Arthur Shuter brings us up to date with the Council’s gentrification plans in Dalston.
At a hearing before the High Court on Monday 18th September, the second injunction achieved by OPEN Dalston against the demolition of the former Dalston Theatre/Four Aces Club and the associated buildings was lifted.
OPEN now has 28 days to decide on the merits of applying for a further injunction.
This outcome was virtually inevitable, as Hackney Planning Sub-Committee had already granted Planning Consents to the London Development Agency to build a row of tower blocks above the new underground station at Dalston Junction and on the Dalston Theatre site.
The Dalston Lane South Planning Application had to go before the Committee twice because the planners had made a number of omissions at the first hearing and several amendments were required, although the Planning Sub-Committee also automatically approved these, despite the mass of genuine and well argued objections.
During the High Court hearing on Monday, Hackney Council generously agreed not to commence the demolition of the Dalston Theatre buildings for the next 28 days.
One of the reasons for this is, of course, because it would be rather dangerous to demolish buildings which still have people in them.
On 20th February 2006, a group of well organised and dedicated occupiers took possession of the Georgian houses at the north-west corner of the site and of Dalston Theatre itself. Later that day, a representative from Hackney Property Services and a number of Hackney Council agents unlawfully entered the Dalston Theatre building and security staff have remained in place ever since, at considerable cost to local taxpayers.
It could be argued that the occupiers of the site have now achieved what they set out to do by delaying the demolition of the buildings months past 2 previous deadlines set by Hackney Council, beyond which they claimed the development would be doomed if the demolition did not go ahead on time.
However, certain points need to be taken into careful consideration:
1. In stating clearly that the new developments would be certain not to go ahead if the site was not completely cleared, first in April 2006 and then by July 2006, Council Officers deliberately lied to the Planning Committee and to the attending members of the public and press.
2. Knowing that their actions were unlawful, Council officers and contractors forced entry to an occupied building to speed up the recovery process, although they were aware that Court documents were necessary and were not in place.
3. Hackney Council has negligently squandered well over £ 100,000 of local funding to secure and protect a building which only they meant any harm to.
4. With the 2012 Olympic Games due to result in the closure of the Hackney Wick bus garage, Transport for London have donated £10 million to the Dalston scheme, in return for which they will be rewarded with a brand new bus station, surrounded by tower blocks and built on top of a 7′ high concrete slab, through which upwards of 100 buses per hour will pass from and into local traffic.
5. The ODPM has also donated a further £10 million of public money into the scheme, although only 16 of the many hundreds of new residential units will be available for social housing. This is an absolute gift to private sector property developers who will be rubbing their greasy palms as they too go cap-in-hand to the ODPM to receive similar treatment, knowing they will certainly win any law suit if the Government tries to say no.
6. Council Officers and members of the Planning Sub-Committee have totally disregarded the substantive arguments put forward against the proposed developments and have put in place no safeguards to protect local amenities or essential services. The cost of doing so will now fall on others!
7. The London Development Agency is subject to various conditions and agreements which are built into the Planning Consents. However, the LDA has an atrocious record for abiding by such conditions or agreements in their past local dealings. Shortly before standing down as a Queensbridge Ward Councillor and as Chair of the Planning Sub-Committee, Bill Hodgson severely criticised the LDA for their short-comings in this respect, yet 2 hours later his Committee approved the first stage of the mammoth building project in Dalston Lane. Once the development goes ahead, the gutless, weak willed local politicians and officials will be powerless to prevent the same from happening all over again.
8. Hackney Council is now to allow the building of a number of tower blocks in Dalston. These will be up to 19 storeys high and will be privately financed and will predominantly be for sale or rent to the private sector. Tower Hamlets Council has just rejected a tower block scheme. But that is for just one block. The applicant in that case is the CRISIS and Genesis Housing Group (best known to us through their subsidiary Pathmeads who have private contracts to manage Hackney Council estates in the North of the Borough) and the units were for homeless and vulnerable people. One of the main objectors to that scheme, on the grounds that it ‘does not fit in’ was Hackney Council. So our Council not only wants to suck up even more to property developers, it has now formed its own policy for local social cleansing.
9. Barratt Homes has now been named as the development partner which will work with the LDA to impose on the people of Hackney a new row of tower blocks for Dalston which will replace those which were spectacularly blown up a short distance away just a few years ago because they were deemed to be socially unacceptable. Maybe Hackney New Labour thinks that tower blocks for poor people are a bad thing, but tower blocks for rich people are a good thing. More likely the demolition was a chance to drive out a part of Hackney’s working class community out, and the new Dalston tower blocks are a chance to bring more trendy rich young New Labour supporters in. This is social cleansing, pure and simple.
Over the past 12 months and longer, we have fought tooth and nail to halt the relentless progress of corrupt, devious and unscrupulous private sector property developers who have, by whatever means they see fit, grabbed every available inch of local land to amass even greater fortunes by building ever higher blocks of rabbit hutches for people with more money than sense.
Hackney Council has now proven that these private sector developers still have a great deal to learn about how things can be done, just so long as you can get away with it.
Before we all sit back and say to ourselves ‘ah well, the Dalston Lane occupiers put up a good fight but there is not much we can do now, everyone needs to reflect on exactly what has been happening and must decide whether the time has now come to take positive action to seek to halt this decline.
For the demolition of the Theatre buildings to go ahead, there must first be an eviction. I feel sure that the planning for this is well under way already. But it will be no simple task and will require a mass of police manpower.
The final opportunity to support the occupiers now presents itself. This can be achieved by lobbying local Councillors, M.P.s, the police, the Black Police Association, the press and media, local and national activist groups and the local population as a whole to ensure that, no matter what the final outcome may be, those responsible understand that people will not take much more.
Please show your support for the Dalston occupiers in whatever way you can. Time is running out for them and they have done their very best for us all.