“… Hackney Council continues to sell off property to speculators and developers. The presence of more and more of these speculators, interested mainly in developing profits, mean they have an overloud voice in deciding what the ‘open market’ is in Hackney. The voice of tenants and residents is on the way to being wiped out. This is more serious, as the Fair Rents Officer takes the open market into consideration when he sets the rents for remaining council and housing association tenants.”
The reality of privatisation was underlined by Nord Anglia, who run the privatised parts of the education department and overcharged the Council £400,000 for their ‘services.’ Service Team received a large top up to ensure that a better service could be delivered. [The details of this were muddied by a change in the charging mechanism from a set fee to that by tonnage - up to £2M additional funding was available for Service Team.] However it was on the privatised estates and in the effects of the contracted out Housing Benefit service that the effects were most severe.
- Political Corruption, a Skeleton State and Housing Benefit Privatisation:
“The main reason given by Kevin Crompton, director of leisure, for the closure of Haggerston baths was that they had rats and mice. If that was the case he should close the Town hall on health and safety grounds as it is the biggest white elephant in the country and it is infested with rats and an assortment of other pests …”
For years Hackney has been rotten from top to the depths of middle management.
Stoke Newington police have been notorious for dealing crack and a number of deaths in custody. Community policing on estates consisted of the TSG riding through at dusk waiting for some action. Some police were even busted for stealing cars on the beat!
The council’s previous Chief executive, Tony Elliston, left his post in early 2000 with a massive payout. Max Caller, his replacement, is best known for his £150,000 pay packet and attacks on Council staff. Caller was also involved in a cover up of an investigation which showed discrimination against black staff in the Emergency Repairs department. The ‘Director of Law and Probity’ [Chris Hinde]who was meant to investigate this, and the allegations against the Mayor of planning corruption, has now left his post. …
Despite codes of conduct which seem to be used most against front-line staff [e.g. involvement in a squatting group is gross misconduct and can lead to being sacked], there is a history of such actions going unopposed. During 1998, the executive in charge of the estate sales programme left his post in September to start a new job as a regional director with one of the purchasing Housing Associations with a 20% + pay rise. The Borough Solicitor [Chris Hinde in his old post] did nothing.
Joe Lobenstein, Mayor from 1997- 2001, did finally get some justice. He was fined £1,500 for safety breaches at his factory. He treated his workers as badly as the Council treated its tenants, workers and residents:
“It was common practice for workers to climb on racking and risk falling up to 12 feet.”
One of the immediate effects of the Section 114 notice was that all temporary staff were terminated. According to ‘The Hackney Society’ [a built environment lobby group] this meant that the already near bottom of the table Hackney planning lost 17 members of staff with a freeze on recruitment. Once when I tried to call Planning the reply from the council switchboard was that they didn’t think anyone still worked there. By the end of 2000 the already limited ability to control development was terminated.
A similar story of threadbare staffing applied to a lesser extent throughout the council bureaucracy – what controls there were on political and financial corruption were limited. And safeguards of good service for local people were non existent.
ITNET, who won the Housing Benefit administration contract in the late 1990s, understood this well. Their first act after taking over was to cut the workforce by a third. Within months the service, which was never very good, plunged to being disastrous. The local press was filled with weekly stories of the latest disaster – in fact the only comparison was with other contracted out HB services in Lambeth, Islington and Newham.
The details of ITNET need their own article – but I can identify 3 different effects which need discussing:
- enormous pressure was put on the finances of the Council, and of the Housing Associations in the Borough – in fact in February 2001 one of the 7 transfer landlords [Clapton Community Housing Trust] running privatised council flats in Hackney needed to be rescued by it’s ‘mother’ Housing Association the Guinness Trust.
- enormous stress was put on every council and Housing Association tenant on benefit due to their being continuously behind in their rent and receiving notices of Seeking Possession from their landlords. However, to my knowledge, no-one was evicted from social housing due purely to HB related arrears.
[What did happen, however, was that certain tenant representatives and councillors had their democratic rights curtailed due to ITNET related rent arrears. E.g. a Clapton tenant rep was sacked from the CCHT Board before it was ‘rescued’ for rental arrears in February 2000 and an independent councillor lost voting rights due to ITNET related rental and council tax arrears.]
- in the private market rents sector however such safeguards against evictions did not apply … and while many tenants already in place hung on, private landlords tended to refuse to house Housing Benefit dependent tenants. They were driven out of the Borough or people who would have 2 or 3 years earlier moved to the Borough were not able to. Even a Lib Dem Councillor was affected – giving ITNET HB arrears as a reason for resigning and moving out of the Borough.
