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Fears grow over decline in town hall planners protecting Islington’s treasured buildings

14:02 03 January 2013

Cllr Martin Klute

Cllr Martin Klute

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Several prominent conservation groups have united to question the way Islington Council protects the borough’s vulnerable heritage buildings.

The consortium of historical and preservation groups has written to the town hall to complain about what they say is a marked decline in services.

The previous conservation chief left some years ago and the group say a failure to adequately replace him led to the decline.

The letter highlights the decision by council officers to recommend planning permission for a new building that would partially obscure views of the Union Chapel in Compton Avenue as indicative of the problem.

Martin Jones, chairman of Highbury Fields Association, said: “We have been concerned for some time that Alex Forshaw, the previous head of conservation, has never been properly replaced.”

He added this is coupled with a 70 per cent cut in staff at the planning and conservation department. He said: “We all feel the way the development behind the Union Chapel has been handled is very strange. The planning team need experienced staff who know Islington and its wealth of fine buildings.”

Cllr Terry Stacy, leader of the opposition Lib Dem group, said: “It is so worrying that some residents feel that the council is not getting the balance right now. It is clear that there has been a crisis with staffing on planning and conservation issues.

“Last year the council spent over £8million on agency staff to fill gaps throughout the council while laying off full-time staff. This is a warped sense of priorities.”

Members of the Canonbury Society, Union Chapel Project, Highbury Fields Association, Islington Archaeology and History Society, Islington Society, Friends of the Union Chapel and the Upper Street Association got together to pen the complaint.

Cllr Martin Klute, vice-chair of Islington’s planning committee, said: “There are two issues here and this letter muddies the water.

“With regards to the development behind the Union Chapel, the council are slightly hamstrung because of a decision by the planning inspector to recommend the development under certain conditions.

“If those are met, if the application was turned down the council would have to give a clear reason for doing so in court.

“Regarding the overall planning situation, I agree when Alex Forshaw left he wasn’t adequately replaced straight way, but that was under the previous administration.

“One of the first things we did was address that and since then, the quality of the service has improved. And it’s just not true that 70 per cent of the staff have left.”

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