Save Wilberforce Road N4

Saving Wilberforce Road

Developers want to demolish twelve Victorian houses in Wilberforce Road and build a large new block to be let as rooms to rent. Our local group has formed to resist these proposals. You can read more about how it all began.


Alicia Markova danced with Diaghilev and was costumed by Matisse. She founded the English National Ballet. She was famous all over the world. She was born here, in Wilberforce Road. And now they plan to tear her birthplace down...

17th December: still no news. We suspect and hope that the proposal and any modification of it will eventually be rejected (or more likely, withdrawn). Meanwhile...

34 Somerfield Road: planning Application 2017/4379 requests change of use from residential to class C2A Secure Residential Institution (longer explanation here.) In fact, it's been used as emergency accommodation for young people in trouble since September. It's run by a small local company founded for the purpose: Themi Care Emergency Housing.

A previous incarnation of Themicare, with similar owners, ran a hostel at 25 Wilberforce Road for care leavers which caused a lot of trouble, perhaps because of inadequate supervision.

The applicant is the owner: Mr. Costas Spyrou. Under his ownership 34 Somerfield was used illegally as a hotel in the past; the council stopped it. Mr Spyrou then started conversion work on 34A without permission, but was granted it retroactively. Mr Spyrou owns many properties locally and is associeated with the Pembury and Central Park hotels.

Safe places for young people leaving care are desperately needed, but a houseful of troubled youngsters will have at least some impact on neighbours (and may be a target for our local drug suppliers). Consultation in advance and a track record of competent supervision would be good.

Comments to the council before 8th January, please. Start at the Hackney Planning website.

105 Queen's Drive: application 2017/4200 is a another bite at the rejected 2017/2938, and again plans to create five flats by digging to sub-basement level with a deep light well behind. But now it includes a sump pump and other drainage details lest the lower levels become a swimming pool.

A local architect sees a way of making five flats without this dire excavation. Most of the people in Queen’s Drive and Wilberforce Road who will be affected by this are aware of it. If you have not received details please get in touch. The developer owns 107 and 109 as well so if this application is approved it will set an unfortunate precedent. Please comment by 27th December(!)

8th November: still no official news on the planning application. Nothing much is likely to happen until the new year: don’t hold your breath! We are, however, hearing comments which suggest (at least) that it won't be accepted in its current form.

The independent report on Hackney Conservation Areas is out, and recommends a new conservation area to include Finsbury Park, Wilberforce and Somerfield Roads with part of Queen’s Drive and Digby Crescent. If Hackney goes for it, it will take some time to set up, with much bureacracy and consultation.

Queen's drive double-digging proposal was rejected. Application 2017/2938 for No 105 proposed to divide a large house into five flats, digging two basement levels. The owner also started to remove a mature tree, resulting in a temporary tree preservation order on a whole block of Queen's Drive/Wilberforce Road. The Wilberforce Road Guardians Group propose writing in support of making the order permanent as part of our support for the area becoming a Conservation Area.

The Friends of Finsbury Park had a court case heard last week about the over-use of the Park for large events such as Wireless. The judgement was reserved: it will be published in a month or three. There are details on their crowdfunding page or their website. The outcome will affect all London parks.

5th October: the Planning Officer said last Monday: This application is still under consideration and there is no recommendation in place. I don’t expect I will be in a position to make a recommendation for at least another two months.

Islington have a planning application (P2017/3429/FUL) to construct a 10 storey 228 room hotel on the George Robey site in Seven Sisters’ Road just before the turning into Isledon Road.

18th September: if and when the application reaches the Planning Subcommittee, we would have 5 minutes at their meeting to state our case. Our councillor and other bodies (like the Hackney Society) could also get 5 minute slots. If the subcommittee accept the proposal, that's it. If they reject it, the developer can appeal to the Secretary of State; this process permits new objections.

Our case has been strengthened by the many excellent objections you have submitted. We've had generous support from the Hackney Society and SAVE Britain’s Heritage.

We have enough money for now.

11th September: a member has been researching Purely Investments Ltd, using information leaked as part of the Panama Papers as well as what is at Companies House. Here's a graphic showing related companies (large), and some basic information on related UK companies.

8th September: it's fairly likely that the plans will be amended to meet planner's objections. If so, changes would show up on the website (none seen as at 9th November). Substantial changes would have to go out for consultation again. Meanwhile, it's after the deadline but your objections by email or post would still be read. And there's interesting updates on facebook.

23rd August: here's some posters and photographs from the campaign: please use freely.

