Hackney Council has rejected a campaigner’s accusation that there is a “democratic deficit” in its plan to build affordable housing on the site of a community garden in Clapton.
The Town Hall, which owns the former car park on Daubeney Road, had allowed local residents to make use of the patch, which they have turned into a thriving growing space.
But last year, the site was added to the Housing Supply Programme (HSP), which aims to build affordable housing on under-occupied council land across the borough.
The Town Hall’s subsequent application to build 11 homes on the old car park, which also contains a number of disused garages, will go before a planning committee next Wednesday.
Gerry Tissier, chair of community group Daubeney Fields Forever, which is fighting to save the garden, says the decision to add the site to the HSP a year after the programme was approved shows a “democratic deficit”.
But the council says any suggestion that the decision was undemocratic is “incorrect”.
The HSP won Cabinet approval in February 2016 and at the time included 11 potential sites.
Three more sites have since been added, including Daubeney Road, and the council says the programme is currently set to deliver more than 400 homes.
The decision to include Daubeney Road in the HSP in 2017 was taken by Hackney’s Corporate Director of Housing and Corporate Director of Finance and Resources.
Tissier said: “There is a democratic deficit around planning for this development. An important decision for the community was taken by two unelected directors. It is unclear how (or indeed whether) their decision was scrutinised by an elected council body.”
But a council spokesperson said: “The February 2016 Cabinet approval gave delegated authority for senior officers to include additional sites in the Housing Supply Programme.”
They quoted from a council document to clarify what this delegated authority involves: “12.1.2 To authorise the Corporate Director of Housing and the Corporate Director of Finance and Resources to include additional properties or sites within the HSP.
“Their inclusion will be subject to the Corporate Directors being satisfied that inclusion of proposed sites or properties is the most effective solution and the HSP remains within the agreed financial parameters.”
The spokesperson said the Daubeney Road proposal has been developed “through close engagement with the Mayor of Hackney (also cabinet lead for housing regeneration) and Ward Councillors throughout”.
They added: “The application will also be independently assessed by the council’s Planning Authority, and the decision on our application will be made at an open public meeting of the Planning Committee, which sits independently from the rest of the council.”
When asked why the site was not included in the HSP in 2016, the council said it had originally looked at creating affordable workspace, but an assessment had concluded that this option was unviable.
Tissier said: “So it looks like the workshop option, which according to the council would have cost £250,000, was rejected because it was too expensive in favour of a housing scheme which is far, far more expensive.”
Campaigners have developed alternative proposals to expand the garden and build 65 per cent of the council homes and convert the 25 derelict garages into workspace – they disagree with the assessment judging the latter as unviable.
Tissier added: “As well as two petitions signed by around 700 people, there were over 30 objections submitted during the statutory consultation process. Cllr Tom Rahilly was the only local resident who sent in support for the application.
“The Kings Park ward Labour party last month passed a motion calling on Labour councillors to halt the existing scheme and pursue a collaborative scheme for the site.”
An email, seen by the Citizen, which was sent by a local councillor to a resident in May 2016 suggested the Daubeney Road site had also been assessed as unsuitable for housing.
But the Town Hall spokesperson said there is no record of this, adding: “We can only assume that the councillor believed that the site’s omission from the HSP in February 2016 meant it was unsuitable for housing, given the email was sent just after the programme’s launch.
“The site was added to the HSP at a later date because it was originally considered for affordable workspace, but this option was found to be unviable.
“In planning terms, there is nothing to stop homes being built on the land.”
They added: “The only thing that could prevent the site being built on is viability, but there is no record of any assessment that suggests it is unviable for housing. And even if that was the case historically – say it turns out there was an assessment five or 10 years ago that did deem it unviable – times change, and it is now suitable for housing.”
The BBC has been filming campaign group 10xGreener’s efforts to make Daubeney Road ten times greener for a documentary set to be shown later this year.
In May, the campaign successfully crowdfunded for a community gardener to cover the entire E5 postcode.