Vision for Archway
Ursula Woolley, Executive Member for Islington Council
I’m going to talk about the Council’s vision for Archway. I think a number of other people share that vision as well and I think that’s important. I’m also going to look at where we are on the way to achieving that vision and what the priorities are now for moving things forward locally.
I’d like to start by saying that I think that’s its great that Archway is the focus for all this high level attention. It’s very exciting and now that we’re up here you can look beyond the tower and the road layout to see that there’s a lot that’s beautiful around here.
There’s an itch that people have who don’t live here to improve us before they’ve even stopped their cars. I hope that sitting up here you can see that there’s actually some fantastic building and location, and that’s one of the handful of very serious reasons we all feel quite sensitive about people coming in and imposing things on us.
The second point that’s important for me is that regeneration is at least as much about people as buildings. It fascinates me to look at maps of Archway and pictures of townscapes, but it’s what we feel like when we use the space that matters. We don’t want anything imposed on us. Not by one big developer, not by one big retailer, certainly not by an institution like the Council or the GLA. Not even probably by one architect.
I’m here today because I live here and because I love living here, certainly not because I know about regeneration. I am finding out as we go along, as I think are many of the people in this room who don’t have professional interest but a local one.
So what is the Council’s vision for Archway? The Council wants Archway to be a thriving district centre for the north of Islington. But it is! And it is a thriving business centre. I think the Council, and probably many people who live more than half or three quarters of a mile away want it to look like more like one. But for those of us who live here it feels like one.
It’s a transport hub and that’s fantastically convenient for those of us who live here. But there are things that need to be ironed out to make that better.
People who live just a mile will say to you it’s a dump. It offends people who drive through it. So it would be lovely to fix that. But how do we go about doing that sensitively?
There’s a developer’s vision which is very powerful politically and commercially which sits very uneasily with the local vision and the Council vision. If you’re sitting several miles away and have the clout and the money, this is somewhere that begs to be developed fast. And if you look at it in strategic documents it’s a retail opportunity, it’s a supermarket opportunity, it’s a high-rise opportunity. This is what they all say in the GLA and it is certainly what we say when we look at it in planning terms in the Council. We need to help manage that process.
The Council will also want to find places to build new social housing. That’s not an easy thing to do and that’s not easy to make work socially either. We have a very fine balance here and at the moment it works more or less. Upsetting that balance with social housing would be a big deal, but in my view, not nearly as upsetting as upsetting Archway with a massive retail development.
So where are we on the way to achieving the Council’s vision of making Archway look like, to those unlucky outsiders, a thriving district centre? There’s the state of Archway at the moment, what it’s like and what it needs. And then there’s planning process and the local government process, which we’re midway through, receiving comments on the local statutory consultation.
In terms of the local government process, we’re redrafting the supplementary planning document and it was great that so many people responded to the consultation. It’s great to that there are very strong local views which I think will make it easy to reframe the document in a way that gives it some kind of local ownership.
We’ve said consistently here that we don’t want a large supermarket-led redevelopment. Residents have made that a lot easier by coming out in their hundreds to agree with us. As I said just now, apparently this site itches for a large supermarket and 10 years ago the administration was recommending a large supermarket. This is what everybody else sees as a quick fix for us.
While I absolutely understand the commercial argument for a large supermarket, and apparently little shops follow a big one, nobody, after two years of talking about this subject, has managed to explain to me the regeneration argument. Nobody has ever made it plausible. How do supermarkets help the social fabric?
So where are we on the way to achieving the vision of Archway as a thriving district centre? What’s it like at the moment? This is another thing that I think is difficult to convey to anyone from the outside. Difficult to convey to developers certainly, to people who might have an interest in designing where we live, and probably also to planners from outside as well.
Ten years ago, I believe, just before I lived here, it wasn’t such a comfortable feeling place to live. I think we’ve seen a lot of gradual improvements at the moment, very small. The gradual improvements certainly don’t affect our horrible road layout or this tower, which as I’ve said before, is not one of my favourites, even if some of you feel sentimental about it.
But we do have a very strong sense of community and a very strong sense of a very mixed community. I wouldn’t say it was rock solid and I wouldn’t say it wasn’t evolving, but it is made up of intermeshing networks. We’re incredibly lucky to live in an area which is economically mixed, ethnically mixed, socially mixed, and we all intermesh.
We’ve talked about public realm where people are comfortable and meet each other. Ironically, it’s down there where it’s ugly, but new immigrants, long- standing residents, students who are here for just a while and more, all meet there. I meet all sorts of people there and so can everybody else here.
