Hackney Council has said that it has been “forced” to shut down an Orthodox Jewish faith school in Stamford Hill, citing a lack of planning permission or compliance with building regulations.
Talmud Torah London (TTL), which was rated ‘Good’ across the board in its most recent Ofsted inspection, was served a permanent stop notice from operating as a school for its 55 students at 89 Lordship Park by the Town Hall in October.
The Town Hall’s director of public realm Aled Richards has said that the council also has “serious concerns” over the impact of the school on local residents, who it is understood have complained over the noise of singing and the comings and goings of students from the address.
In a 25 October email, Richards said: “In the absence of any planning permission for the unauthorised school the Council has no control over the number of pupils attending the unauthorised school or operating hours and therefore we cannot safeguard the amenity of local residents.
“We are not aware of any Building Regulations approval granted for the unauthorised school therefore there is no sign off that an acceptable means of fire escape is present and that building regulations have been complied with. This is again a serious concern and has been raised directly with the London Fire Brigade.
“I feel it is very unfortunate that the council has been put in this position and also the impact it has had on those children who were intending to attend this unauthorised school.
“However the council cannot be held responsible for this as this situation has arisen due to a blatant and serious breach in planning control.”
Richards added that meetings with the school to rectify the situation would not be “constructive” given that there will now be a statutory appeal process, though voiced his confidence that “there is little prospect of success to any such appeal.”
TTL representatives voiced their shock to the Citizen today over the decision, claiming that an “understanding” had been reached with the council to apply for retrospective planning permission for the school having moved in, adding that classes were currently having to be held in residents’ dining rooms.
Joel Stern, planning agent for TTL, has said that the school has been in talks with the council since June to secure permission for the site, adding that concerns over fire safety were “not an issue at all” due to the building’s three means of exit at the front, rear and side.
Stern said: “The need is too big. We can’t leave 55 kids without a school just because of red tape.
“We knew it was going to take a year to get the application through with the council, as it takes time.
“We put in an application, and two days later the school gets a stop notice, which was a huge shock.
“I think there’s so much more to this story that we cannot get to the bottom of. We will be saying to the courts that we don’t think there should be a stop notice, and that the school can use the building while we fight the appeal.
“We’ll win the appeal, as the need is huge in this area. There are so many illegal schools because they’re not giving planning for them. So many schools are becoming schools without planning because there’s no choice. Where shall we keep our kids?”
Stern added that if the courts accepted TTL’s appeal, it could reopen within two weeks, though it is understood a judicial review attempting to end a temporary stop notice over the Jewish holidays in October was thrown out over the “blatant and serious” breaches in planning control.
Tensions have been brewing between the Town Hall and the orthodox Jewish community in the north of the borough for a number of years over education policy, with reports in April that progress in the local authority’s drive for greater oversight over unregistered Talmudic faith academies was slow.
Cllr Aron Klein (Con, Stamford Hill West) has claimed that TTL were “promised” by the council that the building was suitable, and that following the move in to the Lordship Park property, “somehow the council then decided the building was unsafe.”
The Conservative councillor also dismissed neighbours’ complaints over noise, saying that it is “unfair” to complain about noise during working hours.
Cllr Klein said: “The school is all above board. Every member of the staff has been vetted and they have passed their last ofsted inspection with a good outcome.
“What are 70 parents supposed to do with their children if they cannot go to school – leave them on the road while they themselves go to work?
“The governing body of the school has told the neighbours that they are prepared to sit down to a meeting and discuss all questions and problems that people have about the school.
“Please, can our kids go back to regular school hours. Is it necessary to let this matter go to court and end up costing the council hundreds if not thousands of pounds in legal fees?”
Cllr Klein went on to claim that Ofsted had visited Lordship Park and declared the building safe, though the inspectors have said that, though a visit did take place on 4 November, it related only to education and safeguarding plans, adding: “We are not a building regulator.”
A Hackney Council spokesperson: “89 Lordship Park does not have the required planning permission to be used as a school. The building also does not have the requisite building regulations approval, including authorised means of fire escape to ensure the safety of pupils.
“Upon discovering the breach of planning control the Council issued two stop notices and an enforcement notice to prevent the dwelling being used as a school due to the impact on surrounding residents.
“The first was sent in October, followed by a second notice last week. In response to the initial temporary stop notice the building owners submitted a judicial review, which was dismissed by a judge, who stated the breach in planning is ‘blatant and serious’.
“The Temporary Stop Notice was issued following visits from the Council’s Planning and Building Control Officers whilst the unauthorised school was operating. Officers considered the detrimental impact on neighbours so serious that a Temporary Stop Notice was issued immediately to cease the unauthorised use of the site.
“A discussion between the applicants agent and Council Officers was also held the same day the Temporary Stop Notice was issued to ensure that the applicants were fully aware of the Stop Notice and the reasons it had been issued.”
EDIT: This article was updated at 18:20 on Wednesday 13 November to include a response from Hackney Council.