Highgate: a case study about setting up a cross-boundary Neighbourhood Forum

Background

Members of the Highgate Society (a local civic society in the neighbourhood) saw the Localism Bill of 2011 as an opportunity for their local community to be recognised as one with issues and strengths. Because the community is on the edge of two boroughs (Camden and Haringey), and because it is an affluent bit of both, they felt that they were not included in anybody’s plans. With the Localism Bill they saw the opportunity of getting involved to change this.

MM_K_photoMaggy Meade-King, Chair of the Highgate Neighbourhood Forum, explains “While we noted that the Bill had possibilities for us, we also noticed the forums proposed within it had no capacity to cross borough boundaries. This was a main issue for us because we suffer from the fact of having two different planning authorities with two different sets of rules split up our high street...So we lobbied, put in a submission to the Scrutiny Committee and got an amendment to the Bill to allow cross borough Forums.”

Having achieved this, the group felt they had to make use of these new provisions and that setting up a Neighbourhood Forum was the way forward. They also felt it offered a democratic way of putting together a plan through which the local community could influence future development.

Establishing the Neighbourhood Forum

Getting established was a huge piece of work in itself. Maggy notes that “Unlike parish councils who already have a structure, an identity and are funded, we do not receive any funding, have no council back-up, and had to create an entity before we could even think about neighbourhood planning.” Defining the boundaries of the area, where it begins and where it ends, was not an easy thing.

Image2What the fledgling Forum did was:

  • Talk with all their neighbours and identify who they were
  • Bring together all the councillors from across the two wards, Camden and Haringey, and from three different political parties.
  • Use councillors’ knowledge of local organisations to reach out to key contacts
  • Organise a meeting (Jan 2012) to agree seeking formal designation as a Neighbourhood Forum
  • Put together a constitution, adopted at the inaugural AGM (May 2012)
  • Elect the first Committee for the Forum.

Maggy notes that while the work required setting up the Forum meant that they were not in time to apply for Front Runner status, “We were able create a mechanism and open communication channels for authorities to recognise us, agree on a neighbourhood area boundary, and collaborate through the entire process.” The application to be formally designated as a Neighbourhood Forum was submitted to the two councils in September 2012 and was approved in December 2012.

Beginning community consultation

While the Forum was still being established, the group started community engagement and consultation. With no funding, the group had to think carefully about what they could do and decided to:

  • Create a leaflet to be delivered to every household in the area (just over 8,000)
  • Create a very simple questionnaire with open ended questions to get people interested in signing up
  • Set up a website for the Forum as early as possible
  • Use every meeting, news article, call for recruits as a way to encourage people to get involved and take part in shaping the Plan
  • Carry out Placecheck walkabouts to look with fresh eyes at parts of the neighbourhood.

Later in 2012 the group secured help from the Prince’s Foundation to reach groups who hadn’t engaged with them so far. Once identified, they set out to find ways of reaching them through street engagement.

BlackboardMaggy explains “For example, when found we were not reaching the traders we went to their shops with a blackboard in hand and asked them to write down their three ideas for improving the area. We also asked all our affiliated organisations (including a community centre in an estate where we hadn’t had much response) to hand out wish cards during their own gatherings or event. Finally, we also noted that younger people were not very well represented on the Forum and we have been particularly targeting them at local events like the Fair in the Square and the Kenwood Concerts.”

Raising the Forum’s profile

Although the Plan is still under construction, the Forum feels that they have already been able to influence planning processes as a result of their work. The Councils and other public sector agencies now know about the Forum’s existence and progress to date, and have recognised that its work is relevant to their planning considerations as well.

“Because we got to know the people behind planning policy we were asked to suggest development sites across our area. And the results of our suggestions consolidated in four site proposals which reflect key components of our Plan and Forum discussions” says Maggy. The Forum feels that these examples show the difference that they have made already.

Top tips

Here are the key tips that Highgate would pass on to communities thinking about becoming a forum and undertaking neighbourhood planning:Labels

  • Involve your local Councillors from the outset
  • Get your Council officials on side
  • Bring as many of your local organisations on board as you can – they will certainly contain individuals who are ‘doers’
  • Look at who is not involved and think about how to engage them
  • Find out about your neighbourhood – there will be surprises!
  • Listen to what local people want your forum to do
  • Play to people’s strengths – let them run with what interests them – you will need everyone’s enthusiasm as time goes on
  • Be kind to each other – this is a long hard process and individuals will get tired and need support

Many thanks to Maggy Meade-King, her interviewer PAE volunteer Fabiola Cedillo, and the Highgate Neighbourhood Forum for their help with this case study. These case studies are produced by Planning Aid England as part of the Supporting Communities in Neighbourhood Planning programme, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and delivered by a consortium led by Locality.