‘Un-Poplar’ Harca is killing off social housing, say Chrisp Street protesters

The protesters' banner on the tower block
‘UnPoplar’: the protesters’ banner on the tower block

Protesters marched through Poplar on Tuesday to demand more information and greater transparency about redevelopment plans for Chrisp Street Market.

Campaign group Our Chrisp Street attached a banner to a tower block reading: “HARCA – you cheat, you lie, social housing dies.”

It accuses housing association Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association (HARCA) of presiding over a net loss of social housing in the area and fears the same will happen with the market.

The plans for Chrisp Street will transform the market into a “new commercial and leisure destination” according to the website of developer Telford Homes, with the first phase of the project reported to cost £123.6 million.

A planning application has not yet been made, but Telford Homes states on its website that it plans to start work on the seven-year project in 2017. Poplar HARCA says it will submit a planning application “within the next couple of months”.

Chrisp Street protesters said they have not been given enough information about the plans and have not been adequately consulted. They have branded the housing association “un-Poplar HARCA”.

Speaking before the protest, Glenn McMahon, a member of campaign group Tower Hamlets Renters, expressed concern about the lack of information available about the development and criticised Poplar HARCA’s record on redeveloping social housing estates in the area.

“Poplar HARCA’s previous four housing developments – Aberfeldy, Leopold, Burdett and Brownfield estates – have all seen a loss of social housing and a huge increase in private homes for sale, so we are concerned that Chrisp Street will see the trend continue,” Mr McMahon said.

Mr McMahon said businesses in the Market have not been offered any assurances they will be able to return to their current premises and that the level rents would be charged at in the new development had not been discussed.

“The suspicion is the rents will be too much for most of the businesses and those that can afford the new rents will have to increase their prices,” he said. “But more likely there will be an influx of chain and boutique stores aimed at a different market.”

Mr McMahon stressed that his organisation was not against regeneration projects if they were supported by the community, but he added: “What Tower Hamlets Renters would like to see is Poplar HARCA be transparent with its plans and genuinely consult with the whole community before finalising them.

“That means not only listening to residents’, traders’ and shoppers’ concerns but acting on them. It also means explaining the consequences of their plans and offering assurances where appropriate.”

‘Reinvigorated market’

Poplar HARCA has said that formal consultations will take place in April and May this year and that it has been “working with traders, residents, the council and other stakeholders for months, in some cases years”.

No planning documents have been submitted giving final details of the scheme, but artists’ impressions of the proposed development indicate that the existing market will be substantially rebuilt, with several new structures replacing the current south concourse connecting the market with East India Dock Road. The market’s famous clock-tower appears to be retained in the drawings, supplemented with a large octagonal glass structure and a purple-tinted tower containing cogs.

Poplar HARCA said the aim of the redevelopment is to “recreate the buzz that this iconic community retail and leisure area used to have, with the additional benefit of new homes” and create “a reinvigorated market, with additional pitches, new retail and leisure and new homes.” In a statement on the protest, it said: “Poplar HARCA welcomes all opinions, especially from those who share its aim to keep improving the local area, create new homes and jobs, and revive what was the first covered market in the country to its former glory.”

Poplar HARCA is the housing association that owns Brutalist social housing landmark the Balfron Tower, along with several thousand other homes in Poplar. Earlier this year, it received planning permission to re-furbish Balfron Tower ahead of its sale as high-end private flats.

Telford Homes bought its share in Poplar schemes from fellow developer United House in 2015 for £23million.

Chrisp Street Market has operated since the 19th century, and was rebuilt in its current form during the Festival of Britain in the early 1951. Capital Properties Ltd. manages the commercial buildings surrounding the central market area, with shops including a laundrette, several cafes, a supermarket, a Post Office, a Dahabshiil money transfer point and a bakery. Market stalls sell fruit and vegetables, clothes, kitchen equipment and other goods.

A website for Chrisp Street Market registered to Poplar HARCA and managed by Capital Properties describes the existing market as having “so much to offer and a great deal to be proud of – a vibrant, diverse centre, with a strong sense of identity and heritage as a market and a retail area”.

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