Shoreditch is getting taller. Its brownfield sites are set for an unprecedented construction boom in the coming years. Developments along Shoreditch High Street will add more new homes than can be found at the refurbished Olympics athletes' village.
We looked at planning documents from Hackney and Tower Hamlets Councils covering five sites off Shoreditch High Street: Principal Place (permission granted subject to legal conditions), The Stage (ditto), Avant Garde (completed), Shoreditch Village (permission granted subject to legal conditions) and the former Bishopsgate Goods Yard now known as The Goodsyard (planning permission yet to be granted).
Taken together, the sites account for up to 3,051 new residential units across 5.5m sq ft of newly developed residential, retail and office space. For comparison, the Olympics athletes' village, which has been converted into a residential development called East Village, consists of 2,800 residential units.
"[The scale of development] looks rather too big...hence, of course, it will be a massive gentrification," says Andy Pratt, Professor of Cultural Economy at City University London and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, who has researched this part of town. "Of course, the area is one of constant change, but this scale of change would be dramatic."
The 'Canary Wharf-isation' of Shoreditch
The schemes will transform the Shoreditch skyline. Current plans for the goodsyard, which has yet to be submitted for planning approval, call for four towers in excess of 30 storeys, plus a fifth of over 20 storeys. They will sit opposite a 50-storey residential tower designed by Norman Foster in the Principal Place development, for which planning permission has been granted. The nearby tower known as The Stage will add another highrise.
"We're seeing the Canary Wharf-isation of Shoreditch," says Andrew Harris, another expert on the area's history and development, who heads the masters degree programme in urban studies at University College London.
The most imposing building on Shoreditch High Street currently is the eight-storey Tea Building, on the corner of Bethnal Green Road, which was built in the 1930s as a Lipton tea warehouse.
According to Harris, the two dominant urban development models in London are exemplified by the Canary Wharf financial district and Shoreditch. Even as columns are written decrying the 'Shoreditch-fication' of other areas of London, it turns out that Shoreditch itself is being transformed.
"I always thought the greatest transformation [in Shoreditch] happened in the late 90s. It's incredible to think the momentum hasn't stopped since. What we're seeing now [in Shoreditch] is development on a much bigger scale," Harris says.
This 40-storey tower and surrounding plaza are likely to make the biggest impression on Londoners, both for the tower's striking orange appearance and the cultural venue built into its base. The Stage, as its name alludes, will be built over the foundations of one of London's earliest theatres, where Romeo and Juliet was probably first staged. The archaeological remains will be preserved and incorporated into a visitor centre and small theatre. The scheme includes 385 homes. The need for affordable housing was waived because of the expense to the developer of preserving the archaeology, but 40 'affordable' homes will nevertheless be built off-site. The scheme also include significant retail and business units.
This scheme includes a 50-storey tower with 243 apartments, and a 15-storey office complex. The site is adjacent to the Broadgate Tower, on the junction of Worship Street and Shoreditch High Street. At 161 metres, the Norman Foster-designed residential tower would be the same height as its existing neighbour. It will be developed by US-based Brookfield and Canada's Concord Pacific.
This development, which includes a 74 metre tower, was recently completed by Telford Homes on Bethnal Green Road. It contains 257 apartments, the most striking of which is a near-£3 million penthouse. The development, opposite Rich Mix, has sold well, but was also nominated for the 2013 Carbuncle Cup, which 'celebrates' bad architecture.
The old car park at the back of Village Underground (the famous Shoredich venue with the two old tube carriages on the roof) is to be transformed into a mixed-use area called Shoreditch Village. It will include homes, offices, retail and numerous food and drink offerings, as well as a market.
The proposed development on the site of the former Bishopsgate goodsyard is the largest of the lot. You might have noticed that Shoreditch Station sits within a seemingly unnecessary concrete box. This was built ahead of time, to protect the station from future development above. The scheme, as currently envisaged, will add 3.7 million sq ft of residential, retail and office space including up to 2,000 new homes. It is being developed by two of Britain's biggest builders, Hammerson and Ballymore. Plans have yet to be submitted and detailed architectural impressions are not available.
Affordable Housing in Hackney
The impact of the planned residential units on Hackney's housing supply is one of the main concerns around the Shoreditch sites. Alex Rhys-Taylor, a Spitalfields resident and deputy director of the Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths University of London, points out that public services and housing resources in the borough are already strained.
"This is a massive increase in density. Will there be new public services in the area to cater for this? People are waiting three or four weeks sometimes for a doctor's appointment. They are struggling to deal with [density] at the moment," he says.
Hackney Council has an affordable housing policy in place that mandates 50% of all new developments, from 2011, must consist of 'affordable housing'. Affordability is defined as a percentage of prevailing market rates. A one-bedroom flat, for example, is deemed 'affordable' if a tenant pays up to 70% of its market rate.
Planning guidance for the goodsyard site, for example, stipulates that 35% of its residential units, or up to 700 units, must be affordable. That planning document was issued in 2010. The Principal Place development, which won approval in August 2011, has an even lower proportion of 'affordable' units — 39, or 13% of the total number of residential units in the development.
"What constitutes affordable housing in London is a really big question," Rhys-Taylor adds.
