Planning laws cause havoc in Hackney

Focus of the rows: an example of exuberant building in Stamford Hill (Photo: Ben Turner)

Focus of the rows: an example of exuberant building in Stamford Hill (Photo: Ben Turner)

Strictly Orthodox Jews and their non-Jewish neighbours are at loggerheads over new planning legislation which insiders claim could destroy communal harmony.

The row in Hackney, north London, was sparked by government plans to relax planning laws and allow local groups to apply for powers to permit development without the need for local authorities to grant permission.

Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington have been the scenes of dozens of planning disputes between Charedi residents, their neighbours and the council for a number of years.

With tensions threatening to boil over, and accusations of antisemitism being made against those opposing planning changes, Jewish leaders have claimed the strictly Orthodox community is being used as a “political football”.

Two rival groups are among those leading the arguments — the Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Forum, which includes a number of Charedi members of its executive committee — and Hackney Planning Watch, which opposes the devolution of planning powers.

The Charedi community has obvious housing needs due to its high birth rates, and the issue of planning permission is a regular sticking point for those wishing to extend or develop their homes.

Rabbi Avraham Pinter, a leading figure in the strictly Orthodox community, has been attempting to broker a “peace deal” between the factions, and wants to see a cross-communal group set up to include representatives from HPW and other organisations.

He said: “The planning situation needed to be addressed. There was a genuine concern, including from non-Charedi residents. We thought it best to form one group and we were working on that but some people had very little trust in the council and establishment.

“What I hope will happen is that Hackney Council and both the groups will sit together and work something out. The community has needs and we cannot have a free-for-all.”

It is understood that some sections of the Jewish community feel HPW has employed delaying tactics because of its general objection to the planning changes.

HPW member Angela Phillips said the suggestion of any antisemitic motive, in the opposition to a cross-communal neighbourhood forum, was having a disruptive effect.

“I find the constant use of the idea of antisemitism really abusive, upsetting and unnecessary, and it’s creating a problem. People launch into tirades that are nothing to do with the issues in question.”

Ms Phillips, who is Jewish but is not a member of the Charedi community, said: “HPW would prefer things to remain under the council’s control — at least it is elected. Any community forum will be based on the people who have time to run it. Although the Orthodox community is the minority, it is very well organised.”

She said the issue followed a series of “bad planning decisions and a lot of illegal building work” in the area.

Hackney Council launched its two-month consultation process aimed at formally setting up a neighbourhood forum last week.

Last updated: 4:45pm, March 14 2013