Spitalfields local campaigns to create London’s first town council

David Donoghue, Headborough of Spitalfields. Pic: Tommy Ebbs

From serving in the British army to working in publishing and public relations, David Donoghue has had a variety of careers in his lifetime.

In recent years he has spent a lot of time in advocacy and campaigning – something that is evident as we meet in his apartment nestled in the centre of Spitalfields, the area he hopes will become London’s first town council.

The proposal would see Spitalfields and Banglatown have their own democratically elected officials and greater authority over local issues.

Donoghue says:  “The main thing behind the town council campaign is to improve basic services like emptying the bins, planning green spaces, planting trees- all these things are completely mismanaged by the council that we can take over.”

Spitalfields Town Council Proposed Boundaries. Pic: Spitalfields Town Council Campaign

The proposed boundaries would include the busy areas of Commercial Street, Brick Lane and Banglatown.

Donoghue is currently head of the Spitalfields Neighbourhood Planning Forum,  a community group set up to draft neighbourhood plans for areas without parish councils.

He is not happy with Tower Hamlets Council’s track record of with dealing with issues such as public toilets and clearing of litter and believes his proposals would help improve the lives of local residents.

In 2016, he also became the first ‘Headborough’ of Spitalfields since 1729, a role he calls mostly ‘ceremonial’ but good for publicity for both the neighbourhood planning forum and the parish council campaign.

He says: “The Headborough was a way of doing PR, it is not an official leading figure but a ceremonial role to spread the word of our campaign. If I’m good at one thing is getting stories into local newspapers. But our main goal is to have a local mayor or councillor as the official leading role.”

Brushfield Street in Spitalfields. Pic: Gary Alden

A Community Governance Review from 6 March till 28 May found that 61 per cent of local residents in Spitalfields and Banglatown were in favour of creating a new town council. However, Donoghue and other members of the campaign complained of the conduct of the second stage of the review from the council, citing opposition from the local Labour party and incompetence in the way the survey was handled.

He said: “The Town Council is for people who live in the parish, they were asking people in the Isle of Dogs and other areas in the borough,” he explains. “They didn’t distinguish between the area affected and outside the area. The councils sent out letters saying they were against the proposal and reminding people to vote against it. They claimed that they sent out the booklets explaining what a town council is, but they didn’t. I didn’t receive the booklet and a lot of my neighbours and people I know didn’t receive the booklet. Of course, it is hard to prove a negative, but they also said they were against it. It was a complete shambles.”

He is now calling for a referendum to decide the matter. He says: “The referendum for the town council will be for the people who live here. The referendum will be in place once the neighbourhood planning forum is able to set the wheels in motion.”

 Tower Hamlets council were approached for a comment but had yet to respond at the time this piece was posted.

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