Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Comment on ‘Stamford Hill’s Neighbourhood Forum’ - a personal view!

The BBC News of 9 March 2001 ran a story about fraudulent voting in Hackney’s local elections and profiled Mr Leibowitz as receiving a custodial sentence for his role.

The fraudulent behaviour included the use of voting by proxy (which increased by 200%), tricking elderly residents into signing for one counsellor - when they thought they were signing for rubbish collection and basically making up names of voters who otherwise did not exist.

The impact has been long lasting politically, and was arguably felt in the community with the erosion of green spaces, loss of trees and numerous building conversions taking place mainly in the Stamford Hill area - conversions that would otherwise not have met Hackney’s strict planning criteria.

It appears some members of that group have reformulated with others and have taken a new name: Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Forum (SHNF).  This effectively allows those who have already harmed the community, to carve another route back into local government, using the coalition’s Localism Act 2011.

Localism Act is born out of the needs for rural communities to come together to determine how the future of their community should be developed.  The Government’s ‘regeneration model’ envisaged communities rallying together around parish councils; however, like many members of the Conservative-Liberal Democrats policies, it is questionable as to how suitable this tool is for highly developed urban cities and for diverse communities such as Hackney.

As with all untested law, opportunist such as the proposed Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Forum are able to exploit the act’s ambiguities and propose they take over the running of the area.  They claim they represent the community; however, one need only look at the newly constructed website and group photographs to see they are completely unreflective of Hackney’s diverse communities. 

The political handling of the SHNF application threatens to polarize the Jewish community against the rest of Hackney, leaving other more liberal members of the Jewish community torn between how to continue their support for regeneration without destroying the multicultural fabric of Hackney. 

The Localism Bill states a forum must have at least 21 members made up or residents and business people.  There is also an exceedingly complex system that determines the geographic area that members would be representing and warns, ‘council wards should not be used to decide boundaries for newly proposed forums’.   

The aim of the act is for regeneration; however, it is unclear as to what regeneration actually means.  The average layperson would imagine regeneration includes some new development, infrastructure and schools etc, but above all, where Hackney has high unemployment, any regeneration would prioritise this too. 

Research in March 2012 into regeneration failings warns:

“A localism approach to regeneration may achieve results in some communities but not be successful in others.  The government therefore needs to consider a multiple approaches to regeneration which will work in a variety of context” (BSHF)

Past regeneration failing means that section 9, which explains the purpose of the forums are to build their way into prosperity, could essentially be used by a minority group to either by-pass or fast track building development and avoid Hackney’s Planning Committees.  In other words, we could see building extensions and further loss of green spaces prioritised over other sustainable green and business developments.

The assumption, like many of the coalitions policies so far, is that regeneration of an area can be solely managed by ‘open markets’ alone.  But Hackney’s is highly developed in most areas and research into regeneration suggests a varied and collective approach would be more successful.  

For example, building extensions, converting houses into schools and build over green spaces.  These may seem innocuous on paper but in our shared streets, shared housing stock, (Council home tenant, housing association, private rentals and home owners), such developments simply further reduce green space and replaces it with concrete.

For someone like myself, who has spent many of my developing years moving in and out of our mixed communities (playing childhood games with other children to teaching fitness in Lubavitch House), I have learned that most cultural or ethnic or religiously identified group are not homogenous and are unlikely to have the only answer to help take our community forward.  Given that this is part of the history in this borough, it is a concern that SHNF currently does not reflect this.

The Liberal Democrats have recently withdrawn their support – which they did after it was demonstrated that SHNF is both non reflective and unelected by the community.  Residents are encouraged to present their objections and contributions about the forum to Hackney Council using their email: ldf@hackney.gov.uk as the closing date for this consultation is Monday 4 February 2013.

In placing my own observations and concerns to one side, establishing SHNF in its current form is likely to continue to receive comments and criticism; however, we need to ensure that our debates over its legitimacy is not engineered by us or our media into an anti-Semitic discourse of ‘us against Stamford Hill’.

1 comment:

michael john said...

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