Sunday, 15 January 2012

Charedi community must tolerate inconvenience like everyone else

This is the statement made by Labour Councillor Ned Mulready at Hackney Council's planning sub committee on Tuesday 10 January.
He is talking about a private school for ultra orthodox Jewish pupils at 91 Amhurst Park which is one of many schools set up around Stamford Hill without planning permission.

"The judgement of whether or not to grant planning permission for a school comes down to the need for the school versus the harm it causes to the amenity of residents.

I’ll first address the need for the school. There is absolutely no need for this school to be on this specific site. The school has been built because a group of parents in the local area have decided to opt out of state education for their kids.

Now that is their right but it is a choice. They might see it as an obligation but, in law, it isn’t. It’s a choice. And we must see it as such.

The fact that there is a large group of people in an area with a preference for religious schooling over state education, in my book, doesn’t mean there is a need for a religious school, just that there is a desire.

Now, I can see how it could be argued that if there is a desire for a certain specific type of education from a large part of the local community - a type of education they have a right to choose for themselves - then you could say there is a need for a school which would provide that sort of education.

I wouldn’t agree with that definition of need.

But I can see how you could get to it.

So if we take that as given. Assume that there is a need for a school of this type (I refute that but lets just go with it).

We then come down to the judgement of where the school needs to be. Or rather, where there is a need for the school to be.

There is absolutely no reason why this school has to be built on that site or even in the Stamford Hill area.

You don’t have a right to a school on the same couple of streets that you live on. There is absolutely nothing in any law or regulation that says you do. You have decided that none of the local state schools are for you and that you are going to build your own. Fine. That’s your right.

But the onus is surely on you to find appropriate land to build on. And if you can’t find that land in the small area of Stamford Hill then you move out a bit until you do. And if the site you find isn’t perfectly located for the children who will go there, then you just have to deal with it.

And I think this is something that the Charedi community generally will have to come to terms with as the number of children in the community grows exponentially.

I travelled for two and half hours everyday I went to school there and back. That was a massive inconvenience. But I don’t think for a second that I have a right not to be inconvenienced.

I am aware that there are Charedi customs and traditions regarding having schools and synagogues in the vicinity. And I make no judgement on that. We are a religiously tolerant society and I would hate for that to be threatened.

But we are not a religious society and in law we see those who follow religious customs and traditions as doing so through choice. Therefore the fact that there may be Charedi customs and traditions regarding this should have absolutely no bearing on the assessment of need."

Cllr Mulready sits on the planning committee but was not allowed in the room during the vote or to take part in other discussions after declaring a personal interest in this planning application. Some of the issues here were addressed in the last piece: Does school row expose 'Charedi coup'?


  1. Cllr Mulready on the one hand no doubt dances to the tune of “let us all walk to school” and on the other hand to the NIMBY tune of build YOUR schools elsewhere. The fact of the matter is that primary schools (and at times secondary schools) and places of worship have traditionally been built within residential areas.

    Perhaps the OJ community should each year apply en masse for state education and then decide not to avail themselves of those places allocated, as is their right, just to demonstrate “need” and to assist people like Mulready to understand the term “need”, with the yearly pandemonium that will ensue.

    Thankfully however, Mulready‘s definition of need has no basis in law. The fact of the matter is that planning authorities higher up , thankfully take a much more common sense approach to what constitutes need.

    The question that remains then, why does Mulready choose this particular definition of need which is based upon common sense defying acrobatics. Does it have anything to do with the fact that the OJ community in Hackney by and large do not and will not vote for Mulready?

  2. This is from your earlier comment: "Many Charedim feel that Hackney council and its serving officers are carrying out a vendetta against them. They prefer to have these issues dealt with by officers who have no affiliation with Hackney council..."

    As far as I could tell the residents of Amhurst Park who were at the planning meeting were... residents. They seemed to have a similar problem as the officers and the politicians. Would the Charedi community prefer disputes with residents to be settled with residents who have no affiliation with Hackney?

    Basically what do you think has happened to make the vendetta specific to Hackney?

  3. They were local residents with a NIMBY problem. They voice their opposition as is their prerogative.

    Few of us enjoy having a school outside of our front gates. I live close to a state primary school and the amount of traffic it generates causes me considerable inconvenience. But that is something I must live with in a functional society which does not see children as a burden.

    There is always a trade off between "the need for the school versus the harm it causes to the amenity of residents." Elected officials must weigh up need against inconvenience, but what they cannot do, is deny that factually, there is dire need.

    Yes schools harm local residents, but that is something we all live with.

