The Unravelling Arches: The Challenges Behind Hackney Walk

In the dynamic and ever-evolving landscape of retail space and fashion, Hackney Walk, a luxury fashion outlet has faced a tumultuous journey. Launched in 2016 the project aimed to create a thriving high-end fashion destination in East London. Today, the units are empty, and some have been boarded up. It has become a case-study on what not to do on an inner-city regeneration project. 


Hackney Walk’s genesis goes back to the aftermath of the London riots. The then Mayor Boris Johnson, unveiled a £70 million fund dedicated to the revitalisation of the most impacted areas, a portion of that money was given to this venture. It grew into a £100 million public-private project with strong support from stakeholders including Hackney Council. The council earmarked £1.5 million for a visitor attraction and an enhanced retail circuit. Additionally, Network Rail contributed £3.7 million to the project. The involvement of Network Rail was due to the scheme’s key concept of creating fashion retail destinations inside the transformed Victorian railway arches.   

In London, and across the UK, spaces under Victorian-era railway arches have a long history of hosting small businesses. As cheap, awkwardly shaped, rental spaces they host a wide range of uses, from car mechanics, metal workers, to more recently micro-breweries and space for artists. There were similar such businesses beneath 12 arches along Morning Lane in Hackney until they made way for the Hackney Walk scheme. 

Bicester Village

The idea for this site drew inspiration from Bicester Village a high-end fashion destination located outside of a market town in Oxfordshire. This focus was further bolstered by the Burberry outlet store located across the street from Hackney Walk. Tourists seeking high-end fashion bargains are bused there from central London. It was the hope that some of that footfall would gravitate towards the new units along Hackney Walk. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. The hoped-for agglomeration effect didn’t take place. 


The success of any retail venture hinges on its ability to curate an appealing mix of brands that resonate with the target audience, in this case the local community needs didn’t fully factor as part of that consideration. In the case of Hackney Walk, the selection of luxury brands was misaligned with the preferences of the local and wider community. Understanding the diverse and evolving tastes of consumers is crucial for the success of any retail project, it was this miscalculation that led to the disconnect between the offering and the current and future users of the site.  

An additional challenge was the public realm quality and connectivity. Located along a busy traffic route, together with its immediate context, Hackney Walk didn’t offer an urban experience that presented a human-centric, safe experience. It is hidden, and not intuitively reachable from Hackney Central the main commercial hub only 10 minutes’ walk away. 

Bohemia Place

There are successful local examples of activated railway arches. Bohemia Place is less than 5 minutes’ walk away from Hackney Walk. It is a vibrant and dynamic area that has, like Hackney Walk, undergone significant transformation. It hosts a variety of uses that feature a mix of cultural, artistic, and commercial spaces. It serves the local area but offers a different appeal than the local high street which enables it to attract visitors from further afield.  

Hackney Walk’s fate is now held by the Arch Company who are regaining control of the units from the current lease owners, Hackney Council has made statements that they will work with them to insure their return to use to the benefit of the community. Part of a £19 million levelling-up funding for Hackney Central will be directed to the area. 

The confluence of location challenges, public realm quality, lack of adaptability and misalignment with community all combined towards its closure. The importance of carrying out detailed contextual analysis of existing uses, current and future users, the site’s urban form together with a phasing and activation strategy can also be underlined. Hackney Walk serves as a cautionary tale, an important lesson about context and adaptability for future stakeholders and placemaking professionals.