by Penny Creed, Vice Chair, Columbia Tenants and Residents Association
For many in our community, the question is not whether the Bishopsgate Goodsyard should be developed, it is whether THIS current proposed development should be allowed. Here’s why.
In recent years, City Developers have had their beady eyes on our back yard as space to move into. Not because they desperately need the space for more offices, but because they have a constant need to create new product to rent and sell on. Money makes the world go round and while interest rates remain low, property has been where institutional and private equity investors can make profits.
A steady stream of sky-high new developments have sprung up on the north east side of the City casting shadows across our community, and now, with the Bishopsgate Goodsyard back in play, the greedy neighbours want to breach our back fence.
The planners like to call our area “The City Fringe” like it is a bit of trimming belonging to the City with no substance of real worth. But you know what, they are wrong. It is Brick Lane Market, it’s Petticoat Lane, Hoxton Square, Bangla Town and Columbia Road Flower Market. It’s Lubetkin’s Dorset Estate and London’s first and iconic social housing development – The Boundary. This is Bethnal Green and Shoreditch, communities founded long before the glass, steel and pinstripe.
An area where small creative businesses have incubated themselves in small low-rent commercial units before, launching into the wider world. Where many London artists and artisans have based themselves. Where clubbers of the nineties and noughties climbed the first rung of the housing ladder and stayed to raise families. Welcomed by East Enders as the latest in a long line of displaced groups such as Huguenots, Jews, Bengalis, Vietnamese, and students that have formed this wonderful, diverse, and thriving community. This is the East End, rich in culture, history and community and it needs protecting.
The Bishopsgate Goodsyard is so called because it surrounds a railway line. That railway line for decades has provided a natural boundary, protection from the City’s grey monolithic sprawl. In the 80s and 90s as the City outgrew the square mile, so an outpost in the Docklands was launched as the second financial district displacing what was there before. Now the financial district wants even more space, and its eyes are firmly on the other side of the tracks.
The Bishopsgate Goodsyard developers have an option to buy the land that is currently owned by Network Rail – a publicly owned entity. It does not reside within the City of London. The ten-acre site straddles two London Boroughs – Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Boroughs that have a combined housing list thirty thousand strong whose populations lack green space and meeting places and affordable retail and workspace.
27 hotels have been built and/or are currently proposed in the Shoreditch area in the last ten years, yet another is planned for the Goodsyard. A large proportion of the development is for offices – all to serve the city. Just 10% of affordable workspace has been provided. The remaining market rent spaces are bound to inflate the rents on surrounding units on Brick Lane and Bethnal Green Road populated by the every-day shops we local people need. The proposed green space is highline and looks like it will be managed much like the maligned and eventually scrapped ‘Garden Bridge’.
The accommodation proposed is for a maximum of 500 units where a local plan by Tower Hamlets a few years ago estimated 1500 would be possible on the site. 70% of the proposed homes are one or two bedrooms. Pied-à-terres favoured over family homes. Developers have upped the percentage of ‘affordable’ bedrooms but reduced the number homes in total. A win, they claim with only 45 truly affordable homes (maximum) planned but that pales into insignificance when you compare it to the 20 units recently shoe-horned onto a small estate carpark on the Dorset Estate.
The scale, height, massing and overshadow though, this needs to be addressed. The site sits south of Bethnal Green, between our community and the sun and the shadows cast onto residents of the Avant Guard Tower and the conservation areas of Redchurch Street and the Boundary Estate, will plunge them into darkness for most of the winter. The recently adopted Hackney Local Plan states that new developments “should respect the prevailing building heights of Shoreditch High Street” such as the Tea Building. This proposed development will dwarf them and set context for future high-rise development in the immediate area.
We believe this still publicly owned space should be better used to serve the community it resides in. We need our local businesses, new businesses and workspaces protected. We want the GLA to safeguard our heritage from the march of the overbearing light-taking soulless skyscrapers. We need the City to respect our community boundary. We need to keep Bethnal Green.