Monday, 8 February 2016

Planning in Barnet - Council hypocrisy exposed

There are two rather interesting stories on the local paper website at the moment, which concern planning. The first of these concerns a man who built a three a side football pitch in his garden in Totteridge. This amounted to putting up some floodlights, so his kids can have a kickabout in the garden. Apparently neighbours said "the floodlights shine into their homes and the noise from the ball banging against the pitch’s wooden panel is “irritating”". It seems that the proper planning permission was not sought. The council re demanding that the pitch is torn down. 

Then we have the story that Saracens are planning to accomodate 15,000 people at a European cup game, in breach of their planning permission which states that the maximum number of people who can attend the stadium is 10,000. According to Mil Hill Councillor Sury Khatri, the club have been given the green light by the Council to ignore the normal rules. this was confirmed by Council leader Richard Cornelius, who told the Times "In this very special case the council has used its discretionary powers to allow a one off exception to expand the capacity  to 15,000.The impact of this one day facility will show us all if the traffic issues can really be controlled. Full safety measures to protect the fans will be rigidly enforced."

Now don't get me wrong. I think Saracens are proving to be an asset for Mill Hill and the Borough of Barnet. I'd be quite happy to see them achieve their ultimate goal of a 25,000 seat stadium. The thing is though that this should be achieved through following the planning rules and making adequate plans for getting people to and from the ground. I'd like to see the Northern Line extended to Saracens as part of this plan. There is a disused rail line that could easily be reopened and this would be an important link, joining Mill Hill with the east of the Borough.

But by giving Saracens a green light to ignore the rules, how can they then impose the rules on anyone else. A decent barrister would make mincemeat of the council in a future planning hearing, if enforcement action was taken.

It is instructive that the gentleman with the pitch in his back garden is in Richard Cornelius ward and he clearly takes the view of the residents there seriously. His wife who is Cllr Alison Cornelius, who sits on the committee, said: “It was not an appropriate development – it sits in the Totteridge Conservation area and there were various other policies it contravenes. The committee, as a whole, do not like retrospective planning applications.”

Well it seems that if you run a powerful interest and are mates with the council, these considerations don't really matter. In my book that is hyporcisy and double standards. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 7/2/2016

So here we are again. It's time for the tweets of the week in our lovely little corner of London.

1. There were many contenders for the Tweet of the week, but I really could only pick this one.

Pub garden in Edgware - me &,4 chaps; three of them had done a stretch. One said: straight now, no more burglary. Just sell weed and coke

2. I rather like this one as well.

3. Looks like West Hendon is set to become famous.

1hr BBC One documentary about the Tory destruction of the West Hendon estate due to be broadcast in the coming weeks

4. Some great work at Hendon School
Wow! 's inspiring mental health day in preparation of our July 13th Barnet mental health conference

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5. Lest we forget

6.  I just love this picture. A bygone era. Wonder what happened to the trainset?

Mill Hill School c.1935. 

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7. Great to see an old friend on twitter! I do miss Vicky

Look who I bumped into at conference in Nottingham. Former Barnet blogger
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 8. A shoutout to the businesswomen of Barnet

Calling all ! Buzzing Business Club - 15 Feb, 6pm at Café Buzz, 783 High Road N12 8JY

9. Our new Thameslink trains are on test, sometime soon we'll be seeing these stopping at Mill Hill & Hendon.

Pic: testing class 700 stock 3T53 Cricklewood to 3 Bridges today

Saturday, 6 February 2016

The Saturday List #80 - The ten best things in the London Borough of Barnet (and ten we lost)

We haven't had a list for a long time, so here it is

The Mill Hill Observatory
1. The RAF Museum.
2. The Phoenix Cinema
3. La Deliverance at Henlys Corner
4. The Arts Depot
5. Totteridge Valley walks
6. Mill Hill Observatory
7. Burnt Oak Fish Market (Fishmongers)
8. Golders Hill Park
9. Saracens RFC
10. The Welsh Harp

And here is the ten that we've lost

All that is left of Mill Hill The Hale Station
1. Mill Hill Open Air Swimming Pool (Now Etz Haim Free School)
2. Barnet Football Club (Now in Harrow)
3. Church Farmhouse Museum
4. Hendon Odeon cinema
5. The Torrington Music venue
6. The Mill Hill East to Edgware branch of the Northern Line
7. Woolworths
8. Canoeing at Stonegrove Park
9. The 251 Bus to Stanmore
10. Burnt Oak Market

Do you agree? What should have been on the list? What have we lost that should have been on the list?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Funny old world, is that it?

