Thursday, 14 August 2014

Why demolition of Dalston's Georgian houses is costing us ££millions

A recent expose in Private Eye concluded that "Hackney Council has succeeded in destroying some decent Georgian houses, and driving a number of businesses and residents out of the area while losing large sums of public money at the same time. Brilliant!"

Could such scandalous allegations possibly be true?

There is no doubt that the 17 Georgian houses of Dalston Terrace have been brought perilously close to destruction. Hackney itself has demolished three of them already, and did nothing to protect the remainder throughout its period of ownership. Then, last year it gave the go ahead to demolish the rest, to its 'development partner' Murphy, even before it had granted them planning permission. (Read 'Public stop unlawful demolitions'  Ed.)

There is also no doubt that family businesses have been driven out of the area - when Hackney first owned the houses there were 17 small independent businesses in occupation, some with families living over the shop, but now there are just two. Take a few minutes to watch the film "The story of Dalston Lane" - it's all there.

But has Hackney, as Private Eye alleged, also been "losing large sums of public money at the same time"? If  such a serious charge were true it would be a further damning indictment, not only of Hackney's competence but of its politicians' reputations.

The sorry tale of Dalston Terrace in fact, for Hackney, began happily. It had inherited the houses free of charge, when Ken Livingstone's GLC was abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1982. Sadly for local residents, it's been all downhill ever since.

Between 1984 and 2002 Hackney simply boarded up 11 of the houses when they became vacant and let them deteriorate. In today's money, that's a loss of rent of £175K a year and of the income to maintain them.

In 2002 Hackney had a £70million budget crises ( Hackney's municipal follies of Clissold Leisure Centre and The Ocean had lost about £70m. Ed.). So it decided to have a fire sale of the family silver. It flooded the market with its 'surplus properties', including the Georgian and Victorian houses of Broadway Market and Dalston Lane. The Audit Commission concluded overall that "best consideration could not be demonstrated in all cases during the sales process". The undervalued sales had projected  losses totalling between £9m and potentially £22m. The 17 Georgian houses of Dalston Terrace were sold for £1.8m, at auction as one lot, to an off-shore company. There was only one bidder, because Hackney refused to consider its own tenants' offers.

"But wait", Hackney's top politicians tell us, "those were the bad old days of Labour in-fighting", before the shiny new centralised administration ruled by a directly elected Mayor and his Cabinet. So when the Dalston houses started burning down, and local businesses were being evicted, OPEN members petitioned Mayor Jules Pipe ( Read "Save our Shops". Ed).

In response, in 2006, Hackney announced a conservation led scheme for the houses and adopted policies to protect them."We're keen conservation areas are used to bring buildings back into use and create improvements to the built environment." Hackney's Cllr Nicholson announced. But sometimes actions speak louder than words. After failing to buttress the 3 fire damaged houses, Hackney spent £400K demolishing them in 2007 - just what the off-shore owner wanted!

Eventually however Hackney bought everything back from the off-shore company, in March 2010, for £3.8m -  more than double what it had originally sold them for. Hackney had originally been gifted 17 Georgian houses for free but, after the sale and buy-back, it was now £2.3m in the red, on top of £000,000Ks in lost rents. How would Hackney get our money back?.

                                (c) Hackney Archives

Hackney didn't offer the houses to its remaining tenants, although it had a policy to do so. ( Hackney were advised that tenants will usually pay over market rate, because their homes and businesses are at stake. Ed). Neither did it advertise the seventeen houses for individual sale on conditions for refurbishment. No, Hackney wanted a grand municipal project for the whole terrace.

To make it attractive to a developer, Hackney designed a scheme which involved demolishing all the ground floor walls of the houses ( to create 'open plan' shops) and loading the fragile structures with 44 new flats. It calls it a "genuine conservation-led scheme".  (In fact its a #mimby scheme Ed.).

