North Finchley regeneration - more questions than answers

The North Finchley regeneration consultation has prompted a bit of discussion. Here’s my view. Please read the end even if you can’t bear to read everything in between!

The meeting was poorly advertised – no leaflets, no posters, no ads in the two local papers – so, not surprisingly, there was not a huge turnout. There were BAPS members there – I think we all had learned of the event from Mr Mustard‘s blog. While I love Mr Mustard’s blog, and the blogs of the other Barnet bloggers, the council cannot claim that it properly informed people that this consultation was taking place. Mr Joshua Stanton, who was responsible for managing this event, admitted more could have been done but said he was satisfied with the turnout. Why? I’m going to bet that the vast majority of people in North Finchley had no idea this event was taking place. This seems to reflect the way LBB does things: don’t make a proper effort to announce the event and then claim the low turnout is a sign that people don’t care.

The event was poorly managed too. A printed board with the names of existing businesses in North Finchley was mounted on the wall, and a plan of the high street, with a few buildings built on it, was on a table. Both were in the narrowest space on the first floor of the Artsdepot, creating a lot of congestion but providing no information about the proposed rejuvenation. There were cards to write ideas on and hanging plastic containers in which to mount them. Cute but seemingly pointless. Was someone going to take this information and do something with it? Who knows?

The presentation was not great either. Read Barnet Eye and Mr Mustard’s blog to get a good report of who said what, and that the council didn’t want to talk about, or let anyone else talk about: parking. It was pointed out more than once that the parking issues are at the heart of the issue but Barnet doesn’t want to know. That’s no reason for us to be quiet.

You’ll see from Barnet Eye and Mr. Mustard‘s reports that while the audience was told that North Finchley was getting a grant of £1.1m from the Mayor’s Outer London Fund and £400,000 from Barnet Council (both generously giving us back some of our money), we had to prise out of them the information that MUF, an urban renewal architectural firm represented by Liza Fior, which had been appointed by who-knows-what procedure, was being given a budget of £600,000 and was being paid £60,000. Another £14,000 (£1000 a month for 14 months) is being paid to Sally Williams, though it’s not clear what she’ll be doing; she doesn’t like meetings, so I guess she won’t be convening any with the leaders of the subgroups.

We weren’t told what the budgets of the other three subgroups – arts and culture, community, business – would be, but the remaining £828,000 divided by three gives £276,000 each, which is not a lot for the purpose. Note that a non-Barnet resident/business gets well paid to work in Barnet, but the leaders of the other three subgroups, all from Barnet, are volunteers, expected to take on this commitment on top of their full-time jobs – at least in the cases of Tracey Cooper (arts and culture) and Helen Michael (business); I don’t know about Brenda Goldberg (community). I think they need and deserve our support.

It came out that all the money has to be spent within a year, and that MUF has to present drawings for its plans within six weeks. Two of Liza’s initial ideas were shot down as soon as she suggested them. This is why it is essential that we locals get involved. Otherwise, an outsider’s ideas about how our high street should look will be imposed – and we might not like the result. And you know from the outset that your commitment will be limited to a year too.

Liza does not seem to be leading a subgroup; she’s been appointed to do a job. She told me she had to prepare her drawings within six weeks so the work could be put out to tender, and that she would be showing the drawings to the subgroups. Now here’s the worrying bit. I asked what impact the comments of local residents would have – what if they disagreed with the proposals? I can’t say I got an unequivocal answer. I asked the same question of Joshua Stanton. Well, people would be listened to but if there were no consensus, the council has the responsibility to decide. But, I pressed – and you know I really pressed – what if there were a consensus among the residents and it opposed the ideas as presented? Well, the council has the responsibility … MUF may present really great ideas, but we have to make sure that the consultation is a real one, not just window dressing. Only if we are involved can we instantly raise objections if they become necessary.

Some of the ideas proposed by the subgroup leaders sound interesting, but how far will the money go to realising them, and what is the long-term benefit for the high street? There were suggestions of turning empty shops into space for ‘young entrepreneurs’ and community groups, but there was only airy-fairy talk of how the rents would be paid and no indication of what would happen after the money ran out. Would you like to guess? Better still, would you like to work on these groups to ensure that if only one idea was initiated, it would be one that had a real chance of positive and long-term impact.

People have raised great ideas but there’s no point in us just talking to each other. If you can, please get involved – if only so we know what’s going on. I suggest you e-mail Joshua Stanton and tell him you have only just heard of the project and want to be involved.


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