The last six months have been a hectic time for Hackney Independent. Starting at the end of November last year, our involvement with the occupation at 34 Broadway Market brought onto the national and international stage a level of condemnation for Hackney Council which is usually only reserved for dodgy third world regimes.
Not long after the occupation of Tony’s café was over we commenced the Haggerston local election campaign. The result was a victory for the Labour party with their candidates securing an average 986 votes compared to Hackney Independent’s highest vote of 616.
Labour won every seat in Hackney South & Shoreditch. They faced strong challenges from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Queensbridge and Hoxton, where, aside from a strong personal vote for Andrew Boff, the opposition parties achieved results comparable to Hackney Independent’s in Haggerston.
Of course its particular gutting to be beaten by a Blairite careerist with his snout in the PFI trough; a Trotskyite infiltrator and Cllr. Bright, but Hackney Labour party, feeling seriously challenged by Hackney Independent, threw all their available resources into the campaign.
Labour fought a negative campaign: their main trick being to scream of “chaos” if the Town Hall was to return to being a hung-council.
Most annoying was the dirty leaflet distributed on the day before polling day warning Haggerston residents that “a vote for independent is a vote for the Tory’s”. According to Labour we are under the thumb of the Conservative party!
We were a bit miffed about this as no one person involved in Hackney Independent has ever voted Conservative in their life, let alone been a member.
They also drew in criticism that the H.I. candidates weren’t local, and this was in a leaflet hand-delivered by “local” Labour candidate Barry Buitekant who lives in… wait for it… Upper Clapton!
On polling day itself they had bussed in Labour party activists from all over London, with Jules Pipe himself being present on and off throughout the day.
In his main post-election winning address Mayor Pipe singled out Hackney Independent for particular attention:
‘Voters in Haggerston saw through the nonsense being peddled by Hackney Independent, particularly about Broadway market where they had joined up with local Tories. Residents recognised that they had nothing positive to offer local people. They are now a spent force in Hackney.’
That’s fighting talk Jules!
Of course victory is preferable to coming second place again, but we take heart that our challenge prompted such Labour panic.
While Labour won using fear, lies and manipulation, Hackney Independent stood on a platform of community and solidarity.
We will continue to do so in the future.
For Hackney Independent, post-election plans are to build upon our free newsletter by increasing its size and distribution: as Labour have now publicly labelled us a primary threat to their rule in Hackney, it would be a shame to let them off the hook.
We also need to work out ways of securing regular streams of finance and to expand upon our activist base.
Needless to say, our work with Tenants’ Associations and around such campaigns as Broadway Market and Haggerston swimming pool will continue.
The challenge and the need for such an endeavour is still there. As Tony Blair’s neo-liberalism bites even more, the far-right will gain, and Labour will shrink.
We will work towards building a confident working class independent of the existing political structures, so that we can face the immediate challenges and work towards building a credible long-term strategy.
For those who haven’t given up hope yet we ask you to play a part in Hackney Independent.
Residents of the Whiston and Goldsmiths’ estates – and especially those in Debdale Court – are less than impressed with Hackney Council and British Waterways over the proposed development at Acton’s Lock. Squeezed between Debdale Court and the Regents Canal at the Eastern End of Whiston Road, the five-story building will comprise 25 flats and a restaurant.
It was given planning permission by Hackney Council in August, however Residents of Debdale Court, whose block will be dwarfed by the new building and whose views of the canal will disappear, have told Hackney Independent that the first they were aware of the proposed development was the receipt of a leaflet late in 2005, after planning permission was awarded. This makes a mockery of British Waterways commitment to consultation. Their website gushes: “Our canals and rivers pass through local communities across the length and breadth of the country. Waterway development is often closely linked to community aspirations and social issues at the local level. It is essential that the views of local communities are fully represented and effectively listened to. We are committed to getting the processes of dialogue and accountability absolutely right.” Right.
