Wednesday, 8 October 2014

OPEN's Dalston Terrace court victory - Press round-up

"..Mr Justice Foskett said he was persuaded that OPEN had an arguable case that the council had failed in their duty to consider alternative possibilities for developing the site"

OPEN Campaigners win hearing over ‘Georgian Disney’ development. Council decision to forge ahead with demolition will be examined at judicial review in November

"Hackney has pursued a longstanding policy of studied neglect..."

"Hackney Council has succeeded in destroying some decent Georgian houses, and driving a number of businesses and people out of the area while losing large sums of money at the same time. Brilliant!!


Emma Bartholomew @EmmaReporter

Bill Parry-Davies "feels like jumping up down" over judge’s decision for full Judicial Appeal hearing on council Dalston Terrace decision

Bill Parry-Davies ‏@BillParryDavies Oct 3

@EmmaReporter I can't risk jumping up down in Dalston Lane. I'm told all the buildings might fall down!

Friday, 3 October 2014

Judge grants OPEN permission for a judicial review of Hackney's decisions to demolish Georgian houses

The High Court Judge, Mr Justice Foskett, has today granted OPEN permission for a judicial review of Hackney's decisions to allow total demolition of the surviving Georgian houses in Dalston Lane.

After a tense morning in Court, when OPEN’s barrister picked apart the advice given to Hackney’s Planning Committee, the Judge was persuaded that OPEN has an arguable claim that Hackney had failed to properly consider the options for a genuine conservation-led scheme, when it granted planning permission for total demolition last March. The claim will now be heard over a full one-day judicial review hearing in late November

Hackney allowed Murphy to begin demolition last December. There was public outcry and they only stopped when forced to accept that they needed prior planning permission.

Murphy were granted planning permission on 5th March to demolish all the houses, and last week Hackney discharged the outstanding planning conditions so that demolition could now start at any time. OPEN's solicitors, Dowse and Co., have today written to Hackney and Murphy's lawyers to require undertakings that they will not proceed with any further demolitions until the judicial review is completed. If such undertakings are not given OPEN will return to Court to seek  an injunction to restrain any such demolition.

 The Story of Dalston Terrace 1807 - 2014 (Video) - a story of appalling neglect of our heritage assets and the destruction of our local environment and economy.  

OPEN has also required Hackney and Murphy to withdraw their allegations that all of OPENs Court claims are not challenges to environmental injustice. We say that decisions to destroy these heritage assets come within the Aarhus Convention, which protects environmental challenges, and so Hackney and Murphy are not entitled to threaten OPEN with claims for unlimited costs if we lose. In Aarhus type cases, the Court's rules limit awards of legal costs against an unsuccessful claimant to £10,000.  

OPEN’s offer to  Hackney's Mayor Pipe, to facilitate a 'round table' meeting, between Hackney and the Spitalfields Trust to consider the options, remains open for Hackney to take up. OPEN has yet to receive a reply from Mayor Pipe. Hackney has continued to refuse to meet Spitalfields Trust which has made proposals to restore the 1807 houses and develop the others to provide affordable housing (the Hackney/Murphy scheme provides none).

So in the meantime the fundraising must continue. We have raised £0000s from the community so far but we must be ready to continue the fight against municipal vandalism and to preserve Dalston’s heritage and identity. Thanks to everyone who has donated so generously to pay for legal expenses to date - you have given us inspiration and hope! Some of you have donated £000s but it is the small sums that are really adding up!! We urge everybody to donate whatever they can to support the campaign.

If we win we should recover most of our legal costs. All donations , after legal costs and expenses have been met, will be refunded pro-rata.

 You can donate by PayPal...

or by direct transfer to OPEN's bank account:

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

It ain't over yet. It's just beginning and it could be a long fight.We must not allow it to end like this:


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

High Court to consider whether demolition of Dalston's Georgian houses would be lawful

On Friday 3rd October the High Court will hear OPEN's challenge to Hackney's decision to allow demolition of the Georgian houses in Dalston Lane. The Council's Planning Committee granted permission to demolish  all the surviving houses on 3rd March (Read "One Man Two Votes" Ed.)after hearing the advice of  Hackney's development partner Murphy that, due to long standing neglect, the houses are now beyond repair. The Council had rejected the opinions of independent experts, including those of structural engineers which the Council has itself commissioned ( Read "Was there a cover up" Ed.).

The public are entitled to attend the Court hearing. Details of  the time and place will be announced on twitter @savedalstonlane  and @opendalston on Thursday afternoon

OPEN is extremely grateful to everyone who has donated money to the fight against the municipal vandalism of these historic public assets. Despite its proclaimed policy to conserve these houses the Council has for years stood idly by and watched them deteriorate - what the Georgian Group has described as a "longstanding policy of studied neglect". Even now, Hackney still claims that demolition is implementing a "genuine conservation scheme", although nothing will be conserved. £0000s have been raised to meet the legal costs, and more will be required if on Friday the Court accepts that OPEN has an arguable case.

The houses were built between 1807 and 1830. Hackney first acquired them in 1984 and has since lost fortunes in rent and dereliction by failing to let and maintain them despite its 2006 commitment to conservation and re-use (Read "It's costing us £millions" Ed.) . It even tried to demolish them without planning permission ( Read "Hackney suspends demolitions"  Ed.)

