Monday, 30 January 2012

Canal boat statistics - help needed

For the last few weeks I've been counting the number of boats on the waterways on the edge of Hackney.  The stretches of water I looked at were between Markfield Recreation Ground (border of Tottenham and Hackney) down to Wenlock Basin (on the border of Hackney and Islington).

When I started I misinterpreted where the canals of Hackney ended and had to add some extra areas hence the sudden rise in the number of 'layers' at the top of the chart in the run-up to Christmas. 

Otherwise each layer represents the number of boats on a particular stretch of canal. These territories are stretches of water between landmarks, usually bridges, where small communities of boats have grown and then dispersed. 

(This also seemed to be happening on the canal bank too.  This picture shows what looked like the rise of a tiny shanty town growing on the fringes of Hackney Marshes - on the bank opposite the garbage truck area. It was there every week but had disappeared on the last trip, Saturday 28 January.)

As the chart shows, over the last few weeks the number of boats in and around Hackney peaked above 300 during Christmas and New Year. I'm hoping it will be interesting to watch how these boats move about particularly as the Olympics come and go. (Although a lot of the canal I'm looking at is not in Hackney at all but in Tower Hamlets and Walthamstow too.) 

Help needed

The chart has too much information on it to be able to show what area each layer represents and only some of them are listed  down the right hand margin but not all.  So I'm working on how to get all the information into a useable format that I can update. If anyone has any tips or advice it would be greatly appreciated. 

I'm trying to work out how to use Google fusion tables, you can look at the data and copy it etc here and I've also made the data public on something called Buzzdata (I'll make this link live when I've worked out how to use Buzzdata!). 

It's all new to me so any advice on how to collect data, whether this data is worth collecting, and how to present it would be very helpful particularly if anyone has any good examples I could copy.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Joe Lobenstein and sinister motives

A letter from former four-times Hackney Mayor Joe Lobenstein MBE is in the latest Hackney Gazette. In it he said he detected a "sinister motive" in  Nigel Lewis's letter about Charedi Schools in Stamford Hill.

Whatever that sinister motive may have been, Lobenstein never pinned it down.

Instead, after listing Lewis' complaints about a Charedi "closed-shop" and "coup" Lobenstein justified his attack on Lewis with one point, that Charedi kids don't commit crime.

He said that a look at the figures would show "that not a single pupil of Charedi schools in Hackney has ever appeared before a juvenile court or has been accused of any vices which are unfortunately so rampant in society today."

By complete coincidence, just yesterday I was in touch with former Hackney blogger Ben Locker who wrote a piece about this particular argument back in 2007. I'm posting his full blog post on a separate page for future reference.

Back in 2007 Locker wrote: "I was astonished by the argument one person put forward that Stamford Hill has a miniscule crime rate, thanks to the Orthodox Jewish community: even going so far as to say “when did you last hear of someone mugged by an Orthodox Jew?” Apart from the fact that it ignores a problem with unrecorded crime in the Haredi community, what on earth has that got to do with planning law?"

His astonishment was not shared by another Hackney blogger and member of the Charedi community "The Shaigetz" who said: "I, sadly, am less astonished. I have been hearing that justification, in its various forms, since I was twelve. Our superior children do not take drugs, wear ripped jeans or sport nose piercings, therefore we should be allowed to …[fill in the blank]."

(More recently Charedi youths were not immune to benefiting from the recent riots and The Shaigetz had interesting observations on the subject of unrecorded crime )

Lobenstein wrote a piece in the Jewish Tribune in which he criticised Geoffrey Alderman for being rude about Charedi schools in Stamford Hill: "Mr Alderman must have been dreaming when  he wrote that visiting the vicinities of Cranwich Road, Amhurst Park, Fairholt Road and Bethune Road, led him to believe that matters had turned ugly."

"Again, sheer and utter nonsense."

"I claim slightly superior knowledge over that of Alderman when describing Fairholt Road because I have lived there for approximately seventy years. The only school on Fairholt Road is St Thomas Abney School which belongs to the Church of England. No Jewish school is located in Fairholt Road."

Although he did mention "Planning application for the conversion of one local residence into a children's nursery is currently pending" I'm not sure if he was referring to Gur School at 85 Fairholt road which had already been running for more than six months with no planning permission.

In the same column - penned under the name Ben Yitzchok in the Jewish Tribune (May 2011 - pointed out to me by Geoffrey Alderman) - he also said: "Not a single school is operating without having obtained planning consent which invariably takes account of reaction of neighbours, traffic implications, health and safety regulations."

At the time the Gur school, in the road in which he lives, was operating without any of the above.

A couple of weeks ago the Hackney Gazette reported that the Gur school which got retrospective planning permission in July had failed to meet the conditions which came with it: "The council has since served several enforcement notices which have been ignored."

