Thursday 14 December 2017

Barnet Council Leader Richard Cornelius at Hartley Hall Mill Hill

Last night (Weds 14th Dec 2107), Richard Cornelius, Leader of Barnet Council, held a Q&A session with members of the public in Mill Hill. He started with a presentation about what the council has been doing. Here is my report

Cllr Cornelius reported that 9,000 new school primary school places had been created,  to support Barnets expanding population. He said the next challenge is to ensure that the places are available at secondary schools as these children grow up.

These have been created to support 7 major regeneration schemes. Of these Stonegrove is nearly completed.  The council will generate £895 million in revenue as a result of the developments. Brent Cross Shopping centre double in size. The business rates will pay back money to build Brent Cross West Railway station.

Cllr Cornelius then looked at the downside. He sated that traffic will be a nightmare. All major roads around Brent Cross will be reworked (A1, A406, A41). Three local schools will be rebuilt.

With regards to regeneration across the Borough, 27,000 new homes are in the pipeline. 20,000 have planning permission. Cllr Cornelius confessed that he is terrified by this,  especially as the Mayor of London wants more. He felt this could destroy the nature of Barnet.

On a  more postive note, he listed some developments for younger people. New youth zone in Burnt Oak. He said young people have to pay to get in a nominal fee to get in to ensure they understand that the service has value. The Council are also rebuilding Copthall leisure centre in2018. A new pool in Victoria recreation ground is being built.  

With regards to road maintenance, he detailed how a rectangular road repair machine has been purchased. This does "semi permanent repairs", which means that they last longer apparently. It seems square repairs are better than round ones. He detailed how street cleaning could be improved by New York style parking restrictions to clean one side of road at a time.

He finished off with by stating "We are a family friendly borough!".

Then the questions (in italics)

Why has MH Broadway. Why has it been allowed to degenerate into an eyesore?
RC. We need to be harder on people who put waste out. Whetstone and North Finchley are worse. He stated that businesses can only be fined small amounts, so we need to work with them.

A question about The Railway pub in Edgware. There is a sold sign,  and it is now a car wash. Huge coaches turn up and drop off immigrants what is happening?

RC: Tfl and Broadwalk are looking at redeveloping Edgware, but it is hard to police local private property. 

Richard Logue. Less difficult question first. Need more open comprehensive places. What options if Compton don't come.

RC. Due to law and govt policy, there are limited options, however Council supportive of Compton move to Mill Hill.  He noted that Saracens academy is opening and that all councillors voted to give Saracens freedom of Borough. for their community participation.

Pentavia. The busy retail park was popular, local wish to see retail on the site. Will council enforce design brief. 

RC. Noted that the scheme had the same developer as Barnet House, which has been refused. However Barnet needs 1,200 homes a year, so it is hard to oppose schemes.

A local residents stated that the council were looking for savings. He said that step free access to Mill Hill Broadway had been estimated as costing  £12 million. He had received a quote for  £2 million, from a recognised engineering company when running a campaign two yers ago. Why not use that company?

RC: We will check that out. I'd be mad not to.

A resident queried proposed budget savings. He said £70 million spent  on policy and resources. with £1 million of proposeed  savings, however Council spent  £60 million on children s services and were proposing £2 million on savings. Why are children being targeted.

RC: They are not, Policy and Resources is a bucket for all costs that don't fit other budgets easily. Huge savings made there already. 

Then it was my turn,  what are Barnet doing to address the funding crises being faced by local schools? Especially when the Education chair is not prepared to lobby the Secretary of State

RC we have not given up on changing the governments mind. We believe that it is better to do this quietly behind the scenes. 

A Burnt Oak resident stated that there are serious issues with Menorah school in Abbotts Road and  parents parking inconsiderately. 

The local Police were present and agreed to address with school

Jon Klaff, a local cycling activists asked a series of questions about cycling policy.   60 % of Barnet journeys by car. What is being done to promote other modes of transport.

RC. It is difficult to address the "Mr Toad" views of many Barnet drivers (who could he have been referring to?), action needed to be taken, but it is hard to re-engineer already busy roads. I suggested that maybe a dedicated cycle way between Mill Hill and Edgware on the disused rail line may be a start. RC stated that he'd prefer to see the railway rebuilt.

A worried resident asked Would less well off parents have to contribute to upkeep and maintenance of schools?

RC  replied No, funds come from central govt.

Another resident raised the issue of Pavements, which are disgusting in certain areas. Raised with councillors, nothing done. Hale ward.

RC. Stated that he'd investigate and get something done about it.

A lady from Colindale Foodbank reported  Addressing safeguarding is difficult. There are Serious issues in getting support. 

RC. "Email me privately. There are dedicated teams and we need to sort issues out if it isn't working"

A resident, concerned with the issues at Apex Corner asked "TFL responsible for major roads, can council influence them. "

RC. Yes, TFL have to consult the council.

The foodbank lady reported that "Increasing number of homeless people and  people taking drugs near fishmonger in Burnt oak. Can this be addressed as people do not feel safe"

Police.  "We have Operation Tungsten to deal with Burnt Oak issue. We have dispersal orders available, we go into area and deal with issues. Safeguarding issues top priority"

RC: Barnet have instituted a Borough wide street drinking ban.

