Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Forum – Comment on Hackney Citizen article

The Hackney Citizen has published a story on the Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Forumincluding allegations that it is a “front” for local Councillors

I don’t know if the Stamford Hill neighbourhood forum can be said to be a conspiracy, but if it is, it’s a conspiracy that includes the Council and the Labour group. The forum was founded in 2011. Since then, the Council and in particular, Daniel Stevens, Labour councillor for Lordship ward, have been heavily involved in meetings with them. But Councillor Stevens has never chosen to mention this at ward forums or on his website even though the proposed area covers all of his ward, including the north side of Church Street. He has only now, under pressure, agreed to address the subject, two weeks before the consultation period ends. As for the Conservative ward councillor Bernard Aussenberg, he has apparently written to selected sections of his constituents asking them to support the forum and left others in the dark. I have asked him to attend the ward forum but he has declined on personal grounds.

It used to be that the people of Stoke Newington had proper neighbourhood forums (old style) which were advertised long in advance and had their minutes published. Anybody could put questions in advance and an official reply would be given, often by the mayor in person. It is true that they were sometimes poorly attended but they could be lively and they provided an opportunity for local people to put their grievances and concerns and share them across the area. Many meetings were lively and important especially those that addressed the Clissold Pool problems, the introduction of bendy buses and the dog control orders. All that has gone. Here in Lordship they are stage-managed by the Labour group, presumably in an effort to avoid dissent. We don’t even know if our Conservative councillor gets a say in their organisation. He has never, to my knowledge attended. And last Wednesday (the 16th) the Council’s website only listed one ward forum in Stoke Newington with a date (Clissold). Even the arranged meeting for Lordship ward was not mentioned

When Jules Pipe stifled debate on the Veolia matter at the last council meeting he said, among other things, that it was an issue that would divide our communities. It is hard to imagine anything that would cause more division than this forum proposal. And, as with the Veolia affair, the administration’s culture of secrecy increases divisions. It is clear that the Council sees the forum as a dangerous row and does not want its role in it publicised.

As for the “forum” what what comes across most clearly is its breathtaking incompetence. According to it’s constitution it is supposed to meet twice annually and hold elections but there is no record in the application of it doing so. One committee member, for example, who was appointed vice chair in November 2011 tells me that he hasn’t attended a meeting since and is now no longer listed in that position.

A ccording to government guidance and the Planning Advisory Service ‘s guidelines for good practice, a forum must demonstrate that it is representative of a community. It will usually do this by holding open days with examples of its plans and objects. This forum hasn’t done this but has lobbied only one section of the community.

Again, a forum must engage with local community and business groups. This hasn’t happened in Lordship. I can confirm that it hasn’t contacted Stokey Local, or the Clissold Park Users Group for example and I can find no involvement with tenants and residents’ associations in my part of the ward. And the Stoke Newington Business Association has never heard of it.

A forum must also give special attention to heritage and conservation appraisals – it hasn’t. There are five conservation areas in the Forum’s boundary and the Stoke Newington Advisory Committee, at least, has not been approached.

The forum should also, in its application, identify suitable sites for development. This is, after all, its rationale. The forum has not done this. In fact, finding suitable sites to develop Jewish Schools, currently a source of friction, would be something a forum could very profitably address.

We have already, in Lordship, under the aegis of the Labour dominated planning committee, severe problems. There is over-development, such the Methodist Church on Green Lanes and the Avigdor site; there is inappropriate development in or adjacent to conservation areas such as the Manor Road school and the “pillbox” in Arbor Court; there are derelict buildings like St Mary’s Lodge. Any further relaxation of planning rules would be disastrous and would be likely to affect many residents who will have no say in what happens. In short, it is clear that the current proposal is unworkable and the composition of the committee undemocratic, secretive and generally unsuitable. What Hackney Council Planning Authority should say is that we need to go back to the drawing board and start again with public meetings and proper community involvement and with a transparent and public process.

Previous posts

Local meeting

Tony Harms

Secretary of the Stoke Newington Conservsation Area Advisory Committee

Previously Co-opted board member of the Stoke Newington Neighbourhood Forum

Candidate for Lordship Ward (Lib Dem) local elections 2010

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