Thursday, 15 September 2016

Passing Clouds and the battle against the bland

The iconic Dalston live music club - Passing Clouds - is calling on all lovers of live music and cultural diversity to join its protest this Saturday 17th September against the closure of countless London's music clubs in recent years and its own recent eviction.

"It is vital that developers and planners recognise that it is venues like these that contribute so much to make areas desirable. " Meg Hillier MP, Hackney South

Campaigners will assemble in Hoxton Square at 4pm and process to Passing Clouds for a presentation at 6pm to Landhold Developments ( who have evicted the club from their premises). At 6:30pm campaigners will meet in Gillett Square for an event featuring musicians (including Dele Sosimi and Winton Reedy), representatives of closed or threatened venues including the 12 Bar, the Silver Bullett, Shapes, the Passage, the Spitz and Fabric and speeches from representatives including the Mayor of London's office and the Music Venue Trust. The event will undoubtedly feature Passing Clouds legendary friendliness, flamboyance and fun 

"Passing Clouds is a marker of place. The locality needs it. The city at large needs the noise it makes and the life it contains." Iain Sinclair

OPEN members will recall the earlier battles, to save the iconic Four Aces Club and Labrynth music venues which now lie beneath the privatised towers of Dalston Square. We also remember that Passing Clouds graciously hosted OPEN's fund raising event to fight the demolition of our Georgian houses in Dalston Lane.

Michael Rosen performing with the Dulce Tones at our Passing Clouds OPEN fundraiser 

Sadly Passing Clouds itself is now another casualty of the relentless rise in land values and predatory capital . This leads to the eviction of cultural enterprises for more profitable redevelopment. We are fighting a battle for local character and for diversity against the homogenisation  of our cultural landscape. It is a battle against the bland.

Campaigners are seeking to raise awareness of planning authorities powers under the Community Asset Register and the Article 4 Planning Directions to protect cultural industries and the other local assets which sustain our local economy and contribute vibrancy to our community.  All power to them.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Dalston resident wins Court battle to save the sunshine for nursery school kids

After lengthy and hotly contested court proceedings, a local resident has won her battle to save the sunlight for future generations of school children. A senior judge of the Planning Court has revoked Hackney's grant of planning permission for a three storey block of private flats which was to overshadow a nursery school's outdoor space.

Kids and parents of Clovestone school celebrate the Court victory which has saved their sunshine

The block of flats was to be built right across the southern boundary of the nursery's playground/outdoor classroom at the Grade II Listed Colvestone Primary School off Dalston's Ridley Road.

An artists impression showing the scale of the development which has now been defeated

Before making their planning application the developer/architects' firm, Chan and Eayrs, had personally surveyed the site. They had even counted the bricks to establish the height of the walls which surround  the Nursery school's outside space. But their sunlight expert modelled the outside space as if it were virtually in full sun, with only fence posts and not the high brick walls which enclose and already partially shade the space. The expert then calculated and advised the Council that the area would still remain "well lit" after the planned development. 

The Nursery Head Teacher had written twice to Hackney's planning officer to object to the modelling error. Others, including the school's Head Teacher, went to the Committee meeting last September 2015 and objected in person. An adjournment to obtain an independent sunlight report, to correct the error, was refused. The Committee members voted for and against granting the planning permission in equal numbers but, on the recommendation of Hackney's case officer, permission was given by the use of the Committee Chairman's casting vote.

Chair of Hackney's Planning Committee, Councillor Vincent Stops, in happier times

The developer/artchitect Zoe Chan, pictured below with her partner Merlin Eayrs, attended the Committee meeting, with their sunlight expert, and heard the community's objections but neither said anything about the error in their report. Ms Chan was later named as an 'interested party' in the judicial review Court proceedings, but took no part in them.