Back in 1979, when we first formed The False Dots, myself and Pete Conway wrote a song called 'Uncle Charlie's Dead'.  It tells the sad story of Uncle Charlie falling down the stairs, in the dark. We were watching a TV program, possibly Nationwide and there was a bloke talking about how his Uncle Charlie had his electricity cut off. He got up in the middle of the nigh and sadly fell down the stairs. He said 'Uncle Fred was asleep and he heard a bang. He got up and there was Uncle Charlie at the bottom of the stairs, dead. I think he hit his head on the banisters'.

So the chorus went

Now Uncle Charlie's dead,
A bannister collided with his head,
He was found by uncle Fred,
Who heard a bump upstairs in bed.

The original working title of the song was 'The electricity board are Bastards'. But we decided that Uncle Charlie's Dead was a far better title.

So here we are, nearly 40 years later and who would have thought that pensioners would still be freezing to death in winter, living in poverty, being advised by the council to go and sit in the library to keep warm.

Funny old world, isn't it?

The Friday Joke - 5/2/2016

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The 2016 Barnet Council governance project - No 19 - Street trading contraventions

Today we look at breaches of street trading rules. What are Barnet Council doing to enforce the rules.

From: Roger Tichborne 
Sent: 04 February 2016 10:41
To: ''
Subject: Freedom of Information request - Action against illegal/unauthorised street trading in the London Borough of Barnet

Dear FoI Barnet,

Please can you supply the following from Jan 1 2015 to 4 Feb 2016.

1.       Number of Barnet traders identified as in breach of street trading rules.
2.       Number of Barnet traders receiving written warnings from Barnet council for street trading infringements.
3.       Number of Barnet traders interviewed under caution regarding infringements for street trading infringements.
4.       Number of Barnet traders who have been the subject of surveillance operations.
5.       Number of Barnet traders prosecuted for infrigements of street trading laws.

Roger Tichborne

How do the Barnet Conservatives choose their committee chairmen?

Last week I attended the Barnet Council audit committee. As I mentioned at the time, I was completely underwhelmed with the performance of the chair of the committee, Councillor Brian Salinger. I wrote a blog detailing just what an awful job Councillor Salinger was doing. Given that audit is probably the most important committee, I had to wonder just how he was chosen. My mind was cast back to the early years of the last decade. At the time I was working in an office near Aldgate. Every day I'd nip down to Sidoli's in Leman ST, a family run cafe, and get a cup of tea from Marge. The cafe had been there since the 1950's and Marge would often tell us how when she started "The cafe was always full of seamen from the docks" (to general myrth). By the 1990's the dockers and seamen had been replaced by yuppies and bankers. Over the road from Sidoli's a lap dancing club had opened. The manager was a larger than life character, who was full of interesting stories.

One day, we were all having a cuppa and a chinwag and he told us he'd just interviewed three new lapdancers. He said that he asked all three the same question. He said "if you are doing a dance in the private booth and when the punter has gone, you notice he's dropped his wallet with £500 in it what do you do".

The first girl said "I'd run after the punter and return his wallet"
The second one said "I'd take the money, put the wallet in the bin and deny all knowledge if asked"
The third one said "I'd take the money and give you half, then put the wallet in the bin"

He then asked me and Marge, "which girl should I employ". Marge said girl no 1 on the grounds she was the most honest. I countered and said "Girl two as she is probably the only one telling the truth and so at least you know where you stand with her. He laughed and said "no you're both wrong". So we asked "so which one would you employ?" He replied "The one with the biggest tits of course".

You may wonder what this has to do with Barnet Council? Well, the manager of the lapdancing club gave an insight into what it takes to run an organisation successfully. Whether or not you like his business, or his answer, he demonstrated that he was empoying the person best equipped to do the job. It isn't a pleasant job and honesty is not a primary requirement for his business.In his judgement and experience, he chose the girl who was best equipped for the task.

