Archive for June 3rd, 2013

This, from the Tate, is Canaletto’s View of Greenwich from the River (c 1750-2).

A View of Greenwich from the River circa 1750-2 by Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) 1697-1768

Beautiful, isn’t it? The view is from what is now called Island Gardens at the southern end of the Isle of Dogs.

Here’s the photo on Tower Hamlets council’s website.


It’s a public park, or as the council puts it, “this charming riverside park” – part of the green space our our politicians insist is so precious in our borough. It’s also in a World Heritage Site buffer zone, which means anything that obstructs the view is forbidden by international treaty.

Here’s another view:

Island gardens

Now, this one is particularly interesting because at the far left-hand corner of that photo, a parcel of land is now under threat. Someone wants to build on it. Not a visitor centre showing the history of the park and its famous heritage, but a portable cabin, where, according to the applicant, the activities of “peoples of Muslim faith and ethnic minorities will be of primary focus”.

The details of the application are here. The applicant’s own statement is here (more of who the applicant is in a bit). Note the language, the way he seems to have been coached into saying what he thinks is the correct thing. Thus:

To quote sections of it:

The applicant is local community based organization whose primary activities are local based. It has been searching for a base in the locasl area to be a social public provider and extend charitable activities to local communities *(faith and non faith) as a third sector organisation. (sic)

Members behind this local community organization have a diverse background in varies fields and professions as well as wide life experiences and are ideally suited to helping in the formation of a centre serving the general public locally… The active members of the organization are schooled in the UK and abroad and possess a good understanding of British culture as well as social, local government, business and education. Hence they are able to offer support and practical assistance to those most in need in their community in particular. (sic)

The property will allow this organization to offer some of the following services: 1. tuition and homework classes for school children. 2. Teaching cultural subjects such as mother tongue classes, religious instruction etc. 3. Health advice clinics on smoking, healthy eating etc in ethnic languages thus reducing the financial burden on the local council. 4. Provide life skills and employment workshops for the unemployed. 5. Provide advice sessions on domestic family problems such as domestic violence, drug taking etc. 6. Provide a venue for for interfaith and cross cultural interactions. 7. Provide services to the elderly and families

The building will allow the engagement of women of different social and ethical background through the use of a separate hall. This will allow the organization to deliver important seminars and workshops on health, life skills etc to women who would usually shy away from the presence of men.

..There will be space allocated to prayer as it is a requirement for some of those visiting and using the centre to set aside whatever activities they are involved in at times of prayer.

..The applicant, intends to provide meals to the homeless and low cost quality food to other charities. (sic)

Don’t you just love it? I particularly like the bit about herding women into a separate hall because they “usually shy away from the presence of men”. And the bit about doing the teaching in Bengali because that would lower the council’s costs. How very inclusive, and considerate.

The plans also include an area for ablutions. This is a mosque in all but name. Or perhaps a Trojan Horse for a mosque. In a Grade II listed public park that was set aside by its founders for the benefit of everyone.

I rang Tower Hamlets council’s planning department and said I wanted to erect a community centre inside Victoria Park. They said I’d have to submit an application and pay a fee. “But,” I said, “surely you must be able to give me some initial advice? What’s the likelihood of this getting planning permission?”

Highly unlikely, they said, because Victoria Park is designated Metropolitan Space.

So I asked, “But am I even able to submit an application because I don’t actually own the space in the park?”

I could submit an application for anything anywhere, they told me, but that doesn’t mean the owner will give permission to use their land.

Island Gardens is also designated Metropolitan Space. And it’s also listed and owned by the council.

This document was written by the council in 2008. It’s the 10-year “management plan” for Island Gardens.

Here’s some of the introduction:

2.1 Introduction to Island Gardens

Island Gardens is an extremely prominent site on the best known loop of the River Thames, visible from the river and from Greenwich. It is a small gem of an open space, 1.12 hectares (2.77 acres) in size. It is best known and was set aside expressly for its classic views over the river to the historic landscapes, buildings and sights of Greenwich, a World Heritage Site. Local residents and workers and thousands of visitors a year from around the world enjoy the park.

