Chrisp Street Market shows that London is finally fighting back against gentrification

Chrisp Street Market from above. Image: Loopzilla/Flickr/creative commons.

Gentrification started as a concept in a small sub-section of urban studies in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, it’s a major issue touching the lives of people in cities around the world.

It tends to be the residents of large, global hubs who are suffering the worst effects of gentrification, including displacement. But locals are quickly learning how to resist proposals they don’t agree to – and reclaim the city they call home.

In London, the tide of gentrification is moving rapidly eastwards. Canary Wharf has become the city’s – and indeed, the nation’s – financial engine, making billions for the traders that operate there. Shoreditch has moved beyond “edgy” and become pretentious. And the 2012 Olympic Games transformed Stratford into a playground for the wealthy, attracting institutions as diverse as Westfield, University College London and the V&A to the area.

This massive influx of wealth is radically changing the demographic of these areas – and campaigns such as Focus E15 and the Balfron Social Club have sprung up to defend the rights of East London natives. These campaigns, and many more across the capital, argue that local councils and housing associations have switched priorities, from providing housing for working-class communities, to allowing developers to “beautify” neighbourhoods and build more private homes to attract wealthier residents.

East End oasis

The Grade II–listed Chrisp Street Market Clock Tower, designed by Frederick Gibberd as part the 1951 Festival of Britain celebrations. Image: author’s own.

Chrisp Street Market, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, is the latest outpost of the struggle against gentrification. As the UK’s oldest purpose-built market, it’s a site of historical significance and a major hub for the local community. The market has a cluster of traditional East End amenities such as community pubs, hardware stores, independent retailers and pie shops, and a multi-cultural demographic. It’s an oasis of authentic London culture, against a growing skyline of new build, luxury towers.

In July 2016, the site’s owners – housing association Poplar Harca – put forward plans to redevelop the market into high-end retail outlets, with added housing and leisure facilities. According to the plan, existing traders would be moved out while construction took place, but have a right to return with stepped increases in rent after 12 months “based on affordability” – an approach which Londoners have learned to regard with suspicion.

When I spoke to traders on the site as part of my current research, they said they had not been told what the new rate would be – even though some had leases up for renewal. Others were informed that they needed to find new ways of making money, so as to afford to stay.

The new plans didn’t replace the car park, a blow for those who come to the market to buy a week’s worth of goods. And the new development offered a meagre increase in the number of social housing units at the site – from 124 to 129. An unspecified amount of the 649 new builds would be “affordable”, which actually means 80 per cent of market rates.

A small number of traders supported the plans outright – mostly those who had moved into the market recently. Those who resisted were not pushing back against the idea of redevelopment – many agreed that the area was overdue some improvements. It was the widespread confusion, and the perceived lack of transparency from Poplar Harca, which seemed problematic – especially in light of other development projects, such as Robin Hood Gardens and the Balfron Tower, which had brought about large-scale displacement of existing residents.

In the shadow of Balfron Tower. Image: m-lodious/Flickr/creative commons.

At a planning consultation meeting in February 2018, these points were put to Poplar Harca – and many local residents felt they hadn’t received satisfactory answers. Local councillors voted to put the project “on hold”, while Poplar Harca revised its proposal. Neal Hunt, the director of development at Poplar Harca, was disappointed:

We are at a loss to understand the council’s Strategic Development Committee deferring its decision regarding the desperately needed homes, shops and jobs that this project would provide. Especially as it means the potential loss of grant funding for affordable homes. We have been working closely with local traders, residents, shoppers and the council for over eight years. Everything we’ve been told is reflected in the proposals: indeed, the council’s officers strongly recommended approval. Our discussions continue.

Taking a stand

It’s a small victory to the traders – and one that I don’t think would have been possible a few years ago. They won the day by coming together as a united body and soliciting the help of other groups and activists in East London. They mobilised early on in the planning process, to share information, legal advice and tactics for navigating confusing consultation exercises.

The market contains a mix of independent retail outlets and housing. Image: author’s own.

This kind of strategic engagement has also brought other large-scale development projects in the capital to a halt. Earlier this year, the Haringey Development Vehicle was stopped because of local collective action. And the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre was ”deferred“, not least because of the intense campaigning by local community groups, and the student occupation of the London College of Communication – a key stakeholder in the development proposals.

The ConversationTales of development in London – and other major cities – can have a happier ending. When it comes to Chrisp Street, the story has certainly changed. Strategic mobilisation and collective will have protected this pocket of social and cultural activity in the Poplar area. These efforts, and others like them, prove that East End, working-class culture is as much a part of London’s future as its past.

Oli Mould, Lecturer in Human Geography, Royal Holloway.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


 

 
 
 
 

Here are my five favourite London council estates

The Dunboyne Road estate. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

The author is a Labour member of the London Assembly. In the name of impartiality, CityMetric would like to extend the invitation to write similar columns to representatives of other political parties.

From successful post-war efforts to move families out of slums and into modern homes, to today’s efforts to construct a new generation of social housing, there’s much to be celebrated in London’s precious council housing stock.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Addison Act, which established a national building programme with government funding for the first time. So here – in no particular order – are my top five London estates:

1. Dunboyne Road

In 1965, the newly established London Borough of Camden was bold and radical when it came to public housing. Their architect’s department boasted 98 staff, led by Sydney Cook. The Grade II listed Dunboyne Road (pictured above) was Britain’s first high-density, low-rise estate. Designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1977, it was the first major work by architect Neave Brown.

