‘Hackney becomes a suburb of Tesco’

From my high-rise window, there are three blots on the landscape which have spread over the last few months and blighted my view across Hackney, east London.

It’s usually quite pleasant, I can trace the crow’s path from nearby Dalston steeples across the green fuzz of Victoria Park to Canary Wharf’s bravado. But the concrete Barratt’s and Transport for London developments around the new East London Line extension, part of Hackney Council’s grand regeneration, are grey and blocky and ugly. And, unsurprisingly right now, taking painfully long to get going.

Not only that – because moaning about my own view would be selfish – they’ve razed Georgian houses, local businesses, the scrubby grubby lovely heart of Kingsland Road for what I’m fearing may be just another insert of luxury one and two bed apartments.

So hearing writer and ‘psychogeographer’ Iain Sinclair with writer and filmmaker Patrick Wright speak last week was illuminating. The event was an OPEN Dalston fundraiser for its community consultation programme, a series of events throughout April, that will focus on Hackney Council’s Masterplan for Dalston.

OPEN Dalston campaigns to make sure the community has a proper say in the planning of the local built environment and transport links.

Sinclair – recently banned from performing at a Hackney public library for allegedly slagging off the council – read from his latest work Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire. This documents the changes in the borough, the degen, the regen, upscaling, peopling, unpeopling, all that.

They also screened Diary Film: Hackney 1969, a grainy view of derelict canals and great industrial chimneys fringed with pampas grass. Wright talked about how post-war London was brought to an end by Thatcher’s government with privatisation and the end of council housing.

‘Politicians were trying to establish Hackney as an emblem of everything that was wrong,’ he said, explaining that in writing his book about the area, A Journey Through Ruins, it was hard not to portray it as ‘crap’.

Sinclair stressed the importance of OPEN Dalston and that his book was not just about ‘nimby pimby heritage’ but about celebrating the spirit of a place, the telling of stories, letting people tell their own. He described the developments as a ‘monstrosity’, saying, ‘no one is happy with the Barratt’s developments’.

‘The intention,’ he said, ‘is that Hackney becomes a suburb of Tesco’. ‘All development isn’t bad,’ he added, ‘but it takes time and care and not necessarily vast quantities of money’. Others spoke, including Lord Low of Dalston, who said not only was the East London Line development in the wrong place, it broke planning rules and was ‘fundamentally flawed’.

Personally, I worry about what’s going on minutes from my home. Kingsland Road, until all this started was jaunty, perhaps a bit down at heel but there was community, diversity, street chatter, movements of the people.

There may have been gob on the ground, vicious pitbulls off leads and dozens of pound shops (ace for packs of tissues) but there were also families – you hardly see a child a mile down the road in Angel apart from the odd Bugaboo accessory. There was real life here.

Already, the hoardings, the imposing scaffolding, the disruption, the disappearance of beautiful buildings, living shapes, to me seems short-sighted. Well-planned regeneration can work brilliantly but this seems to have sprung from nowhere. And now it’s all stalling, letting in rot. I’ll keep watching from my window and hope it works out.


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