After the decision to grant planning permission, local resident Judith Watt paid for an independent sunlight opinion. It advised, contrary to the developer's opinion, of a potential "increase of two to three times the existing levels of overshadowing". An application was immediately made to the High Court for a judicial review of Hackney's planning permission. Judith also wrote to Hackney's Mayor, who said he shared her concern about the effect of the development but that he was powerless to intervene in planning decisions. ( True. Planners and Committee members must act independently from political influence. Ed.) Judith's judical review application was initially rejected by the Court but she appealed successfully and battled on. And now she was getting the benefit of a second independent expert's advice and reports, which were paid for by the Council's own Hackney Learning Trust.( So public money was used both to fight the case as well as to defend it. Thanks Hackney! Ed). 

Eventually in April, six months after the Court case started, the developer's expert acknowledged his error -  the surrounding brick walls had been omitted from his calculations. The loss of sunlight, he now calculated, would be more than double what the Committee had been told.

But, despite this set back, Hackney not only continued to defend its Planning Committee's decision but it produced further evidence from the same developer's expert who had mislead the Committee originally. Hackney argued that the original error would have made no difference because more than 50% of the outdoor area would still have a yearly average of at least two hours direct sunshine a day and this exceeded the British Research Establishment (BRE) minimum guideline for playgrounds. The fact that most of the sunshine would be during the summer holidays, and that in winter the area would become totally overshadowed, was not considered relevant. As for any adverse impact on the health, education and well being of the children, Hackney said that the Court had no power to interfer with the planning permission because the Committee members were well aware of the consequences from what the Head Teacher had told them before the decision was made.

The Judge, His Honour Mr Justice Gilbart, revoked Hackney's planning permission. He found that the effect on the children from the loss of sunlight was an issue of critical importance. The error in the developers' advice to the Committee had, he said, created a "misleading picture" which had resulted in "unfairness".
 It was also argued, for Judith, that the BRE guideline was not a formula to be applied mechanically in every case, regardless of the actual context and effects of the loss of sunlight. The Judge found that, even though the accepted guideline on minimum sunlight for playgrounds would be exceeded, the Committee could still have refused permission.

Steely and determined, Judith Watt arrives at Court 2 of the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand. She's a woman with a passion for social and environmental justice and her win is on behalf of future generations of Dalston's children.

Judith expressed delight at the Court's decision saying "Only one in ten of applications for judicial review are successful so we've beaten the odds. It has been a long slog to get to this point but worth it to protect the children’s right to sunshine."

Judith's solicitor, Bill Parry-Davies, who acted under a "no win no fee" agreement, commented "It has set a useful precedent for challenging decisions where later evidence shows that a planning authority had been misled, innocently or otherwise, by a developer . The judgment also reflects the importance of carefully considering and safeguarding the benefit of sunlight in the context of each individual case and treating guildelines as just that and not as fixed rules. Sunlight is so important, paticularly for the health and well being of children - indeed, it's essential to life itself" 

The case has been reported here in the Hackney Citizen

Although the planning permission has been revoked, Dalston residents should watch out because there is likely to be a new application to develop the site in due course. Let's hope that it will be more respectful of local needs.

Back stories:

Dalston resident wins right to fight for children's sunlight
Luxury flats will make Colvestone School Nursery resemble a prison
Independent report reveal loss of sunlight to Colvestone School Nursery
Hackney Plannning Committee deicison blights Dalston Nursery Schoool

Thursday, 24 March 2016

London Fields 'Quietway' causes massive local row

If you've been approached recently by cycle campaigners on-line, or on Broadway Market and Queensbridge Road,  you will be aware of the traffic planning scheme to install 13 road blocks in the London Fields area and to create, as its centerpiece, a cyclists Quietway along Middleton Road. You might also have seen local residents arguing with the cycle campaigners and read the recent story in the Hackney Citizen. The planned TfL Quietway has turned into a massive local row.

This map is a snapshot of annual mean air pollution in the London Fields area based on 2010 data. The red and orange corridors show that Mare Street, Richmond Road and Queensbridge Road exceeded the World Health Organisation's, and the EU Directive limit for safe air , namely  40ug/m3 for  nitrogen dioxide (NO2) - a poisonous and  carcinogenic gas produced by vehicles.

