Tonight we saw a unique event in Mill Hill. We saw the lesser spotted Tory Councillor at a local hustings. The Mill Hill Residents association held a hustings event at St Pauls School for the candidates in Mill Hill.
First though we had the AGM, and then presentations from our local MP Matthew Offord (Conservative) and GLA rep Andrew Dismore (Labour). The meeting started with the reelection of officers. This was done on a show of hands and Joseph Stalin himself would have been impressed with the orderly way everyone stuck their hands up! Once the officers were duly reelected, we got down to business.
We started with a presentation from Chris Wong on the MHRA plans for a community centre at 80 Daws Lane. This is in the planning and consultation phase. MS Wong explained the scheme. It will provide a new build facility on the site of the old civil defence building. It will provide a place to meet for young people, activities for mums with pre school children, adult education, sport and recreation (ping pong & Pool?), music and cultural events, flexible working facilities, a Cafe bar, a gallery for local artists and a space to promote Mill Hill. It will be an brand new, environmentally carbon neutral building, replacing an ugly 1939 brick outhouse, originally designed to treat victims of Nazi poison gas attacks. The site has been registered as a community asset. The MHRA has to wait for the council to approve plans, which will happen at the end of the year. This will give time for the MHRA to get the business case together.
Next up was Matthew Offord MP. He commended the local campaign for step free access at Mill Hill. He explained how he'd secured funding for the Thameslink project since being elected in 2010 (read this article for full details on the scheme http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thameslink_Programme ) and this had delivered a new shelter on the platforms. Matthew said his petition for step free access is on his website page, but I can't see it - maybe it is being updated later http://www.matthewofford.co.uk/campaigns/step-free-access-mill-hill-broadway-station
Anyway the Barnet Eye always supports anyone campaigning for positive developments for Mill Hill, so it is good to see Matthew working on this. Matthew explained how he was trying to make a case for the step free access to George Osborne. He alluded to the role the Barnet Eye played informing him of the potential of Mill Hill at a previous meeting. Matthew couldn't stay for the meeting and shot off immediately after his speech
We then had the Labour GLA member, Andrew Dismore. Now a quick note as to what Mr Dismore does. Many Mill Hill residents think he's the MP since his election in 2012 to the GLA. This is not the case, that is Matthew. The role of the GLA rep is to get the best deal out of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson for Barnet. Matthew Offords role is to get the best deal out of David Cameron and George Osborne. Andrew gave the meeting some bad news. Apparently George Osborne has provided a list of stations to get step free access by 2019 and Mill Hill isn't on it. He suggested that handing Thameslink over to London Overground would be a better way to achieve this, as TFL has a big pot of cash. He said the Mayor may be more amenable than George Osborne to fund the project and a TFL service would be far more frequent in Mill Hill. He also pointed out that the Overground has the best reputation of any London train line.
Andrew then explained plans to improve Mill Hill Circus. He sadly stated that Apex Corner was a lost cause. The good news was that the junction at Stirling corner was being improved, with safe pedestrian access to Morrissons. He outlined the good work done by locals opposing the plans for the Milespit Mausoleum. He stated that although this has been dropped, he expected it to come back with a vengeance after the election. Finally he said he was working with TFL to try and harmonise bus and tube times at Mill Hill East.
Next up we had the question time. This is the first proper hustings in Barnet for four years. It started with introductions
Sury Khatri (Cons)- "The Tories are proising another 2 years zero rate council tax increase. They will look after greenspace and parks. There is a great push to build lots more homes, They will protect libraries and have shut none since 2010 (ahem). They have worked wonders with recycling, bringing it inhouse. Blue bin waste saves £80 a ton. Businesses are being helped with less red tape"
Alisdair Hill (LD) - "I'm a Mill Hill resident and state school teacher. Jeremy Davies is also standing who had 16 years as a councillor. We'll put community first. We'll reverse the 21p a week Tory Tax cut and use the money to fund 30 mins free parking, have a book and media fund and give residents a greater say"
Sian John (Lab) - "We'll strengthen green belt policy blocking developments on green belt. We'll bring back free rubbish collections to counter fly tipping, we'll have 30 mins free parking and bring back cash meters"
Andrew Newby (Green) - "Our candidate in Mill Hill is David Williams, who used to be a Labour councillor. We'll champion Green spaces, enact a 20mph limit in Barnet, upgrade the Mill Hill East Tube service and build sustainable communities"
George Jones (UKIP) - "I've lived in Mill Hill for 40 years, former councillors did great work including former Tory Mayor Dennis Dipple who built aplay area for kids. UKIP want to pu the Great back in Britain. I was in the army band and travelled all around the world and people were always very glad the British Army had saved them in the war. Governments had made pride a dirty word"
Rolf Clayon (Ind) - "I've lived in Mill Hill for 40 years. I'm a self employed chemical engineer. I am not a politician so will look at every policy on its merits. I admire Sury Khatri and the former Lab/LD coalition in Barnet Town hall did some good things"
Then we had questions.
I asked "in light of the debacle exposed by the Audit Committee last night, where the failures of the £1 billion One Barnet Outsourcing project were exposed, what challenges do you anticipate needing to manage post One Barnet to protect taxpayers money"
There was near consensus that the One Barnet project was a bad idea and that jobs should be kept locally. Rolf explained how he'd been horrified to find Barnets binmen hadn't collected his batteries. He'd rung the Capita help line who told him, to his horror, to chuck them in the normal waste bin. He explained they were highly poison with lead and cadmium in. He suggested that this alone was grounds for escaping the contract, given that it must surely be a breach. Sury stated that if the Tories get back in, we would be stuck with One Barnet for ten years, but he hoped his colleagues would help him scrutinise the work of Capita more effectively.
Next we had a question about preserving the Green Belt. Sian suggested Labour would have an integrated planning approach. Alisdair bemoaned the awful multi story car park at St Josephs college, George expressed disgust at the loss of Pavillion Way sports ground.
The next question was on Brent Cross regeneration and its effect on Mill Hill. Andrew said the Greens opposed the plans, but as it's been passed we need better rail connections. He also said the housing should be energy efficient. George said that cheaper parking was the answer. Alisdair said shops in Mill Hill needed to develop USP's
The last question was about funding and availability of school places. George said schools had become academies to get more cash and that we need a new secondary school. Alisdair said that the Tories had been wrong to cut Mapledown Special school funding and the Lib Dems would abolish the 21p a week tax cut to fund services. Rolf said Mill Hill County High had problems with civil servants administering its finances since it became an academy. Sian talked about funding seconddary schools and the crisis this was causing. Sury stated that the Tories had created 7,000 new places but didn't know if they were primary or secondary.
All too quickly, it was all over. Some of us adjourned to the Three Hammers to set the world to rights. I had a very interesting chat with a few of the speakers, under Chatham House rules. As we were leaving, myself and the MHRA chair started devising a plan to radically improve public transport in Barnet. I suspect that if we get our way, this will lead to a far greater improvement in the quality of life of Mill Hill residents than any of the the other things we discussed. I am quite sure that we'll do all the work and someone else will get all the praise, but hey ho, I'm an engineer so I do all this for the hell of it, not the kudos. I am sure one day I'll arrive at my studios to find a blue plaque saying "This is the site of Mill Hill Music Complex Studios, which helped launch Brit Awards winners Amy Winehouse and Kate Nash. The site is just around the corner from the office of Matthew Offord MP who is responsible for the rise of many great female artists". But hey ho,that's just the way things go.