge development has changed from their original understanding.

The concerns were raised at a recent council meeting to discuss licensing arrangements for the three blocks, which will include a pub, two restaurants, a food hall, cocktail bar, and an events space which will be free to use for community projects for a quarter of the time.

According to Cllr Nick Sharman, councillors had understood Hackney Bridge to be workshop developments for the cultural community in Wick at a low cost, rather than what he characterised as “an entertainment centre with a few workshops attached, and the price of those workshops being that we should have a lot of drinking and entertainment hanging off it”.

Sharman added: “The core issue is that we have got a development that was originally talked to us as a set of community-oriented workshops that would build activities particularly around the artistic community in Hackney Wick, and on that basis, they received a lot of support.

“What we are seeing here are two unfortunate things. One is the community is being asked to subsidise through an impact on their environment a very considerable entertainment centre.

“Our core concern is what the impact of spilling out up to 600 people will have on the main approach to Waterden Road. This is an area where we are hoping to get families and a whole range of different people, and it is very sad to me that the landlord [Eastwick & Sweetwater] has been so unequivocal in backing this and not saying there is a conflict here.”

Sharman went on to criticise the London Legacy Development Corporation for also giving their “total support” to the development, adding: “We feel that we are representing future residents in a way that neither the landlord nor the LLDC seem able to do.”

Representatives of developer Make Shift said it had made efforts in recent months to bring councillors on a visit to the site to discuss the hours for trading, which will be able to run to 1.30am on some days, though Sharman dismissed these efforts as “late and inadequate”.

The opening hours of the development’s bars are understood to now be earlier than those originally applied for, which licensing barrister Gary Grant said had received the approval of both the police and environmental health.

Grant added that the development’s late drinking hours were necessary to keep it financially viable and avoid a reduction in Hackney Bridge’s community uses, reminding listening councillors that the scheme was “overwhelmingly there for workplaces for the community, with the rest of it subsidiary to that and paying for the rest”.

The barrister said: “This is a significant opportunity for the area, and it will hugely benefit the neighbouring boroughs, including Hackney. Make Shift have a proven track record, both in Peckham Levels in Southwark and in Pop Brixton in Lambeth.

“There is a great deal of community aspect to these applications, in the forms of free use of the events space for up to 25 per cent of the time, but that all has to be paid for. The operator needs to be able to make money, so the hours we have proposed, agreed to by the police and environmental health, hit that sweet spot.

“The councillors have asked for core hours, which is far below what was granted on planning. If that were the decision, it would not enable, financially, the extent of the community works that the operator wishes to do to happen.

“We hope that the level of engagement with the community over the past three years helps explain why there has not actually been a single individual resident who has objected to this application, which is highly unusual when you have an application of this size.”

Make Shift legal lead Nathan Gee added that the company was “keen” for any councillors who wanted to be a part of Hackney Bridge’s community steering group to come on board.

Other compromises were also made at the meeting, including a doubling of minimum number of street marshals, a capping of the capacity of cocktail bar to 60 people, and an agreement to standardise all closing times across the blocks.

It is understood that all public facing areas of Hackney Bridge will not be opened until April 2021, though workspaces, offices and a shop will be opened ahead of that time.

The workspaces at Hackney Bridge are offered at lower than market rent for people who cannot otherwise get on the property ladder, according to Gee, with a condition in the lease that 70 per cent of traders must be local businesses to allow them an opportunity to develop over time.

Though a decision could not be given immediately on the licence applications due to Covid, Cllr Brian Bell said it was “highly likely” that they would be granted, adding: “We’re always keen to encourage local businesses to thrive. We wish you well.”

Sharman concluded towards the end of the meeting: “I appreciate there is an effort being made to recognise our concerns.

“I would ask that this enterprise does seriously involve local councillors in it, and coming late into this is a worrying indication that they just want to get things through to maximise their revenues, rather than really think seriously about addressing the needs of the local community.”

A Make Shift spokesperson added: “The Events Space and street food market (to which the licensing applies) were specifically requested by the local community during three years of community consultation and have been part of the plans since the planning application was submitted in 2018.

“The spaces (also including maker retail units, artist studios, offices, co working, restaurants, cafes and a general store) at Hackney Bridge will all be run independently of Make Shift, by local small businesses and start-ups, so the licensing hours have been proposed to give those businesses the best chance of success following what has been a challenging year for those in hospitality and retail.”

EDIT: This article was updated on 3 September 2020 to include additional comment from Make Shift.

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