Back in January I was approached by a Hackney resident who was very concerned about the formation of a neighborhood Forum in North Hackney, which would have included his neck of the wood. He wrote a piece for Hackney Hive which I had every attention of publishing, but didn’t, as I needed more evidence. To keep his anonymity, I will call him “Alan”.
Since then, I have heard tales of woe from other Hackney residents who all reside in the most affected wards in Upper Clapton, Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington.
The one common denominator, is everyone’s wish NOT to appear as anti-Semitic, as it is very clear this is how some members of the Ultra Orthodox Jewish community label their challengers.
A Stoke Newington resident who has lived and raised his three children in the area for 20 years, recently told me his wife and daughters were called “whores and sluts”. He said:
“Our issues are just too numerous to mention. We live at the top of Lordship Road, in the heart of the OJ community and have had many run ins with our neighbours over the years on noise, fires and planning permissions. The name calling tends to come when we personally confront them, particularly as the men gather as a gang and suddenly all feel very brave”.
Continuing, he told me: “We have complained to the Council now for over ten years with no action ever being taken. My wife has asked to see our complaints file on several occasions but we are clearly being ignored. There is a fine line between legitimate complaining and being accused of anti-semitism which is something I am sensitive to. My wife, is much less sensitive to this issue. Whilst we will always stand our ground, our feelings of injustice and discrimination grow by the day”.
Alan who lives in Upper Clapton wrote the following in January and has been in touch with me recently;
In light of Hackney Council’s move to establish a neighbourhood forum in the north of the borough, I’d like to tell you my experience of how the council and the police have failed me and how anyone living in Hackney can be affected by this.
In 2004 new neighbours moved in next door and promptly began to demolish the house. They also began excavating a huge basement. Living through this was like having the Devil next door screaming his head off. The walls and foundation shook and cracks appeared, it was terrifying having your home – a place of safety and sanctuary – violated and damaged like this. The horror went on for almost 2 years.
There are various regulations that apply when this happens, covering the building to prevent pollution and dust from spreading, noise levels, working between 9 and 5 on weekdays, etc. These were all ignored.
But most distressing of all, they erected a monstrous extension over 10 feet tall that ran the length of my garden. It dominates it, obliterating the light from the setting sun.
Once a complaint was formally lodged it was dismissed twice before being upheld 2 years later. The process gives the neighbor every opportunity to waste as much time as possible, by continually submitting a retrospective planning application – which was refused on every occasion. Once it’s refused, the council give them months to comply and when they don’t, the circus just begins all over again with another application or a lawful development
The regulations give the developer/owner far too much leeway. The fines are measly and the process can take up to 10 years before there is a conclusion.
Then, the case officer left the council and my case was mysteriously dropped for a year, which I was not informed of because the planning department doesn’t see communicating as part of their responsibility. I made a complaint to the ombudsmen, but they could only address a complaint if it had taken place in the last 12 months. But by then the time had elapsed.
While this was happening someone who is related to the first neighbour bought the house on the other-side of my own and proceeded to do exactly the same thing as the first. Demolished the house, dug a huge basement, added an attic extension and a two storey extension at the back.
Things got even worse.
One case in point was on one afternoon a builder on the property of the second neighbour was hammering away at the side of my house damaging the wall. I tell to stop and he ignores me, so I phone the police. But they refuse to come around and do anything because it’s not a criminal matter, it’s a civil matter. So there’s a guy brazenly damaging my property and there is nothing I can legally do to stop him. There’s no protection.
Things took a more sinister turn, when the first neighbour threatened to force us out of our home and take it. A third neighbour who is connected to this gang of people, threatened to kill me and my family because I told his kids to stop playing on my wall.
I was also assaulted by another neighbour who has lived on the street for 15 years and I’ve known him throughout this time and I’ve had no problem whatsoever. One day, out of the blue he assaulted me without provocation. I informed the police, but to my knowledge he was never arrested or cautioned for this incident. He then sold his house to the same gang of people and moved out.
But by far the most damaging was when the first neighbour put up a camera at the front of his house pointing at my front door so it could film me on my property. This is a clear violation of my human rights. I managed to get the police to come around to check this after two months. They didn’t seem to think there was any kind of problem with.
I don’t have any evidence to suggest that the police are in collusion with this gang of people even though it would be very easy to come to that conclusion.
That camera has now been pointing at my front door for the last two years. The extension is still up. And it’s now 9 years later.
What my experience has taught me is that planning in Hackney needs more regulation, not less. It needs more funding and more checks and balances. The ombudsmen need more scope than 12 months to be able to effectively police a process that can take years. Damage to your property has to be a criminal matter not a civil one. And building without planning permission should be illegal. There should be no such thing as a retrospective planning application.
I believe that the state has a duty to protect its citizens. I base that belief on Max Weber’s definition of the State: as an entity that claims the monopoly on the legitimate use of force within defined territorial boundaries. I’d add Hobbes theory in Leviathan to argue that state legitimacy comes from the covenant between state and citizen in which the citizen acquiesces to state authority in return for the provision of security.
In the instance of planning regulations; the state has failed.