                                    (c) Mooneyphoto

Hackney took years to put the scheme together. It advertised the development agreement in the little known Official Journal of the European Union and got two bids. In September 2012 it accepted Murphy's offer to pay £2.4m to build the scheme, lease the shops back to Hackney to rent, and sell the flats. (Where else in Dalston town centre could you buy a site to build 44 flats for £2.4m - except from Hackney Council. Ed.)   Architects estimate that, after the cost of buying and building the scheme, Murphy could make in excess of £8m from the sale of the flats.

Unsurprisingly Hackney's scheme was so badly designed that, Murphy said "after closer inspection", it cannot be built without demolishing everything first (Read "Was there a cover up " Ed.). So Hackney, in the face of vociferous objections from local and national societies, granted Murphy planning permission for total demolition (Read "One man. Two votes" Ed.).  Plus Hackney says that because the new build "heritage likeness" scheme is so expensive, Murphy needn't provide any affordable housing.

So Dalston's Georgian terrace, our local architectural heritage which Hackney had been promised would be saved, is now facing total demolition and there will not even be any affordable housing for local people at the end of it. Plus Hackney has lost fortunes. ("Brilliant!" Private Eye)

If Hackney Labour was "genuine" about its 2014 Manifesto claims to “protect the borough's built heritage” its Mayor would at least meet with the Spitalfields Trust to discuss their proposal to faithfully restore the 1807 houses and develop 24 affordable housing association homes.( Read "Hackney refuses Spitalfields Trust's offer" Ed.)  Their scheme will not make £millions for Hackney, or the Spitalfields Trust which is a charity, but the public benefit is obvious.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Hackney refuses Spitalfields Trust's offer to restore Dalston's Georgian houses. For now.

Hackney have so far refused Spitalfields Trust's offer to save the seventeen Georgian houses in Dalston Terrace. The Council granted it's 'development partner', Murphy Homes Ltd, planning permission to demolish the houses last March. OPEN's application for a judicial review of the Planning Committee's decision has yet to be determined by the High Court.

The Spitalfields Trust's offer is to buy out the Murphy contract and faithfully restore the surviving 1807 houses for private sale and to work with a housing association on the remainder to provide 27 flats for social rent, including family homes, and shops generating £75,000pa rent for the Council. The scheme would satisfy all of Hackney's conservation and affordable housing policies, whereas the Murphy scheme satisfies none of them. You can read more at Spitalfields Life here

The Murphy scheme, originally a 'conservation-led' scheme designed for Hackney, now involves demolishing all of the houses and redeveloping the site to provide 44 new flats and "open plan" shops. None of the new flats would be "affordable" despite the Council's stated commitment to meeting local people's needs. The front facades of the new buildings will be built in faux "heritage likeness" which, the Council maintains, means that it is a "genuine" conservation led scheme despite total demolition of all the houses.

The Council's initial reply to the Spitalfields Trust's offer stated  that "the consented scheme represents the best opportunity to bring these premises back from dereliction and into productive use". ( do you 'bring them back' by demolishing them? Ed.) A later reply from Councillor Nicholson, who is Hackney Cabinet's member responsible for "sustainable regeneration", stated that "it would not be appropriate to meet pending the outcome of the judicial review" and that the Council could not unilaterally break its development contract because Murphy had expressed "no intention other than fulfilling their obligations". Hackney have declined disclose the contract containing those obligations, by reason of "commercial confidentiality".

Spitalfields Trust's Tim Whittaker's drawing of the Dalston Terrace houses restored

In 2006 Hackney's Cabinet had adopted a "conservation led" policy for the houses and instructed its officers to achieve a scheme for Dalston Terrace which involved the repair and restoration of the shops and house frontages. Councillor Nicholson has previously stated that the Murphy contract was to implement that scheme. However in January 2014 Murphy began demolishing the houses with Council approval. There was a public outcry and Councillor Nicholson conceded that the demolitions were probably unlawful.

