Traders’ fury over council’s Hackney Heart subsidies

Hackney Heart in the Narroway

Hackney Heart in the Narroway - Credit: Archant

Traders are angry with Hackney Council for subsidising a trendy “middle class” pop-up café to operate rent and rate free in a prime business spot – while they struggle to make ends meet.

Most shops in the Narrow Way have seen rents rise and rates more than double – but the council sublet Hackney Heart rent-free to Jane MacIntyre, who also runs Hackney Homemade Market in the same road.

The café and gallery - which launched two months ago - sells arts and crafts from local artists, and the council insists it is a not-for-for profit initiative.

The council refused to disclose to the Gazette how much taxpayer cash it spends renting the unit, but a Freedom of Information request submitted by London Assembly member Andrew Boff shows the figures come to £16,000 rent for six months. Local traders told the Gazette they are unhappy about its “unfair advantage”.

Pound Plus trader Murat Selkoui was in discussion about potential financial support the council could provide him with to open a café in his ailing premises when he heard that Hackney Heart was opening next door.

With rent at £26,000 a year and annual business rates owed to the council of £7,100, he doesn’t feel able to compete.

Lila James, who provides business advice to some of the shop owners in the Narrow Way said: “You can’t be charging other businesses which are really struggling with top whack business rates while another shop has no rates and no rent.”

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Hackney Lib Dem spokesman Tony Harms said it was “extraordinary”.

He pointed out that the council insisted charity Centerprise – the book shop and community centre – was outsted from its Dalston premises in 2012 after its peppercorn rent was upped to the £37,000 market rate.

A council spokesman insisted the café “is unlikely ever to make a profit” – but refused to reveal its turnover.

He said Ms MacIntyre was the only “volunteer” willing to take it on, adding: “If a big retailer comes along we will obviously go for this to improve the street and try and find an alternative location for Hackney Heart.

“Hackney Heart is part of the council’s exciting plans to reinvigorate the Narrow Way.”

Ms MacIntyre said: “The shop, which is open seven days a week, is not profit making and I am not getting paid to run it.

“Hackney Heart is a community led space which is much more than just a shop.

“Visitors are encouraged to come in and visit the space, with no obligation to buy, but to look at the gallery space, have a chat, borrow a book or enjoy one of the free events.”

She added: “Hackney is my favourite place in the world and I have worked on a number of local projects over the last few years.”