Planning for Highgate’s Future
Two years ago, the Highgate Neighbourhood Forum was just a twinkle in the eyes of a small group of people in the Highgate Society. We had successfully lobbied for a change in the Localism Bill to allow cross-Borough forums and now we had to do something about it! We begun by talking to the Councillors in the Highgate wards in Camden and Haringey and, with their help, set about contacting all the residents’ associations, action groups, amenity societies and faith groups in the neighbourhood. A packed meeting of these groups in January 2012 decided to proceed with setting up a neighbourhood forum.
We were agreed that we should make the best use we could of the Localism legislation – ill thought out and neglectful of the needs of urban communities, as we thought it to be. In an increasingly threatening planning climate and as a neighbourhood that is divided between two planning authorities and the priority of neither, we felt we needed to defend and improve our neighbourhood as best we could.
Finding out about Highgate
In May 2012, we held our first AGM, agreed on a Constitution and elected our first Committee. Our initial task was to let people know we existed and find out what the people of Highgate wanted us to do. So we hand-delivered 8,000 leaflets to every household in the area and set up a website with a simple survey form. At the same time, we persuaded our two Councils to meet us together and set up a mechanism for officially designating us as a forum.
We had several meetings with neighbouring areas to discuss Area boundaries. We were (perhaps overly) ambitious from the start and decided to embrace a large area, to accommodate all those residents who wanted to join us and also to ensure that we were considering a diverse area, rather than a small, privileged enclave.
Every meeting with local groups, every table at local events, every article in the local press and every call for help to deliver leaflets or to begin thinking about a Plan brought us new recruits. In Autumn 2012, a number of us set about Placecheck walkabouts to look with fresh eyes at parts of the neighbourhood we didn’t know so well – making new friends as we went. Later in the year – with the help of the Prince’s Foundation – we looked at how we could reach groups who hadn’t engaged with us so far. This work culminated in some Community Planning Workshops in January 2013. You can read about all of the above on our website: http://www.highgateneighbourhoodforum.org.uk.
Our applications to be a Neighbourhood Area and Neighbourhood Forum were approved by Camden and Haringey Councils in December 2012. We were proud to be the first in Camden and are a little disappointed to be still the only forum in Haringey.
Making a plan
Since then, about 50 people have been working hard on our Neighbourhood Plan. We split into working parties looking at Social and Community, Open Spaces and the Public Realm, Economic Activity, Development and Heritage and Transport and Traffic. Members of a Sustainability group are also embedded in each of the other groups and we have further groups looking at key strategic areas within our neighbourhood. We have also worked together as a larger group in workshops (organised by CABE at the Design Council) or via our Plan Steering Group.
Currently, we are discussing an early draft of the Plan: finding issues and data we have omitted, at the same time as trying to cut it down to a reasonable size. As will be clear from the list of working groups above, we have chosen to take a holistic view of neighbourhood planning, rather than just tackle Planning Policy, so this is no easy task. But it was clear once we started to ask people what issues they wanted us to tackle that most people are more interested in traffic congestion and encouraging local businesses than the minutae of Planning Policy.
So we have already begun working with outside agencies, like TfL. on matters that only they can deliver. We guess that this sort of partnership working will become an important part of our activity as we move into implementation of our Plan.
We have a small grant from the Government’s Supporting Communities in Neighbourhood Planning programme to pay for the design and print of the Neighbourhood Plan and Consultation materials and will shortly be commissioning a designer to undertake this work for us.
So what tips can I pass on to communities thinking about becoming a forum and undertaking neighbourhood planning?
- Involve your local Councilors from the outset
- Get your Council officials on side
- Bring as many of your local organisations on board as you can – they will certainly contain individuals who are ‘doers’
- Look at who is not involved and think about how to engage them
- Find out about your neighbourhood – there will be surprises!
- Listen to what local people want your forum to do
- Play to people’s strengths – let them run with what interests them – you will need everyone’s enthusiasm as time goes on
- Be kind to each other – this is a long hard process and individuals will get tired and need support
Chair, Highgate Neighbourhood Forum