Short video showing highlights from the two day conference
Full highlights of the Respacing Conference 2015 are available as a one hour video here
Respacing Conference 2015 Review
Holistic Urban Regeneration
‘Redefining the use of Space’
The conference took place on the 23rd and 24th of October 2015 at The Hive. It consisted of workshops, seminars and speakers, with round table discussions featuring panellists from the day.
Set in and around the Antidote Exhibition, by a variety of underground artists, the conference sought to use the popularity of our showcase project to call together a diverse range of our supporters and find clear areas of common interest that we can work on to begin to solve some of our society’s problems.
ReSpace Projects would like to thank all the participants, guests, artists and visitors who helped make the event a great success. The urgent nature of the subject meant we called the conference at short notice and we appreciate that we were unable to inform everyone in time. There is a second conference entitled “Infrastructure” planned for 12th February 2016.
Finally ReSpace Projects would like to thank Michael, Joe and the good people at Investland for lending us the building to create The Hive. They took a chance on a unique social project and we hope that by bringing together such a conference and helping to create strong social ties between smaller developers, communities and councils, we have begun to justify their faith in us. The work continues.
Day One: Friday 23rd October
Day one of the Respacing Conference looked in-depth at the way that the space we live in is defined and the conflicts that arise from clashes of interests between the various needs of communities, residents, businesses, councils and government.
Dan Glass – Speaking on behalf of Friends Of The Joiners
- Referenced “Gentrification of the mind” by Sarah Schulman – the physical reconstitution of cities such as New York from diverse and vibrant to homogenised and bland, exclusive compounds for the wealthy.
- This leads to the reduction in space for marginalised groups.
- The ACV status system does not give enough power to community group to save these assets.
- We need foresight rather than firefighting.
Dan Knowles – Sawyer Fielding, Compulsory Purchase Surveyors
- Developers and councils are driving regeneration projects using a “one-size-fits-all” approach. This doesn’t work.
- Developers use “Viability Reports” to justify higher profits based on reduced amounts of social housing.
- These reports are deemed ‘commercially sensitive’ and are not open to public scrutiny, meaning that developers are not always building what local areas need.
Tom Campbell – author of The Planner
- The planning system has become inward-looking and resistant. They need to come out to spaces like The Hive to expand their reach and to connect to the local community.
- Something has gone wrong with the system as councils, planners and communities are stuck in an almost adversarial relationship.
- Frustration exists both ways – planners get frustrated that people only seem to get involved when there is an issue – not much earlier – when consultations and plans are being made.
- We need tools like this conference to help understand the language of planning and regulations so we can be better informed. Planners and architects need to be given the freedom to be creative and solve social issues.
Councillor Guy Nicholson – ‘Regenerating Hackney’
- How can an individual citizen wade through impenetrable legal planning documents when even councillors like myself find the language difficult and challenging to understand?
- The only way a “local plan” can overcome the challenges it faces in delivering genuine benefits is if the Local Authority devotes time, resources and support to the consultation and engagement process to make it more open and transparent.
- To deliver a deep and meaningful Local Plan requires co-operation and cohesion across all the constituent parts so that a viable and effective infrastructure can be implemented. Councils, developers, communities, businesses need to work together to create quality neighbourhoods.
- Hackney Council is about to embark on creating a new local plan over the next 2-3 years. I propose that the initial conversations and discussions take place in places like The Hive and we reflect on how we can all contribute to this so that Hackney has a truly representative plan for the next 10 years. It needs to be malleable so that it can adapt to unforeseen changing circumstances.
Jon Fitzmaurice – Self Help Housing
- Showed several examples of self-help in response to housing need. Self-empowerment is inspirational – people taking direct action to improve their own lives.
- People should set up Co-ops, CIC’s or not-for-profit companies to obtain as much funding as possible.
Round Table – Housing policy, looking to the future.
Tom Chance – Green Party Housing Spokesperson
Cllr Philip Glanville – Housing, Hackney
Dan Knowles – Sawyer Fielding, Compulsory Purchase Surveyors
Anna Minton – author of Ground Control
- You are not going to solve the housing crisis in London by building more homes within this system. This system is geared toward suppressing housing supply to maximise profit for the industry.
- Tax away the interests of investors to say that you’re just not going to make a lot of money out of this market, it should be about providing homes for people not assets for investors.
- State-led regeneration in the last decade has led to a net loss of 8,000 social homes because councils have been tricked into redeveloping large amounts of housing stock in order to get more houses built – leading to a loss of business, community, cultural and social housing space.
- We have the second highest property values and prices in the world after Monaco. It’s an investors paradise. And that is one of the key reasons we have a housing crisis. The language around this topic is becoming increasingly opaque.
- Let’s have a co-ordinated campaign from everyone involved in housing “Just stop the demolition of housing estates”
- Councils tend to prioritise permanent secured tenants for re-housing while shunting already insecure tenants from estate to estate.
- There is a steady change of language from social to shared ownership, to affordable, to starter housing, that changes the definition of supply.
- Even local councils are finding that control of planning is being eaten away from them.
