The new City Neighbourhood Forum is a good idea. If …

I’m in two minds about the proposed Neighbourhood Forum for the Barbican and Golden Lane Estates – so here’s some thinking out loud. Previous post here.

The City of London is currently carrying out a formal consultation on the proposal, and you can respond here. A report will go to Planning and Transportation Committee on July 18.

A set of FAQs on the consultation site explains that once approved a Neighbourhood Forum can develop a Neighbourhood Plan that has the same statutory weight as the Local Plan.

In practice, that could mean that the Barbican and Golden Lane Estates have additional influence on the future of the north western “Culture Mile” district of the City at a time of change.

That’s important because last month a Culture Mile Business Improvement District came into being, with plans that affect anyone living or working in the area. More here on the issues that the BID raises.

While BIDs can bring benefits to residents, one criticism is that they lack direct accountability. There is no resident representation on the Board, and only one elected Corporation Member as observer.

The BID plans do include proposals for a community forum. However, there’s no news on that yet, because the BID is still setting up its Board and committees, which will presumably decide whether to proceed with the idea. Here’s a note I prepared earlier on governance and engagement.

Pros and cons of the proposal

On the one hand the proposals from an interim steering group, chaired by Brenda Szlesinger, are very well set out and make a compelling case on all fronts for the Forum and Neighbourhood Area. I’m not a planning expert, but don’t see why they shouldn’t be approved. It is an impressive piece of work, and if I lived in the proposed Neighbourhood Area I would be in favour. But …

On the other hand the proposed area excludes Barts Square, Bartholomew Close (where I live) and Smithfield. That’s where major developments are in progress or planned, with a new London Museum, redevelopment of the Market buildings when trade moves to Dagenham, and substantial plans for the public realm. Both the Museum and Market development plans mention 24 hour activity. We could end up with Covent Garden in the City – since the Elizabeth Line makes it such an accessible destination.

In theory those of us around Smithfield could propose our own Neighbourhood Forum, but there are far fewer residents, and we aren’t as connected as an estate community. My sense is that residents will want to engage with plans from the Corporation, Museum, Market and BID, but not have to set up a separate statutory forum to do so.

Corporation Members, led by Mark Bostock, have previously argued for the need for an overall strategy for the Culture Mile area.

It may be that the BID community forum will provide one route, and also act as a catalyst to bring different interests in the area together.

But will we then end up with a two-tier system … an influential Barbican and Golden Lane Estate forum, and a community forum with far less influence?

Although called a “forum” the Barbican and GLE constitution is actually for a non-for-profit company.

The forum proposal document from the two estates cites the City of London’s (2036) Draft Plan as showing a Key Area of Change embracing both the two estates and Smithfield, which is “set to incur significant change and growth during the plan period”.

Since most of that change will be around Smithfield, there’s a case for saying that any Neighbourhood Forum should embrace Smithfield and the area of the BID. That appears to be the case in Victoria, where there is a BID and also a related Neighbourhood Forum. Both that BID and the Culture Mile BID are managed by the same company, Primera, so there’s no lack of expertise on the options.

The proposed Neighbourhood Area

The Business Improvement District

Key area of change in City of London (2036) Draft Plan.

I’m finding it difficult to decide whether or not to support the forum until we know what’s on offer from the BID, and what powers – if any – the community forum will have. I couldn’t find any model for BID community forums.

Views on the forum proposal have to be in by Wednesday June 21.

I think we should look to our Corporation Members in Farringdon to review the proposals, press for more information on the community forum, and report back to residents outside the proposed Neighbourhood Area with their views.

If that can’t be done in time, Planning Committee might be asked to defer its decision.

The forum looks great for Barbican and Golden Lane Estate, if there are satisfactory arrangements for the rest of the area.

My declaration of interest here.

I’ll check in with Primera, the forum proposers, and neighbourhood planning experts, and make amendments to the above if necessary.

Meanwhile, comments on this post are open. What we need is, ummm, a forum for discussion.

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