Matt Johnson’s Speech: Co – Chair of the SCA Shoreditch

"Like many people in this room I have a strong emotional investment in this part of London due to family connections that stretch back many generations. This makes it very hard to just walk away from the fights we are now facing.

In recent years Shoreditch has become trapped in a pincer movement between two pieces of legislation that have disempowered the local authority, disenfranchised the local community and unleashed an orgy of greed that is disfiguring our neighbourhood.

The Licensing Act of 2003 stripped power from the local authority to effectively regulate the so-called ‘night time economy’.

The London Plan (in 2004 and its revisions) deregulated planning laws on tall buildings and handed excessive power to the Mayor of London to overrule local authorities on large scale developments in their boroughs.

These pieces of legislation may not seem related but I believe they are and consequently Shoreditch has become Magaluf by night and the Klondike by day.

When I first moved to Shoreditch in the mid 1980’s there were 15 licensed premises and these served the local community well.

After the Licensing Act this trickle became a flood and we now have 300 licensed premises with more applications pouring in monthly. Shoreditch is now a booze-tourist destination with over 30,000 drunks screaming outside our bedroom windows, 3 nights per week, with rising levels of crime, noise and anti-social behaviour.

A rooted community of active citizens has a civilising effect upon an area, but due to the Licensing Act, and the subsequent inability of the local authority to represent and protect local residents from the chaos it unleashed, many people who care deeply about the history and buildings of Shoreditch are being pushed out and replaced by a transient community of passive consumers and bystanders who show little interest in fighting to protect the local heritage.

There is now a very thin blue line of active, and exhausted, citizens trying to defend our neighbourhood. We are heavily outgunned by the opposition and Shoreditch is drifting dangerously out of balance.

Which brings me on to the Klondike part of my analogy and the property developers who are crawling over themselves to stake a claim in our neighbourhood – and they don’t just want our homes. They also want the sky above our homes!

We are facing battles on a daily basis but the biggest one on the horizon is at Bishopsgate Goodsyard.

Along with other members of the local community I was involved in the early steering groups and the consultation process. The developers stressed they wanted this development to be seen as part of Shoreditch and not part of the City. One of the questions they asked during the consultation is where people would prefer the low, medium and tall buildings to go.

Anyone who knows anything about Shoreditch knows that a tall building, in local context, is the Tea Building at 8 stories. Medium is the 4/5 stories Victorian light industrial type found here and low would be a Georgian terrace at 3 stories, that is our streetscape, our context.

So when, a few weeks ago, the developers finally unveiled their models, to say we were surprised is something of an understatement.

In the developers’ world a low-rise building is twice the height of the Tea Building! Their medium is a whopping 38 stories! And tall is completely off the scale at 58 stories! This grotesque over-development was surely designed for Hong Kong rather than Shoreditch.

An entire, existing neighbourhood will be cast into permanent shadow in order to line the pockets of private developers who acquired land that was in the public domain at a knock-down price. It is beyond outrageous.

The consultation process now stands revealed as a charade, the community of Shoreditch are treated like turkeys and being asked to vote for Christmas, although a choice is given – would we prefer to be stuffed with Paxo sage & onion or Tesco’s own brand. In other words would we prefer a flowerbed or some shrubs besides the 58 story skyscrapers they are plonking down in front of our homes.

The only way to fight the disastrous acts of legislation mentioned above, and to bring power back to the local authorities, and as a consequence local communities, is by forcing these issues onto the agenda of the next London Mayoral and general elections.

The only way this can be done is by more and more local communities standing together, under one banner, and creating bigger and bigger waves. I hope the East End Preservation Society will be a big step in this direction."

Please share you feelings on this matter…..

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