Typically, such rhetoric about ‘consultation’ hides the reality on the ground. ‘A similar development was proposed here about five years ago,’ says a Debdale resident, ‘but a petition and local pressure stopped it. There’s been no consultation with residents this time round. There’s no-one at Hackney Council who’ll tell you what’s going on.’ Hackney Council has decided to invite resident input into policy about the sale of its commercial properties, having been forced to by recent high-profile campaigns in Broadway Market and Dalston Lane. Hackney Independent would like to see this extended to all new developments in residential areas. Acton’s Lock is yet another example of ‘regeneration’ impacting negatively on the local communities it is supposed to benefit.
The Haggerston ward election resulted in a victory for the Labour party, with Hackney Independent coming second.
On average the Hackney Independent candidates received 578 votes while the Labour party candidates received 986.
We will be writing a more detailed analysis of the campaign sometime in the future.
We are currently standing three candidates in the local elections in the Haggerston ward.
Please get in touch if you can support the campaign and help out
For up-to-date information on the Broadway Market campaign see
The Ecologist, March 2006
‘How do I feel?’ Tony Platia shrugs his shoulders in a very Sicilian way.
‘How d’you think I feel? Look at what they done to my place. Thirty one years of my life I put into this and they left me with nothing to show for it.’ He touches my elbow and gestures at the street outside, unseen beyond the impromptu barricades that shore up what’s left of Francesca’s Café.
‘This used to be a lovely community’, he says, intensely. ‘When I come here it was old east end, real rag trade. It’s all being killed, all the ordinary people pushed out. They’re taking from the poor and giving to the rich. Look around you.’ He touches my elbow again, shrugs his shoulders, looks bleak.
‘Breaks my heart’, he says.
Tony Platia is a sharply-dressed, sharply-spoken Sicilian. Thirty one years ago he opened Francesca’s café in Broadway Market, Hackney. It was a traditional London Italian caff; cappuccinos, pasta and loyal customers who saw Francesca’s as one of the beams shoring up the identity of their neighbourhood. But that identity is changing, and today, Francesca’s café has become an unwilling and unexpected frontline in a new war: that of ordinary folk versus developers; community versus corporation.
It’s just gone seven a.m on a freezing, dark January morning. But Francesca’s no longer serves breakfasts or early morning coffee. Targeted by developers, it is under threat of eviction, to be replaced by luxury flats and a new theatre. Unfortunately for the developers, the local community would prefer to keep Tony and his café. This morning, with rumours flying of bailiffs on their way to evict Tony, Francesca’s is boarded up, shuttered and occupied by local people, making an unexpected last stand for their community.
Inside, the café is a dark swirl of conversation, rumour, anger and cigarette smoke. In the centre of it all sits Tony Platia. Occasionally he looks around him as if wondering where he is, and how it all came to this.
Three decades ago, much of Hackney was run-down, shabby, boarded-up, and often dangerous. Today the artists, media types and city workers who have been flooding into nearby Hoxton and Shoreditch have discovered Broadway Market. The streets are now increasingly lined with expensive baby buggies, silver BMWs and Italian scooters. Every Saturday, Broadway Market is home to upmarket stalls, where you can buy loaves of artisanal bread for £2.75, or stock up on porcini mushrooms and alpaca scarves. Hackney is officially happening.
There are some who like this, and some who don’t. On one side, some who have lived in Hackney for decades are concerned on a number of levels about how the neighbourhood is changing. There might be more money around, they say, but it doesn’t go to them. Property prices are rising, and ‘ordinary folk’ can’t afford to buy new places there anymore. Gentrification, they say, is killing Hackney’s character. On the other side, there are those who point to the fact that shops which used to be boarded up are now flourishing, and that new people are coming into the neighbourhood, making it more mixed in character – and, they say, safer.
In theory, at least, they should be right. In theory, this influx of new people and new money ought to mean more trade for local businesses like Tony’s. It ought to mean ‘regeneration’. Everybody, so the theory goes, should be a winner.
