Councillors approve controversial plan for Passing Clouds site to continue as music venue

Passing Clouds building Pic: Panoramio – Wikimedia Commons

Hackney’s much loved community hub, Passing Clouds, is to continue as a live music venue following a heated planning meeting on Wednesday.

The fight for the future of Passing Clouds, in Richmond Road, Dalston, recognised by the Council last year as an Asset of Community Value for its cultural contribution to the borough, has attracted the support of thousands since the venue was closed down by the owners of the building in the summer of last year and the tenants evicted.

Landhold Developments, whose previous developments include luxury flats,  changed the locks overnight and sent bailiffs to claim the building after the failure of negotiations with Eleanor Wilson, the founder of Passing Clouds.

On Wednesday, its supporters packed the public gallery as councillors agreed to an application byLandcom North London, link ed to Landhold Developments, to re-open the site as a music venue, with the option of opening an extra storey on the roof. The council had received almost 400 letters of objection to the plans.

Wilson told the meeting that after the declarations of ACV status, discussion for her group to become part of the new venture had failed: “At the time of the closure, Landhold Developments were not interested in entering in negotiations for us to remain in the building. It was only until the building was awarded Asset of Community Value status in October last year that they became open to discussing these matters.

“The only proposal that was made to us during these negotiations was a 400 per cent rent increase with the landlord owning 50 per cent of the business. This does not, in our opinion, indicate a commitment towards a continued use of the building towards the community-based activities as clearly intended to by the Council.”

Over 10 years, the venue staged many live gigs, both by established and new artists from diverse musical scenes and cultures like jazz, afrobeat and even South American rhythms like cumbia. The venue also hosted a wide range of community events, including mindfulness workshops and dancing classes, provided a rehearsal space for artists, hosted movie screenings and even gave free food on Sundays to members of the community.

After the closure, 2000 people took to the streets in protest. It was largely seen as a symbol of gentrification and loss of cultural value, and the cause became embedded in larger discussions about Hackney’s social issues. The cause has since been supported by numerous actors, including the Green Party, the London Mayor and the Mayor of Hackney,


Passing Clouds protesters outside of the Town Hall Pic: Camille Mijola

The permission was granted by councillors on the condition that the venue is “used to create a hub for music activities, with live music most evenings as well as cultural events throughout the week, with a focus on daytime community-led projects.”

The owners are said to have spoken to local operators to take over the management of the venue although a possible re-opening date was not given.

Wilson had expected the deferral of the planning application in the interest of “more transparent negotiations”, but could not object the application because, technically, the developers applied for the same planning permission under which Passing Clouds had operated.

However, she told EastLondonLines after the meeting that she saw a positive outcome because of the conditions put in place to ensure the building is used for community-based activities. Wilson said: “They wanted to build flats and now they will have to guarantee a management of the venue for the community. I think that’s why Gary Simpson [Managing Director of Landhold Developments] was not happy last night.”

Outside the meeting, Simpson became involved in heated exchanges with some of the Passing Clouds supporters, who called for a boycott of the new venue and told Simpson: “You will never make profits.”

Some were pessimistic about the future of venue. Charlie Elliot, 40, said: “In the proposal there’s no mention of ‘community’. Someone else owns that building, people aren’t going to trust them. Passing Clouds has 10 years worth of trust that’s been build up. This is a culture. It’s really unique. So today was bad news.”

Chris Ballard, 39, added: “Our community is being sterilised. This application was made on the understanding that it will continue to be an Asset of Community Value yet their planning application didn’t mention the word ‘community’ once, I think their intention is very clear.”

The full planning application can be read here. Simpson did not respond to request for comment by time of publication.
Twitter: @cmijola

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