Tech City 'must not kill the goose that laid the golden eggs'

Friday 9 September 2016

Old Street and Shoreditch must avoid killing the goose that laid the golden egg as it seeks to balance growth with the retention of the tech companies that have made it what it is today.

That was the overriding feeling to emerge from a fascinating On Location conference on the area hosted by British Land at its 201 Bishopsgate scheme last week.

Hackney’s cabinet member for regeneration Cllr Guy Nicholson said that it was a timely moment to be in the area, given the scale of change in the last 20-25 years, which has accelerated considerably in the last decade. ‘And over the last five years it has gone beyond acceleration into some kind of lightyear mode’ said Nicholson. ‘It’s growing at an extraordinary rate’. But with Brexit it faces challenges to hold on to some of the area’s workers and their free movement, and Nicholson said he aims to use the ‘levers’ he has access to to argue the case with previous Hackney mayor Jules Pipe, now with Sadiq Khan’s team as deputy mayor for planning. Rising rents in the area now approaching £65-70 per sq ft are not conducive to creating a creative community, he said, and risk killing the goose that laid the golden egg. ‘But the problem is Shoreditch is full’ he added, ‘and without more space coming forward we will displace this activity.’ So one of his main ideas is intensification and to promote mixed developments of a scale that can encourage growth. We all want safe and nice places to go to, said Nicholson, but we don’t want sanitised places.

What occupiers want is changing fast, said CBRE co-heads of Creative London Natalie Lelliott and Daniel Westley, with a migration happening from west to east because workforces want to be part of an ‘ecosystem’. People want better connectivity, physically and emotionally, as well as in a digital manner, in places with more amenity and a sense of identity. The way we work now is 60% private, 25% in collaboration, 8% learning and 7% socialising, said Westley, and the modern office needs to reflect that.

One developer shaking up this offer is Derwent London. Its senior leasing surveyor Phillipa Davies said the company’s White Collar Factory near to Old Street roundabout seeks to offer flexibility, with a wealth of amenity beyond the desk and computer, with social interaction at its heart. This should help to satisfy the ‘herd animal’ in us all, with ‘collaborated collisions’ where staff interact. But it is also important to see the landlord tenant relationship as a collaboration, she said, rather than ‘a rigid, removed relationship’.

The conference also heard from Primera financial director Austin Casey, putting the case for the establishment of a BID for Old Street in order to devise a public realm strategy and help to ensure the ‘vibrancy and rich character of the area that has organically evolved is retained.’ Gensler design director Nigel Lea took the audience through his practice’s Shoreditch Highgate Hotel project, with its mix of uses and public access helping to create a new development that helps to take care of the ‘special nature of the neighbourhood’ and which, again, ‘does not kill the goose that laid the golden egg.’ And Outset Contemporary Art Fund’s Nicolette Cavaleros made a plea for developers to channel funds away from parties and towards the retention of artists in the area, stopping the costs-driven exodus to Margate, Manchester, Amsterdam, Berlin and Los Angeles. Finally, chief investment officer of Hammerson Peter Cole suggested that his firm’s long involvement with creating a scheme Bishopsgate Goods Yard intended to build on the ‘energy and vitality of London’, retaining as much of the historic fabric as possible. ‘We need to keep and build on the spirit’, he said. ‘Let’s try and keep it gritty…I’d be very disappointed if you come to this area and it is Covent Garden. This is not Covent Garden, this is Shoreditch.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly 

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