- The disparity in rents between social and private has a massive impact on benefit bills and availability.
- There are alternatives you don’t need to go directly to demolishing.
- If the mindset is wrong then it’s very hard to make the right decision.
- Something has to give. It is likely that this pressure may come from the bottom up – one example is that a social activist was voted in as the current Mayor of Barcelona.
- London is not a global investment opportunity. We need a mayoral campaign that looks at who is allowed to buy and develop in this city.
Dr Paul Watt – Reader in Urban Studies at Birkbeck
- Decanted residents – why should tenants in the public sector have fewer rights than those in the private sector? Legal recalibration removes these rights.
- The public sector is having the value sucked out of it by the private sector.
- How many empty homes in regeneration voids? There is a need for someone to take responsibility for the lives they are destroying.
Dr Francis King – Westminster Law School
- The language we use in planning has changed from participation to consultation concerning the engagement with local people. They aren’t the same thing and consultation is not as inclusive.
- The system is broken, the trust is broken – we need a new system and a new dialogue.
- Citizen action has brought about legislative change.
- She acknowledged a ‘top-down’ pressure that discourages us from challenging property law.
Dr Anna Minton – Reader in Architecture at University of East London
- There is a real urgency to put politics at the forefront of architecture and understand how neoliberal policies like privatisation, financialisation and wealth polarisation impact our cities
Dr David Dewhurst – Seminar ‘How Homelessness Helps The Economy’
- Dr Dewhurst talked us through a series of calculations and figures with some startling results:
- There are 30 million empty bedrooms per night in the UK. 2.5 million people are under-housed.
- Who owns Britain? Half of Scotland is owned by 1100 families.
End of day Panel Discussion:
Dr David Dewhurst
Dr Francis King
- language of planning is sometimes deliberately dull to dissuade engagement from those outside the planning industry.
- It’s about empowering people and enabling them to engage in the processes that will directly affect them.
- There’s a lot of anger out there – Aylesbury Estate, Sweets Way, Focus E15 many groups all meeting and speaking out. We need action and dialogue to work together.
- Hackney has to produce a 4 year housing strategy by summer of next year if you hold meetings here at The Hive I will include them in the formal process.
Day Two: Saturday 24th October
Day two of the Respacing Conference took a different form as the seminars, workshops and speakers focused on the points raised from the previous day with a view to establishing commitments, action plans and co-ordination that related to these main areas: sustainability, infrastructure, environment and co-operation.
Concrete Action – Anonymous platform created by activist architects
- Our action is very much about transferring resources and knowledge from an enclosed professional sphere to communities who are already organising.
- The system is designed to support these communties by helping to guide them with easily understood materials.
- We have to try and overcome professional apathy. We would like to introduce ‘Architect exchange days’ to share best practice.
Geraldine Dening and Simon Elmer – Founders of Architects for Social Housing
- We need to disseminate correct information and counter propaganda and to provide alternative proposals to demolition for estates.
- It’s not a true consultation if the decision has already been made to demolish. It’s fundamentally flawed.
- The Open Garden Estates program is designed to solve the problem of isolation of estate communities by bringing them closer together and closer to the people that live around them.
- 150,000 people have been forcibly evicted from London boroughs in the last three years.
- The Adonis Report is not ‘independent’ but was biased from the outset.
- The housing ‘crisis’ has been systematically prepared to serve the interests of those fit to profit.
Charles Landry – Author of Creative Cities
- Creative cities is an empowering ethos – where people can think, plan and act with imagination.
- There is a move toward a need to rethink liveability and to rethink cities in a big way to provide a sense of intimacy and cosmopolitanism.
- In Hamburg Harbour the buildings were not sold to the highest price = but the best idea.
- There is the greatest potential in incomplete spaces because that drives innovation.
Ronnie Hughes – working as part of Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust in Liverpool
- Discussed the difficulties associated with community projects, not least the importance of maintaining good relations within the community. These campaigns can be hard-work and tiring for both the community and the individual – the importance of being friendly, polite and respectful!
- The power of resistance, persistence, tenacity and ultimately community.
Finn Williams – Architect/ planning, Common Office
- There is a huge amount of misinformation and propaganda surrounding planning and the planning process from the developers and the community.
- He gave an example, while working at Croydon Council, of how they managed to condense a 240 page proposal document down to 10 tweets! ‘We realised the plan had been written for the inspector – to pass as policy – not for the public’.
- With the allocation of appropriate resources (i.e. the creation of a step-by-step web guide) they saw a huge influx of creative ideas from local people.
- What is the role of the public sector in this new environment?
Tom Copley – Chair of the Housing Committee, London Assembly
- In Camden they have embarked on a programme of building new council homes for the first time in decades, delivering an increase on council homes that existed on the site. They did this with a proper process of consultation with local people. This has sparked other local estates to request a similar process for themselves because they have seen the success of the process.
- Resident led regeneration is always the best kind.
- I am very keen to talk to the next mayor about what we can do with their empty buildings. Fire stations, police stations and other public buildings should be put to use while empty to create more spaces like The Hive.
