Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Register now for our campaign training

If you want to know how to navigate the council’s planning website, how to object to a planning application, how to involve the ombudsman (when the council fails to answer your concerns) or 101 other ways in which you can help to challenge inappropriate planning in your street, then pre-register for our two hour training session. Email us at

Organise to protect our neighbourhood!

On Tuesday 26 July over 180 people turned up to a Hackney Planning Watch meeting in Stamford Hill Library. Unfortunately the room only held 100 people and many residents had to be turned away. The issue was Hackney Council’s proposal to introduce an ‘area of exception’ into its planning regulations which will see streets in Stamford Hill excluded from its normal planning requirements. The issue arouses fierce passions and people were almost fighting to get into this meeting. Yet the council reports that a mere 216 people responded to its ‘sham’ consultation about which most residents knew nothing.

Council delegation
The next evening, a delegation from Planning Watch addressed the full council meeting (thanks to Councillor Linda Smith for facilitating this). Our spokesperson put our case eloquently, but the councillors did not seemed that concerned with the issues that residents raised. Councillor Guy Nicholson insisted that the flawed consultation period would not be extended and that enforcement was taking place to address inappropriate developments.

What are our concerns?
The council has experienced years of malpractice within its planning service. The notorious Stamford Hill neighbourhood committee was disbanded in 2001 after Planning Watch initiated a successful action by way of judicial review. More recently, the Council’s enforcement arm has been heavily criticised by the Ombudsman for its delay or failure to take enforcement action (they illustrated their concerns by reference to the council’s failure to take timely action in a case where an owner had built a pair of two story semi-detached houses in a rear garden). It is against this history of incompetence (or worse) that we object to a loosening of planning rules in our area.

1 Please sign our on-line petition:

2 Also please sign our separate paper-based petition (and ask your friends and neighbours to do the same) petitions available from Planning Watch.

3 Call a meeting in your street of concerned neighbours. We will send a speaker to update you on what is happening in the campaign. Where street meetings have been set up they have been productive and a great way to meet your neighbours!

4 As part of our campaign we are planning a survey of the streets of exception. Could you help out by surveying your street? This is not hard, and involves using a simple checklist to assess the types of property and the extent to which inappropriate development has already taken place.

5 Do you have any special skills that you could use to further our campaign? We already have people with a background in architecture, equalities, environmental health, research, media, and law. Do you have specialist skills such as documentary making, database or web design or other skills that could help? Please let us know.

6 Finally, we must ask for money. Hackney Planning Watch does not receive any public funding. Yet our campaign needs money. Could you help out by organising a fund-raising event (for example a barbecue or a social). Alternatively, why not make a small donation by standing order?

Monday, 9 July 2007

"Hackney Planning Department in complete disarray"

Hackney Council's planning department is incapable of enforcing the law or the present rules on planning. That's not Hackney Planning Watch's claim, it's the concluion of the Local Government Ombudsman in December of last year. So much for claims by Councillor Guy Nicholson that Hackney's planning problem were in the past...

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Stamford Hill deserves better

Stop the proposed area of planning exception

Hackney Council is planning to exclude 38 streets in Stamford Hill from normal planning protection. A period of so-called ‘consultation’ on the plans has already concluded, but most residents had no idea that this consultation was taking place. One councillor has already been quoted in the press celebrating what he described as an unprecedented u- turn in council policy. While the councillor was celebrating, most residents had not even been informed of the proposals. Those who have managed to obtain copies of the ‘draft’ proposals are appalled at the proposal to abandon their streets to unregulated property developers.

The Council already has an appalling record of applying its existing policies and often grants planning permission for front, rear and side extensions that are completely out of character with the existing streetscape, and which in some cases involve the almost total in-fill of rear gardens. Not satisfied with the existing levels of architectural vandalism, the Council wishes to relax even further the rules that they so rarely apply.

If this ‘area of exclusion’ is allowed, the unique character of our Victorian and Edwardian streets will be lost forever. With the Olympics approaching the area will be a magnet for unscrupulous ‘hit and run’ property developers and unlicensed ‘buy to let’

landlords who will destroy the quality of our environment. Already residents are facing inappropriate developments with a resulting loss of privacy, light and other amenities. Developers are even applying to build three storey houses in residential back gardens.

Why should residents of Stamford Hill be any less entitled to statutory planning protection than the rest of Hackney residents? We pay the same council tax; we deserve the same services. If you own your own home and this policy is approved, then you may not find it easy to sell up and leave as ‘planning blight’ will make prospective owner occupiers wary. If you rent, you may find your landlord decides that there is more money to be made by ‘increasing the density of occupation’, i.e. extending the property and then converting it into additional flats. The result will be a loss of high quality rental accommodation and more people forced to live in smaller flats and ‘houses in multiple occupation’ (including bedsits).