    I have already answered your question in earlier comments. It is the entrenched "them against us" mentality which both sides may hold, which does not exist in Haringey. It is the fact that Charedim are represented by the opposition and are arguably almost solely responsible for any elected opposition in Hackney.

    This problem will not go away until both sides can come together with Hackney council showing some understanding for Charedi needs, whilst charedim need to understand that the wider community has legitimate concerns too.

    What is unhelpful however is to reiterate entrenched positions by saying that Charedi needs are irrelevant in the eyes of the law (which it is not as case history shows).

  4. I hope you don't mind carrying on like this but it is helping me - if nobody else!

    "This problem will not go away until both sides can come together with Hackney council showing some understanding for Charedi needs, whilst charedim need to understand that the wider community has legitimate concerns too."

    Can this problem "go away" if the community grows at the rate it is? Surely the problem will carry on growing.

    Is it fair to say that the political power of the community will grow as it physically grows?

    And if this is the case - will it extend the same respect for other communities that it appears to expect from them at the moment? Rightly or wrongly I think people fear that it wont.

    You refer to success in Haringey but the method of 'winning' - as far as I remember - was based on a weakened Labour Party making specific planning concessions after a Charedi Conservative candidate came within 64 votes in a by election.

    Assuming that is what happened, does that sort of victory solve any of the problems on the ground?

    Also, talking to politicians of all parties in Hackney and within the Charedi community itself, it seems broadly accepted that there is some kind of Charedi communal block vote.

    Would you agree with that?

  5. Is it surprising that there is suspicion of a vendetta when it takes a petition by Councillors to get a Charedi planning application onto the Committee agenda? Or when the petitioners are accused of 'forcing' it onto the agenda where it should normally have been all along? I would ask why it was initially witheld and what contribution that decision has made to further divisions within the community. If such adverse treatment occurs frequently (which has often been alleged) is it surprising that the Charedim feel the need to play party politics to protect their community's interests?

  6. I'll ask the council to clarify the process involved in deciding why this application wasn't put before the committee in the first place.

    But the documentation for the application ( doesn’t look like evidence of a vendetta to me.

    An Enforcement Notice was served by the council demanding that the school be shut down by 15th January 2011.

    Now, one year later, the school is still there and submitting planning applications.

    The school is appealing against the original notice served by the council on an "abuse of process argument".

    Meanwhile councillors were found to sign a petition to force this application to be heard in public - requiring more officer time. And yet when it was put before the committee no one turned up to defend it.

    So, unless there’s something I’m missing, then I think it is surprising that there is suspicion of a vendetta. At least I’d say it is surprising if the case of 91 Amhurst Park is the best example of it.

    One of the points made by Graham Loveland, Hackney's assistant director of planning, was the amount of officer time/taxpayers cash that had to be dedicated to this problem site. One full time officer dedicated to the case.

    Have other similar schools used similar techniques to tie up the council and remain open? I'm hoping the council will provide a list.

    You suspect a vendetta against Charedi schools.

    I'm more inclined to suspect illegal schools swapping tactics on how to circumvent/wear down an overstretched council department.

    Would it be safe to say that we all have dodgy partisan justifications for our suspicions? Why else would we have such strong opinions when there is so little evidence to justify them?

    I don't believe your vendetta theory and you probably don’t believe my time wasting theory.

    Where do we go from here?

    May be you can suggest someone who might have evidence – council documents or actions that might justify the claim of a vendetta - I would certainly take a look.

  7. I respond to your earlier comment.

    The future is anyone's guess.

    >And if this is the case - will it extend the same respect for other communities that it appears to expect from them at the moment? Rightly or wrongly I think people fear that it wont.

    The implication seems to be that as a result of this fear people have, Hackney will do all it can to prevent one particular community's natural expansion through planning control. I find usage of planning law, as a manipulation tool, to stem natural growth of one particular ethnic group (virile though that growth may be) frightening and abhorrent.

    Shouldn't your question be though, "will it extend the same disrespect (a la Cllr Mulready), for other communities that it appears to experience from them at the moment"?

    An entire council weakend by a single seat in Haringey? huh? In Haringey a Charedi Conservative candidate stood against a Labour candidate who had a strong track record and who had good community relations. There was a concerted effort by various Charedim through its press to keep Labour in place in Haringey and that effort split the Jewish vote right down the middle. Labour kept its seat.

    There is a strong and young Charedi contingent in Haringey who believe that everybody's best interests is best served through working together with Haringey council. They have indeed worked together for many years prior to this by-election.

