Hackney Council has forced developers to keep to their word over plans requiring the demolition of a wall between St John at Hackney’s churchyard and Mare Street.
Thornsett, creators of luxury development Hackney Gardens, had agreed to a public square and pedestrian link between the church and the Narrow Way, and have now had plans thrown out for a gate which would have been locked overnight.
The developers had held up warnings by the Metropolitan Police over antisocial behaviour as justification for the gate’s installation, complaining also that the wall now hides a bin store as part of its development, thus making it impossible to demolish.
However businessman Dhruv Patel of the Clockwork Group dismissed the Met’s advice as “outdated”, pointing to statements by former Met police commissioner Sir Ian Blair saying that gated communities threaten the stability of society.
Patel added: “The diocese should ensure that its actions do not compromise the rights of those least able to defend themselves.
“It is a well-established principle that gated communities inevitably divide society between us and them, and should have no place in Hackney, or indeed this country.
“Gated communities are a cynical means to increase the value of property at the expense of the cohesion of community as a whole.”
The developers’ planning application proposed the use of the gate as striking a balance between securing the public benefits of the square while ensuring “adequate community safety”, an argument which satisfied Town Hall planning officers.
Bernadette Cunningham, director of Thornsett, said: “The whole of the wall cannot be demolished. It actually has bin stores behind it as part of our development.
“We have widened the gated area so that as you look down the Narrow Way you’ll be able to see that it is open and that it can come through.
“I don’t think we should lightly disregard the Metropolitan Police’s advice on this.”
However, councillors rejected Cunningham’s arguments out of hand, with planning committee chair Cllr Vincent Stops (Lab, Hackney Central) accusing Thornsett of “backpedalling” on the original agreement for a public space.
Cllr Sophie Conway (Lab, Hackney Central) said: “I simply do not think that replacing part of the wall with a gate is in keeping with our aspirations for our town centre.
“Seeing a large, high brick wall surrounding the housing development, I have to say it did not make me think that there could possibly be anything that wall that could be of interest to me.
“I can’t see how having a gate there, open or not, is going to make much of a difference. The gate being open between 7am and dusk seems to me inconsequential. Keeping the wall there will discourage the public from venturing down Dispensary Lane to see what is at the other side of the gate.
“Keeping the wall in place will be to the detriment of the public’s use and enjoyment of the space.”
Cunningham attempted to argue that discussions had been ongoing for five months as elements of the project neared completion, but the committee remained unmoved.
Cllr Stops added: “We were never told that you would take the wall down and put a gate up. I don’t understand where this has come from.
“You shouldn’t be coming up with stuff that didn’t fit what we were asking for. Whose fault is that? You need to go back and look at the spirit of the thing, and come back with something that matches closer to what we were expecting.”