In March 2014 Murphy applied for planning permission to demolish the houses. The architect and structural engineers who had designed and recommended the original scheme for Hackney, but who were now employed by Murphy, recommended that planning permission be granted for complete demolition. After 'closer inspection' their view was now that the Georgian bricks were of too poor quality and the houses were too dilapidated to be repaired. Their opinion is disputed by independent engineers, Alan Baxter Assocs., who were employed by Hackney to give a second opinion  and by the internationally known conservation engineers The Morton Partnership. 

OPEN Dalston campaigners and the Spitalfields Trust have not given up hope for an agreed solution, despite Hackney, and Murphy's current refusal to discuss their involvement in a conservation approach for the houses. Local Dalston Councillors have been involved in the discussion and it is hoped that a scheme which preserves Dalston's local historic character and identity, and which helps meet local housing needs, will ultimately be agreed.

This video shows the appalling neglect and vandalism of the houses by the owners over the last 30 years. Despite the history many of the houses can still be restored and these surviving fragments of Dalston's historic character and identity can be saved.  


Friday, 23 May 2014

Spitalfields Trust offer to save Dalston's Georgian houses from Hackney demolition

Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust have today made a proposal to Hackney Council to buy and restore the 17 Georgian houses of Dalston Terrace which Hackney, and its development partner Murphy Homes Ltd., have planned to demolish later this month. The Spitalfields Trust is also in discussion with Housing Associations for inclusion of affordable housing within the restoration project.

 "We feel we cannot stand by and see these buildings demolished" said Oliver Leigh-Wood of the Spitalfields Trust

Here comes the cavalry!! Spitalfields Trust have rescued numerous historic buildings and are regarded by many as the most successful historic buildings trust in the country. Its projects have included the exemplary restoration of 107/113 Mile End Road , 12/20 Mare Street in Hackney, Turner/Varden Street in Whitechapel and 1/8 Minor Canon Row in Rochester.

The history of the terrace, and the present condition of the surviving houses, is controversial. Although Hackney has had a conservation-led plan since 2006, the unannounced demolition of the houses was halted following community objections last January ( read 'Hackney admits demolition unlawful' here. Ed.) Later, in March, Hackney accepted Murphy's evidence that the houses were all now beyond repair and it granted permission for demolition ( Read 'One man, two votes' here. Ed). However two independent structural engineers provided evidence that some, if not all, can certainly be saved ( read 'Was there a cover up' here. Ed). "The current condition of the houses does not concern us in the least. We have taken on far worse examples" the Spitalfields Trust's says in its letter to Hackney.

This is how Dalston Lane terrace looked at the turn of the century - a thriving terrace of  homes and businesses which have ben reduced to dereliction in the last 30 years

OPEN has raised £0000s from a community campaign to fund legal expenses and commenced Court proceedings against Hackney to try and overturn its decision to permit demolition. Hackney has refused to review its decision or refer the decision back to elected councillors, which had voted only for a conservation led project and not for total demolition. A Court decision is awaited but in the meantime Hackney's development partner, Murphy Homes Ltd., have agreed not to commence demolition before  28th May. 

This video shows the appalling neglect and vandalism of the houses by the owners over the last 30 years. Despite the history many of the houses can still be restored and these surviving fragments of Dalston's historic character and identity can be saved.  


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

OPEN has issued Court proceedings for judicial review of Dalston demolitions

OPEN has issued a claim in the Planning Court to challenge Hackney's decisions to allow demolition of its 200 year old Georgian houses in Dalston Terrace. Hackney granted Murphy Homes Limited, its' "development partner", planning permission to demolish everything on 5th March. OPEN has warned  both Hackney and Murphy that, unless they undertake not to demolish the houses until the Court action is resolved, a Court injunction will be sought to stop them.

