The latest Hackney podcast traces the Hackney Empire's past ups and downs and considers its future as it prepares to "go dark" after this year's panto run comes to an end. A venue that has played host to Opportunity Knocks, Maria Callas and Giant Haystacks as well as Marie Lloyd and Clive Rowe can surely adapt and survive. I certainly hope so. I'll be at Aladdin on Boxing Day, maintaining what has become a family tradition. This year's Susie McKenna presentation has already been praised in the Evening Standard and by my kids when they went a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't there that time and they've been very good about not telling me all the jokes. Happy Christmas to the Empire and all the best for the New Year.
For me, the truest test of the 2012 Olympics' worth will be any long term economic and social benefits they produce for people living in the vicinity of the Olympic Park. Will there be more jobs and better facilities for local residents? Will existing neighbourhoods be enriched and enhanced? Regeneration projects are always contentious because they can result in gains for a few at the expenses of many living in the areas concerned. As the film I recently helped make for the Guardian showed, residents of Hackney Wick hold a wide range of views about the effects of the Games and there's a great deal of uncertainty about the future.
They and others now have a chance to influence what happens next as the Council's Hackney Wick masterplan goes out to public consultation until 9 February 2010. The masterplan is a separate document from the blueprints for the Olympic Park itself, but will be profoundly influenced by what happens there. As the Council puts it: "In the coming years Hackney Wick will be faced with many choices as a result of the investment into the area brought about by the 2012 Games, coming from both the private and public sectors."
The Council is at pains to demonstrate a commitment to protecting the Wick's character and unique combination of charms as part of nurturing improvements. To that end it has designated a Hackney Wick Conservation Area directly north of Hackney Wick station. This, it says, is an "unusual step" to take in advance of the completion of a public consultation. The only previous example was the 2005 Lea Bridge Conservation Area. The Council says this had a beneficial influence on the development of Paradise Dock and that the Wick designation will enable it to "resist the loss of historic buildings and open spaces such as working yards, and the alteration of the historic street pattern."
What might emerge from a process of change combining preservation and development? The Council speaks of "positively inform[ing] future development, for example, by incorporating and re-using the historic buildings as a basis for new developments to add economic value and create a distinctive sense of place." The masterplan's proposals include turning the area around the station into a "hub" of restaurants and shops.
Read the masterplan - the Hackney Wick Area Action Plan, if we're being formal - for yourself right here.
You can respond to it by filling in the online feedback forms supplied and, if you wish, by meeting a planning officer: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 02083567743 to arrange a meeting at the Hackney Wick Community Centre on 11 January (noon until 2:00 pm), 22 January (10:00 am until noon) or 25 January (6:00 pm until 8:00 pm). The community Centre is also holding drop-in sessions on 14 January (6:00 pm until 8:00 pm), 19 January (10:00 am until noon) and 21 January (6:00 pm until 8:00 pm).