19 June 2014

Local autocracy

Mr Mustard wasn't going to go to last night's Residents Forum but as he had been doing a little in the background to help the residents of Sellwood Drive with their hokey cokey pavement parking problem he thought he had better show willing for once. The reason he doesn't go is that he thinks the forums are simply hot air (the room in Barnet House was sweltering before the chair Lisa Rutter got speaking) and have no powers so what is the point.

He planned to sit at the back quietly and read his copy of Reclaiming Local Democracy, but not the 2 pages in which the famous four Barnet Bloggers get a mention (ignore the incorrect statement in the book that Mr Mustard is a lawyer, he isn't, he just knows a tedious amount about parking law) but the meeting was such a shambles and such annoying plans were being made that Mr Mustard found himself on his feet three times giving out an ear-bashing. Mr Reasonable had steam coming out of his ears and Mr Mustard had to ask him if he had brought his blood pressure pills along.

The meeting started badly. The format was not fully explained to people and that caused frustration. The visitors from Pollard Road, a notorious rat run (Mr Mustard has only used in once in 20 years but will now have to drive down it to see what the problem is) were frustrated about the time they had been told to come along at (6.30pm) when they really need to be at the next meeting, the area sub-committee, although only one of them could speak at it which annoyed them even more, which starts at either 7pm or when the forum finishes.

The printed meeting notice doesn't help.

What time is it?
If the forum finishes between 6.30 and 7pm, the area sub-committee starts at 7pm but if the forum finishes between 7 and 8.30pm that is the time that the area sub-committee starts. Clear? The notice says that it starts at the earlier of 7 or, in the event as the forum was a busy one, 8.30 so the official answer is 7pm which is impossible as some councillors are in both meetings. Governance don't seem to be able to get the simplest of things right. The word "earlier" should of course be "later".

The forum would have been a whole lot shorter if the attempt by Governance to refuse three lots of questions hadn't caused all three residents to complain separately and force their questions onto the agenda. There isn't of course enough time set aside for this forum when there are emotive issues like parking and rat runs to discuss. Everyone leaves unhappy.

There was a presentation by a very good governance officer, who understands what it means to be a public servant, on the £100,000 allocated to the Chipping Barnet constituency for local works of some sort. It isn't her fault that this scheme is a sop, you can buy sod all with £100,000 across an area that contains 100,000 residents which you can only spend on capital works with zero future maintenance requirement. Residents should be properly consulted on the whole billion £ spend of Barnet Council, not just an ickle bit of it.

The next presentation about the constituency and various statistics included a slide which contained the bullet point of Timebank. The presenter didn't know what it was! Please, don't make a presentation to an audience and then ask the audience, as you did, what Timebank is. Mr Mustard could have told you but Green Party Poppy gave a much clearer report. The employee should have looked this up on the council website before she left her desk.

After a lot of huffing and puffing Cllr Brian Salinger took all the Pollard Rd people away into another room to consult with them about what they wanted. This at least, was a good idea, although they didn't get to hear everything else in the forum. He, or one of the other ward councillors, should have done this before the situation reached fever pitch.

Cllr Rutter batted half of the points away that people should have seen their ward councillors first. If they are all opposition councillors they have no real power and haven't all been getting answers back from officers and the email for some of them is only just now working so contacting them was impossible. No-one seemed happy with her suggestion. There need to be clear rules about what sort of problems are handled where.

Cllr Rutter made a huge mistake in telling the no-nonsense Barbara Jacobson (of the Barnet Alliance for Public Services but asking in her capacity as a resident) that her question was not a question but a comment. It started with "Why" and finished with a "?". It looked like a question to everyone else in the room, or maybe it was an elephant as it was such a good question.

Mr Mustard comments

"Why did anyone vote for Lisa Rutter?"

The former St James the Great Church in Friern Barnet Lane has some parking problems caused by the congregation sometimes. The proposed solution of letting the church put their own cones out in the short stretch of road didn't find favour with officers who wanted to charge some unknown fee to provide cones (Mr Mustard may well have offered in the meeting to steal a few cones from elsewhere in the borough but wouldn't actually do such a thing) and wanted to slap down the heaviest possible restriction (copyright Bugle Dan) of yellow lines and no loading kerb marks in order to stop blue badge holders from parking there. Mr Mustard told the traffic officer that if he saw a Traffic Management Order (TMO) attempting to misuse loading restrictions in this way (there is no need for a loading restriction near the church as they aren't a shop having lots of deliveries) he would object to the TMO. It shows how power crazy some officers can get if they think they can bend legitimate rules in this way which would be an abuse of power. Blue badge holders should not be denied the opportunity to park near their chosen place of worship. Don't take problems to the council if you can sort them out locally would be Mr Mustard's advice.

Then we got to Sellwood Drive. Residents have long memories. one who had lived there for 37 years said there wasn't a parking problem until Barnet Council sold off some allotment land at the end of the road for a social housing scheme so it was the council that caused the problem as that increased parking demand. We discovered that a solution had already been identified by officers and was being implemented. hang on, said Mr Mustard, on his feet once again, whatever happened to consultation (remember what Judge Underhill said) and in the Hendon Forum issues list there is mention of a statutory consultation about changed proposals in Tenterden Grove, Garrick Way and Brinsdale Rd. If it is good enough for Hendon it's good enough for Chipping Barnet said Mr Mustard. So residents have been campaigning for weeks, local councillors and Teresa Villiers MP are involved and the solution is for officers to impose a scheme and start work without showing the plans to the residents. Idiotic and treating residents like children. A resident then mentioned that the workmen doing the work were themselves parked on the pavement. Uproar resulted.

By some stroke of terrible bad luck the council can't find the letter that they wrote to residents three years ago saying that PCN would not be issued for pavement parking. Filing must be in a right state at the council. A resident will probably give Mr Mustard a copy of the letter.

Barbara spoke up again. When the pavements were recently relaid in her road a line of brick paving was put at the edge. The workman told her that was so that all residents could put 2 wheels up on the pavement to make more room in the narrow road. Oh dear, this road had better be on the list of the ones that the council don't enforce in, at least until they lose the letter. Do not park on the pavement in your road unless you have a letter from the council saying you can. Please send any such letters to mrmustard@zoho.com

To sum up, the meeting was a shambolic, almost pointless, mess. If you want to see a Punch & Judy show the next meeting dates are 

22 October 14, 
15 January 15 and 
25 March 15 

so that will be 4 meetings in a year of 2 hours maximum duration each. The council so value your opinion that they allow 8 whole hours a year for 100,000 people to state it. That is what passes for democracy in Barnet. 

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. It seemed to me that the Chair had decided there is absolutely no point to these meetings, and is determined to prove it by batting every matter raised by a resident elsewhere - so that we will all feel that the Forums are pointless, and they can be abolished. While the previous chair - Cllr Sallinger - was much savvier. She understood that it's a pressure valve and she took the approach: Let the people have a go, and then we can all go home. Currently it's more like a pressure cooker - people come expecting to vent, and then can't! Potentially very damaging.
    I clicked on the link you gave for me and sadly it is blank. Could people try my blog instead: greenpartypoppy.wordpress.com ?
    I did offer to chair that event (when we were unsure whether the chair was lawfully appointed under the current chaos over appointments). That was part of the shambles you will recall: the officer announced legal advice had been received that decisions were valid, which councillors were not acquainted with. Council leader Cllr Cornelius got up saying "I was trying to hide here in the back" (or words to that effect). He IS my councillor, not opposition (for what it's worth).

  2. Thank you Poppy. I have changed the link to the one for your blog.


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