Flagship Scheme Under Threat

Guardian article on New Deal in Shoreditch
A flagship regeneration project is being put at risk by debt-ridden Hackney council’s decision to sell off land following government pressure to balance its books.
The council plans to sell off assets worth £50m this financial year with more sales expected, including nurseries and playgrounds. Several sites up for sale or under threat of sale are in the Shoreditch area, which has some of the highest land values in the borough. The sales are jeopardising plans of Shoreditch Our Way, a £57.4m regeneration project launched by chancellor Gordon Brown and deputy prime minister John Prescott as part of the government’s £2bn new deal for communities programme.

The scheme’s treasurer, Clayeon McKenzie, said: “We need communal land to develop the area. Our regeneration scheme is going to be dead in the water if they flog off any more land. All that we’ll be left with is the homes that we live in.”

The community-led project is particularly alarmed at the council’s decision to put a popular adventure playground on its disposal list. It has also been under pressure in the past to demolish council homes to make way for private development, which would force tenants out of the area.

The borough, which has debts of £50m, has already been warned against selling off council assets by the district auditor. The matter is now also being raised by local Labour MP Brian Sedgemore, who said he was “very concerned” about proposed land sales.

Speaking at a visit to Shoreditch yesterday, the regeneration minister, Lord Falconer, ducked the issue of sales. He said: “That is something that needs to be worked through by the new deal partnership and the council. One cannot avoid the financial pressures. One needs to find a solution that delivers a long term community programme for Shoreditch.”

In private discussions with Shoreditch Our Way, Lord Falconer is understood to have offered to forward some of the £22m earmarked for the project to improve housing in the area, so that it could buy off land from the council. The suggestion alarmed Mr McKenzie. He said: “That would be robbing Peter to pay Paul. That money is for improving the housing not bailing out Hackney council, it’s absurd.”

Last summer Lord Falconer withheld the housing cash because he rejected the community’s plans for improving the homes, claiming they were “unsustainable” and did not have the backing of Hackney council. At the time, both Hackney and the government were concerned that the resident-led project refused to consider demolishing some of the 7,000 council homes in the area.

Yesterday Lord Falconer said: “At that time we could not agree on what [the plans] should consist of. Since then there has been a productive relationship between Hackney council and the new deal partnership. “I don’t want to comment on the detail of whether there is too much council housing. I think the issue is what is a sustainable future for the housing problem?”

Lord Falconer reaffirmed that the government was “serious” about new deal projects being community led, but he added that the community needed to be “realistic”. Representatives from Shoreditch Our Way were keen yesterday to stress that they were now working with the council on new plans to improve the homes in the area. No one from the council attended Lord Falconer’s visit to underline that message. A Hackney spokeswoman said that staff were “very thin on the ground”.

Hackney IWCA starts distribution of latest newsletter

Members and supporters of Hackney Independent Working Class Association (Hackney Independent as of summer 2004) today started the distribution of the latest issue of the Hackney Independent to 10,000 homes in Hoxton, Haggerston and De Beauvoir.

Hackney Independent, Autumn 2001 issue (pdf format)

More newsletters

Hoxton Hall on Council Hitlist

More news is coming out about the Council’s proposed Hitlist for Hackney – the list of facilities due to be sold off or have their funding slashed as part of the Council’s cost-cutting measures. We will print the full list in the next week , but already the Hackney Gazette has run a story on some of the targeted sites and services. Among those at risk are the Apples and Pears play area on Pearson Street, and Hoxton Hall – more details below:

HACKNEY COUNCIL have finally made decisions about the funding of groups like Hoxton Hall and they have proposed a cut of £16,065 to our grant for the current year. In a full year it would amount to £32,130.

They have said they will not provide funding for our Lifelong Learning programme – the classes and courses which 500 people a week attend. The Council has serious financial problems, but centres like Hoxton Hall are valuable resources for the borough, providing creative activities and services for all. The Council’s short-term financial solution will cause long term damage. Once lost, centres like Hoxton Hall cannot be replaced. This decision is to be ratified at a Council Regeneration Committee meeting at 7.30pm on Thursday 13th September.

Developments for Keyworkers?

Who are keyworkers? The Hoxton Square development “in London’s most talked about arts and media village” advertises this week in the Hackney Gazette with one and two bedroom apartments priced from £239,950. Some of the development is supposed to be available to keyworkers in the borough on a shared ownership basis, but what local person is going to be able to afford even a 30 or 40 % share in a flat at that price?
The definition of keyworkers is a fairly narrow one too – teachers, nurses and police – is it really likely that a nurse or teacher would be able to afford to live there, let alone someone on a lower wage who drives a bus, cleans the streets or works as a classroom assistant?