OPEN has been advised by specialist planning Counsel that it has an arguable claim. Thanks to everyone who has donated so generously to pay for expenses to date - you have given us inspiration and hope!! OPEN urgently needs more donations to boost its fighting fund. Another £5,000 is needed to get to the next stage. Please give whatever you can afford to help defeat municipal vandalism and save some of Dalston's surviving fragments of Georgian heritage.

                               (c) Mooneyphoto
Shopkeepers have been trading in Dalston Lane's traditional shops for over 100 years but Hackney's designs involve demolishing the ground floor walls to create "open plan" shops. Such structural intervention is very high risk. 

Hackney failed to properly consider the options available when Murphy claimed that implementing the  Hackney-designed scheme would cause the buildings to collapse. Instead, it granted permission for demolition and new build "in heritage likeness" ( Read  "One man. Two Votes" here Ed). Hackney now claims that in a "genuine" conservation led scheme nothing needs to be conserved. (Not even Hackney's claimed reputation as champions of the historic environment. Ed.)

Hackney inherited the houses from the GLC when it was abolished in 1984. During Hackney's ownership 11 of the houses became vacant, none were repaired or re-let and 4 roofs fell in. Hackney sold them to an off-shore company in 2002.

Local architect and OPEN member, Lisa Shell, commissioned the internationally known conservation engineers, Morton Partnership, who advised that by using specialist techniques nearly all the buildings could still be saved. Hackney's own appointed independent engineers, Alan Baxter LLP, advised that the "open plan" designs probably made demolition inevitable, but Hackney failed to ask them what design changes were needed to save the houses . Hackney simply dismissed these respected engineers opinions and supressed their reports. ( Read "Was there a cover up" here Ed.).

Hackney eventually bought the houses back in 2010, but by then four had been destroyed by fires and Hackney demolished them using its Conservation Area powers to make them "wind and watertight". Hackney says demolishing the remainder and building a "heritage likeness " scheme will "enhance the Conservation Area".

All of the 44 new flats will be for private sale without any affordable or social housing at all because, Hackney says, the scheme will run at a loss. In fact the opposite seems to be true. Hackney sold the houses in 2002 for £1.8m and, although it paid £3.75m to buy them back in 2010, in 2013 it sold the development scheme to Murphy for £2.4m. So Hackney has net receipts of £450k and will also receive estimated shop rents of some £50k pa once the development is completed.

Then there is Murphy's windfall saving on VAT if everything is demolished - a VAT exemption applies to new build schemes . (Ahh! So it's a #mimby scheme. Ed.)

Since 2006 Hackney has been committed to a conservation-led  regeneration project, which harnesses the heritage value of the houses. But then, last December, it authorised Murphy to start complete demolition of the 17 houses. It was only when OPEN's solicitor, Bill Parry-Davies, with Lisa Shell and the Hackney Society, challenged the decision that Hackney admitted it was unlawful and that planning permission was first required (Read "Community stops demolitions" here Ed.).

Hackney has refused to review the recent planning permission for demolition and refer the new "demolition and new build" scheme back to the Council which originally had only approved a conservation-led scheme. It is those decisions which OPEN is now seeking to challenge through the Court.

The Vandals: an eastern Germanic tribe which earned notoriety by sacking Rome in the 5th century, but which was later defeated by the Goths.
Vandalism: the gratuitous anti-social destruction of the environment and artistic creations.
Municipal vandalism: the destruction of our cultural heritage by corporate ignorance, deliberate neglect, greed and vanity, all in the name of regeneration, necessity and progress

Friday, 4 April 2014

Hackney has refused to reconsider demolition of its Georgian houses in Dalston Terrace

Hackney has refused to review its decision to allow demolition of all its Georgian houses in Dalston Terrace. Hackney was forced to suspend unlawful demolitions last January and OPEN is again now seeking specialist legal advice about this latest development. Hackney has commented to OPEN's solicitor that demolition will not start before 15 April.

