Regenicide on Rampart Street?

In the last few rampART newsletters it was mentioned that a planning
application had been submitted to Tower Hamlets Planning Authority for
the redevelopment of properties in the rampART block. It should be stressed
before rumors start that this proposed development refers only to the four
houses in the block and not the rampART social center itself.
However, the gentrification of the street can only hasten the eventual end
for the social center which has now been open for three and a half years.

There is some potentially good news
(although not for those of us that live in the houses now threaten
with demolition). The alleged owner of the houses is no longer the
same as the alleged owner of the warehouse occupied by the rampART
social center and this suggests that the developers were not interested
in the warehouse. Looking at a copy of the complete
planning application (available on the Tower Hamlets Website ) it can be seen that there have been previous redevelopment schemes explored for the block, all of which did include the warehouse and all have been shelved.

Rampart Street is in a conservation zone and consent for demolishing
building of heritage value is not normally granted. While the developers
would like to have been able to knock down the whole block and build some
kind of high rise block of luxury apartments, that’s just not on the cards.
With redevelopment of the warehouse unattractive, the developers have had
to be content with the easier prospect of the houses and have put in a
proposal to demolish the back half of all four and build three new houses
facing the back street.
The statutory notification and public consultation required seems to have
been somewhat buggered. The application on the councils website states that
the consultation period started on the 28 Sep and ended on the 19 Oct 2007,
before anyone in the street was made aware of the application. A call to
the council led to letters finally being delivered to the houses stating 14
days to get in objections. On the 31st Oct, almost a week after the letters,
notices were finally put up in the street and they gave three weeks for
letters of objection.

There are several grounds possible for objection. Perhaps most significantly
in terms of planning issues, the new houses will also almost double the number
of tenants in the block but without any provision for new parking. Without
conditions prohibiting car ownership from new tenants, the development would
add significantly to the already dire traffic issues in the narrow streets.

Rampart Street is used as a rat run for cars avoiding the lights at the
Junction of New Road and Cannon Street Road. Pedestrians are already
endangered by the poor condition of the pavement combined with the narrow
cobbled street which is effectively a single lane due to parked vehicles.
The proposed development will make the situation much worse, especially
during the demolition and construction phase.
There will be significant disruption to those living, working and studying
in the area during demolition and construction. The pupils studying in the
school adjacent to the proposed construction site will suffer a great deal
of noise during working hours and those in the street will suffer from noise,
dust, vibration and traffic chaos caused by large plant vehicles trying to
navigate the narrow congested streets.
If built, the new properties facing Kinder Street could not adequately be
serviced by the emergency services. Emergency vehicles find it very difficult
to get to the back street at the best of times. Even when there are no
vehicles parked in the way there normally are) fire engines find it
impossible to make the turn.
The planning application indicates that the properties will be wheel
chair accessible and suitable for the elderly, the infirmed or young
families. However, the council would need to completely renovate the
pavements of both Kinder Street and parts of Rampart Street if wheelchair
users, push chairs or elderly people were to require daily access to the
back street.

The development will significantly change the character of the block which
is one of the few unmodernized terraces in the conservation area. Additionally,
the rare ‘back street character’ of Kinder Street will be lost forever,
another part of East End history wiped out and sanitized.
Additionally, three new houses built onto the back of the existing houses
will mean no windows at the back of those properties which contravenes the
right to light of those living there now and in the future.

The expensive new flats already built in the street during the last decade are
under utilized and have a high turn over of tenants, doing little to
contribute to the local
is not needed and the four existing houses are already housing many people.
There is no indication that the new houses will contribute to much needed
affordable social housing in Tower Hamlets and those made homeless by the
proposal will need to be rehoused somewhere.

Objections can be made by anyone who lives, works or makes use of amenity
in the area. You can see the plans and application forms in person at the
planning department offices during normal office hours or view them online
here ).

Objections should be made in writing to the department either by letter or email.
You should refer to the site or address of the proposed development
(7 to 11a Rampart Street, E1 2LA) and include the application reference number
PA/07/02707 and your own name and address.

If the Planning Application goes through to the panel you have the right to attend
and in certain circumstances make your views known on the proposal to those
Councillors present.

Letters should be sent to Tower Hamlets Planning Team
Mulberry Place (AH)
PO Box 55739
5 Clove Crescent
London E14 1BY

Tel: 020 7364 5009
Fax: 020 7364 5415
E-mail: <a href="mailto: <!– var prefix = 'mailto:'; var suffix = ''; var attribs = ''; var path = 'hr' + 'ef' + '='; var addy14936 = 'planning' + '@'; addy14936 = addy14936 + 'towerhamlets' + '.' + 'gov' + '.' + 'uk'; document.write( '‘ ); document.write( addy14936 ); document.write( ‘‘ ); //–> <!– document.write( '‘ ); //–> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it <!– document.write( '’ ); //–> “>

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Other relevant council documents:
Having your say in local development

The Unitary Development Plan

Local Development Framework

Conservation areas and listed buildings

 
 The follow text is based on a draft article written for a proposed social centers zine.
It’s posted here with some additions to provide something of a summary of the history
and current status of the rampART in the run up to a user consultation meeting being
planned for the 17th November.


