Challenging Institutional GentrificationPosted: September 13, 2005
It covers a meeting held on Tuesday by the Broadway Traders & Residents‘ Association and led by Queensbridge Tory Councillor Andrew Boff. The meeting was largely attended by a middle class audience with a few exceptions.
FOCUS ON CORRUPTION
The meeting was prompted by the closing of the upmarket ‘Little Georgia’ restaurant. We note that that there were no meetings called when much more socially useful shops closed or Tony‘s Cafe (Francesca‘s) closed recently. Councillor Boff says that he is concerned that the market is going backwards because of the ‘greed’ of developers, and focussed on how council corruption that has led to the selling off of council-owned shops to off-shore developers.
A local lawyer has been researching the background to several of the sell-offs in Broadway Market and claims to have found several cases where the council has been involved in doing deals with developers behind the back of shopkeepers who could have bought their leases. He has been taking the council to task but has not managed to get any straight answers from them in response to his allegations.
A representative from the Dalston area updated people about the recent sell-off of Dalston Lane properties. It seems that these were carried out in the same way as the 2001 Broadway Market sell-off – local shop keepers were sidelined by property developers who were given preferential treatment by the Council’s estate agents, Nelson Bakewell. The meeting was told that Nelson Bakewell sold an entire parade of shops on Dalston Lane as a job lot for almost half their total combined asking price to an overseas developer that already owns 10 properties in Broadway Market.
Councillor Boff is willing to stand up and say that there has been corruption in the Council and it is clear he wants to make political capital out of this and position himself as a champion of Broadway Market.
The view from some traders and residents is that they want to see laws put in place that mean that properties are only sold with conditions that they stay in local hands (no overseas developers) and are used for ‘community’ use. By community, the Traders Association seem to mean the ‘community’ of young professionals that could afford to frequent places like Little Georgia – people friendly to many of the shop keepers’ agenda of creating a middle class ‘urban village’ with little to offer the majority of local people.
The majority view in the meeting seemed to be that the sale of council-owned shops is fine, as long as the shops are sold to people like them, not big developers.
There was no mention of related issues that have shaped the area like gentrification or the privatisation of council housing and services. The traders do not seem to accept that many local people feel that the Farmers Market is not for them. Their agenda is very narrow – they want to fend off big chains like Starbucks and freeze the gentrification process at a particular point. Ultimately the shopkeepers want to be protected from the excesses of the free-market whilst enjoying its immediate benefits.
We have seen this gentrification process at first hand in “Hoxton”/South Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Islington‘s Upper Street. First comes the arty/hip shops and bars, then the place becomes popular, then the rents come up, big business pushes out the artists and “cutting edge” trendy bars and shops. At this point those who did nothing for the working class majority except price us out of their new shops and close our pubs expect us to help them or at least feel sorry for them when they get pushed out in turn.
New Labour’s William Hodgson, councillor for Queensbridge and head of Planning did turn up to the meeting. The Hackney Independent have not seen him since we saw him mouthing obscenities and gesturing at us at the 2002 election count where Labour narrowly beat our candidate.
Whereas Andrew Boff at least seems to be interested in local issues (though from a middle class perspective) Hodgson has an arrogant attitude to his role as a councillor and seem annoyed to even have to attend the meeting.
When one local started laying into him, he was protected by the Chair who told everyone ‘he’s on our side’. Not on our side, mate!
Hodgson also refused to take any responsibility for things done before he was in office. His basic role at the meeting was to keep repeating his New Labour mantra: “historically the council has done a bad job of managing properties so therefore I think it is best to sell them. The council should deliver services not manage properties. So it is our duty to get the ‘best price’ for ‘your’ properties as a duty to the borough. It is hard for us to guarantee that anything stays in the hands of community businesses”.
His argument was attacked as obviously many of the sales in Broadway Market and Dalston Lane have hardly been at ‘best price’! The reality is that commercial properties have usually sold at cheapest price to the developers after tenants have been sidelined from their right to buy.
Despite these attacks Hodgson’s solution to everything still seemed to be offloading more properties onto the free market. This sums up Labour‘s view perfectly – but not just with shops – it is the same with council housing, schools, leisure … They don’t want to own anything, they want to sell it and stand back and let market forces provide. This makes them no different from the Conservatives or Lib Dems and of no use to us whatsoever.
Although Councillor Boff seems to be more engaged with local issues and does a better job than Queensbridge‘s Labour councillors, his position on Broadway Market has two major flaws. Firstly his party shared power with Labour during part of the time of the mass sell-off of shops and of course did nothing to stop it. Secondly he believes in the free-market. He does not disagree with the council selling off the shops, so his only tactic is to say there was corruption in the process. The problem with the free market is that it will inevitably drive out smaller businesses if there is money to be made. So all the help Andrew Boff has put into helping establish the Saturday market has inevitably led to the increase of popularity in the area which in turn leads to pricing out local businesses.
The Gazette editorial summed up the meeting very well:
“It is ironic that the ward’s only Tory councillor slams the damaging effect of putting so many properties in the hands of a few real estate speculators and warns the future of the area is at the whim of property developers. Until there is evidence to the contrary, we can assume there is nothing shady or unlawful about what has happened and it is simply the consequence of a free-market economy – an ideology championed by Thatcherism and usually embraced by all Conservatives, shopkeepers and traders.
There is no accidental process going on in Broadway Market. Selling their commercial properties was not just to balance the council’s books when they ran short of money. The council don’t want to hold on the shops, or have any other plan to provide shops and service of use to most of us. The process is ‘institutional’ gentrification‚ at work, not just corruption on the side of a few fat cats.
We don’t want Starbucks to come in, but we also don’t need shops for new rich young settlers discovering this ‘fabulous shopping street’ in the ‘gritty’ east end. We want Broadway Market back serving local people as shops and market stalls selling goods at affordable prices.