Opinion: Don’t sideline or ignore residents’ work
- Credit: Oliver Cooper
Last Tuesday, something very rare happened in a grey conference room in Camden’s temporary town hall. For the first time since Labour took power in Camden in 2010, the administration had a decision formally overturned.
I had challenged the council's decision to commit £3m to draw up a property development scheme on Camley Street, east of Camden Town. So far, so what?
Well, this proposal - part of Camden's crumbling, billion-pound CIP development scheme - would have ridden roughshod over a Neighbourhood Plan being painstakingly developed by local residents.
Instead of working with those residents, Labour proposed a scheme completely at odds with that plan - and were rushing it through to deliberately prevent the plan coming into effect first.
The Camley Street Plan - like those in place in Hampstead, Highgate, and West Hampstead - will help preserve the best of its local community: requiring developments to conform to what residents need, not what Camden's administration demands.
The Neighbourhood Forum behind the plan has spent six years consulting residents and businesses, drafting a document, and building up an evidence base. And here were Labour refusing to wait even a few months to let it go to a referendum and come into effect - for fear that its plans might be blocked if residents had their way.
Although I represent Hampstead, not Camley Street, treading all over residents' work - rather than working with them - sounded to me like the last thing councillors should be doing and I felt compelled to help stop. I urged councillors to refuse the proposal via a formal procedure called a "call-in". I asked them to think how they would feel if residents in their areas were sidelined and ignored. Thankfully, the majority agreed with me and refused to release the £3m allocated until the plan had been adopted.
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Much of the credit belongs to Cllr Paul Tomlinson, for fighting for his residents even against his own party, and especially to the Camley Street community for being such eloquent advocates and ambassadors. On his way out of the meeting, the Neighbourhood Forum's chairman even publicly inviting everyone present to the forum's harvest party that Friday. Now that's community spirit!
Although we're used to grappling with difficult developments in Hampstead, I shudder to think what things would be like for my constituents if they were brushed off as easily as Labour tried.
Back in NW3, both the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum and the Redington Frognal Neighbourhood Forum need residents' help right now. By law, fora have to apply for re-designation every five years to confirm they're still relevant and active. Both fora are up for re-designation now.
To say they're relevant and active is a gross understatement. As local councillors, we've found them incredibly helpful to strengthen our hand when arguing against proposals that would hurt our community.
So if you think they've been as helpful to you, lend them a hand today. Write to Camden Council - no matter how briefly - telling them why you think the forum matters. Comments must be received by October 1 and can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or writing to the council.
I've seen first hand just how much a forum like that makes a difference. I dearly hope ours in Hampstead and Redington Frognal get re-approved - and I dearly hope any future attempts in future to trample on our communities get defeated, as it was last week.