‘Hijab gates’ plan fails to find support

Proposals to build a set of ‘hijab gates’ in Brick Lane have proved unpopular among local people.

According to a report by Tower Hamlets Council, the plans, which involve the construction of ornamental arches resembling the Islamic headscarf, had yet to garner any letters of support.

Meanwhile, 158 residents had registered their objections to the idea during a period of public consultation. Other dissenting parties include the local synagogue, as well as the Spitalfields Trust.

Despite this, councillors have advocated that their development committee approve the plans.

Local resident and secretary of Save Britain’s Heritage Will Palin described the public’s lack of support for the gates as a ‘damning indictment of the plan.’ He added: ‘‘If the council was to approve these hated arches it would risk becoming a laughing stock. To press ahead with this ridiculous, wasteful and ill-conceived scheme, in the face of such overwhelming opposition and against all common sense, would be both an an insult to the people of the borough and an affront to local democracy.’’

Others unhappy about the plan include locally-based artist Tracey Emin, who has described the project as a waste of money. She said: “The funds allocated to this I think would be better spent elsewhere; for example: education, rubbish collection, safer streets and vermin control.” Emin has also criticised the appearance of the gates, calling them ‘bulky, ungainly and unnecessary.’

Some critics have likened the arches to something from ‘Disneyland’. The structures are intended to form part of a £2m ‘heritage trail’, aiming to celebrate the area’s diversity. However, some have accused the project of having the opposite effect, claiming that it creates divisions in the multi-cultural community and places a greater emphasis on Islam than other religions.

The Muslim Council of Britain has declined involvement in the debate, saying it is a matter for the local community.

However, Tower Hamlets Council defended the arches in their report, saying they are not ‘culturally specific to Islam’, and that headscarves are worn in a number of different cultures, including amongst the young, and within the communities of Jewish and Huguenot immigrants historically associated with the area.

It also points out that London has a tradition of ‘arches’ to denote special areas, such as the West End’s Chinatown and Carnaby Street, as well as Roman Road market in Bow.

A council spokeswoman said the report’s early online publication, before the end of the official consultation period last Monday, was to ensure that committee members would have time to digest its contents before meeting next Thursday.

She added: ‘‘Any further objections or comments lodged after the posting of the report – including ones made after the official end of the consultation period – will be reported to the committee meeting itself.’’

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