Who can forget those scenes nearly two years ago: grainy CCTV shots of impoverished youths fleeing JD Sports and Comet with armfuls of sportswear and electronic goods during the London riots. A generation of disenfranchised teens grabbing whatever their light-fingered hands could carry in a wild, opportunist rampage.
Hackney was a rioting hotspot. It has one of the highest levels of child poverty and is ranked as London's most deprived borough. What does the council think could benefit the marginalised young community? Some youth clubs? Development of public spaces? Arts and sports programs? Why no! What Hackney really needs is a gargantuan designer super mall, duh! A seven storey, clinical, glass-fronted shopping mecca called the Hackney Fashion Hub. Post riots the Greater London Authority set by a £70 million regeneration fund "towards major long term improvements to the damaged town centres and high streets." In what appears to be case of Operation: Image Control as opposed to Damage Control, the HFH will apparently be in receipt of £2 million from the GLA regen fund.
It started with Burberry. The British label opened an outlet at the site of their old Chatham Place factory in Hackney Central some five years ago. Since then a sprinkling of other heritage UK labels like Aquascutum and Pringle have moved into neighbouring heritage buildings. So far, so British.
The £100 million David Adjaye designed HFH will house gargantuan international luxury fashion brands and is aiming to be East London's Bicester Village. Looking at the project's website, it nostalgically (read: cynically) appropriates the East End's rag-trade history, packaging our now lost British clothes manufacturing industry as a romantic USP for the mega-mall. Of course, it fails to mention that Burberry (a brand who extolls Britishness) manufacture almost all their goods in China. Certainly not their long-closed Hackney factory.
Should the planning permission be granted, the retail monolith will destroy the beautiful historical buildings like the Duke of Wellington pub and Gravel Pit Chapel which Aquascutum and Pringle presently occupy.
One emerging fashion designer who lives on the neighbouring street from the proposed development is being evicted from her warehouse thanks to the property being bought and turned into luxury flats. Despite the HFH claiming to support up-and-coming fashion talent, she vehemently opposes the plans, "I feel the small amount of opportunities the HFH will create is nothing in comparison to the negative impact it will have by out-pricing many struggling creative people from their work spaces to create a shopping destination for the rich. It will destroy the unique and creative community already here in Hackney."
Indeed, The Textile Building, currently being erected next to Burberry, is a bland yet ultra-pricey totem to pseudo bohemian loft-style living which will only help intensify rent-hikes.
Other than increasing rents for existing residents and destroy culturally significant buildings , the HFH will potentially further drive away small local businesses like the scrap merchants and mechanics who've already been paid off and evicted by Network Rail from their Morning Lane railway arches workshops.
Unsurprisingly concerned residents and businesses have launched a petition appealing to Hackney Council Planning and Regulatory Services to reject the HFH's planning application. It is rapidly gaining support from other concerned locals.
The HFH seeks to only cosmetically restore Hackney's post-riot image rather than invest in and serve the community. A glossy, image-control Band Aid over one of London's desperately under-privileged areas. A Band Aid which will only rupture and burst as the boil of social-disparity seeps from underneath. Hackney's gentrification is important but must happen, slowly, organically and with residents and local businesses in mind. In harmony with the vibrant, multifarious community. My home.
£2 million GLA injection or not, fuelling the shallow, consumerist aspirational culture (which ironically is what pervades the impoverished rioting kids) by whitewashing a veneer of affluence is not the answer. It will only increase social marginalisation and frustration. East London already has Westfield in Stratford, it does not need another twinkly mecca to consumption to further alienate its poor community.
God forbid the riots ever repeat themselves, should they do, the youth of Hackney will no doubt be setting their five-fingered discount sights higher than JD Sports, that's for sure.