Thursday, 17 January 2013

The subject is exhausted, and Mrs Angry is hard to please - Residents Forum, Part Two:

Victoria Park Lodge

The first question of the evening was another challenge to the calamitous parking policy instigated by the late and unlamented Councillor Coleman, in this instance the residents of some blocks of flats in Temple Fortune with parking problems caused by drivers refusing to use pay by phone bays in the area. 

The resident submitting the question remarked on the loss of revenue that the council must be facing - is facing - as a result: a truth which our Tory councillors are only just beginning to realise is not just a 'teething problem' but a fundamental flaw in their own cock eyed policy. The response was merely that the issue is under review, and nothing is likely to change in the near future.

The next question came from a resident concerned with an issue also raised by Mrs Angry: making Squires Lane safer for drivers and pedestrians, his question relating specifically to the western end, known at Manor View. This issue is something raised at this Forum by Mrs Angry with tedious frequency: councillors all tut tut and say something must be done, and nothing ever happens. 

While Coleman was in charge of such matters, traffic calming measures were removed, and only after they were gone were residents consulted as to whether they would like them to be removed: the Barnet way of consultation. Since then, there have been endless accidents in the area, and there will continue to be accidents in the area. The criteria for a formal review of  road safety was ill defined: one fatality, outside Mrs Angry's house, was not enough, and the sixteen other recorded accidents involving casualties in three years, (although six months out of date) and countless unrecorded accidents? Meh.

At last, or rather yet again, now that Himself is safely out of the way, we are told there will be a review. When? Or, as Councillor John Marshall put it, rather rudely, to the hapless officer from Highways, and  in his best Tory grandee voice 'Concentrate your mind, Mr X' ... Mr X, who is a decent bloke doing his best in a very difficult position made more difficult by the lunatic limitations proscribed by the policy decisions of Councillor Marshall and his colleagues, looked rather upset by this jibe, and Mrs Angry did not blame him.

The third question which had been put to the Forum by Mrs Angry, but refused, was a question on policing. Mrs Angry, a member of a local police SNT residents' panel,  had genuinely thought this was a legitimate question, even under the merciless restrictions of the new rules on censorship. She took the opportunity to complain about this obstruction of her question, and pointed out the absurdity of the fact that there were local police representatives present, and that road safety came under their remit too, yet she was barred from referring to a policing matter at the Forum.

Local libdem councillor Lord Palmer was in the audience and intervened to observe that there had indeed been police officer regularly included as members of the Forum panel. The Tories looked on, non plussed.

Another question, or rather a presentation, from a resident whose local association are, yes,  concerned about parking problems in an area of Cricklewood - will anything happen as a result of his efforts? Probably not. The usual vague response.

And now a group of questions, bundled together, from Mrs Angry & another resident who was not present, in regard to vacant council owned properties, and their security. 

At an earlier Forum last June, Mrs Angry had asked about a park keeper's lodge whose tenants had been evicted, a couple of years ago, and the property left unsecured, vandalised and derelict. Property Services had refused to provide an answer to the question at this Forum, which caused much disapproval, even from the Forum chair, but the next day someone took steps to secure the property - except they have not done the job properly. There is still easy access to the lodge and grounds.

The answer to the original question, submitted in June, was only sent a few days ago, more than six months after being asked. 

Why was the property still empty? Oh, restrictive covenants, that sort of thing. Really?

Why, asked Mrs Angry, of the senior officer from Property Service, a Mr George Church, did you only act to secure the lodge, and the Grade 2* listed Church Farmhouse, after I pointed out these properties were unsecured?

The frankly incredible response from Mr Church was that the lodge had been left unsecured in case any security measures advertised the fact that it was vacant. Mrs Angry pointed out the kicked in fence, left for months, the drug dealing, the rubbish strewn around the grounds, the open gate, and general air of dereliction might just have helped to give that impression anyway.

The ridiculous excuse for the Church Farmhouse being left completely open to vandalism, or worse, until Mrs Angry suggested at a meeting at the occupied library that it might present a perfect venue for another occupation, was that the resident security guardian now in place had not been used earlier due to .... erm ... the lack of any shower facilities. 


And they had thought it would be impractical to try to install any.


Mrs Angry was so bemused by this nonsense, she forgot to ask how the present caretaker, rushed into place on the very day of the library squat meeting and her interesting suggestion, manages without an ensuite bathroom. Perhaps he nips next door to the Greyhound, and washes his feet in the gents.

