Sunday, 28 October 2007

It's certainly never dull when dealing with Hackney Council

We have now received a letter from the Government Office for London. It appears that the Council may not have a legal basis for the policy document that includes the proposed areas of exception.

This is quite a technical point, but a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) cannot make council policy, it can only give guidance on existing policy. The proposed SPD relied on three Council pre-existing Council policies, two of which have lapsed (it appears the council forgot to renew them), the third of which applies only to conservation areas.

Consequently it appears doubtful that the Council can adopt the SPD without first adopting some basic policies.The Council is suggesting that it can rely on a general 'plan for London', the principles of which the Council has adopted, but this seems unlikely (or should I say 'desperate'). The Council intends to continue with its existing proposals.

We have been led to believe that the Council may remove the phrase 'area of exception' which is viewed a problematic, but they are currently committed to the substance of the proposals. The latest proposed timescale is that the report will go to Cabinet in December, but there is every reason to suspect that this timescale will be extended. In any event, our campaign must continue to build in strength.

The accidental lapsing of important Council policies is of course a typical Hackney Council 'cock up', but what does it mean for our campaign? Well the good news is that it makes it even harder for the Council to simply ram through the existing proposals, and consequently more likely that we will, eventually, get them amended.

The bad news? Well it appears the Council no longer has any policy on residential extensions! It is therefore possible that unscrupulous developers with good lawyers can appeal any application (however outrageous) that is rejected on the basis that the Council has no policy grounds for rejection.

What have we done?
We have written to the Mayor, Jules Pipe seeking a meeting. We will also be seeking a meeting with Diane Abbot to discuss this matter further. Our hope is that they will agree to meet us at a meeting open to all Planning Watch supporters (but not a public meeting as our previous public meeting demonstrated how difficult it is to find a venue large enough).

We are also undertaking legal research to establish whether we have strong grounds for Judicial Review. We currently have one 'volunteer' who may be eligible for legal aid in relation to this matter, but we definitely need more applicants. If you fit the following definition and are willing to speak to our lawyer (currently giving his services for free!), please let us know) :

a) Own a flat or house within one of the areas of exception, and
b) in receipt of Income Support, Jobseekers' Allowance or Pension Credit.

What you can do?
We still have a number of streets that need to be leafleted, Volunteers to leaflet these streets would be much appreciated:

Adolphus Road
Blackstock Road
Brand Close
Brownswood Road
Gloucester Drive
Kings Crescent
Somerfield Road
Wilberforce Road

Street surveys
If anyone wants to survey their own street, then please contact Jane, who is co-ordinating this. We currently have 11 streets where we have a survey. It's easy to do, and only takes an afternoon. It will help if when we speak about the proposed areas of exception we have more information than the council officers!

'Street watch'
We are hoping to develop a network of people who are prepared to regularly check for developments in their streets. It merely involves logging onto the Council's website and checking for new applications. This should only take an half an hour once a fortnight, but it will ensure that we have visibility of proposed inappropriate developments before the date for comments and objections has passed. Anyone with a computer with internet access can do this (if your too busy, why not ask your kids!).

Next steps
Please let us know your ideas for what we should be doing next.

Also here is notice of another planning issue that you might want to support.

What's happening in Durlston Road?
As you may have noticed, number 62 Durlston Road has undergone major building work over the last 2 and a half years. The garden space has been completely filled in by an extension with a roof terrace on top. 6 air conditioning units have been added to the side and rear of the house and the garden wall has been knocked down to annex the council-owned alleyway between 60 and 62.

All of this has happened without planning permission and without any consultation with the people living close by.If you've ever wanted to extend your house or build a roof terrace, you will know that both planning permission and consultation are a required part of the process.Some of our local streets have already seen inappropriate developments leading to noise, loss of light and privacy and damage to the integrity of the 'streetscape' - this overdevelopment is not good for our community.

Hackney Council are currently proposing to sell the alleyway between 60 and 62 Durlston Road despite the fact that it was illegally taken over, they are allowing work to continue without planning permission and our neighbourhoods are being destroyed.

If you are worried about any of this, please come along to a meeting on November 1st at 7.30 at Tower Gardens Estate Community Office, 2 Inglethorpe House, Tower Gardens Estate, London E5.

Did you know?
Hackney Council plans to exclude 30 streets in Stamford Hill from normal planning protection, extension restrictions will be relaxed & dimensions increased. Hackney Council feels that the streetscape is already damaged by abuses of planning permission, due to a period of corruption within the planning office, yet many of the streets included in the draft have been untouched & remain true to their Victorian character. Consultation ended with the majority of the residents affected unaware of the proposals, no letters were sent out, a small article in the local paper made some aware. Stamford Hill streetscapes have a unique Victorian character, the area of exclusion would allow the character & heritage to be lost to inappropriate developments, & increase the density of occupation in already crowded streets. We, the undersigned, object to the sale of the alleyway between 60 and 62 Durlston Road. The alley was annexed without permission or consultation and should be restored to its previous usage immediately.


