See no evil, hear no evil: fiasco of the inaudible Hackney council public planning meeting

hackneysubcom©DA18: Hackneycouncil planning subcom town hall Mare St E8 060718 © david.altheer[at]
Committee chairman Vincent Stops, centre, and colleagues face their public

MOST HACKNEYITES have never seen local democracy in action at the town hall. If they’d gone to the latest public meeting they’d probably never want to go again.

Hackney council’s planning subcommittee meeting started with the sound system being switched on. Instead of an expectant hum, however, the council chamber was filled with the hubbub of an obviously alcohol-fuelled party coming through the public-address speakers. 

Subcom chairman Councillor Vincent Stops stopped proceedings — for quite a time — until suddenly the party noise ceased. Councillors, planning officers and public cheered.  

Their relief was short-lived. When the first speaker spoke into the nearest microphone, people in the public seats turned to one another in puzzlement: her supposed comment on the first planning application sounded as if it were coming via an underwater mobile phone. 

Chamber chief: planning councillor Vincent Stops

It was the same for every other speaker: architects droned on about the alleged merits of their dull projects; objectors overran their allowed speech time; councillors said… well, it’s impossible to say what they or anyone else said because, for the public, all was in vain. Like a breaking-up mobile, the sound system was comprehensible only in parts.

Yet chairman Stops and his colleagues on the presiding bench could, it became apparent, hear clearly.

The  sound was not the meeting’s only failure. Photographs of the building projects shown on the big screen were under-exposed, making them illegible to the point of uselessness. The first vote came and went in a mumble of vaguely heard numbers.

Who won: the Philistines or the people? It was hard to tell. Neither visuals nor audio were of any use. Democracy was being denied. 

The next day Loving Dalston demanded an explanation. Hackney council replied that audiovisual equipment between the Assembly Halls, where a private function was taking place, and the council chamber, had been accidentally linked.

Councillors on the committee had been able to hear what was said, so Stops let the meeting continue.

The council admitted “there may have been an over-exposure on the projection. No-one at the meeting asked for this to be made clearer” — as if that excused the underlit photographic projections.

The audiovisual equipment “has been recently installed”. The meeting was already running late so the over-exposure was “fixed [only] after the meeting had finished”. A loosely connected wire was to blame.

The council said: “We apologise for any [sic] inconvenience caused by technical troubles. Attendees are always able to request additional assistance from the committee administrator if they are having difficulties accessing the information.”

One man did stand up to complain. The chairman told him to sit down.

lHackney©DATH15: town hall Mare St E8 291015 © DavidAltheer[at]
Hackney’s classic art-deco town hall: usually its audiovisual system works well
Stops said: “The delay to the start of the meeting was very frustrating and seemed to be a one-off problem. Nevertheless, I have asked for it to be investigated.”

He would ask what could be done to improve the PA system.

Hackney resident Simon Hughes said the meeting had been nonsensical, a denial of the public’s rights.

David Altheer 090618

* Backstory: World’s ‘most important buildings’ are in Hackney says StopsDalston loses Georgian terraceInside a Dalston faux-Georgian terrace

* Photographs ©, and for sale for reproduction. Bigger format versions are usually available.

* Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink, a reader service rare among websites. If a link does not work, it is probably because the site to which the URL refers has not been maintained. A link indicates neither approval nor disapproval by Loving Dalston.

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