Hackney Wick artists' community building to be bulldozed as Olympic legacy chiefs make way for new bridge

An artists' studio space in Hackney Wick is to be bulldozed to make way for a bridge to the Olympic Park despite a lengthy campaign to save it.

Dozens of artists vacated studios and live-work spaces at Vittoria Wharf, a former factory, more than a year ago.

They were forced to leave becausethe building was bought by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC)through acompulsory purchase before the 2012 Olympic Games.

Now the buildingis being demolished to make way for the LLDCto build a new bridge over the River Lee Navigation linking the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to the area.

The new pedestrian and cycling bridge will provide a crucial link for 1,500 new homes, businesses and schools to be built at East Wick andSweetwater, an area just over the canal from Vittoria Wharf, according to the LLDC - writes standard.co.uk.

Campaigners from Save Hackney Wick launched a fresh petition to stop the work going forward three weeks ago, which has since received more than 7,000 signatures.

But contractors are at the building and have secured the site ready for demolition work to start, the LLDC said.

The LLDC acquired part of Vittoria Wharf in 2009 and received planning permission to build a new bridge on land before London 2012.

It let short-term, affordable leases for artists and businesses to occupy the site for up to seven years.

Artists (pictured) were forced to leave Vittoria Wharf in 2016 in advance of the demolition (Save Hackney Wick)

It comes as part of a process of rapid development in Hackney Wick and on Fish Island.

More than 4,500 new homes are being built in the area and the station is in the process of being upgraded.

A school has already opened by the park and there are plans for a second to open in September, in addition to a health centre, nurseries and library.

Paul Brickell, executive director of regeneration and community partnerships at the LLDC, said: “All through this process we have wanted to build connections.

Part of Vittoria Wharf was acquired in 2009 by the LLDC , which acts as planning authority for the area around the Olympic Park (Reuters)

“There are businesses across the Park that need to be connected. The tragedy would be if the only people that can access [the new facilities] are the people in the new homes.”

But campaigners have argued that the bridge is “unnecessary” as there is an existing foot bridge near to the new site.

Vivienne Bellamy, a Fish Island resident who lives just behind the bridge at Old Ford Lock, said: “The bridge which they are going to knock down part of Vittoria Wharf for is a three minute walk away [from the existing bridge].

“It is completely pointless to build that bridge because we have this one here, and it won’t get you any closer to the Olympic Park."

Old Ford Lock bridge: Residents say this existing foot bridge is enough to provide access to the Olympic Park

Plans are also in place to upgrade an existing pedestrian and cycle bridge to a road bridge, which local residents have argued will increase pollution and create a “rat run” of traffic.

Lucinda Rogers, spokeswoman for the Save Hackney Wick campaign, said: “A road bridge for a car does not provide more connectivity than a road and cycle bridge.

"Connectivity could also be achieved by the bridge down at Old Ford Lock and the existing cycle bridge and when you measure the distances they don't add as much as is being made out.

"And when you consider balancing that with the loss of Vittoria Wharf… the loss of the industrial history, the affordable work space and the community value, it just doesn't add up.”

Responding to the imminent demolition, Ms Rogers said: “This is completely outrageous. We cannot believe they are doing this against all the calls to stop the process.”

Stour Space: Vittoria Wharf's neighbours are working with the LLDC to safeguard their future ( Stour Space)

Artists at Vittoria Wharf’s neighbouring artist community Stour Space, which is owned by a separate landlord, have also told of the “massive” loss felt by the upcoming demolition.

Neil McDonald, 34, director at Stour Space, said: “The contribution that building has made to this area is massive. It has allowed people to make connections economically and socially – it’s unique.

“Not only are we going to be losing a community art space, we will also lose a network and economic community. I’ve never felt a community as strong."

Mr McDonald added: “It will take a piece of heart out of Hackney Wick.”

Stour Space and Vittoria Wharf forma 'unique' artists' community, locals say ( Stour Space)

Mr Brickell said new studio spaces are in the process of being built throughout the area, including the Old Baths at Eastway and the Trowbridge estate, for artists to move back into.

He said: “We agree that the distinctive thing about the area is the artists. That’s really important and we want to preserve and grow that as much as possible.”

The LLDC is also working with Stour Space and architects to make sure the site “has a future whatever happens”, and confirmed they are considering how to make the new bridge a means to encourage visitors to the site.

“We want Stour Space and the other part of Vittoria Wharf to be there forever,” Mr Brickell said.

Stour Space is a non-profit organisation offering exhibition, event and studio space for the development of creative enterprises ( Stour Space)

An LLDC spokesman added: “These bridges will improve the quality of life for current and future residents.

“In particular, they will make it much easier for local residents to access the new world class facilities in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park which include schools, healthcare centres and jobs.

“The bridges will also help ease congestion as Hackney Wick and Fish Island grow to include thousands of extra homes, new business and studio space, which the existing road network will struggle to serve.”

A spokesman for the Mayor of London said: "Plans to build two new bridges form part of a wider strategy for Hackney Wick and Fish Island that includes 4,500 new homes, new employment space and the protection and re-provision of 8,400 square metres of affordable work space and artist studios.

“The Mayor has been clear that developers and planners must do all they can to protect artists' workspace, and has been assured all is being done to ensure the amount of creative workspace will remain the same in the area.

“LLDC let short-term, low-cost leases for artists and businesses to occupy Vittoria Wharf and when they ended, worked closely with tenants to help them take up alternative workspace in the local area.

“The tenants were aware of the future plans for the building when they signed their short term leases. It was not, and has never been, a formal live/work space as it is not suitable for such use and was not let on those terms.”

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