Last night’s Chipping Barnet Residents Forum was a sad affair. Questions unanswered, evaded or banned. Public opinion ignored. With a dozen die-hard residents in attendance and eight questions on the issues list, the residents forum at least held out some hope that it might create a dialogue between the council and its residents.
The first question on the list went through on the nod as the questioner wasn’t present. Perhaps starting the forums at 6.00pm had something to do with it, especially if you work in central London.
The second question was about getting a dog bin installed on the library green at Friern Barnet Library. A charming chap from the Council said yes they could introduce a general waste bin. But that not what was asked for shouted several residents. It took several attempts to get the officer to recognise that if people ask for a dog bin that’s what they want.
Third question came from one of Barnet’s most well respected community advocates, David Howard, and related to the introduction of charges in East Barnet Village car park. David had asked a series of very clear points, none of which were answered. Cllr Evangeli said that there was a consultation taking place and that all three East Barnet Councillors were opposed to the introduction of charges. “In that case why did two of the three councillors vote in favour of this proposal at Cabinet “, Mr Reasonable shouted. No reply. Universally the audience were opposed to these charges. There were two other questions relating to the same subject, none of which were satisfactorily answered.
The next question related to the phasing of traffic lights and the adjacent pedestrian crossing at the junction of Colney Hatch Lane and the North Circular. This seemed an exceptionally dangerous situation. The charming officer promised to come and have a look at the situation. The discussion drifted into the councils traffic management study and the review of all pedestrian crossings in Barnet. Unfortunately the charming officer made a serious error by suggesting that if residents said they wanted light controlled crossings to remain then they would. Oh dear! He obviously hadn’t been to previous residents forums where the pedestrian crossing at the junction of Whetstone High Road and Oakleigh Road North. He was quickly reminded that not only had people asked for the crossing to remain but that Councillors on the Environment subcommittee had formally asked officers to reinstate the lights only to be overruled by Cllr Brian Coleman.
Three questions from Mr Reasonable followed. One related to the East Barnet car park issue no satisfactory answer on how much revenue this would generate. The next question related to the events in the parks consultation. The consultation results showed that 94% of respondents are opposed to events in Oakhill Park. An entirely misleading reply stated that 45 events already take place in parks. Yes but this is about PRIVATE EVENTS. How many of those had been held in Parks. Cllr Kate Salinger suggested that none had been held, that’s why they were undertaking the consultation.
I then asked about the public toilet in Oakhill Park which has been out of order for more than 9 months. The reply stated that the toilet was the responsibility of the Cafe owner. Since when? It is a Council toilet. Yet another misleading answer.
At this point David Howard suggested that none of the questions had been answered satisfactorily, either missing information, answering different questions or providing misleading answers. Was it incompetence or was the council being disingenuous. I think I know what most of the people present thought.
So two banned questions were not read out. What were the banned questions asked another community activist. Kate Salinger formally adjourned the meeting and suggested that I could then tell those present. And what were these questions that were so disruptive, so dangerous that they were censored?
One question was, “The council is planning to introduce a new website in April. Will the council consider holding training sessions for the public to help them find their way around the new website?” Very radical and dangerous!
The other question was “When will the council take time to inform the local community about the progress on the One Barnet outsourcing programme?” Ah the One Barnet phase that no one is allowed to mention even though it is a Billion Pound project which is costing millions of pounds just in consultancy fees.
The residents forums have lost all credibility (which I think was the intended objective when the council changed the format). All credit should go to Cllr Kate Salinger who did a good job of running the forum allowing everyone to have their say but ultimately an entirely unsatisfactory and pointless exercise in the illusion of consultation.