Sunday, 7 October 2007

Newsletter 3 - Urgent action needed…

Hackney council is proposing to introduce a policy where properties in streets in Stamford Hill, around Queens Drive and in Cricketfield Road are deemed to be within ‘areas of exception’ where normal rules relating to planning will not be applied. We believe that all residents of Hackney should receive the same protection f r o m inappropriate development wherever they live in the borough. It cannot be justified that different rules to apply in different streets, such that developments which would not be allowed elsewhere, are approved in our streets.

Some of our streets have already seen too many inappropriate developments leading to noise, loss of light and privacy, and damage to the integrity of the ‘streetscape’. There have been too many full width dormers (effectively adding an additional story to the property) and gardens that have been either wholly or largely in-filled to provide additional rooms. This overdevelopment is not for the good of the community, as it all too often provides substandard rental accommodation where landlords exploit vulnerable tenants. This proposed policy will go to the Council’s Cabinet for approval (probably in November).

None of the Cabinet members represent residents in the affected areas and it looks as if our streets are to be abandoned to rogue landlords and property speculators. Hackney Planning Watch has little confidence that Hackney Council is either willing or able to exercise its planning regulation function effectively. Unless we, as residents, monitor the situation, they will allow our neighbourhoods to be destroyed by allowing inappropriate developments.

Please help…

  • Hackney Planning Watch has produced a detailed report calling on the Secretary of State, Hazel Blears MP, to intervene and stop this policy (which we believe may be so unreasonable as to make it unlawful).

  • Please visit our website and download a copy: If you agree with us then please send us a letter or email stating that you wish your name to be added to those already endorsing the report.

  • We are calling on residents to undertake a street survey of their own street to identify developments that have no planning permission and those which are operating as unlicensed bedsits or (also known as ‘houses in multiple occupation’). Surveys already undertaken by our supporters have been submitted to the Council with requests that enforcement action is taken. Please write to members of the Council’s cabinet calling on them not to agree this policy and ask them to meet with residents to hear our concerns.

    For contact details of cabinet members please visit:

  • Call a street meeting and get the views of your neighbours and agree to monitor proposed developments in your street for compliance with Council policies.

  • Please sign our on-line petition:

    Legal challenge

  • Please consider if you are eligible for ‘legal aid’ and if so whether you would be prepared to help take a test case regarding the legality of the Council’s proposals

    We believe that the council’s proposals are so deeply flawed that they would not survive a legal challenge by way of judicial review. However such action is potentially very costly, so we are seeking volunteers who are residents of the area and who may be eligible for legal aid. If you feel aggrieved by this policy and you meet the criteria below please let us know. Are you in receipt of:

-Income Support

-Income-based Job Seekers' Allowance

-Guarantee State Pension Credit (under section 1(3)(a) of the State Pension Credit Act 2002(a))

If so let us know!

  • Join our list of supporters and we will keep you informed of upcoming events (send us your email and address).

    Hackney Planning Watch was established by local residents in 1998 when Hackney Council had devolved planning decisions to neighbourhood committees.

    At the time, Hackney was going through one of its periodic crisis and there was widespread concern at malpractice in the planning department and a perception that the Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Committee was corrupt. Eventually, we were forced to take a judicial review against the council in relation to a particularly extreme example of malpractice. The council was forced to concede the case, pay our costs and right the wrong. Soon afterwards the planning function was recentralised.

    However, the council continues to approve developments that are contrary to its core policies. As recently as July 2007, the planning committee approved a development that will see the complete in-fill of the back gardens of two adjoining houses in a residential street. This was in conflict with any number of council policies, and will result in a series adverse effect on the amenity of neighbours. Despite a petition and a well-argued case against the development, it was nodded through by councillors. Now they intend to make it a formal policy that they will not apply the usual rules in some of our residential streets.

    The proposed areas of Exception

    Hackney Council is proposing to create three ‘areas of exception’ where its planning policies on residential extensions will be applied differently to elsewhere in the borough. These ‘areas of exception’ are the streets around Stamford Hill, an area around Queens Drive and on Cricketfield Road. In these areas, developments will be allowed which would not be granted permission elsewhere in the borough.

    What is the justification for this policy?

    According to the council’s policy document ‘some parts of the borough contain a large number of front roof exceptions, often consisting of full width box dormers which are contrary to current policy …in recognition of the existing situation within these areas, and the continuing needs of particular local communities, the policy will be applied with greater flexibility’.

    In other words, in those areas that have already suffered developments that are contrary to Council policy, rather than see enforcement action to right these previous wrongs, the Council intends to relax the rules so we can expect more of the same! The council’s proposals are deeply flawed, and many streets within the proposed areas of exception are unspoilt (but presumably will not remain so if this policy is approved).

    We acknowledge that some streets in the borough are in a mess, with huge amounts of unauthorised development, including the complete infill of some back gardens.

    However, the biggest problem seems to be that the Council’s planning committee has routinely authorised developments which are contrary to agreed policy. In other cases, where the council has refused planning permission, the developers have gone ahead and the council has failed to take enforcement action. The Council has been roundly criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman for these failings (see

    At a time when they are not applying the existing rules, we dread the consequences of a relaxation of those rules.