Our bustling high street is now a ghost town after local businesses were turfed out for doomed £1.5m 'hipster paradise' | The Sun

PAID for with £1.5m of public money, it was supposed to create a ‘world-class fashion mecca’ that would rival upmarket Bicester Village in Oxfordshire.

But Hackney Walk in East London is now a ghost town marred by smashed windows and graffiti after – one-by-one – the posh stores that opened there shut down.  

The Sun visited this week after the Nike Factory shop became the latest to close its doors, leaving just one badly vandalised Stone Island outlet remaining.

The result is a strip of 13 vacant shops under railway arches on Morning Lane where a number of car garages previously operated.

Shutter fitter Scott O’Reilly, 55, regularly passes Hackney Walk’s depressing yellow facade as he heads to the nearby Tesco.

He said: “It’s a white elephant. They opened all these stores thinking that Japanese tourists would come. They thought they would be raking it in, but from start to finish it’s been one poor decision after another.


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“The shops they brought in were just way too expensive for this area. They were selling Gieves & Hawkes suits for £600, but this is not a wealthy part of London and most people walk around in tracksuits and jeans.

“I’ve lived here all my life and before all this was built – we are talking about 10 years ago – this was a row of arches with garages.

“They got rid of all those businesses and spent over a million pounds refurbishing it, but this is Hackney, not Knightsbridge, you know.

“I hardly ever saw anyone in those stores and no-one I knew went… I popped into the Nike store a couple of times and the prices were OK, but it was all odd sizes, 13s and 3s, the stuff they couldn’t sell online.

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The former Duke of Wellington pub, which became a Pringle outlet store, was demolished to make way for the commercial centreCredit: Alamy
The Hackney Empire theatre on Mare Street, a stone's throw from Hackney Walk, which now lies desertedCredit: Darren Fletcher
How architects envisaged the outlet shopping centre would lookCredit: Getty
Hackney Walk now, with shop fronts boarded up and covered in graffitiCredit: Darren Fletcher

“If you are trying to get walk-in trade on Morning Lane, in E9, it’s not going to happen.

“Online shopping has killed all this. Amazon is my favourite shop now, that’s where I get all my stuff.

“It’s such a shame because they are beautiful shops and it would have made the area look nice, but it’s an eyesore now.”


The well-paid team of designers brought in to oversee the refurbishment, headed by famed Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye, even got the choice of security shutters wrong, it is claimed.  

The metal grids were intended to rise and fall so they could protect the high-end stores from burglars at night.  

But they now loom hauntingly over empty windows, a number of which have been smashed, having apparently broken down.

They got rid of all those businesses and spent over a million pounds refurbishing it, but this is Hackney, not Knightsbridge, you know

Scott added: “They ordered posh shutters from Germany and just like everything else, it failed.

“If you’re going to get something that only the Germans manufacture, what happens when it breaks? You’re going to have to get someone from Germany to fix it.

“All the shutters are now broken and they can’t afford to repair them.

“Here’s the result – a row of empty shops. You could see this was going to happen.”


Hackney Walk's vandalised shop windows are seen as ironic by critics, as the £100m project was supposed to revitalise an area blighted by the 2011 London Riots.

An estimated £200m worth of property was damaged up and down the country during the violent disorder.

In Hackney, masked youths threw petrol bombs, smashed shop fronts and attacked police amidst protests over suspected gangster Mark Duggan being shot dead by armed officers in nearby Tottenham.

Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, announced £70m of funding for the hardest hit areas, and Hackney Council secured £1.5m of this to regenerate the section of Morning Lane that became Hackney Walk.

This was matched by £4m from the publicly-owned Network Rail, £135,000 from the council, and £12.5m from Hackney Arches Construction Company, formerly co-owned by businessmen Harry Handelsman and Jack Basrawy.

Hackney Walk was unveiled in 2016 with high end stores including Gieves and Hawkes, Colombo, Zadig and Voltaire, Folli Follie, Nicole Farhi, BLK DNM, Wolsey, Nike, Present, Matches Fashion and Joseph.

It was boasted that 450 retail jobs would be created as tourists flooded in, turning the area of Hackney into a luxury outlet mall.