But it hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, an unholy alliance of hawk-eyed property developers and a corrupt and venal local council has launched a land grab which is ripping the heart out of the neighbourhood and impoverishing its local people. And what is happening in Hackney is a foreshadowing of similar situations all over the country, as money, power and property values combine to destroy the lives of ordinary folk, and rip the heart from their communities and the character of their neighbourhoods.
Just ask Tony, whose story has come to symbolise everything that is going wrong in the east end. Thirty-one years ago, Tony started up his business in Broadway Market, in a property owned by the local council, to whom Tony paid rent and rates. His café was popular, and it made him a modest living. But unknown to him, it was becoming caught up in a financial scandal that would lead to his ruin.
Years of corruption and incompetence have left Hackney council in debt – to be precise, a staggering £72 million worth of debt, as auditors discovered in 2001. Mandated by the government to sort it out, and quickly, one of the council’s solutions was to sell off its commercial properties; properties like Tony’s café and dozens of other small, local businesses in Broadway Market. When Tony heard this he prepared to make an offer for Francesca’s himself; the council, after all, had assured leaseholders that, if they could meet the guide price for the properties, they would have first refusal on them.
But Tony had competition. A Kent-based millionaire property developer named Roger Wratten, who had recently snapped up the properties on either side of Tony’s place, had his eye on Francesca’s. An unidentified ‘someone’ informed him that Tony was trying to buy it, and from that point on, all Tony’s attempts to do so were thwarted – paperwork was lost, phone calls went unreturned. For three years, Tony struggled for the simple right to buy his own business. But in February 2003, it was sold, at auction, to Roger Wratten.
Cock-up? Coincidence? Wratten and the council say so – but many locals say otherwise. They see a conspiracy of council and developers, aimed at clearing out the small, less-profitable local businesses, and replacing them with new, upmarket developments that will bring in a lot more cash. Developments like the one that Roger Wratten wants to build on the site of Francesca’s and the adjoining properties, for example – a combination of luxury flats and a new theatre, in which his theatre-director wife can stage Shakespeare plays.
There is certainly something convenient about the speed and apparent ease with which whole blocks of properties in Broadway Market and the surrounding area are being sold to wealthy developers, none of whom are from the local area – and many of whom bought the parties at knock-down prices; in many cases lower than the leaseholders were prepared to pay for them. A company registered at a PO Box in Nassau bought a whole row of shops for less than their leaseholders would have paid. Another registered in Dubai did the same. A Russian property company now owns nine properties in Broadway Market; it bought them for £250,000, though they had an estimated value of almost £5 million. Roger Wratten’s Kent-based business owns several more.
So what? What’s wrong with investors buying up properties they can regenerate if it brings in money and smartens up the neighbourhood? What’s wrong, it seems, is that the people of that neighbourhood are not being asked what they want. Neither, in many cases, are they getting anything out of it. And in some cases, like that of Tony’s, they are not only failing to benefit but they are losing their livelihoods.
Start to look at this from a distance and it looks uncomfortably like the neighbourhood is being socially engineered; cleansed of undesirables; having the awkward and sometimes spiky-edged colour, character and reality squeezed out of it. Made comfortable for people in designer shirts who don’t like getting their shoes dirty and who get suspicious if a cup of coffee costs less than three pounds. In financial terms, this certainly makes sense; property prices in east London are shooting up, as the middle classes move in. Now, too, there is the added impetus of the 2012 Olympic Games, which are to take place less than a mile from Broadway Market, and which are already putting added pressure on property values.
On one level, then, this is an ordinary tale of gentrification, squeezing out the poor to make way for the rich. And yet there are two things which make it a more complex tale. One is that, though Broadway Market is certainly a lot more gentrified than it was just five years ago, it is still a mixed neighbourhood. Small cafes, newsagents, jellied eel shops and vegetable stalls jostle side by side with Tapas bars, upmarket clothes emporiums and designer hairdressers. And as for those demonised yuppies; it seems that some of them are actually on Tony’s side. For the last few months, local people have organised a petition to save Tony’s café, and many of the hip young dudes who swan around the artisanal market on a Saturday have signed it. They, too, it seems, like the idea of a mixed neighbourhood. They, too, think that Tony’s is worth saving.
