Hackney Walk quizzed over viability of huge Morning Lane 'makers market' next door to its existing fashion hub flop
PUBLISHED: 10:53 29 October 2019 | UPDATED: 11:09 29 October 2019
Hackney Council bought 55 Morning Lane in 2017 and has given the firm Hackney Walk the option to take on a 999-year lease to develop homes, retail and office space. Emma Bartholomew hears councillors' thoughts on the plans to date
Developers looking to turn the Tesco Morning Lane site into a go-to town centre destination have been quizzed by councillors over whether there is really any future in high street retail since the advent of the internet.
Hackney Council bought 55 Morning Lane from Tesco in 2017 with a £55m loan from the Public Works Loan Board. It has now given the option to develop it and take on a 999-year lease to developer Hackney Walk - the same firm behind the embattled luxury fashion hub of the same name next door.
The proposed scheme in Morning Lane will see the Tesco superstore demolished and its 250-space car park scrapped to make way for offices, retail and leisure space and flats.
The Hackney Central area is earmarked for upgrade to a "major town centre" in the London Plan, which could attract more visitors - and, by buying the site, the council said it would have "more control" over what is built there. Tesco was refused planning permission in 2010 for a development of its own because the plan didn't provide enough retail options and contained what was seen as too many flats.
Last month the Gazette reported the Hackney Walk luxury fashion strip had become something of a ghost town, three years after it was hyped to become London's answer to the bustling Bicester Village.
Some retailers think its location - and the lack of transport links - has been a major hurdle to attracting footfall.
Councillors gave their feedback last week on proposals for 55 Morning Lane, which was supposed to have a similar concept themed around fashion when it was signed off by mayor Philip Glanville's cabinet two years ago.
At the time, the developer's vision was to create a retail offer "building on Hackney's reputation... coupled with an existing and growing momentum in fashion design".
"The driving principle will be fashion, with the aspiration that the fashion industry will increasingly establish itself in this location not only in terms of retailing but also design, administration training and even possibly light manufacturing," it was said.
But at the pre-planning meeting on October 23 no mention was made of fashion at all.
A team from Dukeminster, which is listed as the developer on the planning application but which the council said this week was only acting as a funder and guarantor, explained how they'd "done a lot of research to figure out how best to put something together and build something new and organic". Having interviewed "makers", the new focus for the development was now hinged on creating "maker space".
After consultation with the community, three new buzz words for the development have been chosen: "Creative. Civic. Health." Having 150 responses back in a consultation, Dukeminster had concluded there was a "lot of affection" for St John's graveyard - which is threatened to be overshadowed by tower blocks of up to 19 storeys. The highest buildings in the area are 15 storeys, on the Trelawney Estate.
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Chair Cllr Vincent Stops asked the team whether there was a future in town centres. "Why are we creating more retail?" he asked. "Why are more investors thinking there is opportunity in retail?"
A spokesperson for Dukeminster agreed high street retail is "a challenge" with competition from the internet - but suggested the solution was to be "more imaginative", and to come up with "experiences".
"There is still a need to go out shopping and mix it with some other form of entertainment, and one of the reasons we are really focused on makers is if you can see something being made or know something is being made on site, you can't get that from the internet," they explained.
Plans are still up in the air and a consultation is ongoing, but it was mooted there could be about 20,000 sq m of office space and 10,500 sq m of mixed retail and leisure space. While planning documents suggest there will be about 450 residential units, Cllr Stops noticed the slide show presentation put forward plans for 515.
"The number fluctuates up and down, depending on the height of the building," he was told by the developers.
"How little 'affordable housing' are they trying to get away with?" Cllr Brian Bell asked.
He was told it is about 20pc of the development, in comparison with Hackney's own target of 50pc.
"I can't support it for a second if there aren't more 'affordable' homes," he replied - but was told by Cllr Stops he would "need to have an open mind" and take account of the affordable workspace that will be on offer.
About 75,000 sq m is taken up in overall floor space in the current plans, which "significantly exceeds" the council's own masterplan for Hackney Central, as does the proposed height, according to planning officer Gareth Barnett.
Cllr Peter Snell expressed concerns the development should not turn out like Dalston Square which was completed in 2013, "has never been fully occupied" and is "already decaying".
"What sort of retail are you looking at?" he asked. "You talk about getting people around the table but what research have you done to create what you are talking about?"
The team would not be drawn on which operators were on the cards to move in. "I've always shied away from saying this is exactly what the scheme will look like in three years' time," said a spokesperson.
"It's essential to have working flexibility. The more we create a space that's pleasant and nice to walk around in, we can come back with more of that information."
Rafael Vinoli Architects (RVA) will come up with designs, and it is expected a planning application will be submitted between March and June. The site would be redeveloped in two phases, with office buildings, shops and flats, a new Tesco and car park built on the western side, ahead of a second phase where Tesco now stands.