‘No Hackney High-rise’?.. So where is everyone going to live?


Despite London’s status as a leading world capital our city has some very serious problems affecting its potential and that of its inhabitants – namely a chronic and dire housing shortage, the smallest room-sizes to be found anywhere in the western world, and prices so high that they exclude all but the very wealthy from buying a home and which leaves others with the prospect of life-long rental in expensive and tiny accommodation or gruelling long daily commutes – all with the very real possibility of a serious brain-drain from London.

The highly-respected think-tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) predicts that by 2025 London will have a shortfall of a shocking 325,000 homes!

And all of this is in the context of the greatest problem of them all: catastrophic climate change, which – if we are to seriously address it – rules out the option of an ever-expanding London which is increasingly sprawling into commuter-land, where residents have a far larger carbon-footprint than inner-city dwellers.

The answer to this set of interdependent dilemmas would seem obvious in almost every other world capital – build far more homes in taller buildings closer to the centre where people work!

But some are having none of it – no matter what the cost!

No Hackney High-rise‘ (NHH) was formed in 2009 to oppose a proposal by housing charity Southern Housing Group to build a 19-storey, mixed housing development on London Lane – a former brownfield site close to London Fields station.

The group, founded principally by surrounding residents, initially dismissed the 19-storey proposal as being too tall, and on their website they presented the existing Peabody Nile Street development of 6 to 9 storeys as an exemplar of “high-density without high-rise”.

Then NHH co-founder Siobhan Marwell said they would be “happy” with up to 6 storeys.  So SHG went back to the drawing-board, reduced the height of their development by almost half, meaning the loss of some 20 homes, and proposed something very close to NHH’s “exemplary”  “high-density without high-rise” presentation. But even this was opposed by NHH, this time stating that they now oppose high-density, and requesting just “3 to 4 storeys”. Will nothing be “exemplary” enough for this Nimby group?

It simply isn’t plausible that this group’s architectural objections are sincere. What is more plausible however is that their objection is rooted in a fear over the kind of people who will move into any new accommodation. As NHH have already stated; “we are worried the flats will be used as buy to lets which will create a more transient population and spoil the community spirit”. Is this the “community spirit” that would seek to deny homes to the community?

If we are to relieve some of the severe social and economic pressure from the housing pot the council simply must be more pro-active in its housing provision – of all kinds. Housing charity Shelter state that in order to buy an average home in Hackney you now have to earn £55,425!

Other local opposition groups are at it in Stoke Newington with complaints that a proposed very modest five-storey development “would impinge on the adjacent Abney Park“.

This state of affairs is just not sustainable if London is to remain a world capital. Conservative planners and Nimby groups have together delivered London a housing nightmare of existential proportions. But even when all the social and economic pointers are indicating danger, we are still confronted with planners who simply stick their collective heads in the sand and continue to develop land as if the primary purpose of architecture is to evoke the past with low-rise brick-clad buildings rather than to actually address contemporary housing need. If planners and opposition groups support planning policies more suited to a provincial heritage town than a world capital, eventually the latter will become the former.

What a tragic irony that these inner-city Nimby groups with their constant knee-jerk opposition to development, often with the desire to create exclusive affluent quasi-“villages”, are collectively seriously damaging.
the viability of the city they claim to love.

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