14th August 2017: Christy Lawrance ran a successful campaign to preserve her estate. She has written a set of notes on the campaign (in part if not all aimed at us). This is a very useful document well worth reading.

And there's a campaign in Seven Sisters that makes ours seem small fry!

9th August 2017: we held workshops on how to write and send your objections to the plans to the council.

5th August 2017: We've raised £1600 to help pay for all that printing, etc.

18th July 2017: Neighbours at No.30 received the official Hackney notification of the planned development.

12th July 2017: 42 plans, photos and documents from the developer are on Hackney's planning site. The best way to find them is the copies in with our own archive, with corrected descriptions and no duplicates: but it might of course go out of date (was OK at 20th September 2017).

For the originals, go to the Hackney pages and following the link to Other Documents. But Hackney's descriptions are jumbled up and some documents are duplicated.

7th July 2017: the planning application 2017/2464 appeared on Hackney's planning page. You might find the Hackney Society's page more informative.

Joining in the campaign

First of course, tell us who you are. The campaign gets support from numbers, however little time you can offer. And you might like to just put up a poster (particularly if you have a ground-floor window: A3 posters are available from 30 Wilberforce Road.


Campaigning costs money. We've raised about £1500 using crowdfunder for printing, meeting room hire (if we overflow house space), and advice. If we need professional help later in the process (which seems fairly likely) we'll need more later.


Jeremy and Tanya have been getting on with social media: see facebook and twitter details, but they need contributors too. Please tweet and facebook!

We are a group of about 20. We will need help with leaflet-ting and ringing doorbells. Please let us know if you are able to help with either or both. More explicitly we will be:

  1. Leaflet-ting the area and asking people to display new posters in their windows. We will also put up new tree posters
  2. Trying to visit every household in the affected area to explain the threat, garner signatures for a petition (less effective than individual letters but not without impact), and encourage individual objection letters. (The Objector’s Pack will be available)
  3. Holding two drop-in surgeries where people can pop in, view and discuss the plans (perhaps over a cup of tea). We will have computer and printer ready so letters can be drafted on the spot. We have scheduled Saturday 5th August (2pm-7pm) and Tuesday 8th August (4pm-8pm). No need to book, just drop in to 30 Wilberforce Road. If you can't get to either but want help, please email us.

Objecting to the Planning Application

We need as many individual objections as possible. The formal deadline for submissions is 4th September and we aim to get as many objections as possible by this date.

We are told that there is a critical time before the Planning SubCommittee meeting when the Planning Officers will have submitted a report and recommendation. At this point we may hold a public meeting and will prepare a Wilberforce Road Guardians detailed objection. At this point we may employ a planning consultant.

If you are happy to write or email an objection without talking or attending a workshop see our page on objecting, or you can download and print documents on on how to object and another on particular points you may wish to object about. The adventurous could look through the documents the developer has provided in support of the application, in the light of Hackney's planning policies (but if your courage fails you, we've done that).

Objections need to be individual so please make changes, add other items and focus on what is important to you. Objections are public and available to the Planning SubCommittee and to the developer and their agents. If possible please let us have a copy of your objection.

Conservation Area status

A Conservation Area is a designation made to any area whose history and architecture is worth looking after. Hackney already has a few such areas, but has been conducting a review of possible new ones: and the area including Wilberforce Road is one of them.

A commissioned report on the possible new areas should have been presented on 31st July. Action will follow in the autumn although the process is usually slow. We are urged to find out as much about the history of our part of Brownswood as we can to strengthen the case.

How it began

Wilberforce Road is a largely intact Victorian street. It is a straight, long, spacious run of houses built in the 1870s, mostly semi-detached. Hackney has many fine Victorian streets, but few so long and airy (and in any case, all are valuable).

In October 2016 Cllr Clare Potter was contacted by John Greenshields of the public relations firm Quatro. John confirmed to her and us that the owners wanted to demolish 3 to 27 Wilberforce Road to build new residential accommodation. No details were available at this stage.

Currently, 3 to 15 Wilberforce are part of the Central Park Hotel. Numbers 17 to 23 and 27 were rented, mostly by the room. Until February last, number 25 had been a semi-independent living home for young people leaving care.

Land Registry records showed that 3 to 27 are owned by Purely Investments; John Greenshield said he was representing Rainbow Properties, but the companies share an address.

On 11th April 2017, 6 residents, Cllr Clare Potter and John Greenshields of Quatro met informally over coffee — we were told it was to be a single new building of about 150 rooms. Work should start in 2018 and would carry on for about two years.