The lady from the West Hendon campaign asked Can we have a nice hall like Hartley Hall?

RC: We will try, I'll will come back on that.

She then asked about the Compulsory purchase orders and how the price had been low.

Regarding CPO valuations on maisonettes. Initially £130k up to £220k. Are there examples of such increases? She was concerned by the role of Capita.

RC "I am pleased higher values were reached when it was revisited" 
RC  "I can't justify what happened".

She then asked about the inherent unfairness of the council tax system, where poorest residents pay proportionally far more than people in mansions. She noted that it is far quicker to empty bins in blocks of flats than in mansions. 

RC: I am happy to be able to double charge council tax on empty properties

Richard Logue asked about the fairness of  issues around the adoption of Millbrook Park. Residents pay twice for the same services, in a service charge and council tax. 

RC. Doesn't seem fair.

There was a question about pollution due to congested roads

RC, shame not in low emissions zone.

A resident was concerned about the use of dangerous pesticides on pavements. Noted other councils use steam. 

RC: The EU has changed its stance on this, but if you have details of better systems let me know.

I got in the last question. RC said "Have you been waiting to set this trap. I said no and asked for him to brief the audience on the West London Orbital Railway.

RC stated that he was enthusiastic and the council had put money in. He said that when he'd addressed the West London Partnership, he'd been cheered to the rafters by Momentum for his support! He explained how it is a no brainer to use under used rail lines for passenger services. He also said that he'd love to see the service extended to Mill Hill. The line runs from Cricklewood to Old Oak Common. I suspect that Richard is a bit of trainspotter on the quiet as he really seems genuinely excited by the plan. He said that he was extremely pleased that the scheme had cross party support and that the Deputy Mayor had adopted it.


And that was that. There were a few other little amusing incidents during and after. During the course of the session, I noticed a slight whiff of illicit smokeable materials. As I was wondering where it was coming from, the caretaker nudged me and said that young people were using the back fire escape as a meeting place and whether I could hear them. At this, I asked the police officer in front of me whether they could do something. One of them nipped out and dealt with the matter. It seems that there were young people smoking marijuana. The police stated that as they were under age, it was a safeguarding issue. It does seem sad to me that young people have to make their fun outside the Church Hall in a cold, dark fire escape. It emphasises that we really need to do more for teenagers. The devil makes work for idle hands.

I had an interesting chat with Richard Cornelius after on the issue of school funding. Richard doesn't agree with my view that the Barnet will be shafted by the govt. I hope he's right. I also asked him if he's retiring, as Brian Coleman had tweeted that he was.

Richard told me that this is absolute nonsense. He said that he loves the job of leader, he's now the third longest leader of the Council. He said he will go on as long as people want him to. I get the very strong feeling that Richard thinks the Tories will win the Council elections in May 2018. I think he may very well be right, because I am not at all convinced that the Barnet Labour Party have got a great strategy to win. Lots of Barnet Labour activists are putting in a huge amount of work, however I'm not seeing a huge amount of evidence that this is being put into the places that are most likely to effect regime change. It seems to me that they are running exactly the same campaign as they ran in 2006, 2010 and 2014 and each time they lost. It seems to me that the the huge influx of new members who support Momentum are not co-ordinating with the the mainstream Labour party. I've even spoken with members of Momentum who see the mainstream Labour activists as the enemy. This is all very well in smokey pubs, but it doesn't win elections.  It seems to me that there are plenty of Labour members who are starting to believe their own spin. This was reinforced by what Richard said to me as we parted. I asked if he'd enjjoyed the Q&A sessions (of which this was the last). He said "the first couple were a bit of a chore as Momentum turned up mob handed and took over and genuine residents were not given a chance. Then they seemed to get bored and the last few have been really enjoyable, with a genuine chance for residents to get answers".

This seems to sum it all up really. That doesn't seem like a winning strategy to me. I want a council that is prepared to listen, cares about its residents and runs the operations of the council efficiently. If I'd not written this blog for nine years, Richard would have convinced me that he's doing all those things. I don't think that shouting him down in ill tempered public meetings plays well with ordinary voters. I do however think that asking serious and difficult questions does.

If you want to know why I think that Labour will not win, let me give you one cast iron reason. Approx half the people a the meeting were from the part of NW7 which is in Hale Ward. This is a split ward and allegedly Labours no 1 target seat. Hartly Hall was full of ordinary voters last night, yet there was not one Hale Ward Labour candidate present. There was not one person asking difficult questions from the Labour Party. Both myself and Richard Logue are standing for the Lib Dems in Mill Hill. We think we will win. We made sure we were there and asked serious questions about our local ward and issues affecting local people. If Labour aren't prepared to put the work in, not only won't they win, they don't deserve to.  When it comes down to it, you get out of life what you put in. Labour will have to put a damn sight more into their campaign if they want to win. 

1 comment:

Marilyn Keats said...

With regard to the "safeguarding" issue and dispersal of homeless people, what is being done to HELP the huge number of people, young and old, who sleep on Barnet's streets in this terrible cold weather?