Developing Hackney

Thursday 9 August 2012

The Olympics have been fantastic for British sport and for Britain, but the real test of its success will be in providing the right kind of legacy for Hackney and beyond.

So said Hackney mayor Jules Pipe at a special NLA and Hackney Council conference on Developing Hackney, held at Hackney House on Tuesday. Pipe said that he had witnessed a real step change in the borough in the last 10 years, including the biggest tower block demolition programme in Europe and creation of mixed tenure estates in their place. There had also been leaps in education provision, he added, with investment made in the area’s historic buildings as well as new schemes of architectural merit such as Dalston library. But the ‘genuine transformation’ was around Hackney Wick, with the arrival of the Olympics on what was a series of breakers yards and ‘incredible, brand new landscapes’ replacing the march of 70-odd pylons – only the Olympics could have brought such a scale of remediation. ‘It’s a powerful reminder of what we have done in the nine years since we started talking about a bid’, said Pipe, ‘but it is also a big reminder of what we have to do once the athletes have gone home.’ The mayor pointed to important projects for employment in the borough, such as the potential 6500 new jobs to come from the redevelopment of the IBC/MPC, over which iCity was recently given preferred bidder status.

iCity London CEO Gavin Poole said that his company's plans for the 1million sq ft building revolved around the ‘Four Es – Education, Enterprise, Employment and Environment’, capitalising on its scale and the 500 fibres going into what he branded the ‘most connected building digitally in Europe’. ‘It’s all left in place for us to exploit’, he said. The firm’s aim will be to provide space for large corporates and small start-ups as well as ‘a major US college’ that he hopes to announce shortly will set up a business school on site in the science and technology area.

Beyond the Olympic Park, workspace provision is also important at a different scale, with facilities such as the Trampery. Trampoline Systems CEO Charles Armstrong said it was ‘probably the most interesting time in a century or more to be involved in designing, managing and funding workspace’, with Hackney the ‘Petri dish’ of where new models in this area are being ‘crystallised’. The Trampery is expanding to five sites in Clerkenwell, Shoreditch and London Fields.

The conference also heard from speakers including from Berkeley Homes about its ongoing Woodberry Down project and entrepreneur specialist for the Tech City Investment Organisation Andrew Humphries, who showed how there had been a significant rise in tech companies in the area, from 18 in 2008 to 1000 today. Director of Architecture 00:/ David Saxby showed plans to revitalise the Old Street roundabout as part of a push to raise the area’s profile for investment and ‘cement its place as the most opportune area of growth in the UK economy’. A building here could be London’s largest covered civic space and a gateway for investment, he said. ‘Cities are about legacy.’

Amidst all this change and redevelopment, however, Tom Lloyd of PearsonLloyd sounded a note of caution, saying it was important to retain a little of the atmosphere created in the Shoreditch area and beyond by artists and designers. ‘We have to be careful that we don’t lose the magic here…we have to watch out when Zara and H&M turn up on Shoreditch High Street.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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