The second heartening thing about this story is just how many people feel that way. When news filtered through to the local community about Tony’s rough treatment – and that of others on the street – a few brave souls decided to do something about it. They organised a campaign and a petition to allow Tony to stay. They talked to the council and the developers, they alerted the media, and they worked hard to ensure justice for the small traders of Broadway Market.
Justice didn’t arrive, despite their best efforts. In July last year, bailiffs arrived as Tony was opening up his café, evicted him and began demolishing his life’s work before his eyes. But the developers had been slapdash, and the campaigners managed to halt the demolition halfway through on health and safety grounds. Then they moved back in, occupied the café and, against everyone’s expectations, including possibly their own, they rebuilt it, brick by brick. Today, Francesca’s still stands – battered, bruised and with an eviction order hovering over it, but still at the heart of the community.
Inside, Arthur Shuter, one of the leaders of the local campaign to save Broadway Market, sits drinking tea and smoking cigarettes, safe against the freezing chill outside.
‘I can understand the council’s position’, he says. ‘If they give in on Tony’s, they will lose millions, the developer who bought it will be furious and it will set a precedent. The council like to say things are out of their hands. The developer claims he’s putting something back into the local community. But we’ve shown him what community really is.’
Arthur is interrupted by Elijah, a great bear of a man with a voice like Frank Bruno. ‘He doesn’t care about the community!’ he says, scornfully, of the developer. ‘He’s a corporate guy. People would come to Tony with their problems, and he’d always have a solution, y know? He was like a community leader. He helped me through the hardest time of my life. This is nothing to do with community – it’s all about money. They didn’t reckon on us standing up to them, that’s all. We don’t like bullies.’
‘And they are bullies’, says Arthur. ‘Oh, most certainly. The developers think they can turf people out of their homes and their businesses. The council talks about ‘regeneration’ and ‘best value’. They use all the right words. But they’ve been caught out here, and they’re in a real fix.’ He stubs his cigarette out in an overflowing ashtray.
‘We won’t go away’, he says. ‘They don’t like that.’
At the time of writing, Francesca’s café still stands. By the time of publication, it may not. But if and when Tony and Arthur and Elijah and the rest are evicted for a final time, it will not be the end of things in Broadway Market. There are other properties to defend; other battles to fight.
Next on the list, for example, is number 71, the Nutritious Food Galley, a fantastically diverse and popular vegetable shop run by a quiet, dignified Rastafarian man called Spirit. Spirit moved into the premises when it was abandoned and spent time and money renovating it himself. When he heard the council were selling it, he went to the auctioneers and presented them with a deposit cheque for £10,000 – ten percent of the asking price. He had been told that if he did so, the property would be his.
So he was shocked when he went along to the planned property auction, just out of curiosity, and heard his own property sold off, for £85,000 – £15,000 less than he had been prepared to pay – to a property developer based in Nassau. The auctioneer and the council explained to Spirit that a ‘mistake’ had been made, but there was nothing he could do. The new owner of his shop immediately raised his rent by 1200%. Soon they plan to evict him. Spirit says he is going nowhere; apart from anything else, he has nowhere else to go. It seems certain that if the bailiffs come, they will have many, many people to deal with.
For this is an increasingly angry community. It senses that it is being ripped off. People who have lived here for decades – sometimes in the same houses in which they were born – no longer feel they belong. Their children can’t afford to live here anymore. And above all the usual tension and worry that comes with change, hangs the feeling that the Council – the people who are supposed to be on their side – are selling them off like so many pineapples or cups of cappuccino, to the highest bidder.
