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Tories and Lib Dems accused of manufacturing Hackney planning bid for political advantage

PUBLISHED: 13:16 24 January 2013 | UPDATED: 13:19 24 January 2013

Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Forum, with Chair Linda Kelly in the front row, third from the right

Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Forum, with Chair Linda Kelly in the front row, third from the right

Archant

Councillors have been accused of trying to take advantage of pressures on planning in the north of the borough for their own political gain, through an application to create a new planning body there.

Using new legislation, current and former councillors want to establish a Stamford Hill neighbourhood forum, which would include four council wards, Springfield, Cazenove, New River and Lordship, stretching from Green Lanes to the Lea Valley.

Neighbourhood forums are new statutory bodies created by the coalition government’s Localism Act, giving communities new powers to influence change in their own area.

But campaign group Hackney Planning Watch (HPW) believes the forum is an attempt by Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians to take advantage of comminity divisions for their own short-term benefit.

A report by HPW urging the council to refuse the application said: “We believe that the real reason for defining this area as the proposed neighbourhood is simply because it includes all but one of the Conservative or Liberal Democrat councillors on the council,”

“In other words, it is an attempt by the coalition partners on the council to create a ‘power base’.”

Stamford Hill is home to one of the UK’s largest ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, often referred to as Charedi, which comprises 19 per cent of the population in the four wards proposed for the forum.

The high birth rate within the Charedi community and the community’s desire to remain within a relatively tightly defined geographic area close to their place of worship is thought to be one of the reasons for planning pressures in the area.

Many members of the community are frustrated with current planning laws which regulate home extensions and loft conversions.

“These differences need to be resolved through a genuine dialogue and creative long-term engagement” said the HPW report.

‘Short-term gains’

“Instead, some politicians have sought to exploit these differences for their own short-term gains.”

But the Tory chairman of the proposed body, Linda Kelly – the only councillor involved in the idea who does not hold a seat in one of the four wards – strongly denied that the initiative was politically motivated.

“We just want something better for residents,” she said.

“I realise they (HPW) think they may score points with a section of residents in the defined area of the forum if they imply it is a Tory-initiated ploy.

“We wrote to every single councillor, regardless of party affiliation, asking them to participate in the forum.”

Ms Kelly said the group wants to ensure that more family homes are built, instead of one-bed flats, and to make the area a better place to live.


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