Thursday, 28 March 2013

Barnet would be such a great place if it weren't for the residents



Barnet would be such a great place if it weren't for the residents

When I was a university teacher, the same old joke used to circulate among the academic staff at the beginning of each term when the students returned in droves after a vacation: "This would be such a great place if it weren't for the students".

A similar attitude prevails among the Tory Council members in what Private Eye named "Rotten Borough 2012" aka the London Borough of Barnet. Barnet would be such a great place if it weren't for the residents.

Barnet has become a political Upstairs Downstairs with the 10-person cabinet, or rather Tory council leader Richard Cornelius's even smaller cabal within the cabinet, as the ruling class upstairs. They truly believe they know what is best for everyone, particularly themselves, and the views of their own councillors, opposition councillors or local residents and businesses are of no interest to them. They believe in their inaliable right to rule.  

And somehow it is the residents, who elect the council, pay their wages and pay for Barnet's public services, who have turned out to be the below-stairs servants; inferior yet impertinent enough to think they might be worthy or intelligent enough to ask questions or expect to be consulted, even on the most major matters. 

I am expecting a letter to be attached to my next council tax statement telling me that from now on I will be known as Daisy because La Bloggeuse is not an appropriate name for a resident.

Tonight, at 6pm, a time that ensures most residents will find it difficult to attend, at Barnet Town Hall, there will be a further gagging of local residents in a constitution change to remove the right of residents to submit questions to council meetings. (Broken Barnet's blog is a must-read on this subject and a report of the meeting.)

I'll be there, but I won't be bobbing a curtsey to Councillor Cornelius and his cohorts, which may well become protocol before too long.  I'll be yearning for June 2014 when the people of Barnet will come out in force and use the only democratic right left to them: to vote this dictatorship out of office, because without them, Barnet could be such a great place.

The meeting took place but the little matter of changing the constitution to remove the democratic rights of the public to ask questions could not be dealt with in spite of a public gallery full of opposition (Again, see Broken Barnet's excellent detailed report). This was because the chair of the committee, Tory Cllr Melvin Cohen, who is well paid for his chairship from taxpayers' money, had another engagement and had to leave early. The answer to his question: "Can this  be dealt with in ten minutes" was a resounding "No".  

So another meeting is scheduled for 10 April.  I don't wish to be unfair and jump to conclusions. Perhaps a desperately urgent family matter had to be dealt with, but the fact that the meeting was set to begin at the early hour of 6pm seems to indicate that there was a planned early getaway.  Perhaps Cllr Cohen should have acted responsibly and asked the Vice Chair to substitute for him. If you want to witness democracy being stifled first hand, do come along on the 10th at 7pm at the Town Hall in The Burroughs. See you there.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Maria Nash: Barnet's fight for democracy


Mr Justice Underhill is not going to give an immediate judgment on the Judicial Review brought by local Barnet Resident Maria Nash against Barnet Council and their One Barnet mass privatization of council services.  He wants to consider the evidence at length as important questions are being raised for council practice in the future.
The current hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice goes into its third and final day today and it is a matter of how councils consult the people on whose behalf they run their borough, the same people who pay their wages and whose money they spend.
There has been a great deal of hair-splitting on how much consultation is the right amount by Barnet Council's QC, Miss Carss-Frisk. Yesterday she asserted that it would be impractical for a Council to consult their residents on every little matter or they would be consulting every week, month and year. But One Barnet is hardly a little matter. If it goes ahead it will change the way the council is run. Services will be run by private companies for profit, outside Barnet from anywhere in the world, through a call centre in Blackburn, with local jobs lost and no guarantee that the ten-year contract will yield the anticipated savings. The council has chosen Capita to run their largest contract. Capita is not named Crapita by Private Eye for nothing. Its record is abysmal. And Private Eye bestowed the honour of Rotten Borough of 2012 for outsourcing on the Tory Council of Barnet.  The words of Andrew Dismore, Labour Member of the London Assembly for Barnet and Camden, repeatedly came into mind over the past two days when he said we must not be misled by modern political parlance: "savings means cuts, outsourcing means privatization".
But the Judicial Review is about procedure. Did the Council consult or didn't it? And the whole case could be lost on a technicality.  Has it been brought in time, and if not will the Judge extend the time so that a judgment can be made? For both sides it is all very tense and uncertain.
So off to Court to join the public gallery of Barnet Council officers (no Tory councillors have attended though it was ten of their number, the Cabinet, who were the sole decision makers on One Barnet); Labour councillors and representatives; arguably the finest bloggers in the country, Mrs Angry, Mr Mustard, Citizen Barnet and Mr Reasonable, to whom reference has been made repeatedly and edgily by Miss Carss-Frisk. Then there are representatives of Barnet Alliance (BAPS) and of the Press, and residents from all backgrounds and of all political persuasions or of none. This is a case of The People fighting for their democratic rights.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The White Bear With A Sore Head