                                      (c) Hackney Archives photo

Early 20th century photo of Dalston Terrace. Seventeen are owned by Hackney but, after a troubled recent history, these fragile survivors of our local heritage are now in a very dilapidated condition

On 5th March the Chair of Hackney's Planning Committee, in the face of a divided Committee, used his casting vote to grant permission for total demolition of the 200 year old houses ( Read "One man, two votes" here. Ed.) . Hackney has refused OPEN's formal request to review that decision, and to refer the scheme back to its Cabinet. In  2011 the Cabinet, with Dalston's Ward Councillor Sophie Linden in the Chair, had authorised Council officers to procure a "conservation led " scheme. In 2012 the Cabinet had also recommended that the Full Council adopt the Dalston Area Action Plan which prescribes a conservation led scheme for Dalston Terrace.

Hackney has had a conservation policy for the houses since 2007 - although you wouldn't think so watching this video. Hackney now argues that, although everything will be demolished, it will still be a 'conservation led' scheme although nothing will be preserved ( Not even Hackney's reputation claiming to be "champions of the historic environment" Ed.) 

Hackney had advertised the development opportunity, in the European OJEU journal, as "restoration of buildings of townscape merit  designated in the Dalston (West) Conservation Area". It later awarded the contract to Murphy, for £2,380,000. The tender competition weighting was Price 55/ Quality 45.(Does that mean Price trumped Quality? Ed.).  Murphy's engineers and architects, who appear to have no conservation accreditation, now consider that the buildings are beyond redemption and must all be demolished - although Muphy had entered the contract in June 2013 knowing full well of the problems with Hackney's designs..

                                       (c) Mooneyphoto

Hackney's designs require the ground floor interiors of the 1807 houses to be ripped out to create "open plan" shops - which independant engineers Alan Baxter Associates have advised would cause the buildings to collapse. Hackney thinks there's no place in Dalston  Terrace for traditional shops, like in Broadway Market and  Covent Garden, although it was recently advised that creating a "village feel" would be the most viable option for the houses. Shopkeepers have been trading in Dalston Terrace, without 'open plan', for more than 100 years.

When selecting Murphy as its development partner, Hackney's requirements included ".....a proven track record in projects involving the regeneration of Georgian/Victorain buildings"....."demonstrate previous experience of the restoration of period shopfronts and rebuilding/partial rebuilding of late Georgian and Victorian properties".  Murphy's moto is "Breathing life into infrastructure projects" -but sadly not, it would seem, breathing life into Georgian houses.

                                (c) Mike Wells
Murphy's have expertise in pipework and undertook excavations on the London 2012 Olympic site to bury cables from electricity pylons.  Here is one of their trucks  transporting spoil from the former West Ham landfill on the 2012 Olympic site (Shouldn't the spoil be covered? Ed.) The site was discovered to be severely contaminated with radioactive and other toxic waste.  
NUKEM's Radiation and Contamination Report, dated 11.3.08, records a survey of Murphy's Yard "to find contaminated area of soil levelled by Murphy's last week to extend yard" on London's 2012 Olympic site. The survey identified radioactive material emitting gamma radiation of up to 6,000 counts per second - 20 times the level deemed safe to leave on site. It is not known if Murphy and their workforce were aware of these hazards.

                                (c) Mooneyphoto

Murphy began demolition of the backs of Dalston Terrace's Georgian houses in January 2014, with Hackney's authority, but without first satisfying planning conditions and without planning permission. They withdrew after community complaints. ( Read "Was there a cover up" Ed.)

Hackney has refused to reconsider its decisions to permit total demolition and so, it now seems, only a Court Order could stop the demolitions. OPEN has launched an appeal for contributions to its fighting fund. £000's have already been donated, but £0000s are urgently needed if municipal vandalism is to be defeated.

Please urgently make bank transfers to:
OPEN Dalston

Barclays Bank
Sort code: 20-46-57
Account 33274659

Donations of £250 or greater will be refunded in the case of an excess of funds; but it is the many donations of £10 that will make all the difference.

