Lying just outside the City’s walls, rough and tumble Shoreditch has always had an uneasy relationship with the money-worshipping Square Mile.
- © Eduardo Martino
While Shoreditch is the spiritual home of the old East End - a historic staging post for successive waves of new Londoners, from Huguenot silk weavers in the 18th century to Jewish and Bangladeshi settlers in the 20th - the City quietly concerns itself with commerce.
Consequently, there has always been a clash of interests between the two communities. Between public and private; community and enterprise; local employment and the arts; rich and poor.
Tension has surfaced again over the redevelopment of a swathe of land around Brick Lane and Bethnal Green, where a new East London line station is being built. Telford Homes is soon to launch Bishopsgate Apartments - 360 flats, most in a 25-storey tower - while property company Hammerson is proposing a cluster of office and residential skyscrapers on the 10.5-acre Bishopsgate Goodsyard railway site.
'This is the “new Shoreditch” - prosperous, creative and commercial'
Famous international artists living locally, including Tracey Emin and Dinos Chapman, are backing the Save Shoreditch campaign, arguing such redevelopment is “corporate plunder” that will destroy the historic fabric of the area and blight local homes and businesses.
High-rise buildings will plunge low-rise Shoreditch streets into perpetual shade, says campaign spokeswoman Rebecca Collings. “We are not anti-development but we do question the scale and nature of these new buildings,” she adds.
The group claims there has been a lack of community consultation and that inappropriate new developments are getting in through the back door.
“One of the problems is that the area spans three London authorities - Tower Hamlets, Hackney and City Corporation - and each is giving random planning consents,” says Collings.
“What’s needed is a joined-up masterplan. So we are about to embark on a community planning exercise in collaboration with the Royal Institute of British Architects. This way we can be seen to be campaigning for something, rather than against something.”
'A lively art scene helps lift an area. We don't want Shoreditch to lose its edginess'
It will also help the group fend off accusations of nimbyism. Not all locals are opposed to such City fringe regeneration. According to one, the Save Shoreditch campaign is being waged by “an elite of loft-dwelling creatives” who want to protect their own gentrified enclave of galleries and fashion boutiques rather than improve the lives of jobless people on run-down council estates.
No doubt Shoreditch has been the beneficiary of it’s wealthy neighbour’s boom years, which have seeded regeneration and led to an influx of cash into what was for so long a neglected area.
Redeveloped Spitalfields market, with its swish corporate offices and retail parade, was an earlier site where there was originally opposition to developers, but today suit-wearing solicitors happily co-exist with bohemian craftworkers and stallholders.
Close proximity to the City has attracted “brands” such as Soho House, the trendy media club whose empire stretches as far as New York. Shoreditch House occupies the top floors of a former tea warehouse, also home to a community of more than 50 firms ranging from advertising agencies to architects. This is the “new Shoreditch” - prosperous, creative and commercial.
Londonewcastle, which builds boutique flats in arty inner-city areas and promotes British design talent, has acquired a warehouse on Redchurch Street, a creative hub. Eventually, the building will be redeveloped but meanwhile the company is hosting art shows and events in the vacant premises.
“It’s not a cynical move to help us get planning permission,” says the company’s Robert Soning. “We’re committed to Shoreditch and don’t want to take its edginess away. A lively art scene helps lift an area. Ours will be a landmark building that benefits the wider neighbourhood.”
© Ian McIlgorm/MOS
'Shoreditch has smartened up and is even polished in parts'
Conran design group has also arrived in Shoreditch: a boutique hotel and restaurant complex on Boundary Street is opening later this summer. There are rumours of a new home for the Design Museum, due to relocate from Shad Thames.
“Shoreditch used to be quite tatty, with backstreet workshops and importers working from shipping containers, but it has smartened up and is even polished in parts,” says Carl Schmid of estate agent Fyfe McDade. Property prices have come off the boil during the past year, dropping from about £750 a sq ft to £650. In the heartland around Hoxton, the best lofts cost from £800,000.
Tracey Emin has lived in the East End since she was an art student in 1982, so no one can accuse her of following fashions. However, she has done well out of Shoreditch’s spreading gentrification. She has amassed several properties in the area, including a five-storey Huguenot townhouse that she bought in 2001 and is now worth at least £2 million.
This year Emin paid £4 million for a former weaver’s works on Tenter Ground, which she is turning into a giant studio for herself. Turner Prize winner Rachel Whiteread lives nearby in a converted synagogue.
Three period houses in New Street, off Bishopsgate, that were in office use now have planning consent for reinstatement to residential dwellings. Each house is approximately 2,000sq ft and is on the market for £1 million plus VAT. Call Hurford Salvi Carr on 020 7 250 1012.
Meanwhile, a Victorian mission on Commercial Road has been turned into 19 shared-ownership apartments for key workers. Prices start at £76,000 for a 40 per cent equity share. Call One Housing Group on 0800 2346 242.
Telford Homes will launch Bishopsgate Apartments in October. To register, call 0870 872 0987. Civil servant Shahi Rahman, 25, paid £259,000 for a one-bedroom apartment at Dalston Square, where a new Tube station is being built as part of the East London line extension from Shoreditch to Hackney. “I bought because of the regeneration,” he says, emphatically. So we know which side of the fence he is sitting on.
Inevitably, Shoreditch will move forward as the demand for housing in this popular area creates its own momentum, but no doubt there is every advantage to be gained from vociferous local pressure groups to keep developers under control.