The White Bear With a Sore Head  

--> The Burroughs Conservation Area, at the historic heart of Hendon, is being threatened once again by developers who have purchased the former White Bear Pub on the corner of The Burroughs and Brampton Grove with the sole intention of demolishing it and replacing it with modern flats.  They might be very close to succeeding in spite of protests by local residents who fought off their first attempts.  
The White Bear stands at the end of a terrace of Grade II Listed Georgian cottages once owned by All Souls College, Oxford. There has been a pub on this site since Tudor times.  Impressively, in the short stretch of The Burroughs from Hendon Way to the Fire station there are 16 listed buildings, mainly Georgian. Additional Victorian homes in The Burroughs and Burroughs Gardens were given a higher level of protection by the Council in January of this year.  During certain times of day, The Burroughs and Brampton Grove experience very heavy traffic and a high demand for parking, but in the evening and at night, it returns to being what it was in the beginning, a quiet hamlet. With a large number of its buildings dating back almost 300 years, preserved and protected for us and for future generations, it is a unique, historic part of Barnet.
Mention of the White Bear appears in 18th century diaries of the famous. It was the site of local farmers' fairs and its blue plaque marks the site of the local law courts of the Lord of the Manor.  Documents have recently been discovered that testify to a Rouse family, owners of land behind the pub, who were financed by Charles Dickens when they purchased property in The Burroughs and land behind the Alms Houses further along the road in the 19th century.  And there is so much more documented history about the old pub.
History is important for our understanding of where we have come from and where we wish to go. It is our public memory and without it we would suffer public amnesia; no understanding of our collective past.  The Burroughs is on our watch and it is our duty to look after it because once it's gone, it is gone forever.
The current White Bear is young by comparison to its neighbours though many buildings of its age are now listed. It is 81 years old, built in 1932 in the age of art deco and Metro-land. It is of similar age both to the 1930s art deco Brampton Court that stands on the facing corner of Brampton Grove and to the late 1920s art deco Quadrant Court on the corner of The Burroughs and Hendon Way at the other end of the Conservation Area. In fact all three corners on that side of the road have corresponding buildings of a similar age, including The White Bear. 
The style of The White Bear is mock Tudor, emulating the age of the original Tudor pub. It has yellow stone mullioned widows and walls and stained-glass coats of arms set into its leaded windows. The upper walls are black and white mottle-and-daub effect with a stone central panel. It also boasts a fine, prominent old decorative brick chimney. The building is well positioned proportionally on the site, set back from the road. The proposed brand new flats covering a much larger area of the site would be completely out of place and distort the character of the The Burroughs. 
Perhaps on another corner in a different area preservation of this mock-Tudor pub might not be as significant, though Professor Andrew Ballantyne, who has written extensively on the value of mock Tudor buildings and their place in the heart of the British people, would disagree.  But the location of The White Bear in a protected, conservation area and its relationship with two similarly aged buildings on the other corners, in unique  surroundings make it, as the Council put it in their recent Character Appraisal of the area (16 November 2012): "a positive contribution to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area".  
But we must also think in practical terms. Life must go on and at the moment the White Bear has a very sore head. It is not entirely "vacant", as the Council describes it, because there are people who sleep on the upper floors of the building and in a caravan parked behind the building hidden behind high wooden gates.  But the pub area on the ground floor is stripped bare. Future use of the existing building does not seem to have been in the plans of the owners. From the beginning of their ownership residents have been told triumphantly by those tearing the inside out of the premises that the building was going to be torn down.  But if the integrity of the Conservation Area is to be retained we cannot let this happen. The White Bear must be brought back into the community and into the hands of those who view the site as more than a development opportunity for purely financial gain.
I hope the Council will do what it has done in the past and decide against the demolition of the White Bear. After all, what is the purpose of a conservation area if it does not conserve its character which is expressed through its buildings. 
I also hope the communal use of the White Bear will be restored, for example, as a pub, cafe, eating place, arts centre. Or perhaps the developers might be invited to consider submitting plans for converting the existing building into residences. I believe that there are interested parties who wish to bring the White Bear back to life in some of my suggested reincarnations. May they be forthcoming with a cure for the White Bear's sore head and for the people of Hendon.

(a) leave a comment for the Council on line here or
(b) email at Barnet's planning department by 28 March quoting the reference Acolaid Case H/02331/12

(c) sign the petition