What is happening in Hackney is not a purely local issue. All over the country gentrification and corporatisation, sparked by inflating property prices, are bringing forth the same kind of cultural cleansing, destroying the lives of ordinary people who can’t match the new money, and see their communities and birthplaces taken from under them.
Hackney, perhaps, is a touchstone – or a touchpaper. Whatever happens to Tony, Spirit and the rest of this community, one thing does seem certain: Broadway Market will not be the last place whose people, instead of going gently, decide to stand their ground.
The following has today been issued as a press release
On 1st July 2005, Mr. Calogero ‘Tony’ Platia was evicted from the cafe which he had operated at 34 Broadway Market, London E8 for 31 years. This eviction took place in the early morning, following 3 previous failed attempts.
This arose as a result of an Eviction Warrant being issued after Mr. Platia unsuccessfully sought a lease extension at the premises which had been sold to a property developer by the former freeholders – London Borough of Hackney. The lease renewal application was unsuccessful as the developer convinced the Court that he had proper planning consents in place, both to demolish the existing building in a conservation area and to build a 4 storey plus basement building on the site. Subsequent inquiries showed that a Planning Application for permission to demolish was applied for 7 days after the Court rejected Tony’s lease renewal claim.
There followed a series of legal cases where attempts were made to overturn the previous Court Orders, but to no avail.
Having gained possession of the cafe last July, efforts were made to prevent the demolition and the building was occupied on 27th November 2005 by a group of local protesters. Police and High Court Sheriffs evicted the occupiers on 21st December and began demolishing the building, until Health and Saftey stopped them. On 26th December protesters re-entered and rebuilt the damaged building. A massive operation by police and High Court Sheriffs recovered the building on 23rd February 2006. The premises have now been totally demolished, with the front wall at ground floor level being the only remaining structure. Further action is likely in the near future!
Having taken away Tony’s business, his home – and now the entire building – the developer – Dr. Roger Wratten, has taken further Court action and has seized bank accounts held in Tony Platia’s name to make Tony pay Dr. Wratten the legal costs associatied with the destruction of his business and premises.
But the £6,200 seized by this action was actually the property of Tony’s grand daughter, being part of £ 10,000 banked for her future financial security when she was born 9 years ago.
Every attempt has been made to encourage Dr. Wratten to see that this is wholly unacceptable and to reconsider his decision. Those attempts have failed.
Dr. Wratten expects Tony – and Francesca aged 9 – to attend at Court on 10th and 19th April to beg for the money back.
An appeal on behalf of little Francesca will be launched in Broadway Market, E8 on 25th and 26th March. If necessary, this will continue until and through the weekend of 1st and 2nd April.
If we are able to raise the £6,200 which Dr. Wratten stole from Francesca, a statement will be lodged with the Court inviting Dr. Wratten to add the money to the estimated £40 million which he is already worth and to enjoy spending his ill-gotten gains.
For further details, please contact:-
or visit http://34broadwaymarket.omweb.org
The Broadway Market Resident and Traders Association (BMTRA) have taken issue with Hackney Independent’s views and argue that the Saturday Market is positive for the regeneration of the area. We have therefore given Louise Brewood, Chair of the BMTRA, the opportunity to put the BMTRA’s side of the story so you can decide what you think of their arguments.
Our viewpoint is under the article
Do you still stand by the view that the Saturday Market is positive for the regeneration of the area around Broadway Market?
Yes I do. I believe it’s an amazing catalyst for bringing people together. People from all types of background, financially, economically, socially. It’s beginning to become a platform for the community. It’s real urban space because it’s grown up itself. My fear though is that the property market would go nuts and it has. It’s gone nuts quicker than we anticipated.
Are you acting in the best interests of the local community?
Yes. Most definitely. If I didn’t believe in what I was doing, I wouldn’t be doing it.
