Hackney Council last night rejected a proposal from the Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Forum (The Forum), which had wanted to use the Localism Act of 2011 to take over responsibility for planning decisions in the wards of Cazenove, Lordship, New River and Springfield. The council cited “clear tensions within the community in North Hackney”.
Leabridge Conservative councillor Linda Kelly, who is chairman of The Forum, told East London Lines that she will continue to seek to form a neighbourhood forum. “There is more than one option in the Localism Act, so we’ll go to plan B. It’s as simple as that.”
Community group, Hackney Planning Watch (HPW), which is opposed to the formation of neighbourhood forums and the devolution of planning powers, has welcomed the Council Cabinet’s decision, announced at a meeting yesterday (July 22) to reject the bid in favour of designating a new, more suitable “neighbourhood area”.
A statement on the group’s website says: “While Planning Watch had serious concerns about the declaration of a Neighbourhood Area, we were reassured by the commitment given to the Cabinet by Councillor Guy Nicholson that it is the Council’s intention to go further and declare an Area Action Plan.
“Under an Area Action Plan, the Council would continue to have democratic control over planning policy in the area, and would, perhaps for the first time, seek to develop an inclusive strategy for addressing the various needs in the area.”
Jane Holgate of HPW told ELL: “We believe from talking to people in the community that neighbourhood forums are not popular and are not wanted by most people. People would prefer the council services to be run by their local council – that’s what we elect councillors for.”
HPW collected some 2,500 signatures from local people opposed to what they see as an attempt to “rip up the rule book” and grant approval for developments, such as unsuitable extensions to homes, that they say would be rejected under local authority planning rules.
There have been concerns that the area’s large Haredi Jewish community, represented by the Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Forum, had wanted to use the Localism Act to build unsuitable extensions to their homes.
Councillor Kelly rejected the allegation that the forum exists to grant untrammelled planning to those in the Haredi community.
‘The Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Forum was supposed to bring people together. It was not just about planning. It wasn’t about the orthodox Jew at the bottom of the road getting a loft extension. It is much more than that. It’s to do with the looking at traffic, looking at education and trying to find a consensus that we could build on.
“Hackney Planning Watch, from what I understand, seems to be fixated on this idea that these people just want loft extensions and that they should be stopped.”
Under the Planning Act, groups of at least 21 people can apply to take over responsibility for planning decisions, including where homes, businesses and shops are built and how they should look, within a designated area.
The Council Cabinet also rejected a rival bid from the North Hackney Neighbourhood Forum, which was originally founded by members of HPW, though they have since distanced themselves from it and actually asked the council to reject it.
Hackney Council will now propose a new “neighbourhood area” for which it will invite new proposals, though this could take up to two years.