Report by Ben Locker of 2007 planning meeting in Stamford Hill

I'm republishing this courtesy of Ben Locker who wrote a blog called Hackney Lookout until 2008. He also wrote a piece in the Hackney Citizen with Charedi blogger "The Shaigetz" called The Goy next door 

June 27th, 2007

Whose law is it anyway? (pt 3)

About 15 years ago, I read a study that found racist attitudes were eroded when members of different groups came to live together in the same residential block. Partly this was because people got to see each other more often, began to share the same concerns and - the reason I thought most resonant at the time - because everyone enjoys having an audience when they’re complaining about how badly-treated they are by their boss, landlord or whoever else is in authority over them.

If there’s one thing that would help community cohesion in Stamford Hill at the moment, then it’s a bout of close-harmony whingeing about the many ways we have all been shafted by Hackney Council over the last decade or more. But one other thing’s for certain: if the various groups on the Hill continue to use shoddy and dishonest tactics themselves, no matter how admirable their motives, we’re not only sending a gilt-edged invitation to that local authority to shaft us some more, we’re going to find this place turned into a tinderbox.

That much was clear to me yesterday evening, when I went to a meeting organised by Hackney Planning Watch at Stamford Hill Library. I was two minutes late and skipped signing the register so that I could be one of the last allowed in. I bagged a spot by the wall where I could stand and not only get a good view of the speakers and everyone in the room, but could see out of the window and into the glass lined corridor opposite.

I’ve worked with Civic Societies before, and most would have been astonished by (and envious of) the number of local people who turned up to discuss a planning issue. There were about a hundred people in a room laid out for seventy, and there was a crowd of at least thirty more outside the door noisily demanding entrance. I could see quite a few trying to get a view of the meeting from the corridor.

So why the passionate interest? Put simply, the Council has released a document that contains suggested alterations to the regulations that control residential alterations and extensions in parts of the borough. If these suggestions are adopted, different planning laws will apply to residents in three areas: Queens Drive in Finsbury Park; Cricketfield Road in Hackney Downs; and 38 streets that comprise the core of my own area, Stamford Hill.

The new regulations are being proposed in Stamford Hill for a number of reasons. Firstly, the area is home to a long-established Orthodox Jewish community, members of which belong to families with an average of 5.9 children. Living space is in short supply and, to accommodate such large families, many have built extensions on the fronts, sides, tops or backs of their houses - and sometimes have done all four. A high proportion of these extensions would (under normal circumstances) have fallen foul of planning regulations but, for one reason or another, have been approved by the council. A significant number have been built with no reference to planning laws whatsoever, and have still not been awarded permission.

In other words, the extensions are a short-term solution to meet the needs of one rapidly-growing section of the community. Its members have been angered by a Council that is now more likely to refuse extensions and, with not a little justice, complain that it is unfair to crack down on these developments when they have been tolerated (or ignored) by the Council for years.

However, many of these extensions have angered other people who live in the Stamford Hill area. Some residents complain that the developments block the light that reaches their own properties. Others point to the noise nuisance that is exacerbated by larger numbers of people living in bigger properties near them. Many are angered by the fact that a good number of developments have wrecked the streetscape and damaged the original shape of Victorian and early-Edwardian terraces. Still more make the point that the developments are storing up trouble for the future, making Stamford Hill overcrowded, encouraging cowboy developers, giving people the incentive to carve up properties into flats and bedsits, and creating urgent problems with structure and flooding.

And underlying all this is a growing resentment nurtured by some people who feel that the Orthodox Jewish community appears to be given de facto special treatment under planning law. No wonder it was a crowded meeting.

Sadly, in such circumstances, good sense often takes a back seat when one’s own interests are at stake. For example, I was very grateful to Hackney Planning Watch (HPW) for calling the meeting, especially as I had no idea that there had been a consultation on the proposed regulations, let alone that it had closed. However, the first thing that I did after reading HPW’s leaflet was to go and find the planning document on Hackney Council’s website (it’s here. What this document does propose is changes to the regulations to front roof slopes, rear roof slopes, and rear extensions. What it does not do is “abandon our streets to unregulated property developers”, as HPW put it. Nor does it cover those developers who “are even applying to build three story houses in residential back gardens”. Nor was it appropriate - at all - for someone from the table to say to Councillor Coggins that “it was your party who sold off our social housing”. I happen to agree, but it was unfair and antagonistic to one of only three councillors who made the effort to show up.

That said, what the proposals are suggesting - and this is the thorniest point for me - that residents within three defined areas of the borough should be subject to different regulations than their neighbours a few streets away. For that reason I thought it highly disingenuous of Councillor Odze to argue that we will all still be subject to planning regulations. Yes we will councillor, but different ones: that is not equality under the law.