The new Quiteway cycle routes are part of  the GLA Mayor's policies, and Transport for London's plans, to promote cycling and discourage driving in London which in some places, frequently, suffer from the highest level of air pollution of any world city. It is estimated that at least 9,000 Londoners suffer early deaths every year from air pollution.

Research has shown that children exposed to air pollution are the most vulnerable to intellectual and physical detriments including higher incidences of asthma and other chronic diseases like strokes, heart disease and cancer.

But the massive local row isn't between car owners and cyclists, nor about the lifetime illnesses which traffic pollution causes. No one wants fume filled streets. The row is about the transparency of the traffic planning process and whether construction of up to 13 roadblocks will make a bad thing even worse.

The TfL Quietway2 route includes a cycle path crossing the middle of London Fields and along Middleton Road

The general public first became aware of TfLs plans, for the construction of the Wathamstow to Bloomsbury Cycle Quietway route, from a press release in December 2014. TfLs agent, Sustrans, had been working with local Council's  and the London Cycling Campaign for over a year previously on the plans. Sustrans were later awarded the 3 year contract, after OJEC public advertisement,  to implement the Quietways.

TfL publically states that Quietway route consultations will be carried out by Council's locally. But Hackney's consultation is not about the route.  Local residents and park users are not being consulted about the the carve up through London Fields (already used by up to 4,000 cyclists per day) and whether it should run along Middleton Road. Hackney Consultation is limited to whether to instal up to thirteen road blocks around the Middleton Road route.

"Just tell them its common land and so we can do whatever we want with it"

London Fields is common land, also called Lammas Land, like the lands that were requisitioned by the GLA for the London 2012 Olympics. London's common land is protected by the Metropolitan Commons Act 1866. The Bye Laws for Hackney's public open spaces forbid cycling and building structures on them without express Council permission. The exclusion of the commoners from any part of the common land would first require a local inquiry by the Secretary of State.

Hackney's consultation presents a number of Options.  Option 1 proposes thirteen roadblocks, and two bus gates, which divide the area into 3 'cells', which preclude through traffic crossing the area, but enables local residents to have access via a limited number of entry/exit points. This option is opposed by four local residents' associations but supported by TfL and the Council. Cycle campaigners argue roadblocks are needed to ensure a safe Quietway route for cyclists of all abilities along Middleton Road .

Such was Hackney's enthusiasm to be one of the first London Councils to have a Quietway, it decided to immediately implement all thirteen roadblocks, and divide London Fields, as a "trial". Without any public consultation at all. There were red faces all round and an embarrassing climb down when the Council was faced with democratic outrage.

Unless drivers switch to other modes of transport (walking, cycling buses etc) the Option1 roadblocks will inevitably increase the distances travelled by local and through traffic to reach their destinations, and so increase air pollution generally.

This illustration was produced by the Mapledene Area Residents Association to highlight its concerns, regarding increased air pollution, and increased cycle traffic across the London Fields common land. It recommends Option 4  -  width restriction on Middleton Road to stop HGVs using it.

Another effect of the roadblocks will be to concentrate traffic, and its pollution, by pushing significantly more vehicles onto unrestricted roads, particularly Richmond and Queensbridge Roads which are not only already the most polluted roads locally but also where many schools and nurseries are situated.

You can read the Council's documents and make your views known to them about the London Fields scheme here.  NOTE: public consultation closes at midnight Easter Sunday 27th March 2016.

The Council's consultation does not suggest any Quietway route except Middleton Road, although Albion Drive already has about 50% less traffic than the minimum for a Quietway, whilst Middleton Road has about 100% more. Hence the need for 13 roadblocks to make a safe Middleton Quietway possible - which is the route already upon decided by the authorities. 

