Hackney Council’s biased survey to reconfirm priorities for Hackney Central 

This consultation is happening via an online survey that is open until midnight on Monday 23rd November. You can access it here: https://hcc.commonplace.is/proposals/survey/step1 This post outlines our response including our suggestion for how to complete the survey.

It is good to see Hackney Council taking the lead from us in one sense. This survey simplifies their usual consultations. The online survey is quicker to complete and avoids much of the technical jargon that can put people off. It already has over 100 responses which is more than recent online consultations have obtained at a similar point. 

If the Council wants to get a representative sample of Hackney residents they will need to work offline, as we did by, for example, having a stall with paper surveys in a busy shopping area, taking surveys into organisations like churches, and connecting with TRAs (Tenants and Residents Associations) and other community groups. 

Beyond that, this survey is another example of the leading and biased consultations that we have sadly come to expect from Hackney Council. This bias is evident in the following ways:

The use of closed questions without an ‘other’ category. For example, under community safety the only priorities permissible are preventing drug dealing/drug use, public urination, street drinking, and other anti-social behaviour. If these aren’t your priorities you can’t say ‘none of the above’. If your priority for community safety is to prevent the closure of children’s centres and youth services, you can’t register this.

The use of closed questions with very limited options. The community safety question at least allows a choice of four options. Of the remaining five closed questions, four have just two or three options. For example, under Streetscene & public realm design, you can opt for tackling dangerous junctions or increasing pedestrian crossings (or both). It seems the Council have more-or-less decided what to do. By asking us to choose between these two options, they can then focus on the one that comes top and present this as reflecting the priorities of residents.

The openness-to-interpretation of the options: For example, under Local economy, people can choose between: Increased cultural activities, Better shopping and retail offer, and Improving the night time economy. We know that many residents are concerned about the lack of cheap accessible shopping and are very worried that we will lose the Morning Lane Tesco. But if they opt for ‘Better shopping and retail offer’, how will that be interpreted? Will Hackney Council  use it to justify building a new fashion hub or encouraging ‘makers’ to set up shop on Morning Lane as their partner developer Hackney Walk suggested in 2019? 

The exclusion of key issues from the options: Housing was people’s top priority across all demographic groups in our survey of 1384 people. There would be no way of knowing this from the Council’s consultation because the only place housing appears is fleetingly under Housing and Development, where we are asked to select our priorities from the three options: More housing, including affordable housing; General development; and Improving poor quality of the built environment/maintaining heritage assets. Not only was people’s top issue housing but our survey showed that most do NOT want ‘more housing’. They have seen through the lie that is ‘affordable housing’. Repeatedly they told us that their priority is social housing and council housing. This is not within the options prescribed by the Council’s consultation.

There is a free response box: ‘Please tell us why you selected these options. Please indicate clearly which option you selected before telling us why’. This at least allows people to explain their responses. However, it would be better to put this under each of the six questions to make it easier for people completing the survey and to give a fuller picture to those analysing the survey data.

The Council is using this survey to reconfirm priorities from an earlier more open consultation carried out as part of the Hackney Central Conversation. However, this earlier consultation is flawed in that it had a low response rate and an unrepresentative sample. Although 2000 people took part, the vast majority of these did not comment themselves but either liked or disliked one or more comments from others. There were a little over 300 people who commented in total. Their comments cover a wide range of topics from crime to housing, from the environment to commerce. As a result, the Council decided its priorities in a specific area on the basis of very few responses. 

These responses do NOT come from a cross section of Hackney’s population. Notably, 173 respondents provided details about their home ownership. 45% are mortgaged property owners, 17% rent from a private landlord, and fewer than 20% live in social housing. Yet, in our borough, 45% of all households rent from a social landlord and about a third are private renters. Hackney residents are now being asked to choose between the priorities of a group who are wealthier and have more secure housing than most people who live here. This is likely to be why social and council housing, affordable shopping and gentrification appear much less often in the Council’s data than in our more representative and larger survey. 

Our recommendation is to complete this survey as follows:

  1. Skip all the prepackaged questions. 
  2. In the box asking why you selected your priorities, explain that you left them blank because they are loaded questions that do not allow you to prioritise what matters to you. 
  3. Give your priorities in response to the open question: ‘Is there anything we’ve missed? Leave comments below to tell us what you think should be the priorities for Hackney Central’. 

We will be sharing the priorities that Hackney residents shared with us

  1. building council housing at social rents
  2. affordable and accessible shopping
  3. public and community spaces
  4. consultations that don’t insult the intelligence of the people of Hackney

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