The Vandals: an eastern Germanic tribe which earned notoriety by sacking Rome in the 5th century, but which was later defeated by the Goths.
Vandalism: the gratuitous anti-social destruction of the environment and artistic creations.
Municipal vandalism: the destruction of our cultural heritage by corporate ignorance, deliberate neglect, greed and vanity, all in the name of regeneration and progress

Friday, 21 March 2014

Iain Sinclair's "America Ground " and the film "The UK Gold"

If you missed the OPEN film and poetry event at CafĂ© Oto last December, with Iain Sinclair and William Taylor, you can catch up now. Obtain a copy here of the film "The UK Gold" which exposes the City of London Corporation's demonic complicity in corporate exploitation worldwide by the use of tax avoidance and tax havens. It features William Taylor who this week won election to the City as Labour's first sucessful candidate.

 'Best Documentary' at London's 2013 East End film festival.  Mark Donne's  film "The UK Gold"  You can order your copy here.  "A shining piece of film-making on the darkness at the heart of the City....this is a film no-one should avoid" Daily Mirror.

At the OPEN event we also heard Iain Sinclair read from his latest work "American Smoke" and describe the beat poets he met on his wanderings. Iain also performed, in collaboration with Bill Parry-Davies on tenor saxophone, an extract from the book, "America Ground", which tells of an historic declaration of independence for occupied land in Hastings. You can hear that, and more of Iain and Bill's collaborations, here , including  Mike Well's short film "Gold Dust" about the reckless exhumation of radioactive waste on London's 2012 Olympic Park

Friday, 14 March 2014

OPEN's legal demand that Hackney cease demolition of Dalston Terrace

OPEN's solicitors have today written to Hackney Council requiring its undertaking that it will stop all demolition of Dalston Terrace until its Cabinet, and its Planning Committee, have reviewed their decisions. The Council's development partner , Murphy Homes Ltd., has also been informed of the letter.

                                                  (c) Mooneyphoto

Dalston Terrace houses , with Barratt's towers of Dalston Square beyond 

Since 2005 Hackney's policies have been to preserve and enhance the Dalston Lane (West) Conservation Area, of which the Georgian houses in Dalston Terrace comprise more than half the total number of buildings.

Hackney launched a conservation-led regeneration project in 2006. It's Cabinet later authorised its officers to recruit a design team to obtain planning permission, and to procure a development partner, for a conservation led refurbishment scheme.  But on March 5th its Planning Committee, by its Chair's second vote, agreed to permit complete demolition of all the buildings.

This video shows Hackney's neglect and indifference to these houses which it claims are now beyond repair. Will Hackney now stop the planned commercially-led, demolition and new build, scheme? The Georgian Group stated that it "is saddened that your Council is contemplating rewarding itself...for the deliberate neglect  of this group of heritage assets".

No longer conservation led , the new scheme will finally destroy all of the surviving 13 Georgian houses of Dalston Terrace, and damage the Conservation Area. It is contrary to all public policy derived from public consulation. Neither will there be any affordable housing. (Where is the public benefit? Ed.)

OPEN has launched an appeal for contributions to its fighting fund. £000's have already been donated, but £0000s are urgently needed if municipal vandalism is to be defeated.

Please make bank transfers to:
OPEN Dalston

Barclays Bank
Sort code: 20-46-57
Account 33274659

Donations of £250 or greater will be refunded in the case of an excess of funds; but it is the many donations of £10 that will make all the difference.

The Vandals: an eastern Germanic tribe which earned notoriety by sacking Rome in the 5th century, but which was later defeated by the Goths.
Vandalism: the gratuitous anti-social destruction of the environment and artistic creations.
Municipal vandalism: the destruction of our cultural heritage by corporate ignorance, deliberate neglect, greed and vanity, all in the name of regeneration and progress