Why move to set up ‘Spitalfields town council’ after 100 years could be lost

PUBLISHED: 17:00 11 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:29 12 July 2019

Gathering evidence of dirt and rubbish on the streets of Spitalfields. Picture: Mike Brooke

Gathering evidence of dirt and rubbish on the streets of Spitalfields. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Campaigners have been out on the streets gathering evidence of dirt unswept and rubbish uncollected in a last-ditch bid to set up a town council in Spitalfields after a gap of 100 years.

But they face defeat at next Wednesday's Tower Hamlets Council meeting with stiff opposition from the local authority and councillors claiming the 'parish' idea would divide the community.

Accusations of "elitism" have been hurled by opponents with an ongoing row brewing over whether council taxpayers would have to foot the bill.

The advocates led by schoolteacher James Frankcom and Spitalfields local planning forum chair David Donoghue toured the district yesterday, apologising to tourists for the state of the streets.

"Look at all the filth in our streets," James fumed. "No-one is clearing it. That's why we need a parish council that would look after our neighbourhood.

"It's not about power, but managing our streets locally. I feel ashamed when tourists see how dirty it is and rubbish left piled up."

FOR: Town council advocate David Donoghue... FOR: Town council advocate David Donoghue... "Tower Hamlets would still run public services." Picture: Mike Brooke

A town council, David Donoghue assures, would only look after local street cleansing, allotments, bus shelters, writing park byelaws, crime prevention, repair broken pavements, even install recycling banks like cities on the Continent or erect public toilets.

The borough would still run public services like education, housing, social welfare, licensing, trading standards, parking enforcement, town planning and policing with The Met, he says.

But the idea has drawn opposition which came to a head at a public meeting arranged by the One Spitalfields pressure group, denouncing it as 'elitism'.

Tower Hamlets councillor John Pierce who chaired the meeting at the Hanbury Hall in November warned of a "shift towards communities becoming insular".

The Dean of Tower Hamlets, Spitalfields Rector Andy Ryder, also challenged the idea, claiming: "A parish council is a bunch of independents elected by a small number of people who won't have the same clout as the borough council."

AGAINST: The Dean of Tower Hamlets Andy Ryder... AGAINST: The Dean of Tower Hamlets Andy Ryder... "Parish council is a bunch elected by a small number of people." Picture: Mike Brooke

The GLA's east London member at City Hall, Unmesh Desai, spurned the proposal as "something prehistoric".

Donoghue and his parish advocates refute claims of syphoning money from Tower Hamlets' tight budget. Revenue to run the parish would be an 80p-a-week charge just to Spitalfields households and 15 per cent of planning fees levied on developers to be spent in the immediate neighbourhoods affected, they point out.

Spitalfields is a special case, it is argued, because of its night life around Brick Lane that draws in nearly two million visitors a year—along with their litter, drunkenness and often use of pavement gutters as toilets.

But Tower Hamlets opposes the move and is recommending at Wednesday's council meeting that "a parish should not be created". That might just spark a further campaign for a 'people's vote'.

Spitalfields was once a self-governing civil parish set up in 1729 that was eventually absorbed into the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney in 1911, which itself was merged into the new London Borough Tower Hamlets in 1965.

What tourists see in the evening when they arrive in Spitalfields. Picture: Mike BrookeWhat tourists see in the evening when they arrive in Spitalfields. Picture: Mike Brooke

But its heritage goes back centuries before 1729.

The name 'Spitalfields' comes from St Mary Spital, Middle English for 'hospital', or 'spittle', first recorded in 1197 as fields belonging to St Mary Spital priory and later appearing on the 1561 map of London as 'Spyttlefeildes'.

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