Wednesday 11 October 2017

North Finchley Regeneration Update - Consensus at the council

Oktoberfest at the Bohemia, North Finchley This Saturday
Last week, we generated a huge amount of interest about the proposed North Finchley regeneration project, which was up for discussion at Council last night. As previously mentioned, I put a series of five questions in and also requested to address the session. I was one of five members of the public who asked to address the meeting and there were also numerous questions. Also being discussed was Barnets transport strategy, but we won't cover that here. Two members of the public from local residents associations, along with Helen Michael, from the North Finchley Traders. The residents had a whole set of concerns about the impact of the plans on residents. Traffic, disruption, overcrowding and overdevelopment were key themes. Helen Michael was worried about the impact on local businesses of construction and loss of parking. Various councillors asked questions. It emerged that there was a cross party consensus that the previous attempt at North Finchley regeneration and the Town Team was seen as a failure that had failed to deliver real improvements, despite a huge grant from the Mayor of London. My address was to request that papers for such meetings are put on the Council website earlier. There was only three days between the publication of the papers and the closure date for questions. With so much in the reports, it is simply not feasable to read everything properly. Councillor Cornelius, council leader, agreed that this was something that could be looked at. I stated that I did not oppose the plans, I wanted the job done properly.

This scheme, backed by the developers of Brent Cross is a step change. There will be huge changes, including new building, a multi story car park in Lodge Lane, a new traffic layout, parking changes and lots of new residents. All parties agreed that North Finchley needs improving. No one stated that this scheme was bad. The questions were around the detail. Blogger Mr Reasonable asked where the social housing tenants of Barbara Langstone house would go. Councillor Cornelius admitted he didn't know. He suggested that it wasn't a nice place to live. Mr Reasonable stated that for the tenants it was the only choice and if it was going, the issue had to be addressed. There was discussion around the bus garage. Where would the buses live if the aspiration of closing the garage was achieved. Conservative Councillor Tony Finn suggested that the selection of shops in North Finchley was pretty good. There was much good humoured mirth at his comment that there was a very good "specialist shoe shop". His colleague Tom Davey suggested that the only way to improve town centres was either more parking or lots of rich residents. He worried that the scheme wasn't viable. His Boss, Councillor Cornelius "shot him down from the right" by saying that the developers knew what they were doing and wouldn't spend cash if there was no business case.

Labour Councillors, some of whom were ward councillors were generally supportive. They wanted more detail. It emerged that a transport survey had not been done. Cllr Houston suggested that this was vital to properly understand the scheme. This seemed to have been adopted. Cllr Houston also suggested that the six weeks consultation seemed short. There was some discussion and the reason was to complete it before a meeting in February. No one asked if the meeting could be moved back a month. It was agreed that six weeks would be initially set as the period, with a 'pragmatic' approach and an extension if local interest warranted it. Councillor Schneiderman was worried that existing traders would be forced out. It was suggested that the developer may wish to come up with some ideas to prevent this.

The committee unanimously agreed to take the proposal forward to the next stage. My overall view is that there is recognition that the area needs improvement. There is consensus that the concept of the scheme is good. It is at a very early stage and the detail is far from clear. We will follow this and when the consultation starts, will ensure that readers of this blog are kept fully informed.

One final comment. I must congratulate Cllr Cornelius on how he chaired the meeting. Public comment and questions went overtime by ten minutes. Unlike some committee chairs, he recognised that this was useful. He treated all of the questioners with due respect and courtesy. The committee also debated the issues with a far greater degree of common sense than many debates I've seen. I was pleased to hear that Cllr Finn had bothered to go and have a look around. Even some rather strange comments by Cllr Davey were treated with good humour and respect by the Labour Councillors. When he got too excited, Councillor Cornelius gently brought him back to reality. I am not sure whether it is the election looming or a more general recognition that the "Coleman era rudeness" to residents and taxpayers has been counter productive, but it very much seems to me that the regime in Barnet has adopted a far more sensible approach to such meetings of late. Lets hope that this conversion survives the next election, whoever wins.

1 comment:

CalvinCasino said...

Interesting to know