  8. Thanks for that and I hope you're right about a Charedi contingent in the Haringey Labour Party. But I base my claim on the views of Rabbi Pinter who said this after the Labour Party in Haringey changed their planning policy after its narrow victory in the by election:

    “The Labour Party took seriously what happened and they’ve taken steps to recognise the needs of the community.”

    He said: “It is a test but I am confident. We know what goes on in the community because we are a school and we get a lot of feed back.”

    Although none of this is crystal clear Rabbi Pinter seemed to suggest a political force rather than negotiations had caused the change. But if Haringey residents are happy with the results may be Hackney will take a look... the proof should be in the pudding.

    His quotes come from this post:

  9. I'm not commenting on whether the Torah V'Yirah school application was wrongly refused. I'm commenting on the departure here from the normal process which has fuelled suspicion. Regarding the school's appeal, the system is there to ensure due process. Isn't it premature to suggest the appeal system is being used vexatiously? An example of Hackney's insensitivity might be the "one-size fits all" loft extensions policy.Whilst it may have satisfied the architectural concerns of many it adversely affected the minority Charedim living in grossly overcrowded conditions. If it could not be properly justified then it amounted to indirect discrimination. Eventually, I recall, a compromise was reached but only after considerable community and Council time and money had been spent to correct the perceived injustice.

  10. In the 2010 election, in Haringey, Labour was re-elected with a much stronger majority.

    I do not have the pamphlets which contained a number of advertisements and open letters by Charedi Haringey Labour supporters, but they told how there was healthy community relations with the local Labour party who deal with Charedi concerns fairly.

    I believe that Rabbi Pinter was a signatory to one or more of those open letters IIRC.

    Either way, regardless of what caused that attitude change by Haringey's Charedim and its council, the fact remains that community cohesion can be achieved with will and common sense from both sides.

    Whether or not both sides in Hackney can achieve the same with a rather chequered and troubled history with which we are burdened remains to be seen.

  11. In reply to Simon:

    Ok, but do you think a decision against the will of the Charedi Community would ever be accepted by it as common sense, fair and in the interests of community cohesion?

    Also, I'd be interested to hear what your view is on the issue of a Charedi block vote - is this something that you believe exists? I realise that it might require some definition! As far as I can tell it means that some portion of the vote will follow the direction either of heads of households or community/religious leaders.

  12. In reply to Clear Hardly:

    I should get some information from Hackney Council about these issues and I'll put what I get in a new post. I hope it'll help with some of the questions you've asked.

  13. Yes, I do think that the Charedi community is capable of adopting a give and take attitude. Do you think the wider community is capable of the same? Humanity is often sadly rather bad at reconciliation. Such is the human condition.

    Wiki: "A voting bloc is a group of voters that are so motivated by a specific concern or group of concerns that it helps determine how they vote in elections."

    Based upon that definition, then yes, of course bloc voting occurs in Charedi Hackney. But this form of bloc voting is normal within a healthy democracy. Each individual within the bloc *chooses* to vote the way he or she does.

    That said even according to this definition they did not vote as a bloc in Haringey, and not in the Simon Tessler debacle.

    Many people the world over are influenced by their parents in how they cast their votes. Unless you think that Charedi “heads of households” closely resemble “primeval” tribe elders, in which case you are misinformed, and that is putting it mildly.

    You overstate the influence and jurisdiction of the religious leadership in Charedi Hackney. It consists of highly respected experts in Halachic law. Its members can advise on Halachic law (normally) when asked to do so. It has never issued any directive on how people should vote. It would be quite bizarre for it to do so.

    And the community leaders, do they they exist? I have never heard of them. Social voting trends, or people voting for someone they know rather well is nothing unusual.

    Charedi Hackney is much less hierarchical than you seem to think.

  14. Do I understand you to be reporting that Cllr Mulready made his statement whilst sitting as a Planning Sub-Committee member?
    If so I suggest that his comment "There is absolutely no reason why this school has to be built on that site", and the general tone of his statement, has the appearance of pre-disposition and bias. Under the Council's Planning Code he was not permitted to make his statement and seek to influence the Committee members but was required to withdraw from the meeting as soon as the agenda item was reached.

    It seems(to me)that, in addition to officers seeking to refuse the application without a Committee hearing, here was a further significant departure from Hackney's Constitution, which adversely affected the planning Applicant, & which requires explanation.

  15. That is correct.
    But he wasn't allowed in for any of the meeting apart from appearing to make this statement and left straight afterwards. So he didn't hear any of the discussion before or after his statement and was not in the room when the vote was taken, which, I believe, is what was required to remain within the rules.