Council celebrates the Georgians by bulldozing 18th-century gems

Hackney council’s contribution to this year’s national celebration of the Georgian era is to demolish a rare terrace of 18th-century townhouses, say campaigners.
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The run-down properties in Dalston Lane have been at the centre of a long and bitter battle between the council - which owns them and wants them replaced by a faux-Georgian development of 44 modern flats and shops - and conservation group Open Dalston.
A move by Open Dalston to seek a judicial review of the council’s plans has forced a stay of execution for the 16 houses - just as the country marks the 300th anniversary of the start of the Georgian architectural period. The conservationists are backed by the Hackney Society, the Georgian Group and Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).
In a letter to the council SPAB warned that the new pastiche buildings will be a “pale shadow” of the existing terrace.
“Any sense of patina or age will be eradicated and a great deal of the spirit of the place will be lost forever,” it warned.
Hackney council has said it would be economically unviable to preserve the houses but Bill Parry-Davies, founder of Open Dalston, said independent surveys proved the houses were salvageable.
“They are part of the identity and heritage of the area,” he said. “They are landmarks in our lives. If you pursue a year zero solution you will have a place which nobody recognises. Our surveys show that 90 per cent of people believe it is important to retain and reuse historic architecture. It is a more sustainable approach to reuse than to destroy.”
Demolition of the run down terrace began earlier this year – just as an exhibition into the life of William Kent, one of the great designers and architects of the Georgian era was opening to critical and public acclaim at the V&A museum - but was abruptly suspended after it emerged planning permission had not been granted.
The council granted planning permission at a meeting last month.
The terrace originally belonged to the Greater London Council, and was passed on to Hackney council in 1984. In 2002 it sold them to an off-shore company under whose ownership they were damaged by a series of fires. In 2010 the council bought the terrace back and promised to preserve their original façades as part of a “conservation led” scheme.
This has now been deemed too expensive because of the state of the buildings, and instead the council has joined forces with engineering firm Murphy to demolish them and build the new block.
A spokesman for Hackney Council said it had put its plans to demolish the buildings on hold pending any legal action.

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