We don’t need that sorting for us, we need it enhancing. And that is something which is quite difficult to grasp from the outside. And that’s something we are desperate not to lose. We need it protected and improved. One massive insensitively done development is not going to do that for us.
We have a lot of thriving local institutions. We have thriving places of learning. We have thriving old shops. We have thriving new businesses. We have thriving places of worship. But the sense you get from living here of the social fabric is very, very powerful and so different from the sense that you get when you drive through.
Speaking as somebody who used to live about two miles from here as a child, somebody who grew up driving through and who now lives in it, I have to tell you, you don’t have to live here long before you understand what I’m getting at.
I think also we have so far, because we haven’t attracted much investment yet, avoided the pitfalls that we’ve seen elsewhere in Islington. I’d have to say that because our mix and our community is so important to us I have no aspirations for Archway ever to look like Upper Street. I’m also very glad that we do have new businesses coming in, new shops so that we don’t look like some of the other main roads which are not thriving at all. So I’m really glad that we are poised, if we are sensible, to get things right and progress in the right direction. There are no critical mistakes so far, apart from the ones that arguably that were made 30 or 40 years ago.
There is the money issue in relation to achieving our vision for Archway. Although property values are going up here, Archway, because of its reputation, still doesn’t attract the kind of investment that can seem very elegant and very subtle. But my understanding of the value of Archway at the moment is, we can only have massive redevelopment if we have something rather mediocre. Why on earth would we want that?
The Council, I’m afraid, as you know, has very little capital. We wouldn’t go out of our way to sell Council commercial property if we didn’t need it desperately for our schools and for social housing. When we’ve built those we won’t have the money to knock down the middle of Archway and rebuild something perfect. So we need to find a good way of working through that.
So what are the priorities for action now to move things forward whilst allowing the residents to keep control, or at least a sense of feeling in control, partial control, of what’s happening? I have a short list of things that I think we really need to press for to keep things moving in the right direction.
We must have a local development framework. The comments that came in a couple of months ago and are being worked into this planning document and are incredibly important to us.
We want Transport for London to prioritise removal of the gyratory system. That will act as a serious catalyst for what else happens here, independent of any massive new development scheme. We want to see the gyratory removed. After the problem was recognised publicly, it looks as though there might be some movement there. We’ll be working very hard and campaigning to see if we can move that forward.
We want London Underground refurbishment of the tube station to work well for those of us who live here. It is an opportunity for leverage there which is very exciting.
We want the redevelopment of the hospital and the potential redevelopment of the university to affect us all beneficially and want to work closely with the hospital to make sure the hospital’s plans for redevelopment affects the whole are positively.
We want to look at trying to bring in other sources of funding. But as I said, I think this is going to be challenging.
And we want to do this in a way which is a model of community working.
We need the local development framework. We need its protection. We don’t have protection from big developers at the moment. Planning laws give us little enough protection anyway. The Mayor, as you know, is very keen on Archway as a handy spot for high-rise development, and a handy spot for a big supermarket and that is what he said in writing to us.
We need to fix a small number of local points of principle in our development framework but we don’t want to circumscribe everything because we don’t want to put people off investing in us altogether.
We want to do this in a way which continues to use the Council and the Better Archway Forum in partnership. And I hope that brings in more and more people in the community.
I think we all appreciate now that there is a cost to community-led working, a financial cost and practical cost. It makes things slower. It’s very frustrating to all those people I talked about in the beginning who live further away and just want us to sort ourselves out quickly and tidy ourselves up. But I think it will be worth it.
I’ve got a challenge to everyone who’s got involved so far. I think we started a couple of years ago with, I wouldn’t say confrontational because it’s been far too civilised, but with a relatively confrontational position between the Better Archway Forum and the Council. I think there has been a growth in understanding and I would like to ask everyone in this room from the Better Archway Forum and everyone who has an interest in the area, to campaign for what you do want now and not against what you don’t. Because that’s the way you will move things forward fast and not get stuck in the cycle of just campaigning.
So I’m anticipating the rest of the day here with great pleasure. Show us how to do sensitive and inclusive regeneration. It certainly attracts and supports business. It doesn’t involve big supermarkets. Show us regeneration of the built environment which respects the social fabric. Show us how to nudge the big pieces in the jigsaw into place, the roads, the tube, the market, the hospital, the university, so that we can keep our community, which is very fast changing, very multifaceted, quite loosely knit network, but it’s the best of what we have here in Archway.