by Rachel Allison
Chair, Highgate Neighbourhood Forum
This Article first appeared in the Winter 2014 edition of Buzz (No 209)
Almost three years in the making, and finally the Highgate Neighbourhood Plan is nearly finished. The draft Plan is on our website at www.forhighgate.org ready for your comments. We are in consultation until the 15th February, with hard copies of the Plan at libraries, the Highgate Society and Jacksons Lane, pop-up consultation events at venues throughout N6, and online with the Camden and Haringey Councils. You can come and talk to those of us involved with writing the Plan between 2 and 4pm on Saturday, 10 January at 10A and between 3 and 5pm on Saturday 17 January at Jacksons Lane Studio 2.
It's taken far longer than anyone thought. So many boxes to tick people to consult and changes to incorporate, dealing with legislation designed for 'Shires not Metropolitan Boroughs, people coming and going, having more responsibilities and less time. And, of course, working with one council is demanding enough, but two…!
When the legislation was passed I wondered if those bureaucrats really understood what they were asking of lay people. Cynics may say it was deliberate! We have had to learn to think and write like planning professionals, making policy which doesn't contradict the government, the London Plan or the Councils' own plans, incorporating their changes as we write our own. We've had very little money and have had to beg favours from almost everyone who has worked with us. There are no real guidelines on what we're supposed to produce. On one hand we have to write in planning speak and be technically correct, but conversely we want to produce a vision for Highgate to which local residents can relate, not a dry planning policy document which will gather dust and no more than a cursory glance.
So what have we gained so far? Consensus seems to be that for the first time in living memory Camden and Haringey are working together for the good of Highgate, and that's no mean feat. Council officers are routinely talking to each other and meeting. We are no longer met with a sharp intake of breath when we ask if there can’t be some unity of parking and charges on Highgate High
Street and a common approach to planning. Both councils now seem to accept that it's the people within a community who should shape it, and know best, not some amorphous public body with an arbitrary boundary.
And after the consultation? We will incorporate any changes and submit the Plan for inspection. If approved, it will go out to referendum, possibly next October. So this time next year, if all goes well, we should be looking to spend Highgate's share of the Community Infrastructure Levy - the planning tax raised directly by councils - on projects of our own choice within N6. Now that really will make it all worthwhile.