This is the point that, more than any other, needs answering and I think that members of the Orthodox community recognise that it is the biggest obstacle to the proposals becoming law. I can think of no other reason why, instead of answering that question, most of the arguments in favour of adopting the new regulations fell into the “Oh go on, we’re nice” category; most notably when a girl of about 12 stood up to make a prepared speech about how her own home was too crowded for her to do her schoolwork properly, how her family faces pressures that arise from her brother’s serious lung disease and how she did “not feel we have been accepted or given space.”

I sympathise, but there are many people across London with similar problems. Should the new regulations apply to them too?

Similarly, I was astonished by the argument one person put forward that Stamford Hill has a miniscule crime rate, thanks to the Orthodox Jewish community: even going so far as to say “when did you last hear of someone mugged by an Orthodox Jew?” Apart from the fact that it ignores a problem with unrecorded crimein the Haredi community, what on earth has that got to do with planning law?

To return to the wider point, though, there was much that was positive about the meeting that could be used as a basis for us all. By and large, all communities on the Hill are sympathetic to (and often adore) large families. Most of us agree that we need more space to have a happier family life (I know I would like a lot more). I also think we all agree that the council’s past inaction and its approval of certain developments have stored up trouble that is now bearing ill-fruit. And I think that, deep down, we all know that allowing inappropriate extensions will only provide a short-term solution for a small proportion of families.

What we need to be asking is what we do about the problem long term. And for that we should be asking ourselves some hard questions, such as whether allowing our planning system to become a communal issue is ever going to be for the wider good, no matter what the motives behind it.

We should then be turning to the council and asking some hard questions, like: Why hasn’t there been a proper consultation on this measure?

Why were the new regulations only published after the local elections?

Why did no member of the council’s ruling party attend last night’s meeting to listen to the citizens’ concerns?

And when we’ve got their answers we can get started on that close-harmony whingeing I was talking about. It will do us all a lot more good than finger pointing, jealousy or diluting the rather limited protection that planning law already gives us.

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'?

Monday, 9 January 2012

Does school row expose 'Charedi coup'?

The first Hackney Gazette of 2012 features a letter and a news story both of which raise concerns about schools for ultra orthodox Jewish (Charedi) children which have opened illegally in and around Stamford Hill.

Some of these schools have been granted retrospective planning permission but usually with conditions attached.

A Google search suggests at least three similar cases (any more please let me know and I will amend if there are any updates.)

Torah V'Yirah, 91 Amhurst Park.

Beis Trana, at 186-194 Upper Clapton Road. (Both discussed in a Jewish Chronicle piece )

The Gur school in Fairholt Road (Another Jewish chronice piece).

The Gazette's news story covered the Gur school which got its planning permission in July but with conditions that it has failed to meet. The Gazette said: "The council has since served several enforcement notices which have been ignored."

The school has now appealed against the conditions of the temporary planning permission.

The letter in the Gazette is about another school, the Torah V'Yirah at 91 Amhurst Road (The Gazette originally wrote this story on December 16). On Tuesday 10 January the Council's planning committee will vote on whether this school should be granted retrospective planning permission too.

Council officers have recommended refusing permission and under normal circumstances this matter would not have gone before a committee. But a petition of 10 councillors has forced it on to the agenda on Tuesday.

Two councillors who sit on the committee (Ian Sharer, Leader of Hackney Lib Dems and Michael Levy, Leader of the Conservative Group) ) have put their names to the petition calling for the schools argument to be heard and not refused on the basis of the officer recommendation.

Nigel Lewis' letter to the Gazette also referred to a meeting with Hackney Councillors in June 2011 - this included Abraham Jacobson (Lib Dem), Ian Sharer (Leader of Hackney Lib Dems), Simche Steinberger (Conservative), Michael Levy (Leader of the Conservative Group) and Benzion Papier (Conservative) as well as Linda Kelly (Conservative) and Dawood Akhoon (Lib Dem) who have all signed the petition.

Lewis' letter described the June meeting as "a Charedi-run closed shop determined to stifle local democracy".

He added that: "The recent petition likewise appears to be the prelude to an intended coup, in which large areas of Hackney's planning will henceforth be managed with Charedi interests uppermost, irrespective of other people."

This may sound a bit insensitive but tensions around planning and  the Charedi community have dogged Hackney politics for years. During the last Mayoral election Andrew Boff, Conservative member of the London Assembly and candidate for Mayor of Hackney, criticised this blog for suggesting that the Conservative party sometimes behaved like an ultra orthodox Jewish lobby group in Hackney: Reply to Andrew Boff.

A couple of years ago Mayor Jules Pipe criticised Cllr Simche Steinberger for putting the interests of the Charedi community ahead of other Hackney residents.

