Sunday, 12 May 2013

Brent Cross redevelopment exposed - Barnet Council - stripped to the bone and unable to do its job

Here's a question you may wish  to ponder. Do you think that your local council should have the staff and resources to be able to deal with local planning issues? As far as I'm concerned such matters are fundamental to the local community and should be fully controlled by the democratically elected officials. Such issues are important and as far as I am concerned, the expertise necessary to control planning issues needs to be built up over years, if not decades. It is all very well for experts to be shipped in from elsewhere, but how can experience in the area be bought? Barnet is a unique place. We have a mix of rural areas and large industrial and commercial areas. How many other London Boroughs boast both farms, factories, council estates and millionaire mansions.We have unusually diverse religious and ethnic communities, unlike anywhere else in London. Each of these issues brings special considerations for planners. Perhaps the most important hub in the Borough is Brent Cross Shopping Centre. I was shocked to see a paper on the Council website which said
To authorise undertaking a procurement exercise to engage an external, multi disciplinary planning practice to undertake all planning work in respect of the proposed re-phasing of the Brent Cross Cricklewood (BXC) scheme.
You can see the document on the council website here:

Reading through the document I was even more shocked to read paragraph 8.7 of the document. This say
The Council does not have sufficient resources in terms of staff numbers or specialist skills to commit to this timescale and is therefore seeking to procure the services of a multi disciplinary planning consultancy in order to meet the planning timetable.
This exposes the fact that Barnet Council is no longer able to do its job. They have to buy in services to manage the planning for the most important development in the history of the London Borough of Barnet.

According to the paper the Council wards affected are Childs Hill, Golders Green West Hendon. This is complete nonsense. The Brent Cross regeneration scheme affects every person in Barnet and every ward in Barnet in some way. Every high street in the Borough has been affected by Brent Cross. When Brent Cross opened in 1973, every High St had clothes shops, shoe shops, electrical retailers and hardware shops. Mill Hill Broadway had a great shoe shop called Freeman, Hardy and Willis, three greengrocers, Mill Hill Televison selling electrical goods and records, a great little record shop on the site which is now the Bridge Tavern. We had Woolworths as a general retailer. We had Kentfields Toy shop. We had  H.A. Blunt and Sons (aka The Model Shop) selling train sets, Scalextrix, Airfix models and other boys toys. If anyone thinks that the demise of such shops is anything other than a direct result of the advent of Brent Cross, they are deluded. Now I am not arguing against progress, merely pointing out the fact that Brent Cross does not simply affect the three wards mentioned.

The planners in Barnet Council, for all their faults, know the area. How can it be wise to hand over such an important scheme to people who are coming in on a fat fee and once they've gone don't have to live with consequences?

The document states in section 3.2
It has been considered whether the procurement of a planning consultancy is likely to raise significant levels of public concern or give rise to policy considerations and it is not considered that the issue will raise significant levels of public concern.
 I would suggest that the only reason that they can make such a statement is because they believe no one will know what is going on until it is too late.

Like many Barnet Council documents, there are significant untruths in the document. It states in paragraph 5.4.1
There are no Staffing, IT, Property, Sustainability implications.
This could not be more dishonest. It contradicts what is said in section 8.7. The only reason they are outsurcing it is precisely because of staffing issues. Are you happy that your council is prepared to make such misleading statements in its official literature.

Section 8.2 gives the whole game away. It says
The Brent Cross Development Partners have indicated that they wish to revise the masterplan to, amongst other things, improve the linkages between the northern and southern elements of the site and to change the phasing to produce a scheme that is viable in the current economic circumstances. It is intended that these changes will be within the parameters and principles (and timescales) of the existing outline consent and that they should therefore be considered as a S73 change to the existing consent.
 It appears to me that the whole things is a shoddy attempt to knobble the planning process . The developers are moving all of the aspects of the scheme which will make them pots of money into the early phase of the scheme and moving many of the things that will cost them money and be socially desirable towards the end of the scheme, when doubtless they can be convienently "modified due to current economic circumstances". Now I ask you this. Do you really believe that such an attempt to "re-phase" the plan should be done by a bunch of outsiders, hired in, no doubt at huge expense, who have no historical links with Barnet and who don't fully appreciate the history of the development or even the effect of the development on the rest of the Borough.

The most shocking thing of all about this truly horrendous decision is that it has not been democratically made. It has been simply signed off by a senior Council Officer, Pam Wharfe. The Delegated authority process she used was designed for minor decisions that with negligible effect. They were not designed to manage decisions which affect every citizen in the Borough. This is a complete scandal. It is proof, if proof were needed that there is no democratic control or accountability in the London Borough of Barnet. It appears to me that One Barnet is misnamed. It should be called "No Barnet".

I will be writing to every Councillor and to the local Papers because I believe that this is scandalous.

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