Spitalfields could soon be a law unto itself, with a petition circulating calling for a devolution of powers from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets...

Spitalfields could soon be a law unto itself, with a petition circulating calling for a devolution of powers from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and the formation of a new town council.

Members of the Spitalfields Neighbourhood Planning Forum want to establish an urban parish council for the historic pocket bordering the City, in what they say would be the most significant change to governance in the East End since the 1963 Local Government Act.

Campaigners are hoping that a town council would return certain powers around planning, maintenance, and management of assets to local residents and businesses, rather than leaving all decisions in the hands of Tower Hamlets council and mayor John Biggs.

“What we’re looking to do is ensure that the community is fairly represented and has a say about how things are run,” said Planning Forum secretary James Frankcom, who is among a core group spearheading the campaign.

It would be London’s second parish council in more than 80 years, after Queens Park Community Council was established within the borough of Westminster in 2014, but Mr Frankcom maintains it is not an attempt to break away from the local authority.

“This is not some sort of NIMBY exercise to sat how much we hate Tower Hamlets,” he said. “We want to add value to the process.”

Mr Frankcom said that Spitalfields’ proximity to the City’s rapidly expanding Eastern Cluster of high-rise developments and Shoreditch’s nighttime economy make the area unlike any other part of Tower Hamlets.

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power to the people: A town council could put certain powers back into the hands of residents. Photo: Alan Stanton / Flickr

“We are a town and we have the sorts of problems that a town has; traffic, litter, competing interests of people and money, and a one-size fits all system doesn’t necessarily work very well.”

The plan has received the backing of the Spitalfields Society, Spitalfields Community Group, the Spitalfields Trust and the East End Trades Guild.

A petition to begin the process for devolved powers from the town hall has already attracted around 150 signatures, around half of the 7.5 per cent of Spitalfields’ 3,778 voters required to trigger a community governance review.

Reports of a similar campaign in Hampstead emerged earlier this year, with residents in the process of petitioning Camden council for independence and the formation of Hampstead Parish Council.

The new Spitalfields town council would follow the outline of the new Neighbourhood Plan, starting at Bishopsgate and Middlesex Street to the west – currently the boundary between Tower Hamlets and the City of London – then continuing along Wentworth Street in the south, Spellman Street in the west and loop around Sclater Street in the north to include the top end of Brick Lane.

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The proposed boundary of Spitalfields Town Council

The group is proposing that twelve councillors be elected from three mini wards within the council area, which Mr Frankcom said will improve representation for residents following changes to the electoral ward boundaries in 2013.

“Currently, in Tower Hamlets, an area of around 12,000 electors has just two councillors, and while the Mayor does a good job of delegating powers, the town needs champions, people to take an active interest in it.”

Mr Frankcom said the council could bid for management of street cleaning contracts, consult on licensing applications, and ensure planning applications adhere to the Spitalfields Neighbourhood Plan, which is currently under development.

It would also have control over 25% of funds raised by Tower Hamlets’ Community Infrastructure Levy, which is usually absorbed by the wider borough.

“Spitalfields households are subjected to all the noise of development on the City fringe but don’t directly benefit from the levy, which is another thing we could address as a town council, making sure the money is spent the right way.”

The group are hoping to collect enough signatures to present the petition to Tower Hamlets by the end of the summer, after which there will review and possibly a public referendum.

“Collecting signatures has been more difficult than we thought because of the nature of the accommodation – so few residences are accessible at street level – but when we do get talking to people, around 95 percent are supportive,” Mr Frankcom said.

“I think there’s an understanding that this is a unique opportunity for residents to have a say on how their community should be run.”

City Matters reached out to Tower Hamlets for comment but they did not respond to our requests before deadline.

Should Spitalfields have its own town council? Send your thoughts to jo@citymatters.london

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