Public transport money could perhaps be better targeted at reducing air pollution where there are the highest concentrations of Hackney inner-city children ie around schools and housing estates. Targeted schemes are being tried in other cities

It wont be the first time that TfL and Hackney Council have decided that the most expensive, and least beneficial transport scheme is the one that's good for us. Ed)

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Dalston resident wins right to fight for kids sunlight

Dalston resident, Judith Watt, has been granted permission to judicially review a decision by Hackney's Planning Committee. She is challenging a development of private flats which will severely overshadow Colvestone School Nursery's outdoor classroom.

A 9.5 metre high block will extend right across the southern boundary of the school's outdoor classroom , blocking out sunlight and obscuring views from Ridley Road market of the Grade II Listed school building

Councillor Stops,  Chair of  Hackney's Planning Committee, used his casting vote on 2nd September to ensure that the development was approved. He did the same to approve the demolition of Dalston Lane's Georgian terrace. Usually a casting vote is used to preserve the status quo until there is a majority for change - but not in Hackney.

Hackney's Mayor, Jules Pipe, has written to Judith to share his concern about the development but said that he was powerless to interfere with independent planning decisions. When it originally sold the development site in 2002 Hackney had sought to retain the "right to uninterrupted light" to the school, Hackney is still investigating whether it can enforce the sale restriction.

 Judges can only overrule a bad decision if a procedural error can be proved. In other words, Councils' are entitled to foul it up, provided they do so properly. Judith applied for permission to judicially review the decision at a Court hearing on 28 January and was successful. Judge Cranston found that her claims are arguable - that Hackney had misapplied sun lighting guidelines, failed to give weight to an earlier relevant planning refusal and had failed to consider national, London Plan and local policies designed to protect the health, education and well being of children. In due course there will be a one-day trial of her claims.

The developers, Chan and Eyres, whose planning permission is being challenged described their designs as "sensitive to the amenity of surrounding buildings" and to "maximise natural light into habitable rooms". Their website, before recent amendment, stated "We believe that simple things like the natural light that fills a space and awakens your spirits...enriches life in a way that is priceless"
But if Judith loses her judicial review and the development proceeds, the nursery school childrens' open space will lose most of its sunlight and be plunged into shadow.  

Friday, 8 January 2016

Crossrail2: OPEN Dalston's proposals to TfL for limiting the damage to Dalston.

OPEN Dalston has today responded to TfL's consultation plans for a Crossrail2 tube station in Dalston. Whilst welcoming the plans there are likely to be major impacts on local homes, businesses, amenities like Ridley Road market as well as to the historic environment. Whole streets may be demolished. You can read our proposals to TfL, which suggest alternatives to their plans, here.

You can let TfL know your views by completing their questionnaire or sending an email to . TfL's public consultation closes today 8th January at 5pm .

We reproduce an below an extract from our representations which relates to our proposals for surface level ventilation shafts.

6          Ventilation Shafts – design and location

Construction of surface ventilation shafts in a tight urban area like Dalston carries the risk of demolition of character buildings and an obvious potential to create a featureless void which will make a negative contribution to the surrounding area which, in Dalston’s case, is one of considerable sensitivity.

We wish to make proposals to Crossrail2 to consider mitigating this. We wish to explore with TfL

- the recovery of heat generated in the Underground to supply heat and/or hot water to neighbouring properties ( most likely to those developed on left-over land which Crossrail2 acquires for its railway construction operations)
-  the capture at surface level, the surplus heat and CO2 emissions from the Underground which would otherwise go to waste, for their use in plant growing.

The recycling of heat generated in underground railways is not a novel idea, and has been utilised in Stockholm, Paris and Islington. Heat recovery would contribute to significant energy saving.
The recycling of surplus heat and CO2 emissions for plant growing is innovative and would contribute to bio-diversity. The imaginative development of vent shafts could, by good design, create such functionality and mitigate the environmental damage caused to their locations. The capturing heat and CO2 has been devised and successfully trialed in Dalston by the award winning scientist Charlie Paton who also invented seawater greenhouses.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Looking forward to 2016. A Dalston future.

In the post of March last year we celebrated OPENs tenth birthday which concluded by foreshadowing some developments for 2016.

