THE FORMER councillor at the centre of a row over who can influence planning in north Hackney says he considered quitting his controversial post.
Protesters say that a Hackney council proposal to give residents more say in plans for their district has been hijacked by the Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Forum, “an unelected and unaccountable group”.
Mike Flood Page, of Hackney Planning Watch, said: “The secretary of the group is former Hackney councillor Isaac Leibowitz, who was convicted and jailed for six months in 2001 of fraud, after rigging a council election in Hackney.”
Flood Page added that the council proposal would cede control of planning policy in four wards in the north of the borough to the forum.
Leibowitz told Loving Dalston: “I did consider whether I ought to resign from the forum. However, I do not believe such action will be in the best interest of the community.” He said that by “community”, he meant everyone in the area, of all religions and beliefs.
“Also,” he said, “would my resignation ensure that Hackney Planning Watch will participate in the forum, with the added proviso that they have the right of veto, which is not acceptable in any forum?
As for his conviction, he said: “I believe that under the law I have served my time and paid my debt to society. I now want to take this opportunity to make a contribution to society and help to improve the quality of life for people in the forum’s defined area. Everyone deserves a second chance to prove themselves – don’t you think?”
John Page, secretary of Hackney Unites, a coalition of local groups, emailed followers to say that the council had not properly publicised what was a fundamental change.
“There has been no exhibition, no public meeting, no question and answer sessions, no roadshow, no posters in local libraries: nothing,” he wrote.
“If we do not act, we are likely to see a return to the over-development of buildings in the area such that they completely in-fill back gardens, granting of change of use in residential streets and extensions that dwarf neighbouring properties.”
Hackney Planning Watch wants to leaflet every door in the wards – Lordship, Cazenove, New River and Springfield – to alert residents. It has called a meeting for tonight.
Daniel Stevens, a Labour member for Lordship ward, said on a local blog that the council was consulting on the application for a Stamford Hill neighbourhood forum. He said: “The deadline for comments is 4 February 2013 and I would encourage as many of you as possible to respond.
“The Localism Act 2011 introduced a new right for communities to come together to shape development in their local area through neighbourhood plans. These plans can set general planning policies for the development and use of land in a designated neighbourhood area.
“If approved, the forum would begin work preparing a neighbourhood plan for the area. Any neighbourhood plan, however expressed, requires the support of a majority of voters in a referendum of the area before it can be formally introduced.”
Leibowitz commented: “It is not fair to say that a proposal to give residents more say in plans for their district has been hijacked by a group. Everybody was invited to participate. This was advertised in the Hackney Gazette. Everyone was welcome to take part in the Stamford Hill Neighbourhood Forum.”
Asked about his role in the organisation, he would not say whether he was secretary or temporary secretary.
David Altheer 150113
* Hackney Planning Watch, meeting at Oak Tree Community Centre, 77 Bethune Road, London N16 5ED, today (Tues 15 Jan 2013), 7.30pm.