Councillors have accepted that there is “no good solution” to potential disruption caused by the construction of a 27-storey hotel on the corner of Old Street and Great Eastern Street.
Approval of plans for the so-called Drum building were the subject of debate in 2019 with Historic England criticising the design of the 343-room building, which is being built on the former site of arts venue the Foundry.
Councillors this week approved plans for an entrance for construction vehicles for the up to two and a half years of works on Rivington Street, which has been heavily trailed by the Town Hall since 2016 as part of the City Fringe’s Low Emissions Neighbourhood, which council officers have admitted presented them with a “quandary.”
Told that other alternatives would see the works go on for longer, Cllr Steve Race said: “The use of Rivington Street is a real problem by this amount of construction traffic being so large, especially at that junction. You’ve got a significant amount of cycle traffic going into Rivington Street, and you have the cycleway across Great Eastern Street as well.
“It’s not ideal at all. The area around there with the hoardings is already making it difficult to be a pedestrian along Great Eastern Street, I think this is less than ideal.
“I’m not entirely sure why I need to care that the construction would take longer if they use Old Street. Why are we disadvantaging Hackney residents for the benefit of a construction company on this basis?”
Officers have argued that the longer the works on the forthcoming Art’otel take, the more disruption there will be for the surrounding neighbourhoods and people moving through the area, adding: “It’s not just for the advantage of the construction company. There is no option that would not result in any sort of disruption, it’s just the case of where we think it is the least.”
This prompted planning committee chair Cllr Vincent Stops to note: “There is no good solution.”
Officers said that what Race has raised reflected the “difficult quandary,” accepting that Rivington “could not be more clearly defined as an ultra low emission street”, and that it will be “completely incongruous” to see traffic coming down it.
Alternatives, however, would see the construction significantly extended via Old Street, which would have seen heavy goods vehicles reversing out of the site against four lanes of traffic, with the opening 20m of Rivington Street thus seen as the “best solution,” with a review to take place at six months and cargo bike deliveries to be looked at.
Planning officers said: “This is definitely the best, least disruptive arrangement, and officers are of that position now. There are a number of safeguards to limit the impact on Rivington Street, which is an Ultra low emission zone street.”
Cllr Clare Joseph, who abstained from voting on the plans, said: “In that area at the moment, Transport for London are conducting major works at Old Street roundabout which had led to a massive increase in congestion.
“This combined with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods being introduced in the area means the traffic is already moving extremely slowly, and there is a bus lane closure proposed on Old Street.”
Officers revealed that no consultation has taken place with residents and tenants associations in response to quizzing from Joseph, who said that many “are already really struggling to get around,” with the plans under discussion representing part of the council’s obligation to facilitate the construction of the building that has already been approved.
The main alternative with a permanent loading bay on Old Street would have been “problematic” for the construction programme, according to officers, as well as much more disruption on the large main road itself.
It was announced in 2018 that parts of Shoreditch would be barred to petrol and diesel cars in the unveiling of the UK’s first ever ultra low emission streets, along with Charlotte Road, Blackall Street, Willow Street and Paul Street.
The City Fringe Low Emission Neighbourhood was subject to a visit from London Mayor Sadiq Khan in 2019, who appeared with top council officials to announce £6m in funding for clean air projects during a visit to Hackney’s first low emission street.
On the unveiling of the scheme in 2018, then-transport chief Cllr Feryal Clark said: “The streets around Shoreditch suffer from some of the worst air quality in London – ultra-low emission streets will have reduced levels of air and noise pollution, make it easier and safer to walk and cycle and improve the character of the area for all residents and businesses.
“Our ultimate goal is to reclaim the streets from polluting motor vehicles – this ground-breaking scheme is the first step towards doing that.”