Save Hackney Wick

Urban Planning: Save Hackney Wick

Many things have changed since the London 2012 Summer Olympics; the world was struck by a global financial crisis, the UK voted to leave the European Union, COP21 in Paris made promising headway to tackle the world’s Climate change but was quickly trailed by Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States… Despite the myriad of changes that have occurred over the past five years there remains a corner of East London working hard to hold onto its traditions.

Hackney Wick, moored alongside the Lee Navigation River, is alive with creativity, music and history. Juxtaposed with the renovated Olympic Park are old factories lining the canal. These factories and warehouses hold an important message; there is a way to preserve affordable rents in a market of seemingly exponential growth.

The wake of summer 2012 brought many economic benefits to London, possibly most notably to the construction industry with powerful businesses choosing to invest in the region to build properties with a river view. However, in order to make way for the 17 days of glory1, casualties were also incurred. 450 tenants2 were forced out of their low rent accommodation Clays Lane housing estate East London and displaced into more expensive, often unaffordable, places elsewhere. In sighting the impression that the benefits from the Olympic games are to a rich portion of the community, and not to offer additional welfares to the local people.

The Local Plan is a series of policies set up to utilise the renovations to London in the lead up to, and since summer 2012, whilst at the same time securing heritage buildings and conservation areas, all identified within the policy. Moreover, to regularly review the way to manage the effects and impacts of new developments in the East of London3. With the aspiration to promote regeneration for socio-economic and environmental factors in the surrounding area, the methods for providing low-cost workspaces are detailed in the policy as follows:

Providing low-cost and managed workspaces: Existing managed and low-cost workspace shall be retained where viable and where it complements wider plans for the area. New managed workspace and/or low-cost workspace will be encouraged.4

Furthermore, there are a series of characteristics to be met in order for the Local Plan to be activated to conserve affordable work spaces, the following is a non-exhaustive list must be adhered to; a management scheme is put in place, the spaces will be secured at the low rental value in order to preserve for cultural or creative projects, and it must have associations with a formally registered workspace provider.

Work Spaces

Several factories in Hackney Wick are no longer used for their original industrial purpose, and owing to their large capacity they have been transposed into the above-mentioned workspaces for creative business, artists and musicians. Often these buildings are created by collective yet informal methods to tackle the growing market prices versus what artists can realistically afford to pay. The average rental costs for London in 2016 reached £1509 per month, a staggering £600 increase on prices across the rest of the UK.5 The converted factories undercut this with some spaces costing as little as £300 a month.

hackney-wick-white-building

The spaces are self-built and self-regulated. Meaning upon moving into the factories the residents are met with a building shell in need of love and attention to transport it to a suitable working environment. Unless the inhabitants want to sleep in the same room that they work they must construct their own bedrooms. These are often made from a few pieces of discarded wood collected from local businesses, pieces of MDF bought from hardware stores, or even a simple curtain to form a minimal visual barrier between work and relaxation. Having been lucky enough to spend many laughter-filled weekends throughout the summer of 2013, drinking ciders as the sun set over the Lee river, I experienced first-hand the community spirt that fills the streets and lines the canals. I believe that the factory settings, such as The Old Peanut Factory, act as a catalyst to build relationships between the neighbours, something confirmed with the offerings of support to construct the makeshift bedrooms by providing tools, supplies and most importantly time.

Nevertheless, a cloud of controversy surrounds these live-in work spaces, owing to some of them not falling under the council tax umbrella. This is a grey area of negotiations which could be abused without the implementation of formal regulations to comprehend who, if any, of the people entering the work spaces are simply trying to obtain cheap living prices, or if they genuinely require full utilisation of the services. Solutions to maintain fair practices within these apartments can once again be traced to the Local Plan initiative which is working to make each unit linked to a workspace provider and reduce self-regulation methods.

Threats

Hackney Wick has a character unique to its occupants, I have not experienced the same feeling elsewhere in London, or across the UK. The Local Plan framework has good intentions to preserve this character however with no formal mechanisms it appears that the conservation is more effective to protect the buildings rather than the inhabitants. The regulation under the Local Plan states that the protected areas cannot be knocked down unless they are being replaced with a suitable alternative, nevertheless the majority of the time the substitute is more expensive and eliminates the current residents from moving into the new structure. Hackney Wick, along with the rest of London, exist in the realm of tenancy agreements with no rent controls to protect against price increases. Despite the live-work spaces having a lower rent than similar sized platforms across London they are not immune to price increases. The landowners are all too aware of the financial benefits on offer if they were to sell their land to construction companies, and with this in mind are able to dramatically increase rent prices every two years. As the workspaces are self-regulated, they have been combatting the increase in costs by sub-letting to additional artists. Adding to the collection of MDF bedrooms and consequently reducing the tangible space available for work.  These incremental increases to the buildings charges may soon out-price the creative sector, and in the absence of strong regulations or political commitment there are no devices to prevent industries erasing the conglomerative charm and setting up their office headquarters, or demolishing the existing factories and warehouses to be replaced with state of the art apartments for affluent people.

