Tuesday 18 May 2021

Countdown to failure, for Barnet Tories, and Casting the Net: a Week in Broken Barnet

Labour Cllr Anne Clarke, AM

As predicted, the recent London Assembly elections saw Roberto Weeden Sanz, the Tory candidate for Barnet and Camden, soundly beaten by Labour's Anne Clarke, and we also waved a fond goodbye to no hoper Shaun Bailey, who stood against Sadiq Khan for Mayor of London. 

Anne Clarke deserved to win: she is a remarkably intelligent, hardworking, dedicated and conscientious advocate for her council ward of Childs Hill, and is known for her hands on approach to community work.

Roberto Weeden Sanz did not deserve to win, for several reasons: first and foremost the fact that he chose as mentor for his campaign the disgraced former Tory councillor and AM Brian Coleman. Yes, it appears local Tories have quietly allowed him back into the party, despite his history which includes, as fellow blogger Roger Tichborne reminds us today, a conviction for the assault in the street of a woman, cafe owner Helen Michael: you can see the footage and a report of the trial here.

Weeden Sanz, on his twitter profile, boasts that he is a 'White Ribbon' Ambassador. As you can see on their website, this honour is supposed to be held by men who pledge to be a positive male role model, "working with us to change the cultures that lead to violence against women".

Barnet Tories never apologised to Helen Michael for the assault, or for not believing her account of the attack, even after the court footage was published and she was proven to be telling the truth. 

Another truth is that a lack of respect for women is deeply embedded in the core of the Barnet Tory group. They amended the council constitution a few years ago to ensure the Chairs of any committee were to be referred to as 'Chairmen', even if chaired by a woman. One of the few women in the group, long serving councillor Joan Scannell, when viciously deselected by them after years of loyal service, made a speech at her last meeting, accusing them of misogyny. And that the spokesperson for their group on the issue of violence against women is a man, rather than a woman, is only to be expected.

It was Coleman himself who stupidly let the cat out of the bag: after rumours that he was back in the party and coaching Weeden Sanz for a glorious victory in the Assembly elections, he could not resist answering criticism of his pupil's non attendance at two hustings events by claiming 'they' were too busy: 

His account was immediately locked, no doubt under orders from local Tories. Too late. And lo and behold, the woman whom Coleman tries to insult by calling her 'the Cricklewood Housewife' was duly elected to the London Assembly.

At the count, Weeden Sanz was accompanied by the Tory group leader Dan Thomas - and Brian Coleman. And there you have it: the absolute inability of Barnet Tories to move into the 21st century, accept that women, even those Coleman once referred to as 'old hags', even housewives in NW2 - have won the right to vote, the right to be elected to office - and the right to respect.

One immediate effect of the Labour victory was to serve as a warning to local Tory MPs not to take for granted the idea that their own seats were safe, or that next year's local elections  would not be a hard contest. 

Not such a surprise, therefore, that last Thursday's online nonsultation event with the promoters of the highly controversial Hendon Hub saw Hendon MP Matthew Offord not only in virtual attendance - at one point his voice heard faintly over the ether, like a long dead uncle, drowned at sea, being channelled at a seance - at last speaking out in solidarity with the multitude of residents objecting to the monstrous development that is proposed for not one, but two Conservation Areas. He now has to catch up with Anne Clarke and Labour's Sara Conway, also present , and who have been listening to residents since it was first mooted.

This event was well attended, with more than 80 online participants, including, I noted with amusement, the consultants who had told me no one knew how big the alleged new library would be, because it hadn't really been designed: and then I received the information that didn't exist via a  separate FOI request, which was ... curious.

The plotters are now claiming to listen to residents and to have modified the plans. Well: yes we are still expected to put up with hideous seven storey blocks in the Conservation areas, and watch them knock our listed library to pieces, but .... they might only accommodate 600 students instead of 800, and they might have a token gesture of a small amount of 'affordable housing' and they might not move the PDSA base to the other side of the borough, and they might find room for the local police Safer Neighbourhood team (no, not more police resources, just a room). They might

Anyone who has followed the pattern of major developments in Barnet in the years of Capita knows that non binding promises ain't worth the paper they're not written on, and even conditions granted as part of Planning Permission can be helpfully modified by officers later, if the poor developer, cap in hand, and handkerchief to his tear soaked cheeks, claims that his development will no longer be viable if the nasty spoilsport councillors insist on his providing affordable housing or money for so called community projects that no one needs. Such as was suggested here: new park entrances (why?) and tarting up Brent Street (how?)! Whoopee! 

Also funny was watching the contortions they were obliged to assume - we are 'casting the net', they assured us - in order to try to explain why, despite planning officers being in communication with Historic England, in regard to the local plan and SDP, and Historic England telling them off for not mentioning in the draft the limitations necessary in Conservation areas for the protection of heritage buildings, the developers knew NOTHING about this and had NOTHING to do with it. Erm.

Capita jointly owns Capita Re, which runs planning in Barnet.

Capita owns GL Hearn, who are running the Hendon Hub nonsultation.

In fact, until I contacted them, Historic England knew NOTHING about the Hendon Hub proposals, even though clearly it presents a direct and serious threat to dozens of listed buildings, and two Conservation areas, and even though the development plans have been in the making since at least June 2019, when the plan was accidentally published with committee papers, and hastily removed, too late, and even though the Hub proposals breach the limitation Historic England has put on multi storey buildings in the area, despite Capita Barnet forgetting to include this in the draft SDP. 

Got that? Read it again.

Funniest of all was the running commentary on the group chat to which furious residents were contributing, with great enthusiasm, and which, as the consultants reminded them sternly, should be made remembering that they would be Noted as Part of the Nonsultation. Good. Probably the consultants won't want to look at them again without wearing dark glasses or taking sedation.

Offord - who lives in the area - would be a complete fool if he ignored the strength and scale of objection to this idiotic proposal. Hendon is regarded as a Tory area, but in these strange times there is no longer such a thing as a safe seat: and what Capita and developers are trying to push  through here is effectively the imposition of a modern day campus on not only a residential area, but also a sensitive historic area, with a rich abundance of built heritage -  and archaeology. The impact of these totally unviable plans would be unimaginable. The impact on core Tory voters would be unprecedented. 

In fact this is a pattern now emerging all over the Borough, and all three MPs must be aware, as should the Tory council group. By allowing Barnet to be an 'open city' for developers, through their privatised planning and regeneration services, they are alienating their own natural born voters, outraged at the scale of overdevelopment, and the impotence of usually tame Tory ward members & MPs  in doing anything to stop it.

Coming to a Conservation area near you soon: the Hendon Hub development, courtesy @barnettories

I think it's fair to say that on Thursday night, the promoters of this plan, including representatives of Middlesex University, looked astonished at the vehemence and articulation of those who are expected to live with the heart torn out of their neighbourhood. 

Capita will continue to make a profit from the process of consultation and preparation, whether or not the plans are ever put in place. Middlesex Uni and local politicians have to live with the consequences. And if they think the outcome is not going to be an absolute disaster for all concerned, they have made a bad miscalculation. 

Watch this space.

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