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News / 15 February, 2011

Residents slam council’s ‘flawed’ consultation over plan to build school on Hackney Downs

Locals have expressed concern about the lack of information available on a controversial proposal to ‘plonk a school in the middle of a park’

Hackney Downs Photo Graham Parry

Hackney Downs. Photo: Graham Parry

Residents are up in arms over Hackney Council’s consultation proposing to rebuild Stormont House School on top of the bowling green and old tennis court on Hackney Downs. The Council and Learning Trust want to rebuild the school as part of the national Building Schools for the Future programme.

They claim that the consultation was “deeply flawed” in that those living in Queensdown Road – who are park users and who would have daily views of the proposed construction programme and the finished school buildings – have not been adequately consulted. Residents say that there were insufficient leaflet drops giving details about the plans to properties that will be affected, and that some of them only heard of the plan by chance and then very late on.

Included in the plans is the proposal to  grass over the land that the school is currently situated on so that it can become common land – effectively a common land ‘swap’. However, locals are concerned that, regardless of what the building looks like, it will still be a building on what is common land.

Local resident Alan Maddox said: “I only got to know about the plans to plonk a school in the middle of the public park through community gossip about three weeks ago. Then about two weeks ago I got an official leaflet through my door. I live in Queensdown Road and we got some notification from the council. But these are old Victorian houses and  most are divided into two – some into four – dwellings. One official leaflet per house means some residents may get to know about the plans, whilst others may not.

“There were two consultation meetings at the end of last month – which were not mentioned on the leaflet, which was delivered at the time of the meeting, possibly afterwards.

“Residents do understand the need for excellent educational facilities for children but also that open spaces need to be protected.”

Local gallery owner and artist Chiara Williams said: “The thing that annoyed me was that in the consultation leaflet it says: ‘The bowling green has been disused for 9 years and it is not anticipated that demand for its reinstatement will exceed the public preference for usable open land in the park’ which is a ridiculous justification to build over it.

“People have been asking for something to be done with this land for ages and it is not the residents’ fault that the space is underused. From reinstating the bowling green, to establishing a community garden, a cafe – even a swimming pool, residents are not short of ideas, but there has never been any consultation on this matter.

“The idea of the common land ‘swap’ and that we would be better off with a strip of open land bordering Downs Park Road is also absurd – it would simply become a front garden for the school.

“It would be great to integrate the bowling green land back into the park in some way, but in any case residents do their best to be creative with the park. As recently as September 2010, WW Gallery used it for two weeks for installation artist Eva Lis’s Tunnel Vision, which was an innovative use of the space and drew hundreds of children and adults from the local community. It was a huge success and was aimed specifically at challenging the underuse of this part of the park.”

Update 5.40pm Tuesday 15 February 2011:

In response to the Citizen’s questions about the how the consultation was conducted and the claim by some residents that it was “deeply flawed, a Hackney Council spokesperson said: “It’s important to stress that this was an informal consultation, aimed at gathering the views of local residents, schools and stakeholders before a planning application is submitted and formal consultation takes place.

“Hackney Council received a total of 27 responses.

Asked by the Citizen about how effective the distribution of the consultation leaflet and the council’s freesheet Hackney Today was, in terms of reaching every flat and house in the locality, the council spokesperson said, “We contacted the distribution company and they have confirmed the leaflets were distributed to all the roads in the target consultation area: Downs Road, Amhurst Road, Downs Park Road, Pembury Road, Queensdown Road, Bodney Road, Andre Street, Anton Street, Amhurst Terrace, Rectory Road.

Hackney Today averages 97.62% distribution per issue. The back checks are carried out by Distribution Verification Services (DVS) to the standards set out by the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC). The consultation featured in issues 247 (10 January 2011) and 249 (7 February 2011) of Hackney Today and on the Council’s Consultation Finder page at www.hackney.gov.uk/consultation.

“There were two drop-in sessions held at the school on Tuesday, 18 and Thursday, 20 January (6:00-8:00 pm), which were open to residents and anyone with an interest in the project. Copies of the consultation brochure and questionnaire were available online and a number of these were distributed to parents and teachers of Stormont House School.

The council confirmed that it had contacted Hackney Downs User Group with information about the consultation, including the consultation summary and questionnaire. It said the user group was also invited to the two drop in sessionson Tuesday, 18 January and Thursday, 20 January, which were open to residents and anyone with an interest in the project.

The local ward councillors were also kept informed.

/ 15 February, 2011

31 Comments on “Residents slam council’s ‘flawed’ consultation over plan to build school on Hackney Downs

Russell Higgs
February 15, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Some questions that come immediately to mind….

Why was a school ever given permission to be built on COMMON LAND in the first place?

What is the history of the decision making process that allowed Stormont to be built on its current site? Was there opposition at the time? If so, why was that opposition ineffective? Was there adequate notification and consultation back then?

If Stormont wants to do a land swap, has it looked into swapping elsewhere? ie: somewhere that isn’t common land and isn’t precious green space?