If you are concerned at the prospect that your next-door neighbour (or some future next door neighbour) will be able to build a wholly inappropriate extension with no regard to normal planning controls, if you care about the quality of our built environment or just wish to express your views on the Council’s flawed consultation, then please show your support.

• Email us at
• You can also contact the council for a copy of the consultation document at mailto://

How you can help

The council has confirmed that it will not re-open the consultation period. So we must use other methods of impressing on them the strength of feeling.

1. We are asking supporters to collect names on our petitions. We have two petitions.
One is a 'traditional' paper petition, which we are asking to be completed only by people who live in the proposed area of exception. We want to demonstrate the strength of opposition within the area. Click here to download petition sheets.

A second 'e' petition is available on the Downing Street website. We are asking everyone to sign this one (as it addresses the wider point of principle which arises from the proposed area of exception).

Please tell as many people as possible, we have more than 120 signatures so far, and need 100 for it to be looked at by Downing Street; ideally in excess of 4000 to show a real opposition.

2. We are also asking you to contact your ward councillors and invite them to meet with residents to discuss concerns. Please email your councillor and copy in the council and Councillor Guy Nicholson, cabinet member for planning and Sue Foster, planning officer - see addressed below.,,,

New River:,,,

Springfield ward:,,,

Lordship ward:,,,

Suggestions and ideas

This campaign will only succeed if we work together. Please forward any ideas, or suggestions as to how we can increase the pressure on the councillors to Hackney Planning Watch.

Hackney Planning Watch meeting

The proposed Local Development Framework and the 'areas of exception'.
Tuesday 26 June 2007
Stamford Hill Library

Over 180 turned up for the meeting - with over 171 people signing the attendance sheets. Unfortunately not all were able to get into the meeting as the room was absolutely full and we did not anticipate these numbers wanting to attend. This shows that this issue is one that has raised very strong feelings.

At the start, it looked like the meeting may not go ahead as a large number of people who were disappointed at not being allowed into the room (due to it being absolutely packed) decided to try to disrupt the meeting to prevent it going ahead. This continued for about half an hour and provided some difficulty for the stewards who were physically pushed and abused by people, mainly, but not exclusively from people from the Orthodox Jewish communities. Eventually the meeting settled down (although this was only after the police had been called) and we had a really interesting and constructive meeting which began to open up a dialogue with all the different communities represented at the meeting. The following is a report of what happened in the meeting.

Our sincerely apologies to those who were unable to gain admission to the meeting.

Jane Holgate introduced the meeting
Jane read a list of apologies from 11 Labour councillors. Councillor Odze, New River ward gave apologies for Cllrs Middleton and Steinberger. Other councillors in attendance were Councillor Odze, New River; Councillor Shaik, Springfield; Councillor Matthew Coggins, Lordship Ward; Cllr Dawood Akhoon, Cazenove Ward.

Hackney planning Watch had invited all councillors to attend and invited a representative from each political party to address the meeting at the start. Cllr Matthew Coggins, Lordship Ward spoke on behalf of the Conservatives and Cllr Dawood Akhoon, Cazenove Ward spoke on behalf of the Liberal Demoncrats.

Cllr Matthew Coggins, spoke first:
He had had many contacts by people who had planning applications refused including for alterations to low roofs around Church street of a type that had been accepted previously. Hackney Council withheld an earlier supplementary planning doc for political reasons, and the Conservatives had opposed the previous policy because they supported a more accommodating approach to extensions. There was a need to balance competing interests. They supported present proposal as a reasonable compromise, being acutely aware of pressures of rising house prices and the increasing need for family-sized accommodation. He said many in the orthodox Jewish community were poor and the majority lived in rented accommodation.

Cllr Dawood Akhoon
Said he was here to listen to all points of view

John Page introduced the issues and explained why the meeting had been called: This is an important discussion about what is happening in our neighbourhood. He apologised to late-comers who could not get in; the room was only intended for about 70 people, and there were fire risk issues if it became more crowded.

We must discuss and decide what to do, if necessary, to challenge council. Hackney Council has a long history of planning incompetence at best and of corruption in some proven cases. He was sure there are some very honest people in planning, but there is a history of approvals of applications clearly contrary to policy and regulations. In one case, Hackney Planning Watch had taken the issue as far as judicial review, at which point the council had backed down and paid all Hackney Planning watch legal costs. One Planning Committee member has been jailed for an election fraud.

