“Who is Hackney for?” Mayor Philip Glanville on the borough’s controversial changes to nightlife licencing

Hackney Wick by night. Image: Getty.

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.

 

 
 
 
 

The Adam Smith Institute thinks size doesn’t matter when housing young professionals. It’s wrong

A microhome, of sorts. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Adam Smith Institute has just published ‘Size Doesn’t Matter’, a report by Vera Kichanova, which argues that eliminating minimum space requirements for flats would help to solve the London housing crisis. The creation of so-called ‘micro-housing’ would allow those young professionals who value location over size to live inside the most economically-active areas of London, the report argues argues.

But the report’s premises are often mistaken – and its solutions sketchy and questionable.

To its credit, it does currently diagnose the roots of the housing crisis: London’s growing population isn’t matched by a growing housing stock. Kichanova is self-evidently right in stating that “those who manage to find accomodation [sic] in the UK capital have to compromise significantly on their living standards”, and that planning restrictions and the misnamed Green Belt are contributing to this growing crisis.

But the problems start on page 6, when Kichanova states that “the land in central, more densely populated areas, is also used in a highly inefficient way”, justifying this reasoning through an assertion that half of Londoners live in buildings up to two floors high. In doing so, she incorrectly equates high-rise with density: Kichanova, formerly a Libertarian Party councillor in Moscow, an extraordinarily spread-out city with more than its fair share of tall buildings, should know better.

Worse, the original source for this assertion refers to London as a whole: that means it includes the low-rise areas of outer London, rather than just the very centrally located Central Activities Zone (CAZ) – the City, West End, South Bank and so forth – with which the ASI report is concerned. A leisurely bike ride from Knightsbridge to Aldgate would reveal that single or two-storey buildings are almost completely absent from those parts of London that make up the CAZ.

Kichanova also argues that a young professional would find it difficult to rent a flat in the CAZ. This is correct, as the CAZ covers extremely upmarket areas like Mayfair, Westminster, and Kensington Gardens (!), as well as slightly more affordable parts of north London, such as King’s Cross.

Yet the report leaps from that quite uncontroversial assertion to stating that living outside the CAZ means a commute of an hour or more per day. This is a strawman: it’s perfectly possible to keep your commuting time down, even living far outside of the CAZ. I live in Archway and cycle to Bloomsbury in about twenty minutes; if you lived within walking distance of Seven Sisters and worked in Victoria, you would spend much less than an hour a day on the Tube.

Kichanova supports her case by apparently misstating research by some Swiss economists, according to whom a person with an hour commute to work has to earn 40 per cent more money to be as satisfied as someone who walks. An hour commute to work means two hours travelling per day – by any measure a different ballpark, which as a London commuter would mean living virtually out in the Home Counties.

Having misidentified the issue, the ASI’s solution is to allow the construction of so-called micro-homes, which in the UK refers to homes with less than the nationally-mandated minimum 37m2 of floor space. Anticipating criticism, the report disparages “emotionally charged epithets like ‘rabbit holes’ and ‘shoeboxes,” in the very same paragraph which describes commuting as “spending two hours a day in a packed train with barely enough air to breath”.


The report suggests browsing Dezeen’s examples of designer micro-flats in order to rid oneself of the preconception that tiny flats need mean horrible rabbit hutches. It uses weasel words – “it largely depends on design whether a flat looks like a decent place to live in” – to escape the obvious criticism that, nice-looking or not, tiny flats are few people’s ideal of decent living. An essay in the New York Times by a dweller of a micro-flat describes the tyranny of the humble laundry basket, which looms much larger than life because of its relative enormity in the author’s tiny flat; the smell of onion which lingers for weeks after cooking a single dish.

Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley has described being “appalled” after viewing a much-publicised scheme by development company U+I. In Hong Kong, already accustomed to some of the smallest micro-flats in the world, living spaces are shrinking further, leading Alice Wu to plead in an opinion column last year for the Hong Kong government to “regulate flat sizes for the sake of our mental health”.

Amusingly, the Dezeen page the ASI report urges a look at includes several examples directly contradicting its own argument. One micro-flat is 35 m2, barely under minimum space standards as they stand; another is named the Shoe Box, a title described by Dezeen as “apt”. So much for eliminating emotionally-charged epithets.

The ASI report readily admits that micro-housing is suitable only for a narrow segment of Londoners; it states that micro-housing will not become a mass phenomenon. But quite how the knock-on effects of a change in planning rules allowing for smaller flats will be managed, the report never makes clear. It is perfectly foreseeable that, rather than a niche phenomenon confined to Zone 1, these glorified student halls would become common for early-career professionals, as they have in Hong Kong, even well outside the CAZ.

There will always be a market for cheap flats, and many underpaid professionals would leap at the chance to save money on their rent, even if that doesn’t actually mean living more centrally. The reasoning implicit to the report is that young professionals would be willing to pay similar rents to normal-sized flats in Zones 2-4 in order to live in a smaller flat in Zone 1.

But the danger is that developers’ response is simply to build smaller flats outside Zone 1, with rent levels which are lower per flat but higher per square metre than under existing rules. As any private renter in London knows, it’s hardly uncommon for landlords to bend the rules in order to squeeze as much profit as possible out of their renters.

The ASI should be commended for correctly diagnosing the issues facing young professionals in London, even if the solution of living in a room not much bigger than a bed is no solution. A race to the bottom is not a desirable outcome. But to its credit, I did learn something from the report: I never knew the S in ASI stood for “Slum”.