The Labour mayor of Hackney on the east London borough’s decision to introduce ‘curfews’ for new nightlife venues.
Who is Hackney for? That’s the question I’ve grappled most with since I became mayor of Hackney just under two years ago – and one that’s come to the fore in the last few weeks after Hackney Council tightened its licensing rules.
This borough is a unique place. It has world-renowned nightlife, a booming tech economy on the fringes of the City of London, and the highest cluster of creative and artistic businesses in Europe at Hackney Wick. But it also has some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country, absurd levels of housing unaffordability – especially for the private renters who make up a third of the borough – and is home to many of the low-paid workers who help build our borough, are intrinsic to its diversity and keep London’s economy ticking 24 hours a day.
Few places in our country have undergone such wholesale change in the last 15 years: this borough has switched from an undesirable place to live to a byword for cool. This journey of improved schools, cleaner and safer streets and better public services was for, and demanded by, existing residents – yet this better Hackney can also feel alienating to some. Investment, new businesses and new people have brought huge benefits, but my job is to make sure that those benefits are open to everyone.
The challenge of bridging that divide became most publicly visible last month, when our new policy to challenge new venues in Hackney to state how they will manage the impact of late-night opening on local communities was agreed. It’s been labelled a ‘curfew’ that means Hackney will shut down at 11pm. It’s not. It’s simply an attempt to encourage new pubs and clubs to consider hard-working neighbours trying to get a good night’s sleep without drunken revellers vomiting – or worse – on their doorstep.
But the vociferous reaction to our decision, which included Giles Coren calling me an “unutterable c*nt” on Twitter, demonstrated how our attempt to strike a balance provokes the tensions at the heart of managing urban spaces in a major city like London. The anger councillors hear on the doorstep from ordinary residents received less coverage than the well-organised ‘outrage’ of a campaign led by major businesses and investors.
Visitors vs residents. Weekend playground vs local community. These are the battles our everyday policymaking exposes. I’ve repeatedly heard the suggestion that those worried about a bustling nightlife shouldn’t have moved here, and they’re trying to ‘socially cleanse’ the area.
But it’s residents who have lived here for decades – long before Dalston and Shoreditch became trendy places to go out on a Friday night – who feel excluded by the changing face of our borough. As a leader, it is my job to reassure those who feel threatened by the prospect of change and make it clear what I believe in – preserving the economic, ethnic and social diversity of the borough many feel is at risk from gentrification.
Hackney will always be an independently minded and open, not a closed, place. It’s why we had the second-highest Remain vote in the country. It’s why I moved here in my early 20s, and why so many people want to move here today. This openness will continue to extend to our night-life, despite the misleading rhetoric of some of those opposing our limited licensing changes. I will always support a creative and independent local economy and diverse communities.
But Hackney’s popularity, coupled with the impact of austerity and national policy, means these things are at threat more than ever.
Is Hackney for the small businesses in our rail arches, already suffering from Government business rates hikes, who’ll be turfed out if Network Rail sells off the management of its arches in one job lot to the highest bidder? Or for the corporate chains that would replace them?
Is Hackney for the 13,000 families on our housing waiting list, 3,000 of whom are in temporary accommodation, because the government won’t let us build a new generation of council housing for them? Or primarily now for those that can afford the house prices that have risen here more than anywhere else in the UK over the last 20 years?
Is Hackney for the creative artists who contribute so much to London’s cultural economy, whose affordable workspace is drying up? Or the developers who will profit from turning these spaces into homes and bland retail units?
I’ll always stand up for the voiceless. That’s why we’re supporting businesses in their fight to remain in the arches they’ve made their home, It’s why we’re calling on ministers to let us build a new generation of council housing. It’s why we’re opening disused council buildings to give a temporary home to creatives being evicted by developers.
It’s also why we’ve used planning mechanisms to support community campaigns to save and take over pubs under threat of redevelopment, and granted late-night licenses to new venues in Hackney Central, which until a few years ago had a pretty limited nightlife.
I’m not complacent: I know that we need to need to support, engage and listen to businesses, entrepreneurs and those running our diverse nightlife to ensure that we are actually supporting, not hindering, the local economy. We’ll continue to do that.
But if London is to continue to be the world’s greatest city, we must make sure that growth does not come at the expense of the people and businesses who have made it what it is today. Local councils, faced with dwindling resources and fewer powers, face an increasingly difficult challenge to make that happen.
Philip Glanville is the elected Labour mayor of the London borough of Hackney.