Also perhaps we need to open up a discussion about the importance of Common Land and the need to defend all our green spaces. (There’s also a broader issue here about the gradual creeping privatisation of public space in general, whether green or paved space, and why privatisation of public space is NOT a good thing.)

Sami Rosenstock
February 15, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Just out of interest, what is Hackney Downs User Group?

Who do they claim to represent or speak on behalf of?

Tony N
February 15, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Another brillant Hackney consultation. Guess they decided it is safer not to tell people about it than risk having a mass of people against them.

GP
February 15, 2011 at 9:17 pm

I live next to the Downs. The council’s claims that the local residents were able to come to the drop-in sessions is risible given that they were held on the 18th and 20th of January but the leaflets informing local residents of the proposals were not delivered until February 4th.

The School would be built right in the middle of one of Hackney’s precious open spaces on higher ground and in a far more visible location than it currently is on the park’s periphery. The land given back would be of limited value to Down’s users being next to a road (most users are dog walkers or have small children) and crossed by access roads to service the school. Using the existing location makes far more sense.

HackneyCitizen
February 16, 2011 at 12:39 am

@ Sami Rosenstock: Details about Hackney Downs User Group can be found on its facebook page http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=13871422087 – Ed.

Harold
February 16, 2011 at 8:24 am

Absolutely disgraceful behaviour by Hackney Council but sadly it is not surprising. The Labour run council have total immunity in any decision they make. There are hardly any opposition councillors to try and hold them to account and at the next election the people of the borough will yet again elect the Labour morons to continue with these awful and undemocratic decisions. Hackney needs a change come on everyone

Sami Rosenstock
February 16, 2011 at 8:34 am

@ Hackney Citizen

all that Facebook page tells me is they’re not very active, judging by the dates.

But my question was, and this applies to all park user groups; who voted for them? Who do they represent?

Sami Rosenstock
February 16, 2011 at 8:38 am

@ Harold

and who do you suggest has a better track record for safeguarding our Common Land and Green Spaces?

The ConDem government intends to sell off our forests for fuck’s sake.

Sami Rosenstock
February 16, 2011 at 8:44 am

Why does Stormont School need to be rebuilt?

Bill
February 16, 2011 at 8:48 am

A low key “public consultation” with 27 responses supports the council position so is an excuse for going ahead, a high profile one with over 2,700 responses gives a result they don’t like so they totally ignore it. Expect more secret “public consultations” used as an method of pushing Hackney Politburo decisions through.

The Great Smell Of Brute
February 16, 2011 at 9:00 am

@Bill: will they be farming out the maths to private contractors? 😛

Russell Higgs
February 16, 2011 at 11:34 am

… here’s brief mention of meetings I attended last year re Stormont

http://www.hackney-environment-network.org.uk/pg/blog/Russell-Higgs/read/2180/hackney-downs-stormont-school

BarryB
February 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Sami Park Users Groups committees are elected by those people who turn up at their AGMs. Notices for meetings are normally put up in parks.

Can you think of a better method?

Heimie Goldberger
February 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm

@ Sami Rosenstock But they haven’t sold off “our”forests have they? Why do you think Harold means the Tories or Libs to run Hackney? How about independent councillors who actually live in the borough and not the present incumbents who are just starting on their way up the political greasy pole?

Sami Rosenstock
February 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Dear BarryB,

I wonder how many people read the notice boards in parks?

I wonder how many local people are even aware there are such things as Park User Groups (I believe other boroughs call their park groups “Friends Of”).

It’s just that we’re discussing the lack of adequate notification and consultation, re Stormont School, and I find myself wondering the same about park User Groups.

I don’t claim to have any better methods in mind. I’m genuinely just asking questions. I believe questions are usually the most important components of a discussion. Certainly far too many people tend to assume they have all the answers in life. And in my experience environmentalists and self appointed activists are some of the worst afflicted with assuming they know what’s best.

Sami Rosenstock
February 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm

@ Heimie Goldberger

“independent councillors who actually live in the borough”

YES PLEASE.

So how do we begin to make that a reality?

steve
February 16, 2011 at 2:36 pm

heimie goldberger: It’s now becoming more easy to see that Hackney councillors are mostly just here to get a leg up the political ladder. You only have to read their credentials ‘I have been an hackney resident for five years and wish to become a councilor to make hackney a better place to live in’ seems to be the most used. With all these people working to make this a better place something’s gone wrong.

Russell Higgs
February 16, 2011 at 2:54 pm

worth mentioning …. The Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Hackney Parks Forum takes place on the 7th March 2011 at 7pm in Room 101 of Hackney Town Hall. All are welcome to attend.

The Great Smell Of Brute
February 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm

@Steve: “[I wish] to make Hackney a better place to live in.” = “…a better place FOR PEOPLE LIKE ME to live in.”?