Its finest features are the views across the River and its London Plane trees. The park offers its visitors peace and tranquillity and a chance for quiet contemplation.

The Borough has 125 public open spaces, three quarters of them of 1 hectare or less in size. On average there are only 1.2 hectares of open space per 1000 population, half the national standard.

The recently adopted Open Space Strategy gave Island Gardens a score of 74.9% in the quality audit, a high score for the Borough.

2.3 Site history

In the late nineteenth century the trustees of Lady Margaret Charteris owned the land that is now Island Gardens. The land was leased to the Admiralty, which in turn let it to the Cubitt trustees, with a reservation that no buildings, except certain villa residences, were to be erected without their consent. The Admiralty’s objective was to preserve the site in order to maintain the important views to Greenwich. This was almost the only portion of the area’s river frontage that had not been developed over the preceding fifty years for shipbuilding and the many other industries associated with the docks.

Island Gardens was formally acquired for public open space in 1893 and opened in August 1895. The original purpose of the Gardens was twofold – primarily a vantage-point from which to enjoy the fine architecture and majestic views across the River but also as a recreation ground for local people, adults and children, to enjoy public entertainment and open space. It continues to provide for these two purposes.

So why would anyone waste a planning fee of £1500 on an application that is so likely doomed? Surely, they must have discussed the idea with someone at the council? Maybe someone gave them a wink and nod.

But who is the applicant? His application form is here. It’s a Mr A Hannan of Manchester Road. He doesn’t include his full address, and there’s no mention of the local community “social public service provider” mentioned in his application statement.

In fact, this is Abdul Hannan. He’s one of the trustees of the Tower Hamlets Parents Centre, a charity that earns £120,000 a year. I suspect this is the group behind the bid. The other trustees are:


Well, well, well…that last name is ex-councillor G(h)ulam Mortuza. He’s a former Labour civic mayor of the borough and defected briefly to Respect in 2005/6. He founded the Tower Hamlets Parents Network in 1996. He’s also, would you apple and eve it, the elder brother of Cllr G(h)ulam Robbani, a close ally of Mayor Lutfur Rahman and the author of those infamous invoices I detailed here.

[As a result of a comment by TH1 this evening (Tuesday, June 4), I’m deleting the last section of this post. It seems I’ve mixed up two Adbul Hannans. The Abdul Hannan who made this application is listed on the electoral roll for Manchester Road as aged between 35-39 and having lived at the address for 16 years. I’m informed this is a different Abdul Hannan to the one listed as a trustee of the Tower Hamlets Parents Centre. I apologise to all concerned and I’ll continue to look for the organisation behind this scheme.]

Not everything is as it first appears, is it…

…And the same goes for the objections to this proposal. When I was first alerted to this row last week, the headline was about building over the park. But that’s not quite the case.

The area where they want to put their community centre/mosque is, as I said above, in a small corner of the park.

I had a look yesterday. It may well lie within the park boundaries, but it’s not exactly the park. It’s in a walled-off area where the council’s gardeners used to have a storage shed. It’s now not used for anything.

Here it is from the inside:


And from the road outside the park:


And here’s the residents’ objection poster attached to the park gates:


There have been rumours that this parcel of land has already been sold off by the council and I know the Tories are trying to get that clarified by the council’s directors. If so, it would be a major scandal…but I doubt that’s the case.

However, we should actually be grateful to the slightly disingenuous planning application from Mr A Hannan. It’s clear that something should be done with the site they want to use. And a small community centre isn’t too bad a thing. But let’s make it religion-free, shall we: there are plenty of other places to pray.

And let’s encourage people to mix. What about a One O’Clock Club, a children’s activity centre, such as the one in Victoria Park?

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