In April 2001 the contract with IT NET was broken, leaving the Council holding the baby. While service has somewhat improved, the long term effect on low income people’s access to the private market rents sector in Hackney is likely to remain – the already fertile field is left clear for further gentrification.
- Gentrification in Hoxton:
“The chicest place in the inhabited universe” – The New Yorker:
“The gentrification of Hoxton is well under way and the combat trousers and trainers brigade are firmly ensconced in the ‘beautiful people bars’ in and around the square.”.
Around 1990 when the Shoreditch triangle in the south of Hoxton was still largely semi derelict ex clothing industry warehouses, the Dalston City Challenge corridor was drawn to include a large part of this area as well as Hoxton Square – it was a very long way from Dalston. The regeneration programme was varied:
- A new cinema for the London Film Makers Co-op [The Lux]
- Redevelopment of Hoxton Square
- Renovation of the Arches under the ‘Tube line to be’ north from Bishopsgate to Dalston
- Funding for basic refits of warehouses given to landlords such as Glasshouse
Consciously or not, these actions provided the fuel for the gentrification of Hoxton. The tempo and style varies from place to place. At first abandoned but liveable warehouses were converted into lofts and a couple of existing bars became busier. Ill effects were seen early – with lofts pumping their sewerage onto the Pitfield estate and stairwells being used as toilets and places to have sex by people using the bars.
A gentrification whirlpool began [with the help of central government subsidy].By the late 1990s larger scale new developments were more common. Some were wholly private – such as the loft developments by Wenlock Barn Basin [western Shoreditch] and Kingsland Basin [in De Beauvoir] and along Kingsland Road, where prices for lofts were now topping £400,000.
Others were ‘market rent schemes ‘ from ‘charitable’ housing associations – beginning with the award winning Shepherdess Walk scheme in 1999, where rents were a minimum of £145 a week: in response to local tenants saying that it was “fancy flats for yuppies” a spokesperson said:
“The building will be clad in cedar wood
and terra cotta and will look very nice.”
Meanwhile on council estates funding for repairs was particularly tight in the late 1990s [due to the Tory spending plans being carried on by the Labour Party]. On estates primed for privatisation no repairs at all were done in the lead up to voluntary privatisation votes and estate managers were not replaced. On the other [better] estates tenant representatives were supporting:
“… people with cockroach infestation or people who have to live and sleep in rooms that are so damp they’re covered in fungus and the wall paper is falling off …”
By 2001 market rents in social housing were £200 a week [for example the Peabody schemes in Fellows Court and now at Wharf Place - both in Haggerston]. While older and larger Housing Associations such as Peabody led on market renting – other HAs began to get in the act – for example Community on the Haggerston Library site. But even Peabody couldn’t get rid of everything – it had to sell a block in Haggerston Road to Metropolitan after finding that yuppies weren’t willing to pay market rents to live opposite Haggerston estate!
‘Shared Home Ownership Schemes’ were used to sweeten the pill – if your income was more than £20,000 a year , and sometimes combinations were used – whereby the SHO scheme provided a ‘social housing’ component to ease planning objections – for example the 25% of flats for ‘affordable homes’ in the St George Hoxton Square development.
This development had a knock on effect. Tenants who had exercised their ‘right to buy’ and then let out their ex council flats could also charge rents of £200 + a week for a basic 3 bed flat – or thrice the going rate for a council flat of the same size. This of course further boosted the impetus behind right to buy and further white-anted council estates.
Speculators were also active leafleting estates with offers to buy out secure tenant’s ‘right to buy.’ They would provide cash [sometimes as little as £5,000] to a tenant who would buy the flat [with the speculator’s money] signing over the rights to let it out to the speculators, and selling it on after the waiting period of 2 years. This meant 2 bedroom flats could be picked up for as little as £20,000 plus the payment to the secure tenant.
By 2000 the London real estate market had heated up to such an extent that a new round of tower blocks was being proposed for the inner city. Ken Livingstone, the newly elected mayor, gave his support for these so long as they provided subsidy for social housing schemes and transport in east London. However, rather than affordable rented housing, the social housing talked about was more of the not very affordable shared home ownership schemes for ‘key workers’ who were otherwise priced out of the market.
With the support of the Corporation of London [the council for the City’s Square Mile] the long term plan is clearly to replace the City’s poverty stricken necklace of estates in Finsbury [Islington], Shoreditch and Whitechapel [Tower Hamlets] with a mix of the new rich and the new ‘deserving poor’ of key workers.