SENmum
February 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Children and young people with special educational needs in Hackney deserve modernised schools like any other child in the borough. The purpose of this pre-consultation, as I understand it, was to sound out residents’ and park users’ views about swapping the site because it involves common land. Residents and park users (including myself) are now getting their say which is right and proper. And they will have more opportunities in future. I have looked at the proposals and all they are doing is swapping one piece of land for another. In all the vocal outpouring, please do not forget WHY the council is doing this – to secure funding to modernise local special schools for some of the most vulnerable children in the borough. If the plans are derailed then the school will lose the funds for modernisation. Period. Plans to rebuild another special school in Stoke Newington has also had residents up in arms. Why does it always have to be a fight to get proper educational provision for children with disabilities and special needs?

steve
February 16, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Gsob: You have hit the nail on the head. The thing is now that this council aren’t listening to anyone, that’s from government down and certainly not consultation.

BarryB
February 16, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Heimie as far as I’m aware all Councillors whether they are Labour, Tory or Lib Dim live in the borough. Or do you know better?

Pickwick
February 16, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I often run round Hackney Downs and past Stormont House. It does look like it needs a refurb. I was running past one lunchtime and a bunch of kids waiting outside started running with me until their teacher shouted at them to come back. It is a special school I believe.

I don’t think building a new one in the middle of the park is the answer. Surely it would make sense just to rebuild or refurbish on the present site right next to Downs Park Road. The builders could start at the end of a summer term and get demolition and the new build done within a year. I’m sure the school could relocate for a year to another school or temp site on Hackney Downs in temporary buildings. BTW I was told by a park ranger the bowls club used to be very popular but in-fighting amongst the members led to it’s demise

NoopyDoopy
February 16, 2011 at 6:43 pm

A funny place to build a school – are there no brown sites in the borough..

DownsResident
February 16, 2011 at 8:43 pm

@SENmum
No one is disputing the needs of the SEN school kids and the need for an up-to-date building, but no matter how important their needs, building on common land is UNACCEPTABLE and there should NEVER EVER BE ANY JUSTIFICATION FOR IT! Swapping the land is sneaky and totally wrong. It would spoil the park for everyone, on so many levels.

In fact I also wonder how planning permission was ever obtained to build there in the first place.

However, as it is there, it is fair to say that the existing Stormont building is also not the most attractive looking thing, and I don’t think anyone would object to a nice new unobtrusive building in its EXISTING location and one that provides the best facilities for its students…HOWEVER, the current consultation also makes it clear that local residents and park users would have no say in the external elevation and appearance of the proposed building, so the danger is that something huge and monstrous could appear!

DownsResident
February 16, 2011 at 9:18 pm

@ BarryB
@ Sami
@ Hackney Council

Seeing as there are almost as many comments on this page as responses to the Council’s ‘alleged’ consultation, I would suggest that the best place for notices about such matters, is precisely here, in the fantastic local rag that is the Hackney Citizen! Does anyone actually read the Hackney Today Propaganda Sheet? Straight in the recycling every time. Total waste of taxpayers money.

As for Hackney Council’s statement: “leaflets were distributed to all the roads in the target consultation area” – NO THEY WEREN’T! I have several other leaflets about the 20mph zone, new humps etc, but nothing about Stormont. Only found out about the ‘drop-in’ meetings last week. All the council’s stats are worthless.

Sami Rosenstock
February 17, 2011 at 1:28 am

@ Heimie Goldberger

indeed it seems that at the very same time as we were airing the topic earlier today, the Forests sell-off have been abandoned as Cameron orders U-turn

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/feb/16/forests-sell-off-cameron-uturn

Rick Muir
February 17, 2011 at 11:11 am

Hi all

Just to let everyone know the latest.

I quite agree with the comments made about the inadequacies of the consultation and as the local councillors we carried out our own independent consultation on Queensdown Road a couple of weeks ago. Not surprisingly there was 100% opposition to the proposal.

As the local councillors we completely oppose the plan to relocate the school on the bowling green and have made this clear to the Learning Trust. We have had several meetings with them and they have now agreed to withdraw that option and bring forward alternative proposals.

We are in close contact with local residents on this – and will be writing to residents this week to update everyone.

The Leanring Trust will now go away and come back with alternative proposals – and there will then be a fresh consultation.

We will keep the Hackney Citizen informed – and will post updates on our blog when we know more about the next steps.

see here http://www.hackneydownslabour.blogspot.com

do email or call me if you’d like to discuss further – rick.muir@hackney.gov.uk – 07875 546155

cheers

Rick Muir

Hackney Downs Councillor

The Great Smell Of Brute
February 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm

@Russell Higgs: the Space Hijackers have a great deal to say about the (often covert) sale of public land by local authorities:-

http://www.spacehijackers.co.uk

Tony N
February 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm

@GSoB shock horror: a councillor who is listening to the public. I mean 27 people in a consulation isn’t enough to assume that it is public opinion. Just a shame that he didn’t have the bottle to back the public elsewhere.

Russell Higgs
February 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Clearly these sort of consultations need a transparent online public forum which the whole community can access 24 hours a day, where we can all contribute AND see one another’s ideas and opinions.

Meanwhile, please don’t tell me it is now mandatory to have to read Hackney Today. I view it the same as the pizza leaflets that come through my door; LITTER.

Also it’s important to state, in response to SENmum in particular, that Stormont isn’t being seen as the “enemy” here. And I fully appreciate that the school needs to come up with an idea that can minimise any anxiety or stress for its students.

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