Letters: Christchurch Estate, Cllr Burke, Happy Man Tree and CCTV

Around 30 young activists attended a sponsored walk in July to help save the Happy Man Tree. Picture

Around 30 young activists took part in a sponsored walk last July to help save the Happy Man Tree - Credit: Oscar Stewart

Christchurch Estate should be awarded listed status

Imran Khan, St Agnes Close, Hackney, writes:

Hackney, quite rightly, has a well-deserved reputation for the preservation of its historic buildings. Where other boroughs cleared their “slums” Hackney saw communities of people several generations long living in Victorian houses that simply needed renovation and our borough must have more of that kind of accommodation than any other in London. 

Besides that, there are parks, hospitals, alms-houses and the wonderful Meynell Gardens, one of the best-preserved examples of William Morris’s Arts and Crafts Movement at Well St Common. There is one classic development, however, that has slipped under the radar and is in the process of being slowly having its integrity destroyed.

John Spence was an architect for The Crown Estate and designed some of the most beautiful modern classic building of the post-war era and some of the best examples of his work are in Hackney along Gore Road bordering Victoria Park and in The Christchurch Estate very near to it. The era Spence was designing in has acquired a reputation, not entirely undeserved, for brutalism and bad building and some of the buildings of that era have, quite rightly, been demolished. 


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Spence, however, was a genius and only now being really appreciated. His row of houses with flats below at 89-98 Gore Road already features in architectural journals and attracts students of the style. Similarly, 47-48 Gore Road is a classic of how to use a corner plot and while these two are largely untouched by bad maintenance the same cannot be said for 45 Gore Road and the eastern side of Skipworth Road. Both are showing signs of totally inappropriate pointing, some of the gables look like they have smallpox, and brick retaining walls that are totally out of context. The worst however may be yet to come.

The whole of The Christchurch Estate appears to have deteriorated over the last 20 years by successive management companies who are more concerned with fees than integrity. The managing agents now propose to dig up the whole estate at great expense to rectify the damage.

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There is, however, an alternative which is painless and cost free, locally list the whole of the estate. Christchurch Square is locally listed and has some protection and there is, therefore, no reason why all of Spence’s work in Hackney should not be the same. 

I would urge everyone concerned about these modern classics to email the mayor of Hackney urging that all of these buildings be given the same protection as the rest of Hackney’s architectural heritage. For further information please contact me on imrankhanlahore@gmx.com.

Thanks and best wishes Jon Burke

Ian Rathbone, chair, Hackney Labour Group of councillors, writes:

We would like to wish Jon Burke and his family well as they leave Hackney and thank him for all that he has achieved in the borough.

His contribution to the borough and Woodberry Down ward has been immense and leaves a lasting positive legacy not just on climate change, sustainability and transport, but early years and so much more. And the many thousands of trees that are being planted.

In a few short years he enthusiastically helped to change the landscape in Hackney for the better. 

We will very much miss a tireless colleague, comrade and friend.

Felling of tree is a symbolic act

Barbara McFarlane, architect and member of Stoke Newington Area Advisory Committee, writes:

Philip Glanville says that felling the 150 year old Happy Man Tree “was a last resort… to avoid delays to desperately needed new homes” in Woodberry Down Phase 3.
The loss of the tree is felt deeply by the community. And, although Hackney declared a Climate Emergency in March 2019, Berkeley Homes, still has not drafted plans for the buildings and energy plant in this phase to meet the zero-carbon levels as required by the Mayor of London. 

Of the homes promised, 20 per cent are for social rent, and another 23pc for “affordable housing”, which is shared ownership. However, this requires a minimum income of £53,000 for a one bedroom flat with only a 20pc ownership stake. This is certainly not affordable to most residents of Hackney.

The tree is symbolic of how the interests of the local community have taken a back seat during the renewal on Woodberry Down over the last 15 years. It is symbolic of the wider destruction of the natural world in the middle of a mass extinction where we desperately need old trees. When will this kind of development which has little regard for sustainability be called out?

Stop spying on our residents

Sian Berry AM, Green Party candidate for mayor of London, writes: 

London’s new rules for developers of new public spaces must ban the use of facial recognition cameras, and I’m calling on the mayor to make this happen.

Since 2016 I have worked with campaigners to win new policies from the mayor to stop arbitrary rules being imposed in new public squares. The freedom to sit, socialise and exercise free speech in public spaces is so important, but it is being eroded every time a new public space is created, and developers ban activities like playing, protesting or simply being homeless.

We have also seen the even more sinister practice of private CCTV fitted with facial recognition being used on us secretly without our consent. 

In 2017 the London Assembly passed a motion I proposed for new planning policies to fix these problems when new spaces are planned, but we have waited more than three years for the mayor to produce the policy he promised.

A draft new Public London Charter is now out for consultation.

I know how important freedom and civil liberties are to Londoners and I hope many of you will join me and call on the mayor to make this policy stronger and to ban facial recognition in private CCTV systems in the new public spaces it will control.

Give tenants a say on their housing

Pauline Hutchison and Pat Turnbull, regional representatives, London Tenants Federation, write: 

On Tuesday, January 19, social housing tenants and leaseholders from across London are invited to come together for the launch of The London Tenants’ Manifesto.

Just over a year ago, tenant reps from across London met to begin drawing up a vision of a positive future for social housing in London. Since then, Covid-19 has shown us that this tenant-led vision is more timely than ever. 

The Health Foundation is now making the case that social housing is essential to the Covid-19 recovery phase. Yet each scandal, disaster and sham consultation tells us that the quantity, quality and management of social housing is far from where it needs to be. We, as tenants, should be at the heart of discussions as to how this can change, but too often we feel unheard.

On January 19 we will be looking at how this could be turned around. We want to ensure that, when it comes to our homes, social housing tenants and leaseholders are respected as experts and involved from the outset in overseeing all aspects of the safety, design and maintenance of our homes.

The launch will take place at 2pm on January 19 via Zoom. To all interested, please email info@londontenants.org to find out more and book.

We hope to see you there.

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