Friday, 12 February 2016

Ritz Parade: The 'community hub' we need

The Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT) plans to build 1,400 homes along the North Circular Road in Enfield. These will probably house about 3,500 people of which a significant proportion are bound to be children. All these people will need the obvious services: shops, nurseries, schools and medical care. And, because the new homes will have relatively few parking spaces, the facilities need to be on the doorstep.

So far so obvious - but all the relevant public services are full or overloaded. A local GP practice has to cope with twice the planned number of patients but can't get funding for additional space. The local schools are full, as is Bowes School nursery.

All of this is well-known to the local community, the Council and the NHHT. Yet nothing has been done.

But now we have an opportunity. The Council has just finished a consultation on the future of the Ritz Parade. It even said that the Parade should be developed as a community hub - but was vague on the details

What we need
Enfield Green Party is pleased to help out.  In our submission we said that the initial facilities should include:
  • A range of shops sufficient to the meet the daily and weekly shopping needs of local residents
  • A medical centre serving as a base for community health professionals as well as a GP surgery.
  • A nursery
  • Meeting rooms for community events – at least matching those now available in the Jehovah's Witness's Hall.
As Greens we believe that community is important and that it’s very desirable that there should be a community hub – one place where facilities are concentrated and people can meet. And the Ritz Parade already provides such a place. We'd therefore like to see these facilities on or near the Parade. And, since the North Circular blocks north-south movement in this area there should be a new crossing.

The proximity of the North Circular Road is a problem of course in terms of road safety and air pollution. Air pollution causes an estimated 9,000 deaths per year in London alone.  Therefore any development should ensure that air pollution within buildings is kept to a safe level.

But it won't be enough to just produce the cheapest buildings that meet the initial needs. Good design is essential and there must be flexibility. Therefore there should be sufficient non-residential space to allow for expansion of the community facilities in the future. Facilities should be provided in ways that allow for changes in the use of space.

There are some technical needs too since buildings are so long-lived. So all development should be to the highest environmental standards. In particular, energy-efficiency should reach the passivhaus standard. 

Who should pay?
Schools are obviously the Council's responsibility. We recognise that all local authorities face appalling financial pressures due to the government's ridiculous and inhumane austerity policies (but that's a topic for another occasion). We also recognise that the new residents will pay millions of pounds in Council Tax whilst NHHT will, by law, contribute to infrastructure costs. In nay case, school places are essential both socially and legally.

The other facilities and the road crossing pose different questions. We start from the fact that the NHHT is a charity that will, when it's finished, have made a great deal of money from property development. It would therefore be wholly appropriate, in terms of both corporate social responsibility and fulfilment of the Trust's charitable objectives, that NHHT should provide or pay for these facilities.

Meeting these needs should be seen, by the Trust, the Council and the local community as one way in which it discharges its fundamental charitable purpose – not as a distraction from house-building.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Ritz Parade: What is a 'community hub'?

Who wouldn't want a community hub? That was the question at last Wednesday's Ward Forum at Bowes School. And that's what the Council said it wants as the future of the Ritz Parade on the North Circular Road. Sounds good doesn't it?

But there's a problem, well actually two problems.

Firstly no-one knows what a 'community hub' is. Is it a GP surgery, meeting rooms, a school, a row of shops or a cinema?  All these suggestions were made at the Ward Forum but the six councillors present were notably silent. And they were careful NOT to ask the local residents present what they specifically wanted. Asking them – rather than the waltz around the houses that we got – would have provided clarity to the Council's negotiations with the developer. 
Which brings us to the second problem. Whatever the local people want, the Council probably can't provide it. The Council doesn't own the land and it couldn't afford to develop it if it did. And it can't instruct the developer, the Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT), which despite its charitable status seems determined to maximise its profits.
Councillors should have used the meeting to get clarity about local needs. They could then call on NHHT to deliver what's needed both on and adjacent to the site. For instance, a new road crossing would be very useful. With the money it’s made from its other sites on the North Circular it can well afford to!