Planning chief uneasy at call for local solution

Highgate residents have been advised by a council officer against taking on the increased powers offered by the Localism Bill enabling them to shape their area.

Under the proposed legislation, communities would be able to draw up their own “neighbourhood plans” identifying developments which should be given automatic planning permission. The neighbourhood plan would then go to a referendum for approval.

But Haringey’s assistant planning and regeneration director Marc Dorfman has branded this proposal as “worrying” and claims residents already have powers to influence their area’s planning agenda.

He made the assertion at an unprecedented meeting organised by the Highgate Society also attended by Camden Council’s street policy head Sam Monck.

The pair fielded questions from residents and local councillors about the problems caused by the division of Highgate between the boroughs of Camden and Haringey.

Issues ranged from transport to the lack of desirable shops on the high street.

One resident asked whether people living on either side of this split should join to create a single neighbourhood plan for the area.

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Mr Dorfman said: “We’ve spent the evening saying there’s a lot of commonalities and synthesis [between Camden and Haringey] – so we don’t need a Localism Bill to do that. One thing I’m worried about is that – if there is a localism plan and it goes to a referendum – there just needs to be a small number of people to vote on that for it to come to pass.

“Haringey is in the process of getting political agreements about giving new area committees and forums more power.

“If Highgate Society say they want a neighbourhood plan, your first port of call is now area committees. As for going across the boundaries, you’ve got the facility right now.”

But this dismissal of a need for a unified, cross-borough plan was rejected by councillors elected under both of Highgate’s local authorities.

Camden councillor Maya de Souza said: “There must be some benefit from putting in joint strategy plans – so the whole community can work together.”

While Haringey councillor Rachel Allison said that a neighbourhood plan might improve the co-operation between the two councils in governing Highgate.

Cllr Allison illustrated her point with an example of a recent breakdown in communications between the local authorities.

“Just this week, I had a consultation document about electric vehicle points on North Road,” she said.

“Transport for London are going to give some money to put in electric charging points there. Haringey picked two points on the their side of the road which they thought were best.

“But these are not the best places to have the points given that Highgate School is just about to embark on a huge development. This is already going to take away vital parking spaces and the charging points will take up another two parking bays.

“More importantly, Camden has already installed a charging point in Highgate, around the corner in Bisham Gardens.”

Mr Dorfman instead suggested that the answer to such miscommunications was for both councils to keep a closer eye on the decisions made by each other’s officers.

“You can fix the bins and make sure that we have the same type of bins,” he said. “The sign postings are good idea, making sure we have the same signs. As for conservation, we’re talking our lead from Camden’s quality conservation plan.

“But at the moment, I don’t think there needs to be a new plan. I do think there needs to be ongoing liaison.”