Petition calls for devolved powers in east London for a Spitalfields ‘town council’
- Credit: Mike Brooke
A petition has been started to set up east London’s first neighbourhood town council with its own tax-raising powers.
The move comes from members of the newly-recognised Spitalfields Neighbourhood Planning Forum who want to see day-to-day maintenance returned to the parish, such as street cleaning, lighting and where to put zebra-crossings.
“A town council would represent people who live here,” forum secretary James Frankcom tells tomorrow’s East London Advertiser. “But it doesn’t take anything away from Tower Hamlets council.”
A precedent has already been established with London’s first town council at Queen’s Park, which comes under Westminster Council.
Campaigners see a similar 12-member ‘Spitalfields council’ elected from ‘mini wards’ in a boundary roughly corresponding to the forum’s own defined area bordering on the City of London—from Bishopsgate and Middlesex Street in the west to Spital Street and Spelman Street in the east, and from Wentworth Street in the south to Sclater Street in the north.
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“Tower Hamlets has the similar-size population of Herefordshire,” the schoolteacher-turned-community activist points out. “But it’s more remote representation with an executive mayor who takes all the decisions.
“He’s a nice mayor—this one is—but an area like Spitalfields is different to the rest of the East End, being on the City Fringe with its own night-time economy.”
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The petition was launched at Hanbury Hall at a meeting of the forum which was formally recognised by Tower Hamlets last year as a consultation body on planning with a five-year term.
A permanent town council would restore ancient parish powers to Spitalfields for the first time since the 1740s, with its roots going back almost a-thousand years and even identified in Roman times.
Forum chairman David Donoghue, seasoned campaigner who has temporarily halted the controversial skyscraper development on the huge Bishopsgate goodsyard site, said after the meeting: “A town council can be involved in improvements because we know the area.
“There is a mess in Commercial street, for example, with its old Metropolitan horse trough overflowing with weeds, littered with drug needles. It is missed by the town hall and I don’t blame them, because they’ve got so many miles of streets to look after.
“But a neighbourhood town council would do that job and have a budget raised locally if we could take over the cleaning contract and make sure that type of detail is paid attention to.”
Powers could include street lighting, zebra crossing locations and bin collections, Donoghue believes.
“We’re going back to localism under 2010 Parliamentary legislation,” he told the Advertiser when the ‘town council’ concept first surfaced earlier this year. “We are discussing the idea of a town council with the neighbouring East Shoreditch Forum, but it’s early days yet.
“We could become a strong force in local politics. There’s a place for ‘localism’ in the 21st century.”
The new set up, if it gets the green light, would be part-funded by a 25 per cent community levy from developers, which would mean Spitalfields households directly benefitting from the money raised.
One resident in Commercial Street, retired Department of Trade consultant Tony de Jasay, 66, said: “We live in a politicised world, so a neighbourhood has to have a voice.”
Spitalfields is unique with its night-time economy next to Shoreditch and the City Square Mile.
East End Trades Guild secretary Krissie Nicholson, representing shopkeepers and small traders, said: “A town council would be helpful for businesses facing high rent and business rates that need radical policies from the GLA or the government, depending on how much devolution it can negotiate.”
The petition starts the process for devolved powers from the town hall with 100 names so far. It needs just 300 names—or 7.5 per cent of Spitalfields’ 3,778 voters—to trigger a community governance review, which would be followed by a public referendum.
The petition is expected to be handed to Tower Hamlets council later this month to start the devolution ball rolling.