The market came about because of about 70 people, most of them long-term residents of over 20 years or local shopkeepers, which includes Spirit and Tony. They wanted to bring in a handful of stalls that sold locally produced goods, environmentally friendly, because that’s the sort of food they wanted and they didn’t want to go to supermarkets. It was never meant to be this massive market but we expected it to take 6 or7 years to grow, we never expected it to happen in 6 weeks. It was a runaway success from day one.
What about people on low incomes?
Do you think the market’s prices reflect local needs?
This is the biggest one…. people are beginning to change their opinion. The reason Broadway Market is such a success is because I wouldn’t look at the market as a market. Initially it was really about having good quality food and my involvement was to make sure that a handful of stalls didn’t clash with current shops. This is the only market I know in the whole country where the market is about the people who live and work directly in that street, everyone’s had an involvement and a say. When people accuse me of the market being this and that I say to them “Have you been down there? Come down with me, let me take you into Henry’s (on Broadway Market) there you can buy a really good piece of cheese, same as you can in the supermarket. Let me take you back to the supermarket to their finest range.
Their finest range is more expensive than what you’re getting direct from the producers in my market”. I tell everybody, if you want a cheap market you can go to the other markets. Ridley Road is a fine market. I know it’s got problems but it is one of the country’s biggest and best markets for everyday stuff.
But it’s not local for the people who live near Broadway Market
No. I agree but you’ve got that option. Why should local people have to go all the way over to Ridley Road market for affordable fresh food? Haven’t you created an upmarket food ghetto on Broadway Market?
Yeah. That’s what it was meant to do. Who let the market die in the first place?
Where are all the stalls that these people say should be here giving them what they want? Why did they go away in the first place? Because people stopped using this market. They went to supermarkets instead. They let it die. We all let it die. If any one from the local estates wanted to do (something similar) they could have done it too. We’re just a bunch of ordinary people. They could’ve done it themselves. The longstanding businesses (on Broadway Market) would not have been here now if we’d not introduced the market.
What do you think are the social costs of gentrification?
Scary. It’s not spreading wealth fairly and evenly. It’s only providing for some, which creates resentment from others. And that’s wrong. But nobody has the right to condemn a bunch of people who got together and did something they wanted to do as volunteers. Sadly, what we’ve done has kind of been sabotaged by those who do want to gentrify the area. Regeneration I do think is good thing but regeneration through gentrification is a bad thing.
How will you be using the revenue from the market to benefit the local area?
Simple things like raising funds for various projects. We try to support local events if we can and when the tsunami happened we raised 2 grand in less than 8 hours.
My personal dream in getting involved (with the market) was to do local things. Because we’re a ‘not for profit’ organisation, anything we make has to be put back into what we’re doing. Everything should benefit the local and wider community. We raised money at Christmas (around about £1000) and half that money went into putting on a half-days football tournament on the fields for local youngsters. Ultimately we want to get a local youth club up and running.
So meeting all local needs and not just a particular group?
Yes. Like my market. I believe that the whole market is important. Every shop and stall is part of a shopping experience and you must cater for all needs. Spirit and Tony would both tell you that without the market their businesses were struggling anyway. We have to meet all local needs and I believe the market does that. The area, sadly, is not doing that and that is down to politics and money and fat cats and that’s wrong because if all this money’s being made it should be going back into areas of deprivation.
The Hackney Independent view
In 2004, Hackney Independent published an interview with a local resident and the results of an estate survey which were critical of the Broadway Market Saturday Market. In the survey we found that most estate residents were glad to see some activity in the market, but clearly recognised that it is not aimed at them, ie that it is ‘exclusive’ and too expensive for the majority of local working-class residents. 83% of those surveyed on the Whiston and Goldsmiths estates said the market not aimed at us and 93% said the market is too expensive.
Hackney Independent, and many local people, are of the opinion that the Saturday Market is contributing to the gentrification of the area. The campaign for Tony’s Café and Spirit’s Nutritious Food Gallery has recently emphasised this issue. The ‘invasion’ of unaccountable property developers means that small businesses that cater for local people are being forced out of the market.