The purpose of planning is to protect local people from inappropriate developments. HPW's view, confirmed by discussions with neighbours is that proposals flawed, and the consultation inadequate. It is important to restrict the number of houses carved up into multiple occupancy by developers and landlords.

The proposed policy suggests we need less protection than Dalston or Shoreditch, and encourages over-development. It is a green light from the council for property speculators and bad developers. Why was the consultation process a sham? Although he kept a close interest in local issues, the first he heard of the proposal was a Hackney Gazette article saying that the policy had already changed. He had since been told that there had been an 18 month consultation, which is clearly not true, and that there was a petition with 4000 signature in favour of the proposed change. However, there are not 4000 households in the area of exception.

The Triangle Community group invited councillors visit the area, in order to see that not true it had already ruined by d over-development and alterations, as has been claimed in support of weakening controls of changes. Only 4 councillors out of 60 came. Guy Nicholson admitted Hackney council hadn't got officers to survey the streets concerned and check, and many streets in the proposed area of exception are not even listed in the proposal booklet before they decided on the area of exception.

The proposals also name streets outside Stamford Hill - Cricketfield Road, and also the area around Queen's Drive near Finsbury Park - certainly not areas housing large families-why? For developers who see chance of large profits? It I important to keep up the political pressure, starting with the Full Council meeting tomorrow night, where Jane Holgate would address the meeting. We should continue to collect signatures for the petition, and also consider judicial review.

This particular policy can't be rubber- stamped; if there are objections it must go to the secretary of State, and must be reviewed by an independent assessor.

John showed the meeting photographs of examples of property extensions marring the appearance of the area, some with planning permission, and some without but with no enforcement. These included very high extensions and entire back gardens filled in. If this has been done under present rules, what will happen if they are relaxed?

Speakers from the floor

Bethune Road resident: Bethune Road is potentially a prime example of what we have seen. As an architect, she cares about the urban fabric. If we destroy it, we will never get it back. On the question of the need for more accommodation, he Woodberry Down regeneration is taking place, with 3 other developments in the last 5 years, bringing quality new developments all over the area. Rubbish problems and environmental damage are caused by overcrowding.

A young girl read out a statement written by her mother; she and her 7 siblings live in a 4 bedroom house, struggling for room, with nowhere to study, while sharing a room with 3 sisters. The council has refused their application for no specific reasons. Her little brother has chronic lung disease. She was born here but does not feel accepted in this vibrant multicultural environment.

Resident in Ravensdale Road: there are already 4 synagogues in his street, with applications for more, with cars parked up at many times, and noise from public address systems, and from a Hassidic school. This is very disruptive and is too much in one street. He said this wasn't fair on normal residents.

John Page pointed out that our Jewish neighbours are normal residents too and Hackney Planning Watch has no objection to synagogues.

[interruption - yes, but 4 and a school is too much in one street]

Another Ravensdale Road resident: said she has had 3 floods caused by over developments, while unregulated development has caused flooding and damp. All light is blocked in gardens and they are overlooked entirely.

Wilderton Road resident: Similar problems, not just aesthetically horrible, but a loss of green space and hence environment, with problems with cracking and subsidence caused by over-development.

Abraham Sunshine (speaking on behalf of a section of the orthodox community): Has lived in London Borough of Hackney for 20 years: We should compare Stamford Hill with the rest of Hackney in levels of crime Use of guns, knives and of mugging is almost nil because orthodox Jews are very law abiding. Living in harmony with orthodox Jews brings these benefits; isn't it a small price to allow them enough housing? In most cases neighbours of extensions are Jewish and make agreements informally over plans. If unregulated building work is a crime - why are police not called in?

Another resident: Would like to agree with last speaker on one point; Stamford Hill is a very desirable place to live. However, extensions are not the solution to the need for big houses. This is an example of the well-know 'tragedy of the commons' where unfettered grazing benefits individuals but ends up destroying the commons entirely. Housing is absurdly expensive, but this policy will encourage developers to build or subdivide more flats, so that prices rise even more.

Castlewood Road resident: Yes, this is a lovely area to live, relatively crime-free. However, despite good relationship with neighbours, restrictions on hours of use and covenants have been ignored. We need to respect each other.

Farley Road resident: He gets on well with Orthodox Jewish neighbours, who had asked him first about a proposed development agreed and withdrew a proposal that would block light. However, there is a pressure group to promote applications. In a democracy we can't make a special case of one community. This was not what his father fought for in the Second World War.