Broken bins
The problem with Barnet Council is that there is no such focus. The chair of each committee gets an allowance of over £15,000 for their efforts. This is our money. We pay it in taxes and in return we expect the council to spend it wisely. Sadly in Barnet the jobs are divvied up as political favours, not based on the 'assets" of the individuals. Another important committee is the Environment Committee chaired by Dean Cohen. Anyone who has seen Cohen in action will recognise that he is totally out of his depth.  It is 100% clear that his appointment was purely a dog bone to someone the leadership viewed as politically useful. Since taking over from the disasterous reign of Brian Coleman, Cohen has singularly failed to achieve anything. When he took over, Brian Colemans policy of abolishing pay and display had laid waste to high street businesses. It was clear that the policy should be reversed in short order. Cohen lacked the cojones to do this. Eventually a sort of half way house was established, with a few machines being installed, that took credit cards. Whilst this is better than a mobile only solution, it was so clearly a bad political fudge. There is no leadership and no direction to the environment policy. 

Walking around Mill Hill park this week demonstrated this. Dangerous man hole covers and broken bins. I am particularly concerned about this manhole cover. Many young people frequent the park after dark. This is a highly dangerous feature, which could cause a severe injury. In cold weather, if you broke your leg it may even prove fatal. it used to be the case that local councillors would work with the chair of such committees to ensure that their patch was spotless. Sadly under the reign of Cohen, the concept has gone out of the window and all we ever get is excuses for inaction.

What do the committee do? They most certainly don't ensure that the environment is looked after. I have no idea why Dean Cohen has been chosen, but he doesn't cut the mustard.

Then we have the Children, Education, Libraries & Safeguarding Committee which is chaired by the truly horrible Rueben Thompstone. Thompstone managed the near impossible and forced Tory uber loyalist Maureen Braun to rebel over the closure of after school services at Mapledown School. He is currently overseeing the destruction of the Barnet Libraries network. There is no councillor more popous and condescending in the whole of the council. One Tory councillor who I get oin quite well with joked about Thompstone that there are two types of people those that dislike him and those that haven't met him. I asked why he was chosen for such a role, the repsonse "I suppose it is because he's a teacher". It must be said that he gets on quite well with one person, Dan Thomas who is the deputy leader of the council. Thomas sees Thompstone as a useful foil for unpopular policies. Given his personality, he acts as a lighetning rod for protests, deflecting flak from the puppet master pulling the strings. Anyone who has ever watched Thompstoen closely will have seen how he watches Thomas like a hawk for signals as to what to do. It is clar to anyone who has attended any Council meeting to discuss libraries that Thompstone,w ho clearly wasn't born or raised in the Borough, has no understanding of the role libraries play in the lives of local families. It is not unreasonable to expect a chair of the committee who has at least got some sort of understanding of what the service provides.

Another wholly inappropriate choice of chairman is councillor Tom Davey as chair of the housing committee. You will see from his declaration of interests that Cllr Davey is a financial analyst for British American Tobacco. Davey has made many pronouncemens about social housing tenants. Like many well to do young men who have had a priveliged start in life, Mr Davey has no real experience of the lives of people his decisions affect so greviously. Mr Davey is apparently a landlord. One has to assume that the salary of a financial analyst for a tobacco firm is either massively well paid or mummy and daddy have helped out with his property purchases. Given his age and his listed property is in one of the most well sought after cul-de-sacs in Mill Hill, it is fair to assume that the plight of young people seeking social housing in Barnet are a million miles away from his personal experience. I suppose it is ironic that many of his fellow Tory members find the fact that many social housing tenants and benefit recipients spend cash on the addictive products that Mr Davey's firm produce distasteful. Mr Davey clearly sees no problem with the sale of addictive and dangerous products and one assumes that his analysis produces information which is used to justify a product which has killed and caused debiliating illness to millions of UK citizens. We have to ask, what experience he has he got to justify this important role? As a private landlord, his income is presumably affected by the provision of social housing, as all commercial rents are dictated by the laws of supply and demand. Am I alone in seeing a clash.

