Members of the strictly Orthodox Jewish Haredi community failed to attend a meeting held by Hackney Planning Watch to discuss the Area Action Plan, the Council’s solution to the long-standing community tensions over planning rights in Stamford Hill.
The no-show came in spite of Hackney Planning Watch leafleting numerous homes in the area and expressly inviting members of the Haredi community- who form the largest population of Orthodox Jews in Britain- to the meeting on Tuesday evening.
Over 100 people from varying areas of Stamford Hill attended to discuss how the council could preserve the architectural heritage and cultural diversity of the Victorian suburb amidst the wider impact of gentrification and regeneration.
Councillor Guy Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, said: “There is quite some history across this neighbourhood – a history around development and tensions. In Shoreditch it is driven by economic growth. Then you come to Stamford Hill –the growth that is happening here is social growth.”
He added: “The plan has got to achieve a form of consensus across the whole of the community. What we are setting about doing is to get some consensus around the future of our neighbourhood and what it will look like, and how the neighbourhood will support a good quality of life for everyone living in it.”
John Page, of Hackney Unites, a “coalition for social justice”, stated that the purpose of the evening was to “begin a process where as a community we can develop a shared vision to develop and meet our needs.”
He added: “The council in the past has consistently failed in this area. The Area Action Plan will allow the community to be fully engaged. We need to do some work to involve our neighbours.”
The Area Action Plan was put forward last year by Hackney Council after it decided it would no longer receive any more proposals from the Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Forum, largely composed of members of the Haredi community and set up to capitalise on the powers granted to local communities by the Localism Act of 2012.
The forum was rejected on the grounds that approving it would not have “enhanced community and social relations”, and that the best way to achieve this was to get the two groups to work together to produce an Area Action Plan.
The plan will cover the north of the borough from the New River across to Clapton Common and Spring Hill. The boundaries are being set up with the advice of Plan Projects, an organisation for community and urban development, that aims to “soothe the febrile atmosphere by providing leadership and bringing the community together.”
However, it is understood that the Haredi Community does not regard the Area Action Plan as representative of their community or as an effective solution to its specific needs. Outside of the meeting a leaflet was found, claiming: “Hackney Planning Watch does not care and is not fair to the Charedi Jews in Stamford Hill.”
It continued: “They have raised no objection to ruin the landscape and to build an enormous 30 storey, luxurious block of flats for sale to foreign investors, but objected to an extension from a Jewish family.”
It urges: “Please do not allow them to destroy the excellent community relations that currently exist in Stamford Hill.”
A spokesperson for Hackney Planning Watch said: [We] went to considerable lengths to contact everyone in the area irrespective of background. We also invited members of the Haredi community to speak at the meeting. We are very sorry that the leaders of the Haredi community chose to boycott a meeting that had been established precisely because of the need to build bridges. We spoke to the person leafleting outside and invited him in. He declined.”
Jane Holgate, the leader of Hackney Planning Watch, added: We have agreed to write a newsletter which we will deliver to every house in the area – hopefully this might engage some of the Charedi. We will look at other ways in which we might open a dialogue – sometimes this has to be done slowly and behind the scene.”
ELL tried to contact the Haredi councillors for Stamford Hill but received no response.
Words by Alexandra Rogers
Video by Irene Lezertua and Gehan Bashumailah