As with many of the new developments in Hackney, they are not designed for the working class majority who are being priced out of the area, but for the trendy rich who can afford such ridiculous prices and are attracted to the “arts and media village” that developers want Hoxton to become.

Another Strip Club Planned For Shoreditch?

It is rumoured that Spearmint Rhino, the American lap dance chain that have recently opened big clubs on Tottenham Court Road and in Harrow, have bought DK’s bar in Curtain Road. They won’t be planning to open up another trendy bar for the rich young artists, they will be looking to open up as a strip club.
We’ve already got thirteen strip bars in or within five minutes walk of this area. Nowhere else in London has this concentration. The Spearmint Rhino proposal would be for a huge club which is going to attract even more people. As well as attracting more men, it would attract prostitutes and muggers to the area.

As of today, Hackney Council’s entertainment licensing section have only received an application for music and dancing. There has been no application for the licence needed for a lap-dancing club.

Hackney Independent is already on record as saying that “we will oppose any new strip bars coming, and will look to oppose the licenses of the existing ones being renewed in future.” (Spring 2001 newsletter). We do not oppose them on moral grounds. Our opposition is based on the fact that these bars attract mainly City workers who come out drunk and looking for prostitutes. A number of local women have been hassled by these City workers.

The Tottenham Court Road branch of Spearmint Rhino has been in constant breach of its licensing terms. A police report has even stated that “activity in the club … borders on offences of prostitution … and managing/assisting/permitting the keeping of a brothel.”

The police go on to say that at a meeting with table dancers employed by the club, “a point was made by one of the dancers that there was a concern over the number of dancers employed and that this was leading the girls to consider offering other services to make up their money.” An Evening Standard report on this story 27th July 2001 was headlined “Strip Club Faces ‘Brothel’ Probe.”

There will be those in favour of this scheme – from Hackney Council’s promotion of the “night-time economy” to people like Lib Dem Councillor Adrian Gee-Turner who recently supported the filming of a hard core porn film in the ward that he is meant to represent. But there will be widespread opposition to this scheme as well and Hackney Independent will play its part in building that opposition.

Arden Estate Hit By Arson

A report in this week’s Hackney Gazette highlights the issue of anti-social behaviour on Shoreditch’s Arden Estate. The paper tells us that the “vandalism-plagued council estate has suffered its third arson attack in two weeks” when underground garages, which have been disused for a number of years, were set on fire, probably by “gangs of kids who maraud around the estate vandalising cars and buildings”.

Shoreditch Sector Working Group member, Adam Richards is quoted as saying “There are a lot of alleyways and the poice don’t patrol them. Their main concern is the drug and gun problems in Dalston…” while TA chair Audrey Villas says “We’ve been asking for resources to get (the garages) fixed up but the council has no money.”

Anti-social behaviour of this type is exactly what Hackney IWCA (Hackney Independent as of summer 2004) has been working on as an issue in this part of Hackney, and this week we are holding another community meeting which brings in two blocks of the Arden Estate along with the Geffrye Estate. Work has already begun on identifying the problems faced by tenants in the area and proposals have been put forward by both Hackney IWCA, the TA and individual tenants.

Clearly, the issue is not a simple one to solve, otherwise it would have been dealt with, but we have to look at why working class communities suffer disproportionately from vandalism, intimidation and drug-related problems. As many tenants will point out, the young people responsible for a lot of this behaviour have no facilities of their own – few youth clubs or sports facilities in particular – but it would be naive to think that if a youth club opened the problem would disappear overnight; a co-ordinated community-led response that isolates the troublemakers and at the same time fights for facilities in the area seems to be the only way we can move this issue forward.

This is why Hackney IWCA is looking at all available options to combat the problem, not just in Hackney but in Islington too. The proposals and problems can be seen in the Hackney Independent Stanway edition which is online later this week.

The "New Eastenders" – What About the "Old Eastenders"?

A series on “The New Eastenders” starts a run this week on BBC2. The programme promises to look at the artistic community that has “radically changed parts of The East End of London”. The Observer in its preview of the series makes some interesting points, perhaps unwittingly.

Their influence has been a property developers’ dream. As the pull of a “happening scene” continues to send prices rocketing, artisans, yuppies, entrepreneurs and now even large establishment organisations…have all been magnetically drawn towards the soi-disant creative heart of the capital.
So what ? As we’ve pointed out over the last two years, the “colonisation” (as The Observer puts it) of “beautiful people” (as they no doubt put it themselves) has been part of a wider programme of gentrification in the area. The working class of Shoreditch have been the main victims of this up till now, with families forced out because of spiralling rents and the New Deal and Council looking to capitalise on the value of the land by selling off estates and bringing in market rents in target blocks. But now even the artists are struggling to make ends meet, so obviously it’s worthy of widespread media concern after all.