Finally we look at the Planning Committee. The chair of this is Melvin Cohen. He is Dean Cohens dad. Councillor Cohen is a lawyer by trade (according to his declaration). Given the huge amount of building going on in the Borough, this is a massively important committee. By all accounts Councillor Cohen is reasonably effective as chair when dealing with small scale planning applications in nice leafly suburban areas such as Edgware, Golders Green and Mill Hill. The problem is that the vast majority of planning applications that are phase shifting the nature of the Borough are mega developments in places like Brent Cross, West Hendon and the Inglis Barracks in Mill Hill. Cohen has shown himself to be completely out of his depth. In fact I get the impression that the whole Tory team on the planning committee are genuinely clueless when it comes to what is happening in our Borough. I have no idea if any of the Tories actually have any interest at all in ensuring a mixed neighbourhood, social housing or green spaces are preserved in planning applications, but there has been scant indications of this.

For Barnet to remain a great place to live, all of the committees I've mentioned need strong chairmen. If they don't do their job, then our Borough and our lifestyle will be trashed. We are aready seeing huge pressure on roads, schools, hospitals and police. When I a teenager, we had two A&E hospitals in the Borough. In that period the population of the Borough has increased by 50% yet we've lost one of these. Try applying for a school place. My eldest daughter was declined a place at the nearest secondary school to us on "catchment", despite living less than 1 mile from the establishment. She ended up having to take a bus to Finchley every day.  This is the monster they are creating.

A final word for the Labour group. It is simply not good enough to go along with these lacklustre Tory placemen. They need to use every meeting to ram home the message that the Tories are getting  a massive payout and they are not cutting the mustard. They are singularly failing to do this. They need to get on top of their briefs and start holding these rather ineffectual placemen to account.

When I was chatting with my friendly Tory councillor I told him the joke about the manager at the lap dancing club. He roared with laughter. He wryly commented "We can't choose people like that in the council". Of course he's right, but what he didn't say was how they did choose them. I guess the reason is because it is even more embarrassing.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Guest Blog - Stronger in Europe; how Barnet benefits and how you can show your support - By Alasdair Hill

By Alasdair Hill,
This year we face a difficult choice that will determine the future of the United Kingdom on the world stage. Our economy, climate and industries will change whether the UK votes to remain a member of the EU or not. It is my belief, and one I hope you share, that Britain’s prosperity rests with cooperation and unity with our oldest allies.

The European Union brings many benefits to us in Barnet; both financial and cultural. As well as ensuring UK industries and services can trade with our nearest neighbours freely and without tariff the EU brings in investment which we can feel right here in Mill Hill. Indeed the UK is home to some of the best research institutions in the world; the MRC Laboratories on The Ridgeway included. By being a member of the EU we gain access to millions of pounds of research funding in medicine, environment and space technology. The UK is home to the brightest and best and thus we receive the lion’s share of the funding; boosting our world-leading research sector. By closing the door we risk hollowing out one of the key industries we excel at.

Culturally, Barnet, like the rest of London, is a mirror to the make-up of Europe. This is something we should be proud of. Living together we learn more about ourselves and make long lasting connections across the continent which in the process breaks down misconceptions and builds peace between nations. We benefit as much as other nations in the EU from the free movement of people allowing us to work, export and holiday across the continent with ease.

But over and above the arbitrary statistics both sides of the debate will use to convince you to vote, is the ethos in which the United Kingdom espouses the virtues of tolerance, internationalism and brotherhood. 

At a time where increased uncertainty threatens liberal democracies across the world we should not be turning our back in the name of fear and self-interest. The only way you can fight the borderless enemies of climate change, organised crime and terrorism is through cooperation. It is this philosophy that underpins the very need for the UK to remain in the European Union.
There is much both sides of the political spectrum can benefit from EU membership; it is a misconception that EU regulation is a plight on our society.  For some, we can  appreciate EU regulation that supports maternity and holiday rights in work. For others, we can be encouraged by the EU support of an individual’s basic human rights. All benefit from the prosperity that EU membership ensures UK, allowing businesses to trade in European markets competitively. Finally we can all benefit from the action to tackle carbon-emissions for the good of our and the planet’s health.

It is in this light that I hope residents and activists across Barnet and across the political divide can come together and fight for our continued membership of the EU. Through the non-party “Britain Stronger In Europe” group we are hosting an informal meet and greet at The Bohemia, North Finchley on Tuesday 9th February from 7pm.

If you want to share your thoughts or learn more about how the UK is stronger in the EU please come down and start a conversation!
I hope to see you there.
RSVP on Facebook or Eventbrite
Guest blogs are always welcome at the Barnet Eye. Alasdair Hill is a Barnet resident.