Comparisons were made with the 160 high end stores of Bicester Village, visited by up to one million Chinese tourists a year.

Mr Basrawry declared at the time: “Absolutely it will create footfall, it will create jobs, and it will create opportunities. Hackney Walk has no barrier or wall around it. The streets around will benefit."

But just three years later – as the pandemic took hold – most of the stores had already closed down and Hackney Council now insists it has nothing to do with running the Walk.

This week staff at the Stone Island outlet, whose smashed front door was held together with strips of plastic and foam, did not want to talk.  

The only other sign of life was a flyer advertising a ‘T*ts Hotline’ on which people could express what they ‘really think about boobs'.

While there was a steady stream of Chinese and British tourists heading to the Burberry Factory outlet on nearby Chatham Place, where a simple white T-shirt was discounted from £460 to £230 and a handbag from £1,400 to £1,000, none that we spoke to were aware of the doomed venture opposite.  

Hairdresser Justine King, 52, from Doncaster, had just spent £715 on a Burberry mac that would normally be £1,000.

She said: “I have never heard of Hackney Walk and there are no signposts or adverts telling you about it.

“I wouldn’t have any idea there was anything down there – you don’t notice it when you come off the train.

“In Burberry, people are buying baskets of stuff, so it’s not like there isn’t money to be spent.

“I’m sure people would have gone down there if they had known about it. It’s a real shame it’s not worked.”

Waste of public money

Pelin Gok, 33, is a manager at the Gabba Home furniture store at 90 Morning Lane and slams the council for wasting so much public money.  

She said: “I was born and bred in Hackney and I’ve never been to the Walk.

“People always said it was too expensive and the names (brands) were not ones you are familiar with.

“I remember seeing a shirt in the window for £450 but I can walk down the road to M&S and get a similar shirt for £30 or £40. What’s the difference?

“Let’s be realistic, Hackney is not Bicester Village. There’s no parking, there’s traffic and commuters, it’s just not going to work.

“Half the customers that go to Burberry will pop in here and tell me their phone was stolen when they came out of the station, or they were mugged walking down the road.

“It feels like a ghost town now and that came about really quickly. One day it (Hackney Walk) was there and the next it was gone.

It feels like a ghost town now and that came about really quickly. One day Hackney Walk was there, and the next it was gone

“When I was young, we had community centres and youth clubs, places where we could meet up and socialise, and that no longer exists in Hackney. It has all gone away and the council needs to bring that back.

“Hackney was given £2m after the riots and £1.5m went there. I mean, come on, that’s ridiculous. That could have been used for so much more – parks, play areas for kids, community centres.

“It could have gone to anything other than something no-one needed or used.

“I would like to see more affordable shops that working class people like me could walk into and enjoy without feeling like someone has stolen my purse.”

A Guernsey-based property company called Lab-C Estate Ltd, which is currently in liquidation, owns the lease for Hackney Walk.    

The Arch Company, which bought Network Rail’s stake in the Walk in 2019, is hoping to get planning permission to attract a more diverse range of businesses, such as cafes and restaurants, to make use of the vacant lots.

Half the customers that go to Burberry will pop in here and tell me their phone was stolen when they came out of the station, or they were mugged walking down the road

A spokesperson for the firm said: “The current leaseholder Lab C-Estate Ltd is in liquidation. We are working to regain control of the units so that we can bring them back into productive use. We look forward to working with the council to do so.”

Incredibly, Hackney Council says it has been allocated another £19m of taxpayer's money that could be used to revitalise the Walk.

A council spokesperson said: “We share the concerns about the impact the now-empty Hackney Walk units are having on the neighbourhood and wider town centre.

“The Council does not own or manage these arches, but we have been clear with the owners, The Arch Company, about the need for them to be brought back into use for the benefit of the local community and the wider town centre.

“We understand that The Arch Company is in the process of regaining control of the arches from the current leaseholders, and have been clear that we’re ready and willing to work with them to ensure any plans brought forward reflect the interests of the community.

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“The Council recently secured £19m from the government’s levelling up fund for Hackney Central, a component of which will be to help bring empty spaces back into use.

“We’re looking forward to continuing discussions with residents, businesses, organisations and landlords to shape how some of this investment can ensure facilities like these better serve the community and town centre."

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