diamond geezer

 Friday, May 29, 2020

To the south of Hackney Wick lies Fish Island.

Its remote location earned it the nickname 'the Island' in the late 18th century, when canals and railways first encouraged industry to move in. The 'Fish' part came later from the names of the streets, which included Dace, Bream and Roach. Before WW2 quite a lot of people lived here, but heavy bomb damage saw housing cleared away in favour of predominantly industrial usage. [1895 map] [1949 map]

The precise boundaries of modern day Fish Island are debatable, but let's say it runs from the Hertford Union Canal to the Greenway, with the A12 and river Lea to either side.

Here's my attempt to survey what's gone, what's going and what's likely to survive.

The brown zones are flats completed before the Olympics.
The red zones are flats completed in the last couple of years.
The orange zones are flats under construction.
The yellow zones are cleared and vacant, awaiting development.
The green line marks the edge of the Fish Island Conservation Area.

The pace of redevelopment has been much faster in Fish Island than Hackney Wick, aided by there being fewer people around to notice. The area's also a lot more cut off, with very limited road access and a minimum of footbridges to nowhere terribly important. When the sales brochure for the latest development describes Fish Island as "at the heart of the action" and "well connected to the heart of the city", it is unashamedly lying.

That latest development is Fish Island Village, where "Village" is another shameless marketing fabrication. Its six acre site borders the Hertford Union Canal and was formerly Neptune Wharf, home to a Scottish and Newcastle brewery distribution depot. In its time it's also been a timber depot, paintworks, abattoir and store for pre-cast concrete panels, but FIV's marketing collateral is strangely silent about these. 600 flats are planned, most of them already built and occupied, but construction continues apace at the western end of the site where a new primary school is also earmarked.

The ground floor of many of the new blocks has been given over to low rent studio space for artists and designers, courtesy of The Trampery. A few small units facing Roach Road are occupied, mostly with fashion-related start-ups, while the larger spaces further back remain echoingly empty. Until these communal caverns can be occupied, which the current situation will only delay, the activation of Fish Island Village at street level just isn't happening.

Until this week I hadn't walked through the heart of the new development, and I was struck by how dense and dark it felt. Wyke Road has become a canyon shielded by seven-storey brick, the walkways between residential blocks have a blankly utilitarian vibe, and sunbathing canalside isn't going to be an option until rather late in the day. I have actually been inside one of the blocks for Open House, shown round by one of the architects, and was impressed by the sense of space and interior finish. Very little of that style pervades the exterior, however, and the development's slogan Enhancing Not Replacing is nothing but weasel words.

The prime site at the junction of canal and river was taken years ago by the Omega Works, a rare jigsaw piece already in place when the Olympic decision was made. Newly squeezed-in further along the waterfront is Legacy House, its gated driveway covering the site of one of the original hipster cafes. Thankfully Stour Space nextdoor survives, the lynchpin of Fish Island's cultural offering, although currently very closed. But DOH are still serving up chai, brioche and veg boxes from a hatch round the bend, while the CheeseTruck's very-local owners have an abundance of small-producer cheese and charcuterie they'd be delighted to deliver.

Monier Road is destined to be the spine road of the new Fish Island. It used to head nowhere much but now lines up with a gap where a new bridge is waiting to be winched in, creating a vehicular connection to the Olympic Park. For now it's quiet enough to stand in the middle of the street and snap a photo with a wall of flats on one side and nothing much on the other. Almost every old building on the narrow strip between Monier Road and Beachy Road - marked yellow on my map - has been flattened, and the only one that's left has a notice on the door giving a demolition date. This time 148 flats are planned, with Taylor Wimpey promising an "articulated saw-tooth plan" and "deliberately irregular massing", as the old Fish Island sequentially dissolves away.

Yay, the next block between Beachy Road and Stour Road remains all present and correct. This includes an empty piano factory, a furniture workshop and perhaps most importantly an outpost of the Truman Brewery. It's not the original Truman's, it's the Black Eagle Brewery trading under the name, but they are currently selling cold pints (weekdays only) should you be local enough to pop in. Hang on while I Google the address to see what planning applications have been submitted... ah, dammit, 1908m² of commercial space plus 330 student rooms were approved by the Mayor in February this year. Fish Island's dominoes continue to fall.

Thankfully most of the Island's southern strip, bordering the Greenway, lies within a protected Tower Hamlets conservation area so should be safe. Here we find old blocks like the Algha Works, Swan Wharf, Britannia Works and Percy Dalton's Peanut Factory, each occupied for many years by artists' studios and the generally creative. It's such a compact cluster that you can spin around 360° at the junction of Dace Road and Smeed Road and it looks like very little has changed. This is the weatherworn aesthetic architects in other parts of Fish Island are attempting to emulate, if unsuccessfully.

But redevelopment continues to encroach right up to the conservation area boundary. Forman and Son's yard is being comprehensively residentialised as Lock No 19, an L&Q project delivering 170 canalside flats. At the other end of Dace Road HG Construction are in the early stages of erecting 144 flats in five jarring cuboidal blocks, and on the opposite side of the Greenway Taylor Wimpey have nearly finished 175 more as part of something they've inexplicably christened Aspext. Any unprotected industrial site is fair game, it seems, as Fish Island's yards and warehouses slowly sink beneath a tidal wave of highrise boxes.

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