We welcomed, after three years of campaigning, the proposed new Dalston Conservation Area (which it is hoped will go before the Council for approval in January). But we also raised concerns about areas which had been missed out -  what Hackney has called Dalston's "Cultural Quarter" - the Reeves Printhouse, the Railway Tavern, the old houses at 10-16 Ashwin Street and 16-22 Dalston Lane, Why was Hackney not conferring Conservation Area protection on them as well, we asked? Was there another plan?

It now appears that on 23 November Hackney's Cabinet approved plans to sell four of these Dalston sites in a single development agreement with a private sector partner. It's Finance Director confirmed that the plan would "maximise capital and rental values" for the Council. The Council had not consulted anybody about whether such a strategic decision, affecting many of Dalston's much loved public buildings and cultural enterprises including the Eastern Curve Garden, should be disposed of in such a manner or, indeed, at all.

The Council responded to the Hackney Citizen by saying it would be consulting on the plan. But how can the Council consult genuinely now, after the strategic decision has already taken by its Cabinet?

We also foreshadowed the planned implementation of Crossrail 2, aka the Chelsea to Hackney tube (although it will no longer being going to Hackney Central). The plans now appear to threaten demolition not only of historic buildings in Dalston and Kingsland but possibly whole streets of businesses and homes, for example Bradbury Street. Transport for London have allowed until only 8th January for the public to respond to its proposals. You can read our review of the plans, "Look out Dalston! Dont Get Hit By A Runaway Train ", and you can make your views known to TfL here, Consultation closes on 8th January.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Hackney to sell Dalston's "Cultural Quarter"

Hackney has resolved to sell four of its central Dalston sites as one "comprehensive development/ refurbishment package" for "regeneration".  Hackney's Cabinet reached its decision on 23 November without any prior public consultation.

The four sites, to be marketed as the "Dalston Quarter", include the Council's land on part of the Eastern Curve Garden, the former Railway Tavern and the 1865 houses on Ashwin Street, the former CLR James library and the last surviving 1790 Georgian Houses on Dalston Lane.

Hackney owns the entrance land of the hugely popular Eastern Curve Garden. The Kingsland Shopping Centre owns the remainder of the land. The Garden, within Site 1, would be unlikely to survive as we know it if  part were to be developed in a way which compromised present uses.

Although some of the sites are vacant, following demolitions, a number include historic buildings. The Council report states that "buildings with heritage significance will be cherished" but it also reminds of its duty to obtain "best consideration."

Hackney is presently converting the former Railway Tavern,within Site 1, into flats and is marketing the ground floor and basement for commercial uses

V22 Gallery presently occupy these three houses, within Site 1, at 10-16 Ashwin Street for exhibitions and artists' studios

Many of the buildings are occupied by social and cultural enterprises which will be directly affected by the Council's plans for a "comprehensive development/ refurbishment package" . Tenants are often required to give up possession to enable "refurbishment" to proceed. Hackney's report states that the cluster of businesses are "major assets to the character of the town centre" but has also not ruled out private residential development

The last surviving 1790 Georgian houses, within Site 3 at 16-22  Dalston Lane, are occupied in part by Hackney Co-Operative developments and the Farm Shop

The former CLR James library is part of the Council plan. It is part of Site 3 and is presently occupied by Hackney Community Voluntary Services

For three years, since the leaked report "Dalston's heritage under threat", OPEN has been pressing for an extension of Dalston Lane (West) Conservation Area. Although Hackney plan to designate a seperate new Conservation Area covering the High Street, it has done virtually nothing so far to give these town centre buildings heritage protection. Its reasons for delay remain questionable.

Although the Council's "vision" is for a "vibrant exciting quarter"  with "spill out places" and "pedestrian meandering"  (That's enough estate agency waffle. Ed.) it is clear that the existing businesses and diversity already within the area could be at serious risk from the "comprehensive" treatment of all 4 sites, as a single package, which the Council is planning.