I have lived in Clapton for almost 7 years and am writing to object in the strongest possible terms to the proposed ‘Hackney Fashion Hub’ at Hackney Central. It absolutely beggars belief that £2 million has been allocated from the GLA’s ‘riot regeneration fund’ to further hand the area to wealthy private developers who have little connection to or interest in an area beyond the profit they can derive from it and the cachet it can offer their portfolios.
The transformation of large swathes of Central London, from much of the so-called ‘Olympic zone’ to Westfield and the Shard, into private for-profit areas is an immense problem for our city. These developments parachute into areas in order to attract wealthy consumers and offer little but tick-box nods to long-standing residents and businesses. This is especially the case in an area of huge inequality such as Hackney, where the levels of deprivation and poverty make it almost grotesque that anyone could think this was a serious response to the issues raised by the riots. In fact it suggests that the desired aim is to quicken the pace of gentrification and price ‘undesirables’ out of the area rather than invest in far less glossy, but far more meaningful, initiatives to begin to tackle the area’s many complex problems and (most importantly) keep it accessible and relevant to the people who actually live there.
The process of fractured, ill-thought out gentrification which has gathered pace in London does not remotely begin to address poverty – it merely displaces it. This ‘Fashion Hub’ will contribute massively to this while further fuelling the inequality which played such a large part in the riots – indeed, it cynically seeks to capitalise on the area’s ‘edge’ while offering little of practical worth in return. Investment in local business, local start-ups and training/education for young people should not be an after-thought addendum to a mega-development which almost no-one in the area seems to have asked for but is instead the pipe dream of local politicians. They should be the fundamental starting point – particularly for a fund ostensibly aimed at addressing the aftermath of the riots. We are already seeing the squandering of the Olympic ‘legacy’ with broken promises re: affordable housing and the creation of what are little more than gated communities completely removed from the surrounding area. The Olympics saw large swathes of land and public money being handed to private developers and enormous multinational corporations who little needed it – the Fashion Hub shows that this shows no signs of abating. The alienation and frustration which this project has the potential to (further) fuel is potent and a further example of the very processes which contributed to the riots.
I’ve no doubt that many voices opposed to the Hub will be characterised as being against ‘change’ or preferring that the area ‘remains poor’ rather than ‘attract’ big business. These facile arguments rest on the notion that it’s a zero sum option between this absurd project and nothing, which is patently a nonsense. All of us who live in Hackney want to do well by the area – we do not want it to become the plaything of wealthy tourists who come for a few hours to shop, spend their money in businesses which quickly move most of the profits out of the area (and indeed no doubt do their best to avoid paying tax on much of it in some cases) and taunt the local residents who couldn’t dream of affording most of what is for sale. Like many others, I felt real fear and despair during the riots, just as I feel fear and despair at the direction the United Kingdom is travelling under the auspices of ‘austerity’. A Labour council in an area such as Hackney should be using this money to offer real investment, real hope, real change to the residents who need it most – not handing it over to already-wealthy developers and businesses. If this Hub goes ahead it will be nothing less than a scandal.