This morning, I was notified by Barnet Council that the committee of the Mill Hill Neighbourhood forum has withdrawn its application for designation to produce a neighbourhood plan for the area. The application for designation had been scheduled to be discussed at a forthcoming meeting of the Barnet Council planning committee. The Barnet Eye, as the oldest and most read blog covering Mill Hill has taken a keen interest in the application as well as the work of the previous committee. The forum lost its designation last year, having failed to produce a neighbourhood plan during the five years of its previous tenure and having lost the support of locally elected councillors in both Hale and Mill Hill ward.
When the previous forum was originally constituted, the Barnet Eye were staunch supporters, we helped the forum organise events in the Broadway and the small square by Boots, as well as attending and giving feedback at the regular meetings. Unfortunately, there were some disagreements regarding safeguarding issues, which ultimately lead to us stepping back from both the committee and the organisation of events. As a business which hosts organisations such as Ballet schools, we have to be seen to put safeguarding at the forefront of what we do and stepped back when we found we were not entirely comfortable with the safeguarding processes the MHNF had put in place.
We do not wish to dwell on the past or rake over these old arguments. Barnet Council gave feedback that the new MHNF plan submitted was not suitable as the committee was unrepresentative of Mill Hill. The Barnet Eye agrees with this and this was a major part of our feedback.To put this in context, as a member of the Sacred Heart Church in Mill Hill, all of the main Church committees call on all parts of our community and are stronger for this. I know just how many communities we have in Mill Hill and how diverse they all are. A neighbourhood plan needs to represent the people who live in the neighbourhood, not just a small clique. For me the fact that there were several couples on the committee and it only needed two of these to agree, to theoretically make policy for the whole of Mill Hill, was a fatal structural defect.
It is perhaps ironic given the comments of the council officers that the MHNF needed to be more diverse, that the local Conservative Councillors in Mill Hill and The Hale, the two areas covered by the Forum, are amongst the most diverse set of ward councillors in Barnet. Hale boasts a Nepali Hindu, a Muslim and a Jewish Councillor. Mill Hill ward also boasts a councillor from a recognised minority. My view is that an organisation such as the MHNF should have representatives of all of the other major organisations in Mill Hill and also hold regular public meetings to discuss and update the population on the progress of the plans.
There was also some criticism that the previous MHNF tried to do too much. I personally do not subscribe to this view (although this was the view held by the Council). I actually thought that the markets and events organised by the Forum did a lot of good for Mill Hill and helped make people aware of the work of the forum. Where the MHNF went wrong was in not having a sub committee working solely on the plan and reporting back regularly to the committee and the general public (via the committee), with a separate subcomittee working on events and regeneration. The other activities should not have been a distraction, but clearly were. In hindsight, the old MHNF should have put structures and segregation into place to ensure that the preparation of plan was segregated from other activities.
There were some good people on the committee who put some sterling work into getting the plan together. I sincerely hope this work can be put to good use and is not simply disgarded.
I would suggest that if you are interested you read the council papers here -
I personally hope that Mill Hill can get its act together and get a committee constituted to pull together a local plan. If this is broadly based, takes safeguarding concerns seriously and properly constituted, it will have our support. I think it is better if the people running this are not aligned to political parties and are fiercly independent of them. That is why I will not be joining any new committee.