Hackney Council’s pro-developer agenda and what that means for the Morning Lane Tesco site

Corporate consultants SEC Newgate describe Hackney Council as “resolutely pro-development in the face of opposing political campaigns in the borough” like us and Save Ridley Road. As a result, “the bulk of housing built in Hackney in at least the last two decades has been for market sale”. Hackney council put developers and their desire for huge profits above the needs of the people of Hackney. As we outline below, this is clear in the manifesto on which Labour won power in last month’s elections. It is something that we in Morning Lane People’s Space resolutely oppose as we campaign for a people’s plan for the Tesco site in Hackney Central.

Hackney Council has been ‘regenerating’ its housing estates. This means demolishing council homes and replacing them chiefly with expensive private housing. For example, Woodberry Down originally had almost 2000 council homes. By the end of the regeneration scheme, with Berkeley Homes as the developer, it is projected to have over 5,500 homes, only 20% of which will be for social rent and they will be managed by Genesis Housing Association, not by the council. 

Successive Conservative governments have severely cut funding to local government. In a desperate bid to fund basic services, Hackney Council is increasingly becoming a developer of market housing on sites like 55 Morning Lane which it bought five years ago for £60 million of public money. This is unlikely to be successful, as they’re competing with ruthless profiteers. But even if it were successful, the council would become a ruthless profiteer, and Hackney will be covered with expensive housing aimed at investors, with ordinary people marginalised and pushed out of the borough or forced into an insecure and overpriced private housing.

The manifesto on which Labour was re-elected to run Hackney Council doubles down on this failed agenda.

This manifesto lists 12 projects to be continued or completed including Woodberry Down. Most are controversial and some have been fiercely resisted by residents. At Lincoln Court, the council plans to fill the play decks between the existing tower blocks with yet more high rise housing: 87 units consisting of 29 social rent, 29 shared ownership, and 29 market sale. This will densify the living conditions of existing residents, deprive their children of play space, and gentrify the area. All for the gain of just 29 social-rent homes. The Britannia Project breaches manifesto commitments. For example, we are promised “the right mix of accessible and family housing”. But of the 314 market homes, 30 shared ownership homes and 51 social-rent homes, only 13 will have more than two bedrooms. This disadvantages many families seeking affordable housing, and adds to the problem of overcrowding in London.

Throughout the manifesto, we find statements that hide the reality of what is happening. We are told Hackney Council “have helped a record number of homeless people and families … moving homeless families out of temporary accommodation and into decent homes”.  In reality, they’ve removed thousands from the housing waiting list and in just one year, they directed over 400 households into private rented housing. When they tell us that they “will build 1,000 council homes for social rent”, they don’t say that this includes homes promised but not delivered in the previous four years, nor how many shared ownership and market homes will also be built.

It’s not just Hackney’s housing policies that are excluding people and serving the needs of big capital. The manifesto informs us that Hackney is “a council that works to facilitate growth. … We will look to community-led regeneration and place-based to ‘place-shape’ our town centres, high streets, neighbourhoods and estates” to “support good growth”. This is doublespeak. What is ‘good growth’ and who benefits?  And what does ‘place shape’ even mean?

What Hackney Council needs to do is to start listening to those of us who live here. We have documented how previous consultations are narrow exercises designed to get the answers the Council wants. In the manifesto, they are oblivious to these problems and to the growing distrust: “We will build on the best practice that has been developed through the Dalston and Hackney Central Conversations”. They promise even more so-called ‘Conversations’: “We will restart … the Clapton and Homerton place-making plans … toward a Clapton Conversation and a Homerton Conversation”. 

Finally, what does this mean for 55 Morning Lane? With the Council’s deal with failed developer Hackney Walk collapsing in the middle of the local election campaign, there’s very little about the site in the manifesto. Our new regime promises to develop “the Morning Lane site as an extension of the town centre” and to “explore and plan for a new space for the Hackney Museum and also explore the creation of a Hackney Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice”. We need human rights and social justice in practice, not in a museum. It would be ironic if this Centre ends up alongside a development that increases inequality but quite on brand for a council that ultimately prioritises profit over people.

The pro-developer and market orientation of Hackney Council underlines the need for campaigns for social housing, real consultation and community plans to continue. Email us at morninglanepeoplesspace@gmail.com, if you want to get involved.

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