The creation of the Marylebone Forum would mean the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association’s amenity society status would be lost and its current role possibly been taken over by a group based around the central Marylebone area. There is currently a rush to form neighbourhood forums in both Camden and Westminster. There are applications in progress in Bloomsbury and Soho. While Camden is passively accepting applications Westminster is actively encouraging them. The headache for Fitzrovia residents is that the neighbourhood straddles both boroughs.
The recently published Localism Act and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will change the way town planning and development proposals are managed. One of the features of the Localism Act is that it does allow cross-boundary neighbourhood forums to be established. An application has been made by residents of the St Helens area of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, and of the Eynham Road area of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.
However, Fitzrovia has a problem because Camden and Westminster are of different political colours and sources say that while a cross-boundary Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Forum is possible in theory it is unlikely to be realised in practice. There is also the workload associated with first making the application and then finding the time and resources to actually develop the forum and produce a Neighbourhood Plan from it. The neighbourhood forum would have to be made up of 21 members which needs to reflect the make up of the neighbourhood. It would have to include not only residents but businesses and landowners.
Residents on both sides of Fitzrovia are very concerned about the increasing commercialisation of the neighbourhood and many have expressed a view that Neighbourhood Forums and a Neighbourhood Plan would address these issues and help to protect residents interests. Many residents on the Camden side of Fitzrovia have criticised the draft Fitzrovia Area Action Plan (which supplements the existing Local Development Framework) because it does not go far enough to control the development pressure on the area. But it is uncertain whether a Neighbourhood Plan would make any difference.
The problem for residents and community groups is that the issues are complicated and the Localism Act and NPPF are untested. This change in town planning also comes at a time when community groups have had their funding cut and find it difficult to find money to deal with planning and licensing issues. There is also a sense of unease about the rise of business improvement districts (BIDs) which are seeking a greater say in how the local environment is to be shaped. Larger businesses are now flexing their muscles and Camden and Westminster are letting them get on with it.
Camden Council’s cabinet member for Finance Theo Blackwell has said that businesses are free to set up BIDs without the council having to consult with local residents and small businesses. While Camden do not appear to be actively encouraging BIDs, Westminster Council is keen to see more established; but it also seems that Westminster in some cases has been more concerned to get the consent of residents and small business before allowing a BID ballot to go ahead. BIDs were formalised by a Labour government in 2003 so maybe Camden feels they are benign, while Westminster likes the public-private aspect of them they treat any Labour legislation with suspicion and so like to see a more inclusive consultation process.
Sources have told Fitzrovia News that the way BIDs and Neighbourhood Forums are dealt with does vary from one borough to the next and it often has nothing to do with the political colours of the local authority.
In central London with its mix of uses and rising land values there is huge pressure being placed on businesses to capitalise on this and at the same time residents right to quiet enjoyment is being squeezed. It is all too often forgotten that central London has a huge residential population (mostly renting), that people are born here and live their whole lives here and have always done so. Residents will too often hear: “You live in central London. What do you expect?” But those who live here are now asserting themselves and expecting a better deal. But can the Localism Act deliver?
Some people on the Westminster side of Fitzrovia feel that the only solution to controlling development and the intensification of commercial uses is to join forces with Marylebone and create a Marylebone Neighbourhood Forum. Others argue that Fitzrovia should retain its distinctiveness with either a small Neighbourhood Forum on the Westminster side with its population of around 3,500 (a little smaller than Soho’s 4,000); with the Fitzrovia Area Action Plan as its Camden mirror. Or, according to some and despite the difference in politics, forge a new cross-boundary Neighbourhood Forum with representatives from Fitzrovia’s 8,000 residents and the many thousands of businesses as well as the landowners.
With Fitzrovia’s split personality it seems there are no easy solutions. The Marylebone Association are now putting the pressure on the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association to decide. It takes time to call a meeting and consult with thousands of residents, and no-one really wants to call a general meeting in the middle of the summer. All of this work to arrange meetings is done by a handful of volunteers most of whom feel snowed under.
Meanwhile the planning and licensing applications continue to pile up and tenants continue to be priced out of the area.
Comments are invited below. See also The Marylebone Forum should be attractive to Fitzrovia residents