And speaking of the occupied library: this was the subject of Mrs Angry's last question, and relevant to the previous matter, ie the strange tendency of Barnet Council to leave properties, both commercial and residential, vacant for such long periods of time, with almost no effort made to secure any of them from the threat of vandalism, arson, or general deterioration.

Mrs Angry had asked how many vacant council owned properties there are in the borough, vacant for more than six months, residential or otherwise, and how many of them are being secured.

A list was provided of 27 commercial properties, ranging from the contentious Hendon FC football club, which Barnet is trying to sell to the lowest bidder, a decision being contested by Judicial Review, hearing next month, to a depot in Cricklewood, and oh, Friern Barnet library.The response claimed the council did not know how long any of these properties had been vacant because they do not keep records.

They admitted that other than Church Farmhouse, no property is being secured by 'guardians', which was not what had been asked, but it is clear that little is being done to protect such properties, vacant on a long term basis, from damage - or occupation.

No real explanation was given as to why no residential properties had been listed.

Why, Mrs Angry wonders, are properties left untended in this way, allowing them to decline so far as to be suitable only for redevelopment, or even demolition?

The Chair had clearly had enough of this uncomfortable line of discussion. He thought that the subject had been exhausted.

But here is an odd tale. 

It seems that when the occupiers first moved into Friern Barnet Library, they inspected the roof and found that it appeared as if holes had been deliberately made on each corner of the roof, which were allowing water to enter the building. The effect of the leaking from these four holes, combined with the curious fact that the heating had been left on, in an empty building, at a very high temperature, was combining in such a way as to encourage warping in some of the internal structure. The occupiers took photographs of the apparent 'vandalism' and carefully mended the roof so as to protect the library from further damage.

Mrs Angry had asked the following question:

Residents of this ward have  been waiting with enormous excitement for the development of the so called 'Landmark Library' at the Arts Depot, promised by the council as a spurious justification for closing the branch library at Friern Barnet Library. It has now been admitted by Councillor Robert Rams that this new library will not be going ahead. How much money will be saved by the failure of this empty promise, and where will the funding now be relocated, or will the money be withdrawn from the library budget?

The response:

No revenue budget will be saved as the plan was always to use the revenue budget from North Finchley Library. In terms of Capital cost this would have been funded by the sale of North Finchley and Friern Barnet. Any additional funding was intended to come from a Bid to Arts Council England.

How very odd, said Mrs Angry, because the council's recent statements about the library, since the court case, stating that there is more 'flexibility' in the budget have been widely interpreted as being as a result of the collapse of the invisible landmark library. Where then is the extra money being made available coming from? 

No one on the panel knew. But then up piped Councillor John Marshall.  

The council, he proclaimed, is very keen to support a community library in Friern Barnet. 

Hmm, thought Mrs Angry. Clearly. The events of the last year are evidence of that.

Marshall told her that there would soon be an announcement on this matter, in fact.


And then, he remarked, archly, even you may be pleased ...

Mrs Angry peered across the room at him thoughtfully.

... and you are very hard to please, he added, with a pursed smile.

Mrs Angry leaned forward again and grinned back at the old boy, and at Councillor Andrew Harper, sitting next to him, and - oh make up your own portfolio joke.

In fact, Councillor Marshall, she commented, as lasciviously as she could muster, in the less than preposessing circumstances: I am very easy to please ...

Andrew Harper stared hard at his shoes, trying not to laugh. 

Oh dear, Mrs Angry.

As for the other forums: no news of the Hendon event, but at Chipping Barnet all was finished in half an hour. Half an hour! 

These Forums are of course a total farce: they are the complete inversion of the proper process of democracy and run in direct opposition to the council's absurdly insincere commitment to the stated principles of One Barnet:

At the heart of the One Barnet programme is the aim to become a truly citizen-centric council, to help residents lead successful and independent lives. The council tests everything it does against three key principles: 

a new relationship with citizens 

a relentless drive for efficiency 

a ‘one public sector’ approach

Certainly in one sense this mission has been successful - there is a new relationship with citizens: one of fear, loathing, and mutual contempt.

This is Broken Barnet, in the last full year of the most inept, most morally bankrupt Tory administration this borough has ever had to endure. 

It is the end of an era, the decline and fall of an empire, but it's not over yet. 

Tighten your seatbelts.

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