Morning Lane campaigners at odds with Hackney Mayor over ‘fresh start’ for major town centre redevelopment

Morning Lane People’s Space campaigners. Photograph: MOPS

Campaigners are urging politicians to rebuild trust over a multi-million pound redevelopment in the centre of Hackney.

Hackney Council bought the Morning Lane Tesco site for £60m in 2017 and entered into an agreement with developer Hackney Walk. That lapsed this year and the developer has not put in a fresh planning application.

The Town Hall is now looking for a new partner for the scheme, which will feature a supermarket, workspace, and homes to help meet demand in the borough.

Campaigners from Morning Lane People’s Space (MOPS) are challenging council bosses to commit to ensuring at least half the homes are affordable.

They brought a deputation to the council and asked to see documents detailing the lapsed agreement with Hackney Walk.

Cllr Clare Joseph (Labour, Victoria), who introduced the deputation, said: “We spent public money when we bought this site and I think it is important that the public have a say over what gets built.”

She said the MOPS surveys over the last two years show “people overwhelmingly want to see council housing and to keep the Tesco supermarket”.

Joseph pointed out that some councils are achieving 42 per cent council housing, including plans for the former Holloway prison site in nearby Islington.

MOPS is calling on the council to provide information about the agreement it drew up with Hackney Walk and any pre-application agreements for its proposals, which included a smaller supermarket than the current Tesco, 450 homes in blocks up to 19 storeys high, and as little as 20 per cent social housing.

Campaigner Adam Foreman told the council the agreement “seriously undermined trust with the council”.

MOPS member Heather Mendick told the full council meeting that campaigners want details of correspondence and any payments “which went through” between Hackney Walk and the council.

She said: “We think it’s a conditional fresh start, the falling through of the option agreement. Its conditional on what we’re saying. It’s conditional on openness, transparency, accountability.

“Without those things we do not think it’s an opportunity for a fresh start, we think it’s an opportunity to screw things up again.”

She added: “Obviously something went wrong, but we don’t know what.”

MOPS challenged the council to provide the viability report for the site so it can scrutinise the 20 per cent target of low cost homes. They said it was important for the public to see “the basis” for the council’s claim that it is impossible to meet the 50 per cent target for council homes.

The campaign group worked with planning masters students at UCL whose research indicates it is possible to ensure half the homes are available for social rent.

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville said: “Any plans for the redevelopment of the Tesco Morning Lane site will always put the needs of the community first.”

He said there is a chance for a fresh start in “developing a community-first approach”.

He disputed the deputation’s core argument and said the scheme “was not poorly constructed, nor did it lack transparency. Indeed, while it failed, it always sought to manage risk and protect the interest of the council and the community.”

He said the cost of building new council homes – currently £350,000 to £400,000 each – makes this difficult.

Mayor Glanville said there was never a 20 per cent target for minimum affordable housing for the scheme, but that it was an old Mayor of London aim for the city that has since risen. The council has a 50 per cent target in its own planning policy.

It would cost £180m to build 450 council homes, and £90m to build 50 per cent social, or council homes, he said.

He also added that there are no plans to sell the site.

“Together I believe we can develop an exciting vision for the site and deliver a fantastic opportunity for our town centre and rebuild the trust.”

He said there is no viability report as this will be drawn up by the council and developers.

He also ruled out providing commercially sensitive options agreements which could put the council on the back foot in any other negotiations and run the risk of legal challenges.

He said there had been “extensive due diligence” before entering any agreements.

The Mayor pledged to prioritise “genuinely affordable homes”, a supermarket and workspace, and to be “open, honest and transparent” over balancing the finances.

Commenting after the meeting, Mendick said it was “disappointing” that the Mayor rejected everything campaigners asked for.

She added: “It is deeply troubling that he is still talking about delivering so-called genuinely affordable housing rather than social rent housing.

“Genuinely affordable housing includes categories like shared ownership that are not affordable for most people in Hackney.”

Families on Hackney’s council housing list face a nine-year wait for a three-bedroom home and a 13-year wait for a four-bedroom home.

Mendick said: “It is clear to us and to most of the residents with whom we have spoken that the council must commit to finding the money needed to build social rent council homes at 55 Morning Lane.”