Dunsmure Road resident: As a former equalities officer, she knew that anti-discrimination laws say that regulations must not benefit one community over another. There was no equalities impact statement in the proposal document.

Cllr Harvey Odze New River Ward: lives in Breydon Road. Agrees that we cannot allow flouting of planning laws; but planning restrictions will be applied equally. An equalities impact assessment has been done-it is on the Hackney Council web site. The Local Development Framework document is very badly worded. The proposal is not making exceptions for Jewish community, but for any with large families, be they Jewish, Muslim, Christian etc. Moving house is very disruptive, better to extend. Loss of the extended family has driven the crime rate sky high. Need space for extended families. He would not support flouting planning law or ignoring neighbours.

Portland Avenue resident: loves living here, in a great family oriented are. Had searches done when buying and no planning proposals were found, so she was surprised to have windowless flat roofed structure built nearby without permission. Extended families are good, but developments looking like rubbish have been put up without permission, despite her objection.

Holmleigh Road resident: has lived here for 20 years, but since a neighbour moved in 5-6 yrs ago, their house has been just a building site, with no planning permission, trouble including builders fighting in the street, constant skips, drains blocked by cement. The Planning Department say they have no money to prosecute enforcement.

Jane Holgate: enforcement is a nightmare, but we have forced those who made changes without permission to pay to restore buildings. We must keep on at the council and be vigilant.

Amhurst Park resident: 2 years ago, the large house next door was sold, and he would have been happy to see a large Jewish family move in, the new owner from the Orthodox Jewish Community has converted it into 15 bed sits without planning permission instead. We need a real solution to the housing problem, but this proposal is not the solution.

Dunsmure Road resident: happy living alongside Hasidic community for 24 years. We must concentrate our fire against Hackney Council instead. The council are slipping an area of exception full of ambiguity and unclarity in an otherwise basically good policy. No clear rational for picking out Stamford Hill has been given. Don't fallout between ourselves; the council has let us down.

Denver Road resident: has lived in area For 8 years now. What antagonises people is building works without planning permission.

Holmleigh Road resident responsible for the developments referred to by previous speaker: There have not been the problems claimed, they had full permission. However, when an arbitrator's meeting was arranged over the dispute, Hackney Council did not turn up as arranged. The council has let us down.

Cllr Matthew Coggins: again, he would not support this proposal if he thought it would lead to a repeat of the bad practice shown in the earlier slides. The housing crisis is for all, especially for orthodox Jews who don't have enough access to social housing He will be interested to see what happens in the Woodberry Down development for the Jewish community, but he suspects it will be inadequate and will increase pressures you are all facing.

Councillor Dawood Akhood: the key is enforcement. 2 Asian residents came to him with problem of a builder's merchant whose development blocked out their family's light. Although there was no planning permission, the council did not enforce. It is good to see that people care; at the end of the day we should show respect for our neighbours. We are making progress and should go forward. Glad to see this meeting, well done

Bergholt Crescent resident: it was the Tories who sold off social housing in first place, so they are as much to blame as labour for the shortage. The problem is not Jewish, black or white; it's Hackney Council's incompetence: we need to push them, not our neighbours. We must to talk to our neighbours before development. To live in a closed community is people's choice if they wish, but we need to live together in a mixed community. The consultation process was inadequate and illegal. Contact Hackney Council tomorrow to say it's not good enough

John Page summed up
He had enjoyed the meeting and it has shown how many people care about the place where we all live. This meeting has shown that the consultation process should not be over. Many voices have been heard tonight on both sides of the argument and we have all had an opportunity to hear new points of view. Let us set up a dialogue between us, and show we can work together. Let's talk about having a meeting together with the Jewish community. The Council has tried to divide the community, but we are more than capable of engaging in dialogue and finding common ground. We should go forward together.

There will be a delegation tomorrow at 6.30 at Hackney Town Hall, when Jane will speak to the full council.

At the end of the meeting
There were many discussions at the end of the meeting and there was a commitment to establishing a dialogue between different sections of the community.

There were also a number of people who identified themselves as property developers who spoke to us. They accepted that many of the properties identified as overdevelopment in Stamford Hill are not for the benefit of large families but are a form of buy-to-let accommodation. Properties are extended and then subdivided into 2 or more flats. One in particular boasted that he bought up property to subdivide in this way and then extended the property without planning permission - he said he knew that Hackney council never took enforcement action.

It is against this background that we must ensure that the proposed area of exception is removed from the Local Development Framework.