“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.

 

 
 
 
 

After Brexit, the case for more powerful local government in England will become stronger than ever

Not an ITV crime drama, but the key to a brighter future. Image: Getty.

For many cities and regions across the UK, Brexit carries profound risks. It seems highly likely to trigger a period of economic instability, as investors seek a better understanding of the on-the-ground realities of a post-EU Britain, as the pound responds to changing economic conditions and as new relationships are established in Europe and beyond.

Leaders of local authorities – already feeling the impact of a decade of austerity and sluggish growth – are worried about their futures under Brexit. In August, Plymouth City Council became the first to issue a legal challenge to the British government over Brexit, requesting information and analysis about possible impacts on the local area. And in October, the eight metropolitan mayors called for further devolution and increased funding under Brexit.

But do these local leaders have the capacity to bring about the changes necessary to deliver a better future for cities and regions? Our research from 2017 suggests that places in England too often lack the leadership they need to achieve a prosperous and secure future.

Odd one out

We compared local leadership in England with Finland, Germany, Italy, Australia and the USA, and found that England was – in some important respects – the odd nation out. When we asked local leaders how they would respond to either a major economic shock or opportunity, the pathway to effective action was far less certain and much less transparent than elsewhere.

For example, in England, local leaders said that they would work within networks of firms to develop complex strategies involving the public and private sectors on the ground, while also seeking central government support. By contrast, in Finland, Germany and Italy the relevant mayor would take charge, with support from their professional staff and central government.

There have been some shifts toward the European model, with the introduction of combined authorities and elected mayors in some parts of the UK from 2011. But according to the participants in our study, this move has added complexity and could reduce coordination in local government, as new ways of working had to be found when previously important roles, such as local authority chief executives and council leaders, were forced to concede some control.

Even so, the local leaders we interviewed also saw this move as adding to the legitimacy of local leadership, because the mayors are directly elected, as well as providing a focal point for community mobilisation and buy-in.

Yet there is a real gap between public expectations of mayors and their formal powers and authority in the UK. And since not all parts of England have mayors, it’s harder for elected leaders to assert their influence at a national level, share their experiences with others and find collective solutions to the problems in their cities.


An ad hoc approach

Local leaders in England have also found it difficult to build momentum and public support for devolved forms of governance. The private sector has a prominent role in local governance through their role on Local Enterprise Partnerships and through prominent business member organisations. Some of the participants in our research saw this as a strength, but they said it also brought uncertainty and ambiguity.

They felt that the reliance on interpersonal relationships between key people in the private and public sectors resulted in an ad hoc approach to local issues and initiatives. There was little learning from past experience, so every challenge required a bespoke approach. As a result, responses tended to be reactive rather than strategic, and short term rather than comprehensive or systematic.

As it stands, England’s local leaders do not seem to be in a good position to ensure a smooth transition through Brexit. National economic and political processes have a significant influence on the well-being of cities and regions in the UK, and Westminster holds its power tightly. In Europe and elsewhere, local leadership has a greater impact on local economic performance.

A new role

Brexit will reshape the UK economy and society, as well as how the nation is governed. There is a strong case to introduce mayors in other English cities and to allow them to take a greater role in political life. Elected mayors could, for example, have an important role working with central government to determine what powers might be repatriated to a local level, after Brexit. So far, they’ve had little opportunity to negotiate.

Mayors are also well placed to act as ambassadors for their local areas by developing strategic partnerships with elected leaders and business interests in Europe and beyond, effectively bypassing central government. Yet they currently lack the powers and prestige of their European counterparts.

There is also scope for elected mayors to influence national and global debates by acting as a united force to demand greater devolution after Brexit. But it’s clear that some elected mayors in England are in a better position to negotiate with central government than others, because of their public profile and perceptions of competence.

Greater devolution will be necessary to empower local leaders to look after the interests of their citizens, while the UK repositions itself in the global economy. Sharing power at the local level will be an important step to greater prosperity and political stability in the nation, after Brexit.

The Conversation

Sarah Ayres, Reader in Public Policy and Governance, University of Bristol and Andrew Beer, Dean, Research and Innovation, University of South Australia.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.