Successes and challenges – reflecting on investment in Hackney Central
Cllr Guy Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Planning, Culture and Inclusive Economy, responds to recent media coverage on Hackney Walk.
Last week, the Hackney Gazette reported on the vacant units at Hackney Walk, the fashion district in Hackney Central that the Council and the Greater London Authority supported in the aftermath of the 2011 riots.
The ambition back then was clear. Backing the refurbishment of the railway arches – with a mix of private investment and funding from the Mayor of London – would take advantage of an emerging cluster of fashion businesses setting up shop, boosting our town centre, bringing in new visitors and creating jobs and career opportunities for local people.
This transformation was part of a long list of coordinated projects to improve our town centre – with new shop fronts for businesses damaged in the riots, a new walkway between Hackney Central and Hackney Downs stations and the pedestrianisation of the Narrow Way.
It was a well-supported plan, with funding from the Greater London Authority and backed by public sector partners, local businesses and institutions, charities and faith groups.
Much of this work has been a success, with more people visiting local businesses in the heart of our borough than ever and new shops, restaurants and bars choosing to make Hackney Central their home.
But it is clear that Hackney Walk has not been the success we all hoped for when it opened in 2016. Despite a great start – with more than a dozen new businesses, training and opportunities for young people in fashion manufacturing and a sense of excitement about the future – a challenging retail environment and changes in ownership have seen traders leave and too many buildings are now sitting empty.
We should never be ashamed that we tried. But it is clear that the time has come to respond to changing times. Retailers on high streets across the country have struggled from shoppers moving online and Government-imposed business rate hikes. Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, is right to recognise the challenges Hackney Walk is facing and demand action. To take this call for action forward, I have written to the new owners of Hackney Walk, LabTech, to kickstart discussions about their plan and what is holding them back from bringing the vacant units in Hackney Walk back into use – including whether shifting the focus away from high-end fashion would be the right thing to do.
Any new plans must reflect the interests of residents – many of whom have made it clear that they struggle to see the benefits or opportunities from Hackney Walk, saying they felt that these spaces were not for them.
Hackney is experiencing rapid change, that brings with it challenges, and residents and businesses expect their Council to do everything in its power to ensure changes deliver tangible benefits for them – not just investors and developers.
That’s why the Council launched the Hackney Central Conversation in July – a long-term, wide-ranging listening exercise about the future of Hackney Central. More than 3,000 people have already visited the dedicated website, taken part in workshops or spoken to the Conversation team in the street.
To help build a fairer Hackney, visit the website and ensure your thoughts and ideas are heard.
Cllr Guy Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Planning, Culture and Inclusive Economy