Prices Going up
According to sales figures recorded by Sitrling Ackroyd, the property agency that has its headquarters on Curtain Road a stone's throw from the five Shoreditch sites, residential property prices in the area are rising steadily. Buyers paid an average of £541 per sq ft for Shoreditch residential property in 2007, compared with £900-£1,200 per sq ft last year. In nearby Clerkenwell, for example, the firm recorded average prices of £681 per sq ft in 2007 compared with £924 per sq ft last year. Prices have also been steadily rising in Hackney Central, from an average of £359 per sq ft in 2010 to £609 per sq ft last year, according to the agency's records.
Rising property prices in Shoreditch benefit landlords. But some landlords are questioning the impact of the planned developments on the area. James Goff founded Stirling Ackroyd and has lived in Shoreditch since the early '80s. He also owns property in the vicinity of the planned developments. He campaigned against Principal Place, for example, because it threatened one of his businesses, a bar called The Light, that is housed in a 19th-century electricity substation next to the Foster development. Goff is ambivalent about the long-term impact on Shoreditch the new developments might bring.
"In 1983 you could buy any Victorian building for 20 pounds a foot, freehold. Now, we're getting well over £1,000 a foot on converted residential [units]. That's just over 25 years, that's phenomenal growth. But [development] has to be sympathetic [to the area] and sustainable. If we get lots of steel and glass buildings going up and then in five years they are empty, how depressing will that be? That's not good for the area," he said.
Among the benefits large-scale developments are thought to produce are an increase in local job opportunities. But Murselin Islam, a community development and tenant participation officer at Spitalfields Housing Association, is sceptical. The organisation is the largest Bangladeshi-led group of its kind in the UK, and it owns and manages homes for families in the area. Murselin recounted another large-scale development, of Old Spitalfields Market and Bishops Square, which promised to bring benefits to the area that, he believes, never materialised. Ballymore was the owner of the market and Hammerson was one of the developers.
"We'd been told that probably about a thousand new jobs would be created in the area at the time, seven or eight years ago. But at some point, everything kind of faded away. None of our residents got employed. We were never told at the very end how many local people got jobs," he said.
Brookfield declined to comment for this article. Hammerson and Hackney Council have not responded to questions at the time of publication.
History of Change
The recent history of Shoreditch is rife with change. As Andrew Harris of UCL notes in his published research on the area, widespread deindustrialisation of inner London occurred during the 1980s. Shoreditch was a site of light industry from the 19th century. But deindustrialisation created a surplus of disused Victorian warehouses and other industrial spaces that attracted visual artists, fashion designers and other creative specialists with cheap rents.
In the 1990s, Shoreditch and neighbouring Hoxton were the backdrop for the explosion of a new breed of savvy art graduates — the YBAs. The likes of Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas and Fiona Rae moved into the warehouses and workshops off Shoreditch High Street, Great Eastern Street and Old Street, creating an artistic community and movement that came to define the British art scene. Nearby, Gilbert and George had moved into Spitalfields and Tracy Emin was in Bethnal Green. The social loci of the burgeoning Shoreditch art scene was the Bricklayers' Arms at the junction of Charlotte Road and Rivington Street. As Harris notes in his paper: "During the 1990s, both the area and idea of Hoxton became a significant artistic launching pad and calling card."
But the current plans for Shoreditch contain an echo of the area's deeper past. According to Harris, before Shoreditch became a site of Victorian industry, it was a suburb for wealthy bankers and diplomats who worked in the City in the 16th century.
"[Shoreditch] was an upmarket suburb for people to live close by the City of London. In some respects, it's returning to its pre-industrial role," he says.
Local groups have spoken out against some of the planned developments. The East End Preservation Society, for example, was launched on 27 November partly in response to developers' plans for the goodsyard. The historian and broadcaster Dan Cruikshank, one of the society's founders, is a resident of neighbouring Spitalfields. He thundered at the launch event that the East End had become "an unsavoury developers' playground" and singled out the goodsyard as a valuable site that had been "sat on" by developers until property market conditions suited them.
The society has gained support from some local residents. Johnny Vercoutre, for example, owns a home on Shoreditch High Street. He says he is considering moving out of the area after living there for 20 years, largely because of the amount of construction taking place around his home.
Vercoutre runs the Time for Tea cafe from the ground floor of the building he owns. He lives upstairs. The space, a seamless homage to the 30s, is also available for rent for photo shoots and events. Vercoutre's property is not directly affected by the new Shoreditch sites highlighted above. The construction affecting him comes from smaller developments.
"We wake up to the sound of construction every morning. There is a lot of bullying going on with these developers right now, and that's why we're considering moving out," he claims.
Not all locals are against the development at the goodsyard. Gary Sharkey, who lives across the street from the site, attended one of the development's information sessions last summer. Amid placards filled with statistics and descriptions of the proposed development, the sustainability consultant noted with approval the developers' efforts at consulting with the public.
"I've never seen anything like this before. This type of engagement builds a greater sense of community. I look forward to getting more from the site than I do now," he said.
Like any area-changing development, the Shoreditch projects are sure to attract both ire and interest. As the towers of the Square Mile continues their seemingly inexorable march north and east, into former industrial lands, the people living and working there will surely change too. This is a story that has been repeated in London many times, over many centuries. Yet the scale of change we'll see in Shoreditch over the next decade is almost unprecedented.
By Joon Ian Wong