Friday, 26 July 2019

Sadiq Khan approves Pentavia Development

The new face of Pentavia
Yesterday the Mayor of London approved the mega development at Pentavia retail park. I am sorry to say that this was not a surprise to me at all. There are many reasons why.  Let me list a few of them.

1. A 'punishment beating'. Back in late 2017, the Barnet Conservatives, in an extremely stupid moment of political hubris, passed a motion calling Sadiq Khan an "enemy of the people of Barnet". Sane rational people reach out across party lines. This sort of grandstanding has ensured that Mayor Khan takes great pleasure in rubbing the nose of the Barnet Tories in the fact that he has the power and they don't. Why on earth would Khan do the Barnet Tories any favours if they are going to use the council chamber to call him names. Sensible politicians, such as former Tory Seb Coe, reached out to the then Labour Mayor, Ken Livingstone, to ensure that London won the Olympics. When Boris became Mayor, Labour's Tessa Jowell retained a key role in the planning of the Olympics, as it was recognised that she was a sensible, grown up politican. Boris actually made her a Deputy Mayor with responsibility for the Olympic Village. Sadly Barnet and the Mayor are stuck in a cycle of tit for tat actions and name calling.

2. Mayoral Elections next year. The Mayor's term is up in May next year. The Barnet Tories are nothing of not crafty. They know that the Mayor's approval of the scheme will go down like a lead balloon with many voters in Mill Hill. Our GLA rep Andrew Dismore, who spoke against the development has shown himself to be ineffective. Dismore is standing down and the Tories see this as an excellent way to capitalise on the Labour GLA reps inability to influence the Mayor. My sources at City Hall inform me that Barnet's team was not well prepared and were unable to provide key figures when quizzed by the Mayor and his team. in the murky world of Barnet politics, I suspect that there are many reasons this decision will suit Barnet. Good politically, will aid their target to increase house building and no political flack, because the Mayor passed it. Win, win, win for the Barnet Tories (not that I am cynical of course!).

3. Chaos at The Mill Hill Neighbourhood forum. The Mill Hill Neighbourhood forum was co-ordinating opposition to the scheme. Sadly this rather fell apart over the last six months. The chair of the forum did not get on with the Barnet Cycling Campaign, who had identified many valid objections to the scheme. The two organisations did not work together. The Mill Hill Preservation Society engaged a barrister to present their objections. As the Mill Hill Neighbourhood Forum had failed to draw up a Neighbourhood plan for Mill Hill during the five years of its remit, there was little input they could make. The fact that Barnet Council had withdrawn their franchise the night before simply added to the sense of despair.

4. Failure to Learn the lessons of the NIMR. After the Mayor of London approved Barratts application for the NIMR, I suggested that the Mill Hill Neighbourhood Forum work with other groups such as the Barnet Cycling Campaign, Residents Association and Preservation Society to perform a 'Route Cause analysis' on the failure to make the case properly for the NIMR, so that when the next development came along, we could ensure that a robust case, built on planning law was made. The Chair dismissed my suggestion stating 'That is already in hand'. It clearly wasn't and none of the lessons were learned.

In the Mayor's summing up, the only local organisation that seemed to have influenced his decision making was the Barnet Cycling Campaign. The Mayor took on board their well articulated and well reasoned case, based on planning law. The Mayor has ordered Barnet Council to work with the Campaign to address the issues raised. This is perhaps the only positive thing to come out of the whole sorry saga.

So what does the Mill Hill Community have to take away from all of this? Well the lessons are quite simple

1. Form a new organisation to work as an umbrella body representing all of the stakeholders in Mill Hill, with an urgent remit to finish the Neighbourhood plan.

2. Do a proper post mortem on both the NIMR and Pentavia decisons, so that local campaigns can be better informed in how to fight these sort of battles.

3. Start an active campaign to improve the public transportation around Pentavia. The West London Orbital railway, which has a proposal for a station at the RAF museum. The scheme should have included walkways and cycle paths to this. If I was Mayor, I would have made the developers pay for a Boris bike scheme at Colindale/Burnt Oak/Mill Hill Broadway/Mill Hill East/Saracens/RAF museum, with docks at Pentavia and free usage for residents. That is the sort of progressive policy which would make a real difference.

Do I think that Pentavia really will be a disaster for Mill Hill? The site has become an eyesore. The fact that it will become an even bigger eyesore, dominating the skyline and setting all sorts of unfortunate precedents in beyond doubt. I would have supported a six storey development on the site, that improved amenity for Mill Hill, with facilities such as a cinema, bowling alley or other such activities that could be enjoyed by all. My biggest problem with Khan's decision is that people have to live in this block. A soulless tower, overlooking the  A1,  the M1, and the Thameslink railway where you can't open the windows in summer because of the noise and pollution is hardly a great environment to live in. I shudder to think what it would have been like living in such a place yesterday if the aircon failed.

It will be interesting to see what mitigations the Barnet Cycling Campaign and Barnet Council can come up with to improve the transport links.  I rather hope that the predictions of traffic chaos on Bunns Lane and the A1/A41 to Mill Hill Circus do not materialise, but I have little confidence in this. As someone who operates a business on Bunns Lane, I know all about the problems. We advise customers arriving by car not to start  or end sessions between 5-6pm and we don't open until after the morning rush hour due to the problems. This works well for us and we organise our shift patterns around this, but not everyone has that luxury.

People often say  "what can be done". I'veoutlined some steps above, which might help. The key is getting our act together as a community. The bottom line though is that we have to elect sensible grown up politicians who can work together, across party lines, to deliver the right thing for Mill Hill. There are such people in all parties, no one organisation has a monopoly on common sense. Sadly we've not really seen any community leadership on this from our current elected representatives.

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