Michael Bolt of the Marylebone Forum replies to our news feature “Should the Westminster part of Fitzrovia join a Marylebone neighbourhood forum?

First of all it has to be borne in mind what the Marylebone Forum is not. It is not a new form of amenity society, it is not a body seeking to take over any of the existing amenity society functions, or a body seeking to acquire powers over any existing amenity societies. It is set up by the Localism Act with a specific function, to collect evidence for, refine and design a Neighbourhood Plan. 

It is true that Westminster may be actively now encouraging amenity societies to become Forums, in which case existing planning functions could be dealt with by that Forum as it would be pointless consulting with two organisations covering  the same area.  However where a Forum covers the area of two amenity societies then each amenity society can continue to deal with its own day to day issues on planning, licensing etc, within its own area and this has been confirmed in our discussions with Westminster.

It should be made clear that the Marylebone Association is a separate entity from the Forum, only 50% or less of the Forum  committee will be Association committee members so it would not want to lose its amenity status any more than the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association does.

Therefore the function of the Forum is different to the function of the Marylebone Association or the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association;  its function is to create a Neighbourhood Plan and it should seek to cover a wider spectrum of interests than the amenity societies do in implementing this.

A Neighbourhood Plan is to be developed by the Forum for the benefit of the community in the area concerned.  The Forum must show that it is relevant and designed by that community before it goes forward and the community has the final say on whether or not to adopt the plan by means of a referendum. We think  that a Neighbourhood Plan would make more sense if it covers the entire area to the Camden boundary. The two areas are very similar, they share the same issues as to parking, usage etc, they are both with the congestion zone and CAZ area.

The Neighbourhood Plan in central London would be tightly constrained by all the existing strategies and policies already in force and would likely be limited to a certain amount of tweaking, but the tweaking could be very worthwhile, for instance in zoning development to appropriate areas,  or a consistency in street scape design. It would make no sense for these to stop somewhere in the region of Great Portland Street rather than go across the few streets to the Camden boundary, indeed this could cause confusion.

Therefore the creation of the Marylebone Forum would not mean the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association’s amenity society status would be lost, it would continue to deal with its current functions in the same way as at present but it would give it the chance to work within a wider group representing the Marylebone and Fitzrovia area to the Camden boundary  and to contribute towards and be part of the Neighbourhood Plan for that area. It would benefit the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association in dealing with consultations on major developments in the area by giving them a more powerful voice than they have at present.

The Forum however will have another role. There is in future likely to be an intensification of development in both in Marylebone and Fitzrovia, the pressure for this comes from many levels. The relentless rise in land values in central London and increasing pressure on the limited amount of land available for redevelopment,  the Mayor’s London Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework with its guidelines in favour of sustainable development, the intensification of land use from the arrival of Crossrail,  all put huge pressure the area. These shared issues need a shared response in order to be effective. The Forum should provide the means to enable this and therefore presents an opportunity that should not be lost. The Forum is not there to stop this development, it will happen, but this is an opportunity to be part of  body that can at least have some say in its direction and appearance, it should give the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association a more powerful voice than it has at present.

Conversely we would point out that there are certain dangers  in not being involved in a wider Forum in that there will be less opportunity to have an effective say in the direction of future development. Further, once up and running, the Forum is bound to attract a certain amount of funding both through statutory and other routes to enable it to proceed with its plan. If your area is part of this it is likely to derive benefits from which it otherwise would be excluded.

In summary the Forum should be attractive to the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association and its residents for the same reasons as it is to the Marylebone Association; it  maintains its independence but gets the opportunity to engage with the issues in the area on a wider level than hitherto.