Quatro organised a display of plans for 4 hours on 27th April 2017. We learned that indeed numbers 3 to 25 were to be demolished (but number 27 would be converted into flats, presumably keeping much of its frontage). They'd seek planning permission for the new building as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), and it would have 146 small rooms and 16 flats.

John emphasised that Rainbow aspires to let the rooms to young professionals, perhaps new to London, who are unable to afford more space. But HMO status means that Rainbow can get room-by-room tenants from anywhere, anytime they like; it's possible for the council to put conditions on the planning permission to restrict that, but difficult to enforce.

To make space for all these rooms, the building will be dug down to a basement level and up to 1-3 stories above the existing street roof-line (the building plans show it getting lower where it meets the existing street). The stories above existing street roof height will be stepped back a bit.

Few of Hackney's many victorian streets have survived bombs and developers as well as Wilberforce Road, so we hope that counts for something with the planners.

Local residents and other interested parties (such as conservation groups) have until 4th September to comment on the proposed plan. Small plans are generally handled by council staff in the planning department, but controversial or large plans are referred to the Planning subcommittee (made up of Hackney Councillors). This is a large plan, and we should all object to make it clear it's controversial!

Our group is called the Wilberforce Road Guardians and have set up a Facebook Community Page and a Twitter @WilberforceRoad to keep residents and other interested people up to date (as well as this website, but you found that already).

Social Media

We are currently on Facebook, Twitter @WilberforceRoad, and Trygve. All these were set up and are looked after by Tanya and Jeremy (click here to email them).

We're public on Facebook and Twitter: anything you put there can be read by anyone, including the developers and planners. So don't post secrets, frustrations or other people's private information. The Trygve group is private, suitable for members discussing tactics and the like. If you'd like to join the Trygve group email Tanya or Jeremy.


The Facebook Community Page will be the lead source for content from the community; we'll take content from this page to share via Twitter, the Trygve Group and (where appropriate) this web site. Once you join the group you can and should contribute (though see guidelines in the next section).

As this is a community page, and we are a very creative community, we hope you'll upload photographs of the houses proposed for demolition, create art, write poems...any content which expresses how much we love Wilberforce Road and Victorian architecture. Get your kids involved, and keep sharing your content.


This is us. Most of you probably know that Twitter is a place to read and write very short messages (tweets, no more than 140 characters). You have to login to send messages, but not to read them.

We plan to use it for updates (it's very easy, and dangerously addictive, to keep an eye on your favourite sources of tweets). But it's also useful for connecting with important groups, the media and the wider community of Finsbury Park.

If it's very short, it can go in a tweet. Many tweets, though, carry a picture and/or a link to something longer out there on the web.


Trygve is a Swedish service (most people think of it as the phone app of the same name, but you can read and write on the web too). Pronounce it Trigg-veh.

Many local residents already use the app to report local crime and anti-social behavior, which was always one of its intended uses. Two local groups are Brownswood SNT and Finsbury Park / Wilberforce Road.

We have set up a private group called Save Wilberforce Road. Everyone in the group can communicate with each other and make comments — but you can upload photographs too. It should be a good way to ask for help. Tanya will keep it up-to-date with anything relevant from Facebook.

Note: if you have already joined the local safety groups you might want to switch off the notifications for the Group. We're not reporting emergencies!

Contributing to social media

In no particular order:


Email us at
Visit our Facebook page, or check out our Twitter @WilberforceRoad.

Links and resources

Other local groups

There's a group of very patient people working to create an official Finsbury Park & Stroud Green Neighbourhood, a body which would have real powers, including some influence over planning. It's a lengthy and bureaucratic process; see the latest newsletter.

Newspapers and other media

Recent coverage:

We had some early coverage in:

Hackney Council

If you just want to look at our application, click here. Sorry, pages below this application summary don't appear to have stable addresses, you have to click through to them. If you want to read the developer's submissions and plans you might be better looking at our improved-index version.

To find any planning application (eg) in Wilberforce Road: start at Hackney's planning search page.

Find the "Address Search". Find the "Street Name" box: if you click it will bring up a long menu with every street in Hackney (which is more impressive than useful.) To save a long scroll, you can type a "W" to get to streets starting with "W", and then type an "I" for streets starting "Wi" (but if you type "WIL" it goes back to pages starting with "L"...)

If you just search for Wilberforce Road you'll get 122 planning applications dating back to 2001. Fortunately, all the houses 3-27 share a postcode of N4 2SN: fill that in to get a manageable number. The list includes entries marked WITHDRAWN (which are just that).

Bedtime reading

Web site built and maintained by Dominic Sweetman. Text pinched from everyone concerned (thanks) — 20th Sep 2017