Living with Auntie: BBC granted permission to move into Carpenters Estate

Newham Council’s planning committee last night gave permission for the BBC and Al Jazeera to use two tower blocks overlooking the Olympic Park. From May till the end of September the top five floors of Lund Point and Dennison Point (pictured above) will change use from residential flats into a media broadcasting venue.

These blocks of flats form part of the 1960’s Carpenters Estate in Stratford. Since 2010 the council has begun a rehousing programme for tenants as homes are earmarked for redevelopment. Last year a deal was signed with University College London to look at the possibility of building a second campus in this area, much to the anger of current residents.

Al Jazeera image of studio to be built on the roof of Dennison Point – submitted to Newham Council

The towers are mostly vacant with around a quarter of the flats being used in both. In Lund Point (to be used by the BBC) there are five flats still occupied on the upper five floors, in Dennison (to be used by Al Jazeera) there are seven. Effectively, these tenants will be living within a media production centre throughout these five months.

The council has received written objections from twelve residents, most of whom were present at Stratford Town Hall last night. One was even allowed to keep hold of his placard inside the council chamber (pictured right).

Amy Brennan, who lives on the top floor of Lund Point, was worried about excessive noise from the studios. She said:

“How can I be expected to get a decent night’s sleep? I feel stressed and anxious at the mere prospect with sharing my building, my home, with a high-profile media organisation…shame on the BBC and Newham Council. Two organisations that exist to serve the public.”

She added:

“Why should we have to put up with this serious disruption to our daily lives? This discomfort in our homes? So that you Newham Council can make some extra money? You are capitalising on my discomfort, my ill-health and the discomfort of other residents.”

David McGinn, who moved into Lund Point six months ago, spoke on behalf of CARP (Carpenters Against Regeneration Plan). He brought up concerns regarding asbestos, something the BBC will have to tackle if they need to redesign the space for broadcasting purposes. He said:

“Newham Council informed residents awhile back that the reason the asbestos is still in the building was because it was too dangerous to move, that now seems to be no longer the case when there’s some money involved.”

He also mentioned his concerns regarding security and spoke about the ongoing regeneration project. He said:

“The council has been trying for seven years to move everyone out of the blocks for redevelopment. Having failed to do so, the council have now decided to redevelop it with the residents still in place.”

Jamie Hindhaugh, BBC’s Head of Production for the Games, was in attendance. He spoke directly to locals, responding to their concerns. He said:

“What the BBC are proposing is essentially a news coverage which is very much in a quiet environment, which the BBC will want to maintain throughout their period of occupancy there.”

It seems like the BBC’s hands have been tied. They couldn’t contact and consult residents until they had planning permission and in my view it looked as if the council hadn’t done a particularly good job in the interim. McGinn, allowed to speak again in what was turning into a very open and informal meeting, spoke about the building work that had already begun. He said:

“Why has it come to this? It’s because there’s been no engagement, no substantive consultation beyond this specific planning process. And we’ve been told by the [Tenant Management Organisation] that the council actually point blank refused to send a letter to the residents of Lund Point explaining what works were going on.”

The BBC, after reaching an initial agreement with Newham Council, has allowed all building work to be done by council contractors. It’s these contractors that have already dug two exploratory holes near the base of the towers and erected scaffolding.

Stratford Town Hall

Then the conversation turned to money. Prompted by a councillor as to what would make residents reason with the broadcasters, McGinn said:

“A discussion about actual financial compensation I think will not go amiss here.”

The chair of the meeting, Cllr Ron Manley, was quick to say that any agreement would be between the residents and the BBC and wouldn’t be a part of this planning application. Thoughts turned to the financing of this temporary studio. Cllr Shelia Thomas, Plaistow South ward, asked:

“How much money is the council making out of this planning application?”

Cllr Ron Manley responded that he didn’t have any idea but that all money paid by the BBC “will be ploughed back into sports and education for the borough”.

Despite the anxiety and anger shown at this meeting, representatives from the BBC and local tenants left on good terms and arranged to meet again to start more detailed discussions. Whatever its long term future, Carpenters Estate will be getting two high profile tenants for the Olympics. So when you’re watching the likes of Clare Balding, Gary Lineker, Hazel Irvine and Sue Barker this Summer – spare a thought for the people just metres beneath their feet, going about their daily lives.

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