Its concrete construction and geometric layout are eye-catchingly modernist, but the 71 flats and maisonettes fit neatly into their surroundings; a reimagining of the classic London street for the 1960s. Each has a private terrace and own entrance onto the central pedestrian walkway and communal gardens, with stepped levels and dual-aspect windows creating light throughout.

Neave Brown himself lived on the estate in the final years of his life remarking, “Who am I to say, but it’s beautiful”.

2. Lilington Gardens

Located just off Vauxhall Bridge Road, the fourteen blocks at Lilington Gardens were built between 1964 and 1972. Between three and eight storeys each, it was again a rejection of the tower blocks which dominated the era, showing that mid-rise housing could provide both beauty and density.

Image: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when Westminster could be proud of the quality of its housing, John Darbourne and Geoffrey Darke won a competition to design the new estate. The result was something special, eschewing modernist forms for something more rugged and layered. The layout allows for secluded green spaces, while the red brick cladding echoes the neighbouring Victorian church of St James the Less. Like all good estates, it included a pub – the Grade II*-listed Pimlico Tram (now The Cask). It was included not as an afterthought, but an integral part of the estate’s design.

3. Ossulston Estate

By the early 1950s, the London County Council’s architect’s department was the biggest in the world, building housing on a huge scale in addition to showp iece projects such as the Southbank Centre.

Though their suburban estates – Downham in Bromley, and Becontree in Barking and Dagenham – were pioneering examples of low-rise of modernity in metroland, these efforts did not always suit the needs of poor city dwellers who weren’t able to move further out. The Ossulton Estate, however, built between 1927 and 1931 on the site of a Somerstown slum and located between Euston and St Pancras stations, did exactly that.

Image: Stephen McKay/Wikimedia Commons.

Chief architect George Topham Forrest’s work was inspired by visits to ‘Red’ Vienna and Ossulston bears distinct similarities to Karl Marx-Hof, which was constructed at the same time. While the roofs and windows have traditional elements, the overall aesthetic is a modernist classic. Like many estates in post-war years, it suffered from neglect and a lack of investment, but following a £6m improvement programme by Camden Council in 2004, the Ossulston is now back to its brilliant best.

4. Alton Estate

Roehampton’s Alton Estate, completed in 1959, was designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt – the first woman to serve as a senior public sector architect in Britain.

The two parts of the estate – East and West – are the crown jewels of British post-war council housing. Alton West was Le Corbusier in Albion: six ultra-modernist blocks modelled on the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, set among the landscape inherited from the Georgian Mount Clare house. Alton East was a softer, Scandinavian-inspired design of the “new Brutalists” in the LCC.

Image: Stevekeiretsu/Wikimedia Commons.

Rising above the trees to the north east of Richmond Park, the Alton Estate stands testament to the visionary idealism of post-war council housebuilding. On its completion, visitors flocked from across the globe, with American critic G.E. Kidder Smith calling it “probably the finest low-cost housing development in the world”.

Sadly, Alton West however is now at risk from ‘regeneration’ proposals which would see 288 existing homes lost. While council estates should not be fetishised, with investment, improvement and expansion encouraged, any change must be done sensitively and with residents’ backing. I hope that Wandsworth Council and Redrow will follow the mayor’s Good Practice for Estate Regeneration and hold a ballot before plans go ahead, and that if they do, they build on Rosemary Stjernstedt’s legacy.

5. King’s Crescent

When it comes to regeneration Hackney Council have taken an altogether different approach to Wandsworth.

Located on Green Lanes opposite the magnificent Clissold Park, King’s Crescent’s route to a successful and well-supported regeneration project hasn’t always been an easy one. The early 1970s estate was blighted by poor construction, navigability issues and an ill-fated partial demolition in 2000 which turned much of the landscape into hoardings and rubble. But thanks to a step-change in resident engagement and a transformation programme funded by Hackney Council, by 2023 it will be host to 765 new and refurbished homes.

Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

In the era of government-imposed cuts to local authority budgets, councils have to be pragmatic about funding choices and the new King’s Crescent does include homes for private sale. This is understandably a source of some consternation, but it’s also the source of funding which has made the regeneration possible. Hackney has ensured that more than 50 per cent of the new homes are genuinely affordable, with 97 brand new council homes for social rent.

The new developments have greatly enhanced the area, using both new build and renovation to stitch the estate better into its Victorian surroundings. Existing homes have been retrofitted with balconies, while disused garage space has been repurposed for modern flats. Hackney have clearly thought carefully about character and open spaces, as well as ceiling heights, windows and internal storage.

It is an exceptional project – one of a growing number of new schemes now being spearheaded by ambitious councils across the capital. In 2018-19, the Mayor of London funded the start of 1,916 new council homes – the highest figure since 1984-85.


…what about the Barbican?

On the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, it would be remiss not the mention the Barbican. It’s a brutalist masterpiece and a fantastic feat of post-war planning and design. The location and design are clearly outstanding, but it’s the bright and modern interiors which are truly to die for.

So why is it not on the list? Although it was built by the City of London Corporation, not one of the flats was ever available at a social rent. The properties were built to let at market rents to workers in the City, who later found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to snap them up under the Right to Buy – still the fate of far too many of London’s vital social homes.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.