- The estates just off Hoxton Street are just a stone’s throw away:
By 2000, developers were increasingly confident of their position and using all available loopholes to cash in. Even when leases held rents for 3 years, service charges could be jacked up for example from £20 a week to £60 a week plus the original rent. Sometimes this meant that tenants wanting to break leases lost not only their 3 months deposit but had to pay extra to get out of the lease. David Nicholson of Glasshouse – who with Dalston City Partnership cash developed many of the early lofts said:
“We are not a charity, we are a commercial business … Market rent in Shoreditch has risen considerably in the last 18 months. We’ve got tenants who are willing to pay … and are not going to take up hours of our time complaining about the nitty gritty.”
To underline this, in August 2000 the charity running Shoreditch Town Hall Trust showed that it wasn’t just businesses evicting tenants on cheap leases. 20 small businesses and charities had their leases terminated to allow the building to renovated. As the Daycare Trust commented on their eviction – “we thought we were a part of [the Town Hall Trust’s] long term plans. It’s obvious we’re not.”Just as ‘not for profit’ Housing Associations needed to build their surpluses, the Trust had tenants willing to pay.
In September 2000 developers went from bending the law to breaking it. At the Goddard and Gibbs shop on Kingsland Road, the listed frontage was destroyed against the planning permission for the property in order to make way for stylish lofts. ‘The Hackney Society’ commented:
“The Council is either unable or unwilling to do anything and seems to go along with the developers ‘gold rush’ in Shoreditch on the basis that it ‘creates jobs’.”
Even beforehand, the balance of class forces at work was made clear in the ‘successful’ campaign by the Hoxton Luvvie posse to save “the Light” [a converted power station bar] – they won against the might of Railtrack.
By 2000, not only were the concerns of Hoxton’s majority – working class council tenants – irrelevant but the concern voiced in the local media was primarily that gentrification would “spell the end for the arty atmosphere that began the revival.” The Hackney Society voiced concerns that the “huge increases in land and property values [... were] threatening the future viability of local charities, community groups and small businesses … small businesses are also being hit hard in particular new businesses in the IT and creative sectors – the very businesses Hackney is keen to attract.”
Working class people appeared in this discussion only as an ungrateful or criminal element. The project director at Shoreditch Town Hall [yes - the charity mentioned above] spoke of ‘resentment’ from older residents over £500,000 lofts next to their run down council flats, while a gallery director from Hoxton Square said:
“What’s becoming more apparent are the crime levels. The estates just off Hoxton Street are just a stones throw away. There’s increasing resentment. More and more [very large!] windows are being smashed.”
Reports that homeless families were again being put into bed and breakfast – in part because the council had sold the hard to let estates where they had been placed previously began to provide a context for this. By February 2001, the 380 hostel places were full and 450 families were in bed and breakfast. To compare however, at least 15 % of the 7,000 privatised flats were standing empty [following a pre-privatisation policy of running down the estates] and at least another 100 street properties had been sold to subsidise privatisation schemes.
Many of these families couldn’t even be placed in hostels in Hackney because other London Boroughs had used cheap accommodation for their homeless families. The clear losers in all of this were working class women and their families [who dominated the numbers of those who got into Council housing through the homelessness provisions] – they were not welcome in New Labour’s Hackney.
- Who runs Hoxton then?
In March 2001 Shoreditch’s new elite attempted to ban Abba’s Dancing Queen! Residents of live work units in Redchurch Street complained about the Village People’s YMCA as well as the Conservative Party’s Annual Winter Ball which were held in Marquees on the Bishopsgate Goodsyard.
“We cannot sleep because it goes on until one in the morning and in the summer we cannot relax on our rooftop garden without having to listen to Chris de Burgh’s ‘Lady in Red’ or some other dreadful tune.’
‘Traditional’ East End culture in the area had no chance then – the Brick Lane Music Hall – pushed from Brick lane to Shoreditch by rising rents in 1995, faced closure at the end of 2000 because of the rent going up to 400% to £100,000 a year. The landlord said: “unfortunately we are not a charity …”
The office space needs of the City didn’t care for anyone however. Facing stiff competition from Docklands, a number of large developments are planned which will also impact on the ‘arty atmosphere’. New Deal for the Community managers said a 16 storey office block [87,000 sq. m] planned for the Hearn Street site would push “up rental costs and … businesses out” as well as taking up almost the entire site and leaving no green space according to the Conservation Area Advisory Committee.
