Holborn Studios fights for survival

 

by STEFANIA SARRUBBA

One of north London’s biggest photographic studios could end up as a block of flats unless it wins a High Court battle for survival.

Holborn Studios, of Regent’s Canal in Hackney, has been used by famous photographers including Annie Leibovitz and David Bailey.

“The Rolling Stones have been here, two prime ministers have had their portraits taken here… you name it, we have it,” said general manager Mikey McCartney.

Holborn Studios was founded in 1979 by McCartney’s parents.

“They started in Holborn in a small studio, then we moved to this site at the end of the 1980s,” said McCartney.

“Hackney was incredibly different and the studios were an active kick to improve the area.”

But the studios may be flattened as part of plans put forward by property developers GHL (Eagle Wharf Road) Ltd.

McCartney and his staff have been working under the constant threat of a proposed demolition since 2012, but are only now taking the case to the High Court.

“A planning application for the redevelopment of Holborn Studios was recommended for approval at the council’s Planning Sub-Committee in July 2016, as the application was deemed to satisfy all policies in the council’s Development Plan,” a Hackney Council spokesman said.

studio

The council initially opposed the plan and suggested the building, a former industrial site with a chimney, should be listed as a local site of historical importance. However, the council rethought its decision last July.

“GHL’s planning application got submitted and accepted by the Hackney Council,”  McCartney said.

“They changed their mind without notifying us or local residents.”

GHL declined to comment on the proposed demolition and the upcoming court hearing.

Holborn Studios launched the #saveholbornstudios campaign, which has been backed by many public figures and the Friends of Regent’s Canal group, an association trying to protect the area.

“It was a coincidence. I was cycling along the canal a few years ago and I saw this wonderful building,” said chairman Ian Shacklock.

“About a week later, I got an email from the developers with the demolition plan.”

Like many other passers-by, Shacklock didn’t know what the building was used for.

“I was trying to protect the aesthetics of the site, I had no idea what was going on within those walls.

“Then, Vince McCartney, the owner and founder of the Holborn Studios, wrote to us directly and we joined forces.”

“My best hope is for GHL to just pull out and sell the property. I have no sympathy for them,” he said. “They make an incredible amount of money by simply owning the building, but they want more. It’s pure greed.”

ian shacklock
Chairman Ian Shacklock

Holborn Studios may share the same fate as many other London film and photographic studios, such as Gainsborough Pictures, located nearby.

The former film company, which produced 12 films directed by Alfred Hitchcock, including The 39 Steps, was turned into an apartment complex in 2004.

According to the developers’ plan, Holborn Studios will be moved to the basement of the building, but McCartney said the plan would not be effective.

“They didn’t fully consult with us,” he said. “In one plan, they had pillars in the middle of the room. Taking a shot in the middle of a studio room with a pillar in it is not plausible.”

Moving elsewhere is not an option for McCartney: “This is our home, my brother and I grew up here,” he said.

He has several fond memories of his days at the studio. “In 1996, when England lost to Germany in Euro 96, I was 12 years old and I was crying walking around the corridor as we had just lost,” he said.

“Lauryn Hill was there and she hugged me to make me feel better. I’d do it again!”

Supporters of Holborn Studios appreciate what the organisation does for local residents as well as clients.

“They are good employers, but they engage with the community as well,” said Del Brenner from The Regent’s Network, a group focused on the restoration of waterways.

The organisation has an ongoing separate judicial hearing against the council.

“Holborn Studios have always been very welcoming. They are good neighbours, and neighbours and Londoners stick together,” he said.

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