By News Reporters
Camden Council have admitted that residents should have been consulted about the proposal to create a business improvement district (BID) in Fitzrovia. The BID which came into effect in August is being led by landowner and developer Derwent London and the international firm of engineers Arup.
The admission came after Fitzrovia News confronted the council with the details revealed in a freedom of information request and after residents wrote to the council asking why no consultation had taken place. The writer and actor Griff Rhys Jones, who is a local resident, had also questioned why residents had not been consulted.
Camden’s cabinet member for regeneration and growth Valerie Leach initially replied to the residents on behalf of the council rejecting calls to veto the BID and declined to comment on the absence of any consultation and said the council was allowing the ballot to take place and for the businesses to decide.
“Having reviewed the BID proposal we are allowing the ballot to take place because nothing in the proposal is materially in conflict with council policy,” said councillor Leach in a letter to residents in July.
However, she later conceded that the council had been at fault. In a statement released through Camden’s press office in August councillor Leach said:
“It is clear to me that the level of consultation and engagement carried out by the Fitzrovia Partnership was not ideal.
“When the Council was told of the timetable for the ballot in April we became aware that the partnership had not consulted with ward councillors. This is something officers should have ensured that the partnership had carried out and I have raised this with them. The cabinet member at that time [Sarah Hayward] asked the partnership to make sure that it consulted with ward councillors.
“Camden Council has a history of full, open and transparent consultation with residents and businesses and we believe that this is a model that the Fitzrovia Partnership should follow in the future as, in this case, the consultation at all levels could have been better, regardless of the fact that, in theory, a business improvement district is able, technically, to set up on its own without engagement with the local authority. This is something that I will be raising with the partnership as we develop our relationship with them,” said councillor Leach.
However, residents also felt the timing of the creation of the BID was done to minimise adverse publicity and opposition. It all took place between the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend and the opening of the Olympic Games leading critics to suggest that the plans had been sneaked out under the cloak of two major public celebrations.
Local councillors were also surprised to hear of the BID proposal. Bloomsbury ward councillor Adam Harrison said he was not told of plans to hold a ballot for a BID and only learned about it when Fitzrovia News contacted him.
In July Fitzrovia News submitted two freedom of information (FOI) requests to the council asking about the decision-making process leading up to allowing The Fitzrovia Partnership to hold a ballot for the BID. We asked what information was provided by The Fitzrovia Partnership and which elected members of the council were consulted.
There was very little actually recorded about the decision-making process with meetings not being minuted and so the information trail is not very clear. But the FOI response did reveal that the leader of Camden Council Sarah Hayward (who was a cabinet member at the time) was consulted about creating a new commercial district in Fitzrovia. This information she did not pass on to local councillors. Instead she asked The Fitzrovia Partnership to do so, but after the process to create the BID was under way.
What residents and small businesses were unaware of was that in 2011 The Fitzrovia Partnership published a “business engagement” brochure. In this brochure which we obtained via a FOI request from Camden it states: “Elected officials and community groups will be included in the engagement programme designed to inform the evolution of the Partnership”. The brochure outlined plans for the creation of a business improvement district and a likely timetable for its creation.
Yet this brochure was only distributed to 229 of the largest businesses in the neighbourhood. Fitzrovia News had never seen it before and neither had small business owners, residents or our local councillors.
This is confirmed by the “consultation summary” produced by The Fitzrovia Partnership and given to Camden ahead of the ballot. This document, which we also obtained under a FOI request, states: “As part of our wider communication we have met Cllr Sarah Hayward, Rachel Stopard (Director) and Alison Griffin (Assistant Director) at Camden to overview our ambitions. In addition we have communicated with our three ward Councillors, Adam Harrison, Milena Nuti and Abdul Quadir, a meeting having been arranged for June 2012.”
But the June meeting with local councillors was after the BID proposal had been announced.
In a comment to Fitzrovia News councillor Adam Harrison said he knew nothing about the proposed ballot at the end of May but only suspected that a ballot was forthcoming (as did a number of residents). He stated that Sarah Hayward had mentioned to him about the possibility of a BID proposal. Adam told us: “Sarah had mentioned to me [in May 2012] that she thought the Partnership were putting plans in place to propose a BID. That is why I therefore thought that a BID might form part of the discussion. I was surprised at how quickly after the Partnership’s contact with me that the BID ballot opened, and remain disappointed at the lack of wider consultation with the community.”
However, it is clear from the FOI responses that Sarah Hayward failed to tell Adam Harrison exactly what was taking place and how far the proposals to develop the BID had progressed. This lack of information and no consultation left residents and small businesses uninformed, unable to develop an effective campaign to prevent the BID going ahead, or have a say in its structure.
Councillor Leach has now indicated that she wants The Fitzrovia Partnership to include residents as part of the BID. However, it remains to be seen what form this would take. Residents who attended a meeting with councillor Leach and Camden’s business officers were sceptical. Fitzrovia News understands that Camden’s officers have welcomed the BID and seem to be very keen for The Fitzrovia Partnership to get on with its plans unfettered by residents concerns.
Tomorrow evening (Tuesday 25 September) residents will attend a public meeting to be informed about the BID and decide what action needs to be taken to prevent, what many residents feel, Fitzrovia’s special character being destroyed by Derwent London and Arup.