Artists in east London say they feel like cattle, moved around the capital at the whim of politicians and developers. Fears for the creative community were raised at a meeting in Hackney Wick to discuss the impact of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park regeneration.
That is being led by London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), which says the project will bring 3,000 jobs, 1.5million additional visitors and £2.8billion of economic value to the area.
But artists say their community is in danger of being swept away by the tide of commercial development.
Activist Nima Tehranchi said: “There seems to be this assumption that the artistic herd will move on.
“But this area is a main artery of creatives feeding into London.
“We have seen it in Dalston and Shoreditch and now in Hackney Wick. If it is moved we will lose that vibrancy.
“The problem with treating artists like cattle and saying ‘We will make you this pen to work from,’ is that it doesn’t fulfil our needs.”
The round-table discussion between 20 artists and the London Assembly regeneration committee was told that last year Hackney Wick had one of the highest concentrations of artists in Europe, with 600 studios. But many are now being pushed out.
In September, Save Hackney Wick campaigners lost a high-profile battle with LLDC and 100 studios at Vittoria Wharf will now be demolished to make space for a footbridge.
Campaign leader Nima said new studios built in a neighbouring development were largely empty and LLDC lacked the will to understand the community’s needs.
He said:“What we created was grown organically over years and can’t just be replaced.”
The committee is due to publish a report in February into how culture-led regeneration in London could help expand the capital’s artistic and creative base, but also how it could threaten existing communities.
Members met with artists at arts centre Stour Space.
The facility was founded in a disused building almost a decade ago by Neil McDonald who had no idea it would one day be overshadowed by the Olympic Stadium and under threat from development.
He said the venue had flourished thanks to the strong community spirit.
“We could move somewhere else,” he said. “But we have built this up over the last decade, at grass roots, with contributions from the community and grants that probably total £8million.
“To pick up and move somewhere else wouldn’t work.”
Artists said they felt their future was constantly under threat because cultural venues were overlooked in planning applications.
Artist Lucinda Rogers said: “If you agree that variety is good for the community then the planners’ job is to create that variety as much as they can.
“Unfortunately the plan here seems to be very narrow and development focussed.
“Back in their offices the planners are chugging along their path, which for some reason doesn’t include listening to what’s going on.”
Another artist said stifling the creative community to make way for commercial consumption akin to that in Stratford was a “death knell”.
Nima said: “What we produce here – art, books, poetry – lasts for decades. Gadgets and clothes only last six months before being worthless.”
Following the meeting committee chairman Navin Shah said Mayor Of London Sadiq Khan should look to artists in Hackney Wick as inspiration for how to promote London’s culture.
He added: “There is a lot of frustration here in terms of engagement with LLDC and this is something that needs to improve. That is the message we will take away.
“I agree the planning regime needs to address this issue.
“When Local Action Plans are being drawn up cultural facilities like artist studios need to feature as part of the critical provision and as part of the regeneration.
“If that is done that safeguards – as well as gives opportunities to promote – culture, because you are demanding by law that provision is made.”
Legacy chiefs challenge portrayal
Speaking at a London Assembly regeneration committee meeting on Thursday, London Legacy Development Corporation chiefs rejected suggestions that it wasn't listening to artists and entrepreneurs in the enclave.
Dr Paul Brickell, executive director of regeneration and community partnerships, cited five examples where the LLDC had helped people to achieve agreement and only one where there was still disatisfaction.
He said: "There was a warehouse which we were going to demolish to build a bridge. We didn’t board it up, which other developers would have done, we let it for five years on a low rent. It’s not that we wish to knock that building down to do something awful. What we wish to do is to build a bridge – which has been an ambition of Tower Hamlets Council for about 15 years.
"This area needs connectivity to make a normal part of London which is a prerequisite. Bridges are important. We are unravelling the mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s and one of the chief mistakes in the Lower Lea Valley was to build housing estates without the proper connectivity with each other."
LLDC chief executive David Goldstone said: "The point of [Dr Brickell's] examples where we helped local people in the areas we are talking about, we helped them do exactly what they wanted to do because we listened and because we engaged.
"So we have one example where we haven’t been able to reach that happy agreement but multiple examples where we have – so that doesn’t interpret that we’re not listening and not engaging.
"It means in one case we haven’t been able to reach agreement because there is another priority about the use of that site – a bridge."
Dr Brickell said he was in contact with people like Nima Tehranchi and was there was no animosity on either side.
He said: "I’ve given examples where we have supported people to do things, not we’ve done things and people have agreed with it. I have said to Nima, 'I completely agree with your ambition I would like to support you to do it but not on that particular site. Let’s go and find somewhere else'."
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