Outcomes

Throughout my time in Hackney and during my research, there is one thought on my mind: “is it fair to maintain these building’s reduced rents when every day the surrounding areas are becoming increasingly expensive?” My conclusion in short is, yes. Upon reflection it is clear that the scales are unfairly balanced, the prices for suitable work spaces in London are simply too high and should be reduced. It is fundamental to protect people’s right to affordable housing and these converted factories are one method that, for the most part, is succeeding. However, with increasing pressure from developers on landowners, and without a clear method to maintain this in the long term there may be a second wave of displacement concentrated to the creative population. London is considered the world’s creative capital and yet the increasing costs are pricing this demographic out of the market.

Therefore, could ownership be the method to successfully protect these communities from construction industries and companies trying to benefit from the Olympic Games’ impacts? Buying buildings may not a be a sustainable process globally with the complications of raising enough capital to cover the total value, however there are cases in Europe where self-funding has been fruitful. Reported in El Pais during 2013, a co-operative was formed to buy Viktoria Military Barracks building in Hamburg, upon achieving their monetary target it was rented to creative local professionals at affordable, sustainable prices6. An example close to my heart is The Cube Microplex cinema and cultural events venue located in my hometown of Bristol. It is operating under a non-profit co-operative which in 2013 accomplished raising enough funds, with the support of the local community, to purchase the freehold of the building7.

cube

Along the same lines, Save Hackney Wick is a is a non-profit organisation working with local authorities to reduce the impact on the creative community due to the increasing network of developments. Harmonized with the community Right to Bid policy (Localism Act 2011), the community has a right to decide what happens in their neighbourhood9. Vitoria Wharf and Stour space have been categorised as Valuable Public Venues through this policy, it creates a barrier to prevent demolition or modification. The organisation is working to generate money by using the centres as art galleries, music venues, cafés and studios; putting the money back into the community through the local borough’s Action Plan. This can be summarised with the description,“Stour Space was once a disused, unsafe building, and through the intuition and motivation of the local community it blossomed into a multi-functional venue8,”  The success of these two creative spaces and the money generated by the non-profit organisation will be invested to support the local council with their budget cuts by community lead and community engagement methods. A positive feedback loop – the community supports the complex and in turn the complex support the community.

Conclusion

Therefore, in conclusion, many things have changed since 2012, but one of the most important things to remember is the subsequent message; the main changes made to neighbourhood are implemented through policies and regulations, but where bureaucracy does not allow for community conservation or fair living standards, Hackney Wick has proven that local people hold a great deal of power and are a vital mechanism to implement and maintain a social, economic and environmental balance.

Save Hackney Wick.

References

Communications

Marrero, 1., 20017. [Telephone conversation on Hackney Wick Affordable Workspaces] (personal communication, 18 January)

Websites

1 Olympics (2012), http://guardianlv.com/2012/07/17-days-of-glory-the-2012-olympics/, accessed 25/01/2017

2 Displacement (2008), https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2008/jun/02/olympics2012, accessed 25/01/2017

3 Local Plan, http://www.queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk/-/media/lldc/local-plan/adoption-july-2015/lldc_localplan_2015_interactive100dpi-(4).ashx?la=en, page 5

4Local Plan, http://www.queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk/-/media/lldc/local-plan/adoption-july-2015/lldc_localplan_2015_interactive100dpi-(4).ashx?la=en, page 34

5 Rent Prices, https://homelet.co.uk/homelet-rental-index/london, accessed 25/01/2017

6Hamburg Affordable housing (2016), http://elviajero.elpais.com/elviajero/2016/12/15/actualidad/1481814894_704970.html, accessed 25/01/2017

7The Cube (2016), http://www.cubecinema.com/about/, accessed 25/01/2017

8Stour Space (2016), https://savehackneywick.org/stour-space-and-counter-cafe accessed 25/01/2017

9Localism Policy (2011), https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/2010-to-2015-government-policy-localism/2010-to-2015-government-policy-localism#appendix-1-community-right-to-build, accessed 25/01/2017

Images

Image 1: Hackney Canal (2013), http://fadmagazine.com/2013/07/29/gosee-the-floating-cinema-the-extra-ordinary-sailing-to-a-dock-near-you-throughout-london-this-summer/ accessed 24/01/2017

Image 2: The Cube Microplex (2015), http://www.lilydoughball.com/2015/01/13/bristols-best-bits-cube-microplex/, accessed 27/01/2017


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