OPEN is also grateful to the hundreds of individuals, and organisations, who lodged objections to the demolition plans. The objectors included three local Conservation Area Advisory Committees, the Hackney Society, The Georgian Group, The Victorian Society, The Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings, SAVE Britain's Heritage, the East End Preservation Society and Spitalfields Trust as well as hundreds of local residents and businesses.

The cavalry are coming! The Spitalfields Trust are the foremost restoration trust nationally but their proposals have so far been ignored by Hackney despite their obvious public benefit compared to Murphy's scheme (read "Hackney rejects Trust's proposals"Ed.).

OPEN had hoped that Hackney would be willing to discuss an alternative scheme by the Spitalfields Trust to restore the houses, and provide 24 affordable homes for local people (Murphy's scheme has no affordable homes at all). Hackney has so far refused to meet to discuss those proposals and a letter from OPEN to Hackney's Mayor Pipe, suggesting a 'round table' meeting, has gone unanswered. This has left OPEN with no option than to fight in Court.


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Georgian houses of Dalston Terrace hold their breath!

Last week OPEN wrote an open letter to Hackney's Mayor, Jules Pipe. OPEN requested that he meets, at a 'round table', with the Spitalfields Trust and OPEN, and any others he chooses. The meeting would discuss the options available to avoid the planned total demolition of the sixteen Georgian houses of Dalston Terrace. Hackney's Mayor has been committed to saving them since 2006. An automated reply informed OPEN that the Mayor should reply to the letter within 10 days.

Time is tight. On 3rd October the High Court will consider whether OPEN's legal challenge, to the lawfulness of Hackney's decisions to demolish the buildings, should be permitted to continue. So far the Court has not prohibited demolition but Hackney, and its development partner Murphy, say they have held off the bulldozers to await the Court's decision.

In the meantime the Spitalfields Trust, hearing of the perilous state of the ancient houses, and the Hackney/Murphy "genuine conservation scheme" for total demolition, have ridden to the rescue.  "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.

Spitalfields Trust has proposed a scheme which not only restores the 1807 pairs of Georgian houses ( and some of their front gardens on Dalston Lane! Ed.) but which would, unlike the Hackney/Murphy scheme, additionally provide 24 affordable flats. What could be more to the public benefit?

Spitalfields Trust's Tim Whittaker has sketched of how the Georgian terrace could be faithfully restore (See Spitalfields Life)

So, we are awaiting Hackney Mayor's reply to OPENs letter.

But, in case we do end up in Court on 3rd October, PLEASE KEEP DONATING TO THE FIGHTNING FUND TO DEFEAT MUNICIPAL VANDALISM !! (Shouting. Ed.)

If we win we should recover most of our legal costs. All donations , after legal costs and expenses have been met, will be refunded pro-rata.

OPEN now has to raise a further £10,000 to fund the legal costs of a full Court hearing. We urge everybody to donate whatever they can to support the campaign.  Please give whatever you can afford to help defeat municipal vandalism and save some of Dalston's surviving fragments of Georgian heritage. You can donate by PayPal...

or by direct transfer to OPEN's bank account:

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

  You can follow the "Save Dalston Lane" campaign on Twitter and Facebook

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

High Court to hear OPEN's challenge to demolition of Dalston's Georgian houses

On 3rd October the Planning Court is to decide whether OPEN should be granted a judicial review of Hackney Council's decisions to demolish sixteen Georgian houses in Dalston Lane. At OPENs recent Annual General Meeting members approved its Directors' decision to ask the Court to reconsider the case at a full Court hearing. It is expected that Hackney will attend the Court hearing and vigorously oppose the application.

Thanks to everyone who has donated so generously to pay for legal expenses to date - you have given us inspiration and hope! Some of you have donated £000s but it is the small sums that are really adding up!!

If we win we should recover most of our legal costs. All donations , after legal costs and expenses have been met, will be refunded pro-rata.

OPEN now has to raise a further £10,000 to fund the legal costs of a full Court hearing. We urge everybody to donate whatever they can to support the campaign.  Please give whatever you can afford to help defeat municipal vandalism and save some of Dalston's surviving fragments of Georgian heritage. You can donate by PayPal...

or by direct transfer to OPEN's bank account:

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

The decisions challenged are those of Hackney's Planning Committee to grant permission for total demolition of the houses and the Council's failure to refer the case back to its' Cabinet, which had originally only granted approval for a conservation scheme and not one for total demolition. You can read the background to this story here.

Hackney favours the developer, Murphy's, opinion that the bricks of the houses are of such poor and decayed quality that demolition is the only option, but Hackney's own independent expert engineers have commented that their analysis is flawed and the real problem is with the design of the scheme - which involves demolishing all the ground floor walls to create 'open plan' shops. The scheme was designed by Hackney's independent design consultants, whose services were later transferred to developer Murphy, and who advise that the scheme which they designed can not now be built.

OPEN has previously successfully challenged the Council for allowing Murphy to demolish the houses without any planning permission at all. It is hoped that if OPEN is successful in its current legal challenge Hackney will then give proper consideration to the offer by Spitalfields Trust to purchase and restore the houses and provide some affordable housing. Hackney's current scheme would provide no affordable housing at all.

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.