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Tech City: councillors call for government support

15:00 31 May 2015

Silicon roundabout

Silicon roundabout

Archant

Councillors in Hackney and Islington say they would welcome any investment into Tech City as government plans to transform the Old Street roundabout remain a mystery.

Cllr Richard Watts, Leader of Islington Council Pic: Louise O'GormanCllr Richard Watts, Leader of Islington Council Pic: Louise O'Gorman

The calls come after a 2012 pledge to invest £50 million into building a visionary project on top of the junction was quietly pulled by the government last year.

Dubbed the Silicon Institute, the project was a government plan to “see Old Street Roundabout regenerated and transformed into Europe’s largest indoor civic space.”

But in 2014, in a largely undocumented move, the proposal was shelved – and local politicians are now questioning where the money has gone.

Islington council leader, Richard Watts said: “From what I understand it was an informal decision made from a small get together between Boris Johnson and the Chancellor of the Exchequer – it came out of a lunch. I was never that taken by the business plan for building on the middle of Old Street Roundabout; I thought it was quite misconceived, but what is absolutely vital is that Tech City has some direct benefits to the people that live both in the Hackney and Islington sides.

Guy Nicholson (Labour)Guy Nicholson (Labour)

“Unless local young people start to see benefits there will be a resentment about the wealth that is being created that they are not a part of. So, if there is government money to be spent it should be on showing the wealth being generated with local residents getting involved.”

Hackney councillor for regeneration, Guy Nicholson said the plans for what the building was supposed to be were vague.

He said: “This so called £50 million came through back in 2012 when it first emerged and it was buried very deep in George Osborne’s budget. It then became very clear that this money which had been allocated for Old Street regeneration was increasingly what I would describe as being focused on some kind of institute which nobody really knew anything about.

“It was very ambiguous but one of the first things that we did raise was actually that a £50m investment into Tech City would be extremely welcome.

“There was some immediate concern raised by Greater London officials about the feasibility of building on top of Old Street because of what was going on underneath it, with the Underground and Network Rail – there were significant engineering challenges.”

Cllr Nicholson added there were other areas where the money could have been better spent.

He said: “It could have represented a vital investment into the creative and tech community and into young people being able to make a career. Also from my perspective as a councillor, any investments could be used as great catalysts to connect the wider Hackney community with the opportunities that are growing there.

“But we need to take a step back as the £50m never came anywhere near Tech City. It would have been appropriate to have conversations with the Mayor of London about making an investment and injecting that straight into the commercial community.

“At the moment, no offers of investment have come forward from any third party but I am particularly keen to support any call for an injection into Tech City.”

He continued: “There was a time when we did have an area-based initiative called the City Fringe Partnership which proved the relationship between public and private – with large and small businesses working together to plan the future and using both public and private money to strengthen our local economies.

“I am not saying we replicate that but maybe we should be bringing forward that partnership approach.”

A government spokesman said part of the £50m went back into general expenditure and the Mayor’s Office were seeking alternative funding for a “landmark proposal” in Tech City and collaborating on schemes that might achieve the original objective over a shorter time frame.

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