Those who are using the market have no idea that the area is becoming divided – between a working class majority who are having to put up with bad housing and run down services, and a new breed of rich, self-interested young professionals. This is not merely an accident of the property market. The gentrification of the area is something that is urged on by Hackney Council’s regeneration plans. As they privatise public services, shut down community services, run down estates and close schools they want to bring in a new class of people with money to ‘improve the area’.
Albeit unwittingly, the Saturday Market, by excluding local people, is, we believe, contributing to the process of gentrification. Indeed, even the new coffee shops and boutiques that have opened on Broadway Market over the last few years will eventually themselves fall victim to increased rents and property development if this process is not arrested. No-one wants to see a street of Starbucks and Estate Agents that you can find in any other ‘regenerated’ street in London.
Hackney Independent say the Saturday market is accelerating the gentrification process, pushing working class people out of the area by increasing the cost of living and the price of housing.
Member Working Party Panel Review Hearings February 27, March 6 and March 14, 2006
On 20th February 2006, following a motion put before the Full Council on 1st February, Hackney’s Overview & Scrutiny Commission met to record its proposals for a Review Panel to examine how the property sales procedures adopted in 2000 had impacted on local business and residential communities and to investigate the role of Nelson Bakewell auctioneers in the sales procedures.
The public review lasted, effectively, for six hours, with much behind the scenes gathering of documents and written submissions and responses.
This was a mammoth task in reality and there were unlikely to be any concrete proposals coming from any recommendations that the panel could be expected to formulate in such a short timeframe.
The enquiry sat on 27th February and Chair James Cannon set the remit for the 3 session debate. Week one concentrated mainly on the cases of Spirit and Tony from Broadway Market, both of whom gave unscripted evidence before the panel.
Andrew Boff, Tory panel member and Councillor for Queensbridge ward asked many sympathetic questions and drew the expected responses, particularly from Tony who referred to the previous administration as a bunch of corrupt thieves.
Bill Hodgson, outgoing Labour Queensbridge Councillor, did his best to salvage his party’s image by implying that Tony and Spirit could have acted quicker to get their freeholds and were up against market forces over which the Council had little or no control.
Our fears about Tony were not realised and every member left the first hearing in one piece and returned on 6th March to hear evidence about Dalston Lane.
Bill Parry-Davies, local solicitor (who has acted in the past for both Tony and Spirit) and is Director of OPEN-Dalston, gave evidence about how 14 properties in Dalston Lane had been gifted to an offshore Company (which still owns Spirit’s Broadway Market unit under a different name) because the leaseholders who had operated their businesses from the area for many years were not informed in advance that Nelson Bakewell had reached the decision to sell the units as a job lot.
The leaseholders had turned up at the auction as individuals with well over £ 3 million to spend in total, but were not even given the chance to pool their resources because they never knew they might have to, and the entire site sold for just £ 1.8 million.
Yes, if the Dubai based buyers were hell-bent on buying the site they could certainly have outbid the leaseholders, but at least that way the people of Hackney would have gained some benefit from the extra £1.5 million that would have raised. Instead, the Dubia group (who operate their business from a tax haven in the Bahamas) were allowed to rob the local community and have since watched as mysterious fires have forced out all but the last few remaining leaseholders and have damaged the buildings so much that they will now need to be demolished. This is exactly what the owners wanted to happen and even Councillors are now openly stating that the new owners set the fires for this purpose.
Bill Parry-Davies also used his legal influence to mention the OPEN-Dalston campaign and to highlight the methods by which Hackney Council has pushed through its plans for the Dalston Theatre site and the underhand way that local planners have bullied Councillors into passing demolition plans.
Then 3 leaseholders who have managed to survive in their Dalston Lane properties told the Panel that they had never really been offered the opportunity to buy their business premises and were never allowed to seek advice or group themselves together. Their evidence was compelling and clearly shocked the Labour Panel members who had already decided how to defend the Council from any further damage.
