Controversial plans to build a Sainsbury’s in the centre of Stoke Newington have been thrown out in a vote by councillors on Wednesday.
Some 200 members of the public attended the meeting at Hackney Town Hall, in which plans for the development at Wilmer Place were rejected by a majority of 4:2.
Susan Fajana-Thomas, councillor for Stoke Newington – the ward containing Wilmer Place – was advised to abstain from voting after declaring active opposition to the scheme prior to the meeting.
Sainsbury’s and developers Newmark Properties have been in consultation with Hackney Council for over two years, resulting in revised proposals to create a five storey building including a supermarket “large enough to provide a full weekly shop” beneath four floors of residential space.
The applicants predict the development would provide “150 long-term, secure job opportunities for people in Hackney” as well as jobs throughout the construction process. 30 per cent of those positions were pledged to Hackney’s own recruitment service, enabling them to be offered exclusively to local people.
The plans also included payments of £100,000 to neighbouring Abney Park Cemetery for maintenance and management of biodiversity; and £180,000 towards enhancing the local area, including the provision of cycle lanes, bicycle “parking” and improved bus stops.
Hackney Council received 5,039 objections to the proposals during the consultation period, but planning officers had recommended the plans for approval.
The reasons given for the decision were: harm to heritage assets due to citing scale and massing in relation to cemetery and cemetery gates, adverse environmental impacts upon cemetery and biodiversity, and insufficient family sized units.
Russell Miller, a specialist in trees and wildlife in the borough, described the scheme as “an environmental disaster for Hackney”.
Miller said the impact on Abney Park Cemetery, which is around three metres away from the development’s proposed borders, should be given more consideration. He described the initiative as a “land grab” that overlooked conservation issues.
“Abney Park isn’t quite Richmond Park, but it’s not far off. And these plans will affect its light, its warmth and its shade.”
A spokesperson for the applicant said that the plans would actually involve “gifting” additional land to Abney Park Cemetery by reducing the site borders by one meter from where they currently stand. He also told the meeting that the development would include “ecological boundaries, 3,000 square meters of green and brown roof, and greenery on the walls.”
The scheme received further criticism from councillors and members of the community for the lack of affordable housing, which was to be 17 per cent, rather than Hackney Council’s official target of 50 per cent.
Councillor Louisa Thomson, Stoke Newington, said: “The development will do little to improve access to affordable housing – it’s an opportunity missed.” Other councillors argued there were too few family homes, with a focus on one and two bedroom accommodation.
Cllr Thomson added that the proposals had generated, “the largest amount of correspondence [from local people] on any issue” she had ever known.
Other issues raised at the meeting included the threat to Stoke Newington’s culture and heritage by opening a large chain in the town centre, and potential job loss as independent shops have to compete with a supermarket. Local residents also expressed concern about the safety of pedestrians – particularly pupils of William Patten primary school – if the volume of traffic or delivery vehicles were to increase on Stoke Newington Church Street.
Developers argued that the site currently contains a “crude backdrop to listed gates and a blighted car park.” Adding: “This is a site that has failed to work for over 50 years”.
Despite the planning officer defending the department’s decision to stand by the unpopular scheme, cheers went up across the meeting room as councillors voted overwhelmingly against the plans.
The representatives of the developers declined to comment on the outcome of the meeting. They have the option of either re-applying for planning permission or appealing to the Secretary of State. According to Stokey Local they have decided to appeal. We will be verifying this as soon as possible.