This is how he described it later in an interview with Blood and Property: "I believe that it was the adopted principle of the entire Hackney Conservative group to oppose the Council’s clarification of planning policy regarding residential extensions. In my opinion, in attempting to negotiate the removal of the item from the Cabinet agenda in return for his acquiescence to allowing an urgent item that lowered council housing rents, he put furthering his group’s political position above operating correctly as Chair of Overview and Scrutiny."

The other side

The debate about ultra orthodox Jewish education facilities has been rumbling for a while in Hackney and the Council has been criticised for not acknowledging the problems faced by its fastest growing community.

Rabbi Abraham (Avraham) Pinter, a regular spokesman for the community and principal at Yesodey Hatorah School led a campaign to turn the site of an old Hackney School into a school for ultra orthodox Jewish pupils rather than turn it into residential homes.

At the time he told the Jewish Chronicle that the site represented "a unique opportunity for the Charedi community in Stamford Hill to have improved purpose-built educational facilities. More than 20 per cent of Hackney's under-16s come from the Charedi community and many of our existing schools are old fashioned, sub-standard residential buildings.

He said: "It is an absolute scandal that the educational needs of the fastest growing part of Britain's Jewish community are being ignored by Hackney Council," he claimed. In other words something needs to be done about schools in the community and until then illegal ones will probably keep popping up.

General tension

The ultra orthodox Jewish community seems to have a rocky record in terms of community cohesion. It is often criticised by the mainstream Jewish media here. Between Christmas and New Year the BBC reported stand-offs in Israel as the wider Israeli population protested against demands for gender segregation.

At the end of last year Geoffrey Alderman, historian and columnist for the Jewish Chronicle, raised tensions when he claimed it was "well known that charedi men are notorious harassers of the opposite sex." (Republishing this comment has offended a reader - see comment below - but the context and a response from Rabbi Pinter are included in the link, I'm hoping that's enough to justify repeating Alderman's claim which is not there because I believe it but to demonstrate that this debate has become very heated within the Jewish community itself. Anyway, if you have a problem with this please let me know via comments below.)

Justified or not, is there any way to usefully address these issues before the effects of a poorly performing economy fray tolerance levels?

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Diane Abbott: a list of race rows

Diane Abbott has a long history of involvement in race rows. The latest concerns a 'racist' tweet on Twitter which said: "White people love playing 'divide and rule' We should not play their game."

But the BBC doesn't sound convinced by her explanation that her comments were taken out of context. It has been reported that Ed Miliband spoke to her but has not asked her to resign (

This week she appeared to accuse the rank and file of Hackney police of being racist on Newsnight in a debate about Stephen Lawrence.

It would be great to get a full list of race rows/debates she's been involved in. I'm sure there are loads I've missed out.

A trawl through Blood and Property's Diane Abbott archive came up with these:

Nov 2010

In a Guardian comment about Phil Woolas she said: "The Labour Party should never get involved in the politics of racial division."
She said that his campaign had involved "a conscious strategy to enrage white voters and frighten them into voting Labour. Is that a responsible path for an experienced MP to go down in a town that had already experienced race riots?"

June 2010

She suggestedWest Indian mothers were better than other mothers when defending her decision to send her son to a private school: "I’m a West Indian mum and West Indian mums will go to the wall for their children. It’s that kind of atavistic streak that we have. I can see them in the market on a Saturday morning. A kind of ‘touch my children and we’ll turn quite difficult'. Interestingly, until now, it’s the one thing that’s got me the most positive response from black women locally. They would come up to me and shake my hand. Because ultimately in their eyes it’s about doing the right thing for their children. But obviously people from other cultures didn’t see it that way at all."

December 2009:

Takes on Rod Liddle and his crime statistics....(also a link to the Chocolate Hobnob row)


In a 2006 NASUWT-sponsored paper (Academy schools: case unproven) Diane said: "... We know what parent power means in London. In practice, it means giving power to small groups of white middle-class parents, or if not to capture by one ethnic group as opposed to another, the best organised. Actually, if you want to empower the breadth of the parent body in inner-city areas you have to look to the local education authority."


Diane upsets her African constituents with an article entitled: "Think Jamaica is bad? Try Nigeria" which included phrases such as: "when it comes to corruption, Nigerians make Jamaicans, and every other nationality in the world, look like mere amateurs."(Guardian piece here)

In it she also mentioned that: "Nigerians are a deeply religious people with high levels
of church attendance and a host of remarkable pastors" some of whom may have been the targets of this..."


Ban these witchcraft churches: "Multiculturalism is one thing, but I draw the line at being asked to respect the views of people who believe in demonic possession." (Links via Is the supernatural significant)


(pointed out by a comment below) - she complained that the arrival of Finnish nurses jeopardized employment opportunities for black women. Darcus Howe said: "It is worse than careless for Diane Abbott to have made such remarks." (from There was more comment at the time some of it here (an Independent article allegedly... and other bits).

Any more?