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Plans to redevelop Aberfeldy housing estate scrapped by Council due to complaints of gentrification

Tower Hamlets Council block plans to build 1,500 new flats in Aberfeldy due to concerns about increased traffic, an unsightly skyline, and pushing poorer residents out of the area. 

A huge housing development that was set to change the East London skyline forever was slapped down by the council last week after hundreds of residents slammed it as “gentrification” and claimed poorer residents would be pushed out and replaced with “richer middle-class people”.

Plans to redevelop the Aberfeldy Estate in Poplar, Tower Hamlets was to involve the bulldozing of 330 existing dwellings, made up of social housing tenants, leaseholders and freeholders to make way for 1,582 flats.

Under the hybrid planning application submitted by the applicant, Aberfeldy New Village LLP, which is made up of Poplar Harca and Ecoworld, the homes would be demolished and replaced with more than a thousand new flats, as well as new shops, restaurants and car and cycle parking.

Despite a public consultation receiving 939 letters in support of the plans and only 97 against, a separate petition in objection to the redevelopment had been backed by 728 people.

Concerns ranged from gentrification and fears of more traffic which could lead to “rat-running” to the planned heights for some of the towers being “too tall” for the area.

Some 368 of the flats would be up for social and affordable rent, while 79 would be for intermediate rent and the remaining 1,135 homes would be advertised as market rent.

Speaking at a Tower Hamlets Council strategic development committee meeting on Thursday, February 23,  Abdi Hassan, who grew up on the estate admitted he was really ‘disturbed’ by the plans.

Mr Hassan told the committee: “I’m really disturbed by this current planning application for many reasons because what I’ve seen Poplar Harca do over these many years is a managed decline [and there is now]  high crime, serious violence and zero capital works in Abbott Road – in fact, I think if this planning application is approved, the situation will worsen.

“What we are looking at is affordable housing, and not social housing. And that means many people potentially won’t be able to pay their rent.”

He accused one-half of the developer, Poplar Harca, of carrying out a “poor consultation” at the height of the pandemic in an “unethical way” because it was not fully translated into English.

Mr Hassan continued: “In my view this infrastructure is weak, it has one GP, one school and one bus. Where was the equality impact assessment? And what damage is this going to have on our young people?

“In my humble opinion and freedom of speech, I think this is about race and gentrification. It is about Poplar Works and what Poplar Harca did in that area by gentrifying the area and having garages turned into posh offices meanwhile people where my mother lives have damp and mould in their homes and no food in their fridges and now they’re looking at uplifting rent – what does healthy roots and vision zero even mean? This isn’t Amsterdam, this is Poplar, this is London.”

Speaking in defence of the plans, Babu Bhattacherjee, who is the director of communities and neighbourhoods at Poplar Harca, said: “There are several inaccuracies in what’s been said around consultation, we have consulted really widely I think some of the issues that have been stated around rents I think are wrong. The rents aren’t at a higher level, these are low-cost rents that we are talking about in 90per cent of the homes.

“We support the mayor’s commitment to deliver 4,000 new social rented homes by 2026 and this scheme will make an important contribution to that commitment.”

Mr Bhattacherjee added: “The masterplan has been shaped by extensive community engagement including [group meetings with residents], regular door knocks with the estate and two rounds of engagement with everyone.”

However, more objections which had been published in a council document said: “This development is gentrification and dispersing the existing poorer tenants and replacing them with richer middle-class people.”

Another objection read: “The increase in traffic will lead to ‘rat-running’ in order for motorists to cut traffic.”

While a third person said: “The scheme is too dense, the number of units proposed for a small cut-off area is too high.”

The applicant also submitted plans showing how future developments could look and depicted tower blocks dominating the East London skyline, with the potential to block views of Canary Wharf when looking on from Bow Creek and the River Lea Bridge area.

The document, which was presented to the council’s strategic planning committee on Thursday (February 23), mentioned “it would no longer be possible to view Balfron Tower or the Canary Wharf cluster from this view”.

However, some residents had welcomed the mass redevelopment, with one person stating it would help to address the “deep-rooted” social and economic problems in the area.

The resident said: “The masterplan will help address some of the deep-rooted social and economic problems the area faces, including poor connectivity and open spaces which are in much need of renewal.”

Another person said: “The area lacks sufficient shopping facilities including a small supermarket, play areas for kids and safe underpasses.

“Change, new homes, safety and improved connections are all wanted. The regeneration proposal is an opportunity to eradicate poor quality social housing and create a new community.”

Prior to the meeting, a spokesperson for Aberfeldy New Village LLP said: “There has been overwhelming community support for regeneration on the Aberfeldy estate, with 93pc of Aberfeldy residents voting yes to regeneration, on a 91pc voter turnout.

“There have also been more than 1,000 letters of support from the community for the planning application.

“Local people have been at the heart of shaping the regeneration plans including pupils from locals schools creating a manifesto setting out what they wanted from the development which has underpinned the proposals.

“Residents wishing to remain in Aberfeldy will have the option to do so, in new homes the same size or bigger, and on the same tenancy terms and rent levels.

“The masterplan includes changes to roads which will reduce rat running and result in a cleaner, healthier, and greener environment for the community.”

The council’s strategic planning committee was recommended to give the planning application the green light however, members at the meeting unanimously voted in favour of refusing the plans after intensely hearing from the objectors and the applicant for almost four hours.

The committee cited the following reasons for refusal; the buildings being too tall and unjustified, the affordable housing provision, traffic distribution, daylight and sunlight impacts and the density of the scheme relating to the open space and play space provision.

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