- I also want the government to remove the 20% vat on refurbishments that does not apply to demolition.
Michael – developer and landlord of The Hive
- Empty buildings attract squatters. These buildings should be used for the community in the meantime. It should also be noted that whilst housing is vital, it is important that there are spaces for people to work and play in the locale.
Gee Sinha – ReSpace Projects, Not-for-profit company behind The Hive
- ReSpace Projects was set up to help implement the infrastructure needed to support a collaborative and flexible approach to resource management. In order to demonstrate the feasibility of this model, ReSpace Projects set up The Hive Dalston, which stands as an example of what can be achieved in wasted spaces in a short time on a very small budget.
- Ideally spaces like The Hive can be used for planning discussions, consultations and genuine community engagement to take place. This would require co-operation between planners, developers, local authorities, architects and the local community, amongst others.
End of day Panel Discussion
Les Moore – Permaculture Specialist
Gee Sinha – ReSpace Projects
Tom Copley – London Assembly
Charles Landry – Author
- Places like The Hive are actually more likely to succeed because of their transient nature; the project would be less likely to sustain the energy required if it were of a permanent nature, given the lack of funding.
- The Hive is perhaps a perfect place to implement a community currency, which can encourage a more close knit relationship between customers and local businesses.
- The mayoral elections are an opportunity to open up a discussion surrounding the use of empty buildings, particularly those which were once in the public domain and for which the Mayor’s Office is responsible.
- There’s a japanese practice called Kintsugi which is the art of repairing broken things in such a way that they are more aesthetically pleasing when repaired. In a way that’s what we are trying to do here. Use the things a broken society discards – buildings, resources, people – to fix it in a way more beautiful than it was before.
The Respacing conference sought to Redefine the use of space and to do this we needed to understand what the definitions currently were and have a look at who it is making them. It quickly became clear that definitions and the use of language generally were a dividing line between those who are pushing through developments and those affected by them.
Time and again the call came for clearer language, less impenetrable documents, easier systems… through the planning process – to consultation and further into the definitions of the usage of buildings. Who is it that defines what a building should be used for? Who is it that defines what a community needs? What developments an area actually requires?
It seems that control of these definitions has been lost in the back and forth and sometimes adversarial relationships between constituent parts of the planning process. And that, rather than being the flexible, powerful, cohesive plans that everyone seems to agree are the way forward, they result in developments that are increasingly less in tune with the needs of local people.
Dissatisfaction is rising, and there is a growing desire to create powerful networks and solutions that can integrate many different people’s efforts.
We need to create planning structures that allow us to define usage and redefine usage based on real, circumstantial needs of people in the community. Methods and systems that can react fast and deliver genuine benefits to those most at risk in society.
We need a more inclusive approach to planning and regeneration, which can only be achieved by making both the planning documents and the consultation process more accessible. In addition to this there should be some responsibility on local residents to engage in proceedings early on as this allows planners, developers and architects to take their views and opinions into consideration at a stage that can impact upon decisions before they become ingrained.
What was most heartening to experience during the two intense days of the conference was the desire to co-operate and act cohesively expressed by all the participants – from the grassroots political groups to councillors, academics to policy makers. The desire to work together was strong and the next clear stage is to look at how we can do this most effectively. To talk about the ways of sharing knowledge, resources, materials and skills. To discuss the infrastructure we will need to bring about the change we want to see.
Let’s start a beautiful revolution.
The Respacing Conference provides an independent and progressive opportunity for those involved with – or affected by – urban regeneration to engage in an open and informed debate about the use of public and wasted space. Hosted by The Hive in Dalston – the showcase building of not-for-profit company, ReSpace Projects – confirmed speakers include policy makers, architects, academics, developers and grass roots organisations. This breakthrough conference is the first in a trio of informed discussions and events designed to promote cohesive and progressive action. The first Respacing conference will look at the major public and private space related issues with a view to creating definite objectives to take into the second conference planned for early next year that will be focused on infrastructure.
The conference falls amid the two weeks of decentralised and co-ordinated action by European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and forms part of a cohesive strategy to influence positive change in the next year. ReSpace hope that the timing of the conference will encourage urgent action and cooperation between participants to mitigate some of the negative effects of austerity measures and urban planning policies.
The Hive was empty for eight years before the landlord approached ReSpace Projects, permitting them to use the building for community purposes until he was able to develop them into luxury flats. This progressive move enabled a group of social and environmental activists to demonstrate the feasibility of using wasted space for social good on a meanwhile basis.
Opened up to the public within two weeks and on roughly £200, the building is now six months in and continues to grow and serve the local community. During the conference there will an art exhibition and and independent art, craft and fashion stalls from The Cult Mountain and Minesweeper Collective and the conference will consist of talks, workshops, seminars and round table discussions. The conference will be structured such that outcomes and proposals from day one are carried into the second day ensuring that a definite focus and commitment to strategy can be achieved.
Although entry to The Respacing Conference is free, interest is high so booking in advance is advised. A full schedule of seminars, workshops and speakers will be published closer to the date.