Tory demands a lifeline for Hackney artists facing eviction

PUBLISHED: 20:04 19 October 2011

The John Russell architectural workshop in Rosemary Works. Photo credit Jonny Thompson

The John Russell architectural workshop in Rosemary Works. Photo credit Jonny Thompson


The future is uncertain for the canalside crafts community

A plea to throw a community of artists and craftsmen a lifeline has been made to Hackney Council, following the decision to knock down their canalside business premises and build flats.

Over 20 businesses which occupy the historic Rosemary Works site alongside the Regent’s Canal in Branch Place, Shoreditch, face eviction. They include photographers, filmmakers, designers and a furrier.

Hackney Council approved a change of planning use from a “designated priority employment area” to “residential” when it granted Family Mosaic housing association permission to build 52 flats as well as workspace on the site last month.

But the housing association – which had a turnover of £165 million this year - cannot guarantee any of the space will be let at affordable rents meaning many of the businesses face uncertain futures.

Naomi Newstead, the Conservative candidate standing for the London North East seat covering Hackney in next May’s GLA elections, has called on Hackney mayor Jules Pipe to protect the businesses.

She says affordable workspace could be secured through a legal agreement undertaking to provide community benefits, which has yet to be finalised.

“Obviously you would expect them to focus on getting the existing occupants back into the building, otherwise what’s anyone getting out of it?” she said.

“They are supposed to enhance employment provision if they allow change of use,” she said.

“The only way you can enhance what’s in situ and improve upon it is by ensuring you are able to retain a space for the existing ones.

“Some of them are straight forward traditional artists, it all adds up to the general feel of the space that people find so attractive, and it’s quite rare.

“They aren’t going to rent a studio in Bromley - they want Hackney with that creativity, that atmosphere, it’s a real mistake to lose it,” she warned.

“It’s the affordable element that makes it happen for them, if you have none of that they can’t really stay here, all you’re left with is straight forward commercial space.”

For the past 18 years John Russell Architectural interior designers and fitters, has traded from the buidling.

Joint owner Russell Holmden claimed the council seemed to equate the provision of retail space with employment, but said that was not the same thing.

“There is vacant retail space up and down the canal which is already standing empty,” added Mr Holmden who provides a service to the community by recruiting apprentices from Hackney College in Falkirk Street, where he studied himself.

A council spokesman said employment floorspace in the proposed development complied with the Hackney Development Plan 2010 policies and as such it was not obliged to impose the provision of affordable workspace.

Only the bare minimum required, or 19 out of the 52 flats in the new development will be affordable, while the remaining 33 flats will be sold for profit by Family Mosaic.

In the planning meeting in September, a spokesman for Family Mosaic offered to provide more affordable housing if Hackney Council provided another grant on top of the one they will receive from the government.

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