Part 3 of the Inquiry was listed for hearing at 2pm on 14th March. The day before, the panel chair informed us that thee was no time for any further verbal submissions and that the hearing would concentrate on past submissions and responses from the Council. If we wanted any further evidence to be considered it would have to be drawn up in written form and presented to the Council’s officers within a few hours.
With a lot of running around, we managed to get statements drawn up and written evidence copied and got this all to the Town Hall 15 minutes before the deadline.
The hearing begins on the following day and we are told that the evidence which we had submitted at the last minute was too defamatory and ‘put the Council at risk’. The Panel then set about reading out a list of questions which had been raised and the brief and irrelevant answers which had been listed on papers handed out before the hearing began. After a protest from one of those attending, which was given short shrift, the assembled campaigners simultaneously stood up and walked out of the Chamber in disgust, leaving a shaken panel to ponder on whether their tactics may have rather backfired.
Fearing that this was censorship rather than genuine concern for the legal standing of the Council, e:mail traffic became intense. At a private hearing of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 15th March (which turned to a public hearing at the insistence of Councillor Boff) the Chair conceded that, following legal advice, some of the withdrawn documents would be taken into consideration and made public and that all documents were now before the Panel.
So the Panel sat again and we waited for the anticipated whitewash. Only to find that the Committee had decided that they should recommend the immediate repurchase of the Dalston Lane units by Compulsory Purchase Orders, and that Council officers should retain the option to repurchase Tony & Spirit’s shop.
There was intense debate over whether there should be a recommendation to continue the inquiry as soon as the Council reformed in May. Andrew Boff fought hard for a commitment to do so. The 3 (Labour) against 1 (Tory) argument was not won and we now have a few days before the final verdict is announced to persuade the Committee to make a firm recommendation that the past 2 and 1/2 weeks was simply the start of a much wider nquiry into just exactly what went on and who did hat?
Councillor Elaine Battson (Labour – Dalston) – who had een extremely quiet to this point, and even failed to attend when the Dalston Lane evidence was heard – suddenly became very vociferous and repeatedly said that the evidence before the Panel was too weak to be seriously considered so why should there be any further hearings?
We now have to ensure that the Met, the Public Sector Fraud Office and the FSA properly and thoroughly investigate the allegations, which will not go away, and it may well be the case that this can only be achieved by the occupation of Scotland Yard, Wellington House and Canary Wharf! But the truth will come out in the end – to that aim we are totally committed – and all those who have abused their positions to rob the local population and feather their own nests will learn that people power is far greater than their own influential contacts.
Unless this is achieved, there will be Nelson Bakewell’s springing up everywhere and victims like Tony and Spirit will dominate the world’s press for many decades.
The Campaign against property sell-offs has achieved many victories in a few short months. Mounting local support, liaisons across class divides, a six thousand signature petition, worldwide media attention and a full public inquiry which shook the Council to its core.
Corrupt property developers have retracted into their shells and the flack is still falling all around them. Their former associates in positions of power are left wondering how much longer before the shit really hits the fan and we continue to fight for their activities to be fully exposed.
This seems to be the start of something far more powerful than any local protest has ever achieved before, not least because there are Broadway Markets and Dalston Lanes in every London borough and across the Country and beyond.
So the fight goes on and the ballot box results in a few weeks time may well give an indication as to who exactly is winning the war.
Haggerston School increased it’s number of pupils gaining five A*-C grades by 14 per cent compared to last year, making it the most improved school in the borough.
Last July, there was a big demonstration of parents and pupils against the Learning Trust’s plans to make Haggerston a mixedsex school. The Learning Trust walked out of a meeting before Christmas, refusing to discuss the issue with parents.
So why, when it is so successful and there is so much opposition from the local community, does the Learning Trust want to force changes on Haggerston School? It’s most likely that this is a first step towards making Haggerston School a City Academy – they know there’ll be even more opposition to an academy, so they’ll force changes on Haggerston as it is in order to run it into the ground.