Last night Hackney Council's Planning Committee voted to reject plans to redevelop Wilmer Place.
Below is a copy of the speech Daniel gave in opposition to the proposals.
Local residents packed the Council Chamber to observe the Committee's deliberations. Following a presentation by the Council Officer, who was recommending that the Committee approve the application, councillors Daniel Stevens (Lordship) and Louisa Thomson (Stoke Newington Central) spoke in opposition to the plans.
Daniel focused on the detrimental impact the development would have on the historic character and biodiversity of Abney Park, whereas Louisa highlighted concerns about housing, transport, noise and light, and the damaging effect a large supermarket would have on the local economy. The speech Louisa gave is available here.
Our contributions were followed by speeches from Stokey Local campaigners Nick Perry, Russell Miller and Damian Duggan-Ryan, who had the difficult task of covering a wide range of objections in just five minutes between them.
Stokey Local have run a very effective campaign over the last 18 months and it's been great to see so many people across the area come together united by their enthusiasm for Stoke Newington. Labour Councillors in Lordship, Clissold and Stoke Newington Central wards have supported this campaign, and also worked tirelessly since the first proposals were revealed in August 2011 to highlight the concerns of residents, lobby for changes, and outline the real planning concerns about the proposed development.
The developer have said that they will appeal the decision, so we will keep you informed of what happens next. But for now we can celebrate a great victory for Stoke Newington.
Text of Speech
Thank you, Chair.
The Committee should refuse this proposal because it will significantly damage the historic character and biodiversity of Abney Park.
The developer's revised application repeatedly mentions amendments as evidence that the scheme is now 'good enough'. The officer's report also adopts this language.
The Committee should not be seduced.
Paragraph 133 of the National Planning Policy Framework says that where a proposed development will lead to substantial harm of a designated heritage asset consent should be refused; "unless it can be demonstrated that the substantial harm or loss is necessary to achieve substantial public benefits that outweigh that harm or loss."
Put simply therefore, the question to the Committee is: in planning terms, are the public benefits of the scheme before you substantial enough to outweigh the harm it will cause?
Abney Park is one of Hackney's most valuable assets. It is home to wealth of ecological riches from rare species to valuable trees.
It is one of only two Local Nature Reserves in the Borough and a metropolitan-level Site of Importance for Nature Conservation. This places Abney Park alongside nationally important sites such as Richmond Park and Epping Forest.
Complete with a listed lodge, gates and chapel, Abney Park is one of only two places for the burial of non-conformists in London.
It offers a fascinating insight into the history of the capital's dissenting families, as well commemorating local people that died in two World Wars and providing a resting place for historical figures such as General Booth and a quarter of a million others.
Hackney Council has a very significant heritage and biodiversity asset in its care. Protecting it for future generations is, surely, the epitome of sustainable planning.
Last year, the Council approved its Biodiversity Action Plan, which includes a target that all developments within 50 metres of woodland must ensure they do not impact on the biodiversity of those habitats or associated species."
Remarkably what's before you tonight, and recommended for approval, comes to within just 2.5 to 3.5 metres of one of London's most important wildlife sites.
In paragraph 4.4.3 of his report, the Officer's states that the applicant "has reasoned that they cannot move the overall footprint of the building away from the boundary" of Abney Park.
If this is this is the case, then the application should be refused.
Such an extreme, intrusive mass immediately abutting Abney Park will significantly change the cemetery's unique woodland edge and cannot fail to impact on the habitat and its species.
Disappointingly the Biodiversity Action Plan is not mentioned in the officer's list of policies relevant to Wilmer Place.
This is despite page 25 of the Action Plan clearly stating that the document has the "equivalent status of a supplementary planning document."
It also sets a target to work with planning officers to ensure they are aware of policies relating to woodland.
Committee members should seriously question whether the recommendation to approve was reached in full awareness of the tremendous wealth of biodiversity in Abney Park and the policies in place to protect it.
Planning policy is clear about the protection of heritage assets.
Policy 25 of the Core Strategy states that "All development should make a positive contribution to the character of Hackney's historic and built environment".
This is underpinned by the Stoke Newington Conservation Area Appraisal, which states that 'in future, new development should be kept as far as possible away from the walls of the cemetery to preserve its setting and unique sense of privacy and peace.'
Paragraph 132 of the National Planning Policy Framework states that "as heritage assets are irreplaceable, any harm or loss should require clear and convincing justification."
Therefore, the Committee must be confident there is a "clear and convincing justification" to approve what's before them.
What I see in front of me is a visually dominant, overpowering, intrusive mass that cannot fail but to diminish Stoke Newington's invaluable natural, built and historic environment.
English Heritage do not support it.
The Conservation Area Advisory Committee say there will be "substantial detriment" to the cemetery.
And Abney Park Trust objects to the scheme as substantially intrusive and overbearing.
Chair, there is danger that if this goes ahead it will cause substantial and irreparable harm to one of Hackney's most valuable wildlife and heritage assets.
And for what?
Fifty-four mostly unaffordable homes that will, realistically, be beyond the reach of most Hackney residents; diminishing our ability to create the "mixed, sustainable communities and neighbourhoods" we value so highly.
And a supermarket that cannot fail but to have an impact on the retail character of Stoke Newington, which, it must be noted, forms a significant part of the heritage enshrined in the Conservation Area.
In conclusion, I return to the question I posed at the start of my speech:
In planning terms, do the benefits of the scheme before you outweigh the substantial harm it will cause?
The answer to this is "no."
I therefore urge the Committee to refuse the application.