Decline of Gillett Square

from Hackney Gazette, 24 May 2007

In your report of the decline of Gillett Square, you failed to remind readers that the fanfare opening of the square attended by Jules Pipe and Ken Livingstone was also attended by a number of protestors voicing their concern about the social cleansing of the area. It looks as though they were right. Hackney Council and the regeneration professionals think that architecture and middle-class culture is the key to improving areas like Dalston. In doing so, they ignored the needs of the majority of low income working families and now apparently want to sweep aside those who have become unemployed, homeless and/or alcoholic.

The council has publicly funded a “Mediterranean-style square” upon which it now proposes to impose a strict drinking ban! It would be funny if it weren’t so hypocritical. Can someone tell me the difference between late night revellers in Shoreditch and down-and-out street drinkers in Dalston? While both groups urinate in the street and upset local residents, one group is threatened with dispersal, CCTV and policing while the other’s anti-social behaviour is ignored. One group drinks cheap wine and lager and has no disposable income, while the other drinks expensive wine and trendy imported lager and has an enormous disposable income. Do you suppose that’s why they’re treated so differently?

“Diverting” street drinkers elsewhere, as the Council puts it, or instigating some kind of social apartheid, where some are welcome and others are banned, should not be taken seriously. I sympathise with the residents over-looking Gillett Square just as I do with those who live adjacent to Hoxton Square. The fact is that the Council and others ignored the needs of local people – both residents and down-and-outs – when they “regenerated” Gillett Square. You cannot regenerate an area by ignoring its social problems at the planning stage and then resorting to bully tactics when those social problems refuse to go away. If anyone is guilty of anti-social behaviour here it’s Hackney Council, for p***ing over all of us from a great height.

Carl Taylor
Hackney Independent