Gentrification is not inevitable though. Hackney Independent believes that working class tenants can put our own interests first and kick the whole process into touch. Shoreditch New Deal Trust’s glossy magazine is finally starting to reflect what’s been happening on the ground: that the majority of local people want to stay with the council for their housing provision (they don’t reveal that survey results put the majority at 93% !) and that they don’t want their flats demolished.

Hackney Indpenendent has backed tenants in campaigning against sell-offs and been actively involved in presenting an alternative to the gentrification blueprint. It’s interesting to see that it’s not only tenants who’ve noticed our campaigning work in the local community, but the New Deal Board themselves who have noticed and had to change their language and approach because of the way Hackney Independent and Hackney’s working class majority have forced the agenda. Now it seems that even the national media is acknowledging some of the arguments we’ve been putting forward: that gentrification is not the answer to Shoreditch’s problems.

Hoxton Primary School Wins Last Minute Reprieve

Burbage Primary School in Hoxton has won a reprieve after facing closure. In early April, Hackney Council u-turned on their plan to close the school which has been on “special measures” for two years and is reportedly two thirds full.

Campaigners greeted the news with delight, but there could still be trouble ahead. Councillor Phillip Pearson of the Lib Dems warned that the decision to keep the school open was “politically motivated” and “the school will be kept open until after the election and then hit with closure”. Is this the same party who have the closure of the Angel school lined up in Islington ? Another example of Lib Dems saying one thing here in Hackney where they are in opposition, and another in Islington where they have control of the council.

The closure of local facilities and the sell-off of public assets is just part of a bigger picture of social cleansing in East London and especially Shoreditch. While campaigners for the school should be congratulated on their success in winning a stay of execution, we await the council’s long-term plans with interest.

Hackney IWCA to Distribute 15,000 Local Newsletters in March

Hackney IWCA (Hackney Independent as of summer 2004) has started distributing 15,000 copies of its newsletter, the Hackney Independent, across Hoxton, Haggerston and De Beauvoir. The Hackney Independent is now broadsheet size and has a circulation bigger than the Hackney Gazette.

The main issues covered are:

1) The crisis in Hackney Council – with a lead article on how the Council are putting EVERYTHING up for sale, and an interview with Dave Mackey, Vice Chair of the Hackney Tenants’ Convention.2) Harwood Court – the block that fought back. We look at how Hackney Independent was able to initiate a succesful campaign to bring huge benefits to one Shoreditch tower block – and foil the New Deal officers plans to demolish the block3) ITNet sacked – so where’s our benefits? Hackney Independent’s Carl Taylor gives advice on getting your housing benefits pair, whoever is responsible now.

4) Working class rule in working class areas – interview with Hackney Independent co-ordinator Peter Sutton looking at the New Deal, gentrification and the work of Hackney Independent.

This is the third Hackney Independent newsletter and each time the size of the newsletter has grown and it has covered a bigger area. The Hackney Independent is the only newsletter in the area that counters what is in the professionally-produced newsletters put out by the Council, Pinnacle and the New Deal. No other political organisation puts out a newsletter in Shoreditch outside of elections.

Hackney Independent, Spring 2001 issue (pdf format)

More newsletters



No Rent Rises – No Repair Cuts

40+ tenants activists attended a meeting at Fellows Court on 26th February in reaction to plans by Hackney Council to increase Rents and Council Tax while cutting back on services such as repairs.

The meeting was organised by Hoxton & Haggerston Fightback to enable TRAs to come together and discuss proposals for a public enquiry into the council’s financial incompetence and their insistence that it should be the working class of the borough who once again bail them out.

A Housing Shop Steward from UNISON asked tenants not to believe the propaganda put out by Max Caller and the Labour/Tory group that all Hackney workers are drowning in £££s but did identify some who were – Max himself and his 9 (count ’em, 9) assistant directors. He also stressed the importance of involving local communities in the opposition to the cuts, which is something Hackney Independent have long been arguing for, and which was unanimously applauded.

Fred from Whiston & Goldsmith TRA put the case for a public enquiry, while Noreen from St Mary’s and Anna Maria from Kingsland TRA insisted that tenants had to resist the council’s ‘logic’ that we should all pay more to receive less.
A motion proposing a rent freeze (ie that tenants should withhold the rent increase) was put and agreed in principle. TRAs will discuss the proposals and report back on 12 March to discuss what can be done. Hackney Independent also supports the call for a public enquiry and a rent freeze. If there is widespread agreement for it on our estates we will be involved in the campaign.