Wednesday, 17 September 2014

East London's Oval

All over inner East London are sites and areas that remain stubbornly resistant to improvement. Several stretches of Hackney Road looks as if they are recovering from some kind of disaster - sites have decayed steadily over the last thirty or forty years, resisting the tide of gentrification (or renewal, take your pick) that has gone on all around.

Between the east end of Hackney Road and the Regents Canal is an extraordinary area called The Oval. This is the relic, or rather trace, of a housing development laid out in the nineteenth century as two crescents of terraced houses facing each other across a small oval-shaped green, yards from the Regents Canal which was built in the same period.

Today all that remains is the plan form, apparent both in the shape of the central space, occupied by cars tidily parked within the oval kerb in the photo above, and the line of the frontages of the surrounding buildings on either side, now a motley collection of run down, low grade light industrial buildings together with one, apparently abandoned, construction site.

The open space is protected by the London Squares Preservation Act; and the space, but not the buildings, is in a conservation area. 

The area has been allocated for redevelopment by the local authority, Tower Hamlets, but what prospect is there of anything happening? And if anything does happen, what prospect is there of it happening to a coherent pattern, which is what is needed.  Virtually none on both counts, would be my guess. 

Another guess is that there are lots of individual freeholds.  Hope value is presumably high for landowners, but yards from a regeneration (/gentrification) hotspot like Broadway Market, nothing happens - except for one site, and even that seems to have got stuck halfway through -  and a blot on the landscape sits there decade after decade.  

In the ghastly Newspeak of heritage policy, there is some 'heritage significance' that could be 'better revealed' here.  Or in English: the best thing to do would be to build a matching pair of crescent shaped buildings, bigger than the nineteenth century ones to suit modern densities, facing each other across a green, and with views of the canal - the Victorian Oval reinvented for twenty first century London.   If I hadn't just read The Banned List, I'd ask - what's not to like? 

A case for some sort of public agency (best not Tower Hamlets, probably) to undertake land assembly, if ever there was one - along the lines promoted fifteen years ago by the Urban Task Force. Remember that?  

Or if that is a bit interventionist for present political tastes, could it be possible to devise an incentive for landowners to cooperate in a coherent joint venture that is hard to resist?