More celebrated, is the case of Spitalfields market – “a vivid antidote to the blandness that corporate culture brings in its wake” – next to ABN-AMRO’s headquarters and Liverpool Street Station. Half of the market has already been lost to a 600,000 sq. meter office development and the rest is clearly under threat despite the protests of the developers and market owners. Luminaries such as Terrence Conran are weighing in to protect the creative hub of gentrification and are willing to trade a bigger development elsewhere to protect it. While the new residents fight a losing battle against Europe’s finance capital or prepare to move to the next chic scene, the interests of the working class majority are nowhere to be seen.
“… it’s so close to the City, firms won’t even know they’re in Hackney.”
- the ‘Regeneration’ of the Town Hall Square [where trees aren’t as important as in Stoke Newington]:
Broadway Market is a narrow street market between two parks [Haggerston Park to the south and London Fields to the north]. It makes a geographical link between Hoxton and the Town Hall precinct and is already used as a bike route for this. It’s showing the Hoxton effect – five years ago it had with one yuppie pub [with Hoegaarden on tap] and a listed pie and eel shop which baked vegie pies on demand. Now there’s 2 expensive restaurants, 1 yuppie bar, a health food bar and half a dozen boutiques. … and while writing this a Japanese noodle bar has opened! Not far away, ‘regeneration’ money was used to do up the church next to Hackney Road where the 291 club is now based . Facilities for local people have not similarly expanded – as indicated earlier it is precisely in the south of the borough that cuts in provision are tending to be targeted.
At the moment the Market is still on the cusp of full gentrification. Empty shops were until recently rented cheaply as artist studios – however, a significant rebuilding programme is taking place this summer, and with the sale of the rest of the council owned shops … I’m happy to take bets as to the future of this street.
June 2001 saw the first New York style firebombing of the block at the southern entrance to the market shortly after the squatters there had been evicted.
Motives were unclear but the landlord did not have to pay the council until the building was in use – and so gained a number of years interest free property speculation rights.
Further north, just south of the town hall, is Ellingfort Road. Here until 1999 were around 30 squatted homes – which have now voluntarily incorporated themselves [keeping just over half the homes] into an existing Housing Association. The rest of the London Fields area is now booming with loft live work units.
And on to the Town Hall Square – and site of another regeneration programme. According to Guy Nicholson, Regeneration Chair of Hackney: it “could be something really special” … 
The Ocean is a music venue opened opposite the Town Hall on the site of the old Hackney Library and Museum. It has already attracted criticism over the price of tickets [up to £27], the wage of the director [£80,000] and the way it’s functioning as an oasis for a “rich young elite.” Like many venues the Ocean starts with high hopes for participation and access … it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves. I suspect that the social pressures from gentrification and the regeneration of the rest of the square will force it in less and less accessible direction.
Relations with local people started poorly with complaints of sexual harassment and parking problems. Noise complaints were dismissed as “whinging.” Ocean publicity was fly posted over parking control notices locally – there was a rising tide in Hackney.
Opposite the Ocean is the Town hall, with its Square most often frequented by the local street drinkers and demos against the Council. In May 2001, the Labour controlled Council went ahead with plans to spend £1.1 M to do it up. Critics of the scheme pointed out that 4 different types of limestone wasn’t perhaps the aim of Neighbourhood Renewal funding which paid for over half of the scheme. The Hackney tree wardens mounted a very vocal campaign against the scheme due to the loss of 15 trees and pointed out that meetings were not open to the public and minutes were kept secret. This is of course what Haggerston Ward councillor and Chair of regeneration Guy Nicholson called “probably one of the widest [consultation] exercises on any planning development the borough has ever seen.” Indeed. [Neither was Guy convinced by arguments from the Lib Dems that this money could be spent on reopening Haggerston Pool.]
The decision to save the Yoakley Street garden within the next month [see above] suggests that in Hackney, all trees are equal but some trees are more equal than others.
Complaints about how the regeneration of the Square was going could be assuaged by promises of a new Technology and Learning Centre [a rebuilt library]. Unfortunately cuts in the Learning and Leisure budget meant that “the Council can barely afford to buy books for the new library … and has set aside £150,000, warning that it may cut the borough’s book fund.”
Opposite the TLC lies the Hackney Empire and the Samuel Pepys Bar. The Pepys was for years the late opening ‘alternative’ bar in Hackney. It was shut along with the Empire for refurbishment in May 2001 … the ensuing street party in the Town Hall square got a bit out of hand – although participants commented that it was more simulacra than reality. What’s clear is that they didn’t want to go to the Ocean!