On Friday 14 August 2020 Gareth Furby of BBC’s film on ‘Car Bars’ on the Boundary Estate was aired. It shone a spotlight on a growing problem that has plagued residents of the Boundary Estate and surrounding area for the last two years. Where increasingly visitors to the Shoreditch Night Time Economy (NTE) drive to the area, park on residential streets and use their cars as a base to socialise, before and after they visit the bars in Shoreditch. Sleepless local residents call them ‘car bars’.
Heralded by their loud music, car bars tend to arrive in the early evening. Their owners and guests ‘pre-load’ with cheaper shop-bought alcohol, nitrous oxide or other party drugs before moving on to the bars and clubs that serve much more expensive drinks. Some even set up mobile drug and alcohol shops selling on to the inhabitants of other cars.
In the small hours, when the official bars shut the ‘car bar’ customers return and the ‘after parties’ start. This is when things get really disruptive for residents. Party-goers continue to drink and/or use drugs. The noise gets louder. With no public toilets around, attendees start to use resident’s front doors as urinals. Often fights break out and occasionally cars race each other around the streets, and on more than one occasion, crash.
But why is this only a recent phenomenon? We believe this is down to the growing and shifting nature of the Shoreditch NTE. Something about which residents have been warning local councillors and officers for years. Ten years ago, bars tended to be confined to the more commercial area around Hoxton Square and Old Street (from Old Street Roundabout down to Curtain Road). But in recent years, mass redevelopment and a takeover of buildings for office-use has shifted the bars down to Shoreditch High Street and increasingly Hackney Road. New developments in the City have similarly shifted bars frequented by City workers down towards Shoreditch High Street and the opening of Box Park has seen more activity moving down Bethnal Green Road. All this has led to a century old quiet residential area being enveloped by the NTE.
Shoreditch has also increased in popularity with more and more visitors coming in from outside the area at the weekends supported by a huge increase in the number of hotels that have opened in the area (we’ve counted 27 in ten years!). We’ve even heard told of party-goers referring to Arnold Circus as its own ‘scene’!
Of course, the NTE has been very welcome to some in that it brings much needed revenue to the area in the form of local business rates and the much talked of ‘Night Time Levy’.
This is where things are complicated by Borough boundaries. The majority of the NTE’s bars are based in the London Borough of Hackney, but the nearest residential area (in some places just one street away) is across the border in Tower Hamlets. Therefore, the proceeds of these bars go to one Council, but the majority of the problems fall on another.
Residents have been calling on Tower Hamlets and Hackney Councils to work together to manage the NTE for a while now and, although this is starting to happen, much more needs to be done. Hackney and Tower Hamlets police forces merged two years ago and that should have helped but in reality the police commissioned by Hackney council to manage the NTE have only really been present in recent months and have been mandated to stay by the bars and not venture into residential areas, even if they are just meters away.
Shoreditch has become for 2020 what Soho was in the 1980s and 90s and it needs to be managed as such. Planning and licencing policy needs to define its boundary to stop further sprawl into residential areas and resources need to be available to both sides of the Borough borders and well after the bars close. Car bars are not subject to licencing hours!
Whilst residents appreciate the lengths Tower Hamlets officers and councillors have gone to in bringing in new parking measures to tackle car bars. These need constant enforcement. Similarly, whilst some measures to be brought in with the ‘Liveable Streets’ programme this year may have a positive effect; we fear that others may exacerbate the problem.
Of course we very much welcome and appreciate the instant reaction of Tower Hamlets in bringing enforcement officers out in number last night. However, this isn’t the only issue the Night Time Economy brings and we believe it warrants a holistic and ongoing management approach across the Boundary. Something we have been calling for some time.
This is a joint statement provided by Weavers Community Action Group, Columbia Tenants and Residents Association and Boundary Residents.
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