Tesco, Morning Lane
Tesco, Morning Lane

A “people’s alternative” to a residential, office and retail hub on the site of the Morning Lane Tesco, plans for which have seen criticism for their low proportions of affordable housing, is to be presented by campaigners after they have surveyed the community.

The Morning Lane People’s Space (MOPS) campaign is to ask locals what they want for the area, claiming that developer Hackney Walk Ltd’s consultation over its plans for public land purchased for £55m by Hackney Council in 2017 was “inadequate”, engaging with little over 100 people.

MOPS called on the council earlier in the year to suspend planning processes, claiming that the continuation of such procedures remotely was likely to exclude many residents.

Campaigner Heather Mendick said: “We are trying to identify what people think the issues are locally. We don’t really know what is going to happen in terms of the process of the development and the planning application, but the idea is for us to develop an alternative plan.

“This is to present some kind of vision on how it could be. Otherwise by default you end up with the developers’ plan as it’s the only one that is on the table.

“Obviously we don’t have the capacity to put together a full, complex and expensive planning application, but you can put together a people’s alternative based on the things people say.

“The idea is to get a large sample of many hundreds of people to get a sense of if there are differences in what people want by different categories of people, how they relate to the site, what they do there, whether people live in Hackney or not, social class background or ethnic background, so we have an understanding of what is important and develop an alternative community plan.

“You have to show people what you can do otherwise it is really not concrete. It would be just, ‘We want to not have buildings that are nineteen storeys tall, and want to have lots of council housing because that is what people need’, but you also have to fit in with planning constraint, that a lot of people want parking spaces there still, shops and facilities of certain kinds.”

An artist’s impression by MOPS of Hackney Walk’s plans. Photograph: Morning Lane People’s Space.

Results from the survey, which warns residents of the potential for a scheme which could see a smaller Tesco, blocks up to 19 storeys tall and a proportion of homes to be built at affordable rent as low as 20 per cent, will be distilled down by architects, planning experts and surveyors as part of the campaign for an alternative use for the site.

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville said at a community meeting in February of this year that his own expectation for any planning application for Morning Lane would be to hit 35 or 50 per cent affordable housing, reassuring the borough that if an application failed to conform to local policy, the land would revert to the council.

As part of the agreement with Hackney Walk, the Town Hall receives five per cent of the commercial rent from the scheme in perpetuity, as well as receiving the £55m cost of acquiring the land back from the developer if the scheme gets the go-ahead.

MOPS has also called for affordable workspace and retail units for local businesses, with concerns raised in a previous debate over the impact that large skyscrapers would have on the nearby Grade II-listed Church of St-John-at-Hackney.

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.

Hackney Walk was approached for comment, but had not responded by time of going to press.

When approached for comment on the levels of engagement with locals and affordable housing by the LDRS, the Town Hall pointed to consultations around the Hackney Central Masterplan, the new Hackney Local Plan, its Inclusive Economy strategy, and the Hackney Central Conversation.

It is understood that red lines have also been set by the council for Hackney Walk on minimum affordable housing, workspace, jobs and opportunities provided by the development, with an aim to exceed base expectations and deliver as many affordable homes as possible.

Mendick added: “I think that what the Mayor said [in February] was very positive. The developer hasn’t got much longer to bring a full planning application. The fact that the council are committed to building council houses, and this deal does not allow them to do that, I would think that it is quite plausible that the options agreement could fall.

“It’s also difficult for them to do meaningful consultation through the pandemic. You can’t just open a shopfront and get people in, of course, so it is possible that the options agreement falls away.

“I think where our campaign and the council can come together is that it is not fitting the council’s policies for 50 per cent affordable housing. The Mayor is particularly strong about building council housing and that’s really important.

“This is public land, bought so the council could control the development on it, and it seems like this is not what is going to happen unless the options agreement clock runs down. That would be good for the council and for local people.”

MOPS will distributing surveys across the area from 1 September, and will be outside the Morning Lane Tesco throughout September and October on Saturdays from 11am-1pm and Sundays 11am-12pm.

You can take MOPS’ survey here. More information about the campaign can be found here.

EDIT: This article was updated at 14:47 on 3 September 2020.

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