By Paul Fitzpatrick
From Dalston Junction
if you look down the Lane towards Graham Road you can see the huge
blackened hulk of a building partly obscured by hoardings.
Torn posters advertise the NME Awards 2006 and a recent meeting
for the United Kingdom Church of God. It's a busy stretch of road,
not a place that invites you to stop and stare. Yet, up to its closure
in the late 1990s, this neglected ruin was once a vibrant centre
for emergent black music.
As the legendary Four Aces Club in the 1960s it played host to
international ska and reggae acts, in the 1970s a thriving sound
system scene and latterly (as the Labyrinth) it was home to techno/drum
and bass nights. Built in 1886, previously it had seen life as a
hippodrome, theatre and cinema. Its decline and fall, though, plays
a part in a wider story played out at the interface between community
and 'regeneration'. The theatre and the adjoining Georgian and Victorian
houses at 4-14 Dalston Lane stand in the way of what Transport for
London call a 'unique opportunity to transform Dalston Town Centre'.
The development is tied in with the opening of East London Line
there in 2010 and the London Olympics in 2012. Local group Opendalston,
while broadly welcoming the long-awaited arrival of a Tube connection,
have been campaigning to make people aware of what the plans might
result in for this part of the area. There have been complaints
that public consultations carried out last year have left local
people none the wiser. During one of these I, and many I've spoke
to, felt more than a little mystified by the officialese and opaque
language used to 'explain' the plans for Dalston Lane.
Though the buildings are not listed and planning permission not
required for demolition, campaigners believe the buildings should
be saved and restored for community use. An independent report carried
out by civil engineers states that the poor state of the buildings
was brought about by 'deliberate neglect' of the owners (Hackney
Council). Six major (some might say, suspicious) fires in recent
years have further contributed to the air of general decline along
It's estimated that 50% of the new housing proposed for the site
will be unaffordable for local people and a further 25% in the 'intermediate'
price bracket. People are asking will affordable rents for small
local retailers be maintained or are they to be forced out as is
happening in nearby Broadway Market, and many other towns and cities?
And, despite their overwhelming unpopularity and failure in the
past, tower blocks (of ten and eighteen storeys) are included in
Feelings have been running high. On February 1, in spite of an
overwhelming number of objections, the council's Sub-Committee voted
to demolish all of the buildings. Inside the council chamber the
decision was met with loud protests from the public gallery, the
evening culminating in one councillor being physically assaulted.
The bulldozers were due to go in yesterday (21 February) but at
the time of writing the buildings stand occupied by supporters of
the campaign to stop the demolition. The High Court also, this week,
found in favour of Opendalston seeking a judicial review of the
plans to demolish the site.
Ultimately, the case boils down to what kind of community people
want to live in and what price heritage, local culture and social
diversity? There are many on Dalston Lane calling for a greater
transparency from our representatives at Hackney Council and they're
asking who really stands to benefit from this development? Just
what is "best value"? Best value for who?
Open Dalston is a not-for-profit organisation set up by local
residents concerned for Dalston's future. Contact them at email@example.com