Cross-borough application made to designate Neighbourhood Area under the Localism Act.
By News Reporters
An application to designate Fitzrovia as a neighbourhood area under the Localism Act has been sent to Camden and Westminster councils. The application was filed on Monday and marks the first step towards creating a neighbourhood forum and eventually a neighbourhood plan. If successful this would hand some power to local people to shape planning and building development in Fitzrovia.
The application was made by the Fitzrovia Forum after a meeting last week at the Fitzrovia Community Centre where a group of residents agreed a cross-borough neighbourhood forum was in the best interests of Fitzrovia.
The proposed Fitzrovia neigbourhood area is bounded by Great Portland Street, Euston Road, Gower Street, New Oxford Street and Oxford Street.
Elsewhere in Camden, the Highgate Forum crosses the boundary between Camden and Haringey and the Neighbourhood Forum for Kings Cross straddles the boundary between Camden and Islington. However, the Fitzrovia Forum is believed to be the first cross-borough application made to both Camden and Westminster councils.
Sources have said that Conservative-controlled Westminster may be reluctant to approve a cross-borough application with Labour-controlled Camden. But campaigners for the cross-boundary application point out that neither borough can legally turn down the application because it straddles local authority boundaries, and that the whole point of devolving democracy to this local level is to get around the party politics of town halls.
Speaking on behalf of the Fitzrovia Forum, Wesley Skow said people in Fitzrovia should not be concerned with the Westminster-Camden party politics issue. “Neighbourhood planning is an opportunity for Fitzrovia as a community to step away from divisive party politics and work together as a local community. The us versus them — Westminster versus Camden — arguments are a false choice,” says Mr Skow.
The other difficulty is that the Fitzrovia Forum’s proposal conflicts with an application made last year to City of Westminster by the Marylebone Forum and supported by the Marylebone Association and the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association (FNA).
The entire Westminster side of the Fitzrovia Forum’s proposed area overlaps with part of the Marylebone Forum’s proposed area. The FNA has now been asked to support the Fitzrovia Forum’s new proposal for a cross-boundary Fitzrovia neighbourhood area and withdraw its support for the Marylebone Central area.
At the meeting held at Fitzrovia Community Centre the Marylebone Central area proposal was discussed and concerns about dividing Fitzrovia along the local authority boundary were raised. Wesley Skow speaking on behalf of the Fitzrovia Forum told Fitzrovia News:
“The unanimous view of the meeting was that the interests of Fitzrovia would be best represented by a neighbourhood area covering the entire geographical area known as Fitzrovia – that is, a cross-boundary neighbourhood area what includes both the Westminster and Camden portions of Fitzrovia. The meeting decided that the Fitzrovia Forum Steering Committee should prepare a neighbourhood area designation application for Fitzrovia, and file it with Westminster and Camden as soon as possible,” said Mr Skow.
Although the FNA opted to support the Marylebone Forum last year it was not an easy decision to make, as Fitzrovia News reported. Michael Bolt of the Marylebone Forum said the Westminster side of Fitzrovia had shared interests with Maryleobne and wrote in Fitzrovia News:
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 within the congestion zone and CAZ area.
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.
While in the summer of last year there was no proposal for a Fitzrovia Forum the situation is now different. Members of the Fitzrovia Forum say there is now broad community support for these Fitzrovia-based proposals.
Mr Skow told Fitzrovia News: “In light of the more recent community discussions, including alternative proposals for a Fitzrovia-based neighbourhood area and a Fitzrovia Forum, I would ask that the FNA reconsider its support for the Marylebone Forum’s proposals.”
The FNA has responded by writing to both forums saying: “Our Trustees will now be having to consider this request and proposal”.
Although the Marylebone Forum’s application was submitted last year, Westminster Council has yet to approve the application.
The Fitzrovia Forum and the Marylebone Forum would now have to come to an agreement on where to draw their respective boundaries. The FNA will have to decide which forum it supports. If Marylebone and Fitzrovia cannot come to agreement, then it would be up to Westminster Council to arbitrate, something they would be reluctant to do.
Westminster Council have also complained that there is not enough money in the pot to deal with the amount of applications for neighbourhood areas. But Westminster actively encouraged amenity societies to consider forming Neighbourhood Forums.
Prior to the Localism Act Westminster Council had recognised 19 amenity societies. The Marylebone Association covered an area from Edgware Road in the west to Great Portland Street in the East. The Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association covered the area from Great Portland Street up to the Camden boundary. The amenity societies are consulted on issues like planning, licensing and transport.
Currently Westminster Council is considering a number of neighbourhood area proposals and several of them overlap.
Rosemarie MacQueen, Westminster City Council’s strategic director for the built environment, told Planning magazine in December 2012 that the authority had been inundated with applications from groups wanting to draw up neighbourhood plans to shape development in their area.
MacQueen said neighbourhood planning was “an enormous piece of work” at a time of “shrinking resources” for councils. Some areas were also overlapping with each other.
A map on Westminster City Council’s website of the neighbourhood forum applications so far shows four overlaps. The council would have to arbitrate over where to draw the boundary line where there are competing areas.
Planning magazine reported that Westminster Council were still considering how to respond to the many applications. One “bottom-up” option was to leave arguing parties to sort out their differences themselves before approaching the council again.