Small businesses fear ruin from prolonged Hackney town centre regeneration

The works on Narrow Way. Credit: Umar Ali.

Independent shop owners have described the controversial regeneration of Hackney Central’s Narrow Way as a “nightmare” that could force them out of business.

Hackney Council started digging up the street in January 2017 as part of their plan to pedestrianise and rejuvenate the historic heart of the borough.

But delays in the construction works, which were supposed to be completed by December last year, have made trading for many of the street’s small businesses difficult.

Hanif Shaikh, 63, owner of long-established fashion retail store Lookers, has been struggling since his business rates increased by 12.5 per cent and his rent by 40 per cent last year. Now he believes that the negative impact of the regeneration could deal his business the final blow.

“People are not coming anymore. I have only my regulars – no passing customers.

“The noise from the digging, the garbage that is piling up – it spoiled our summer, our busiest season. Takings are nearly 50 per cent down,” Mr Shaikh said.

“We have no idea when the works will finish.”

Ashfaq Mohammed, 56, who opened Super Grows Cosmetics in 2000, shares those views.

“They started the works in January last year, at the other end. People stopped coming up the street.

“There are barely any lights, we have traded in darkness for over a year, people are scared to shop here. We’ve been having a 30 per cent loss in revenue since it all started. I’m not sure we’ll survive this.”

The installation of catenary lights began only a few days ago, although street lamps were taken out shortly after the road works started at the beginning of last year.

His son Mohammed Jr, 23, described the installation of large communal benches at the entrance of Narrow Way as another crucial factor in the decline of footfall.

“The dynamics started changing as soon as the council put the seats up – a big mistake. They attract drunks and junkies and they’ve been sitting there ever since. It scares people off,” he said.

The works on Narrow Way. Credit: Umar Ali.

Gurvinder Sidhu, Strategic Communications Advisor at Hackney Council, said the benches were part of an evidence-based TfL approach called Healthy Streets, which recommends the installation of “places to stop and rest”.

“The new seating is part of a range of measures to provide public realm improvements to the Narrow Way. New seating will be installed at various locations over the full length of the street,” Ms Sidhu said.

She added that while old lighting columns were being removed as part of the scheme, additional temporary wall lighting had been installed.

But Sidhu admitted that the completion of the regeneration had been delayed.

“The works on Narrow Way were planned to be substantially completed by Christmas 2017. A public liaison officer has been in contact with all the shops and businesses along Narrow Way on a regular basis since October 2016 to give updates and address any issues relating to the construction, and this will continue until the works are complete,” Ms Sidhu said.

Hackney Central councillor Vincent Stops, who chairs the council’s Planning Committee, remains positive about the regeneration scheme.

He said: “The Narrow Way regeneration will be a good thing once it is completed. I know that some businesses have complained, but as you see, they are still there.”