 History and Evolution

The rampART social centre was established May 2004 in a derelict building previously
used as an Islamic girls school then left empty for two years before being squatted along
with the vacant houses in the block. The building underwent transformation from the
moment it was opened – a partition wall on the top floor was removed to create a space
large enough for banner painting and the once empty building was soon bursting at the
seams with furniture and equipment collected from the street.

With meetings, rehearsals, workshops, film screenings, benefit gigs and other performances,
the space was quickly put to good use and evolved. PeaceNews volunteers created a
wheelchair accessible toilet and a ramp that could be placed at the entrance and
windows on the ground floor were bricked for sound proofing after the weekly
samba band practice led to a noise abatement order.

Different layout were tried in the hall and modular stage created. The kitchen was
rearranged to make it a more practical space and a permanent serving area built. Further
work on these improvements were put on hold when the local authorities started
correspondence about health and safety inspections. A series of risk assessments and
visits from the fire brigade followed, then emergency lighting, smoke alarms, extinguishers
and safety notices sprung up around the building. The biggest job was the construction
of a new fire exit as previously there had been only one exit from the whole building.

The highly effective sound proofing was seriously compromised by the new fire exit and
a second noise abatement order was recently served despite the best efforts of the
collective and most of the event organisers. Most of the complaints, however, related
not to music from the building but noise and nuisance generated from people in street
during and after events and this has proved to be a much harder problem to solve than soundproofing.

Perhaps one of the biggest factors to shape the rampART has been it?s proximity to
the London Action Resource Center (LARC) . There has been virtual no interest in
office space at the rampART, with groups preferring the long term security offered
by LARC. Groups have tended to prefer using LARC for regular meetings while larger
one off meetings often end up at rampART along with benefit gigs and screenings.
It’s strength as a gig venue has led to a bit of a party culture in terms of proposals,
something that the collective is keen to keep in balance.

Current use and status

The need to keep noise off the street during events has led to work making the
roof garden a more attractive place for people to go for a breath of fresh air or a
cigarette. A covered area with seating has been built and railings set up around the
edge but it remains to be seen whether this is a practical solution. Excessive noise
from the roof is still likely to generate complaints and in the past, providing access
to the roof during events has resulted in major damage to the tiled area of the
roof when drunks have dislodged slates, creating leaks which have bought down
the ceilings and destroyed equipment.

Attempting to encourage more events other than parties, the collective recently
made the biggest changes to the building to date. Although there have been various large meetings and even weekend long gathering at the rampART (for example, the last few months has seen public meetings relating to DSEi and organising meetings and gatherings relating to both the No Border and Climate Camp), many people have commented that the rampART was too dark for such meetings. To address the problem walls on the first floor have now been removed to make a large, light and airy room about two thirds the size o the downstairs hall and good for meetings of up to 50 or 60 people.

The community served by the rampART has generally not been a local one, but a community of politically motivated people from around the capital and beyond. There have also been hundreds
of guests from all over the world enjoying free crash space while attending events in London. For example, seventy Bolivians stayed earlier this summer.

Regular users include the samba band, the radical theory reading group, the womens cafe, food not bombs and the cinema collective. The 24/7 rampART radio stream that started with coverage of the European Social Forum has expired a long time ago, resurrected occasionally for live coverage of major mobilisation like the G8 or DSEi. Other radio collectives now use the space to broadcast their weekly live shows – Wireless FM which came from St Agnes Place and Dissident Island Disks.

The future

What does the future hold for the rampART? While developers have bought and submitted planning applications for the squatted houses next to the rampART, there remains no indications that the warehouse itself will be redeveloped in the near future. With the property market cooling off significantly, who knows how long the social center might remain.

Since the climate camp there have been suggestions that the rampART should have an eco refit with rainwater harvesting, grey water flushes, perhaps even compost toilets and renewable energy. Whether it is worth doing these things in a squat, or whether anyone has the energy, skill or commitment to make it happen is another matter.

The current collective is keen to get more input and regular involvement from groups that use or would like to use the building. There are plans for a users meeting which, unlike for more practical organising that takes place at the normal weekly meetings, would be something of a consultation. It would be an opportunity for the collective to analyse the current and potential role of the rampART to different groups and campaigns, as well as giving chance for people not familiar with the collective to gain greater understanding of the decision-making processes, practical issues and problems related to project.

Also planned is an assembly of as many different campaigning groups as possible, along the lines of the long defunct ‘London Underground’ or ‘Radical assemblies’ that used to take place in London, Brighton and elsewhere at various times. The general format would be a go round in which each group has a couple of minutes to say what they are currently up to and what people can do to get involved. After the go round there might be some discussion to help link up collaborations or spin off meetings and actions, followed by a quiet social evening, food and drink in order to allow informal networking.

The aim is to help create a greater sense of unity between disparate groups, link up individuals to others working in their location or area of interest, reduce duplication of efforts and avoidable clashes and generally help to strengthen ‘the movement’. Initially this would be a one-off event although the hope is that it will prove useful and generate momentum to become a regular assembly, perhaps hosted on rotation in different parts of London.