Grove Ward Neighbourhood Forum
Meeting update by the Chair
Thank you all for joining the residents for discussions on our two identified priorities; 'The council's intention for developments effecting Grove ward' and 'Addressing antisocial behaviour in Grove ward'.
The Kingston University facilitated, kindly offering us the venue, refreshments and assisted in directing everyone to the room.
Tessa Kind (MSRA & KRA) had called and chaired the meeting on behalf of residents in Grove ward.
It was very encouraging to see approximately 60 representatives from the Council, Local MP, Police, University, residents associations, community groups and individuals coming out for a neighbourhood meeting.
This shows the level of interest, concern and pride people have for their town.
Our first topic was all about developments, what we can expect in near future. Cllr David Cunningham and Head of Planning Viv Evans explained their roles and work.
A number of residents are familiar with the constraints of policies and processes that the council needs to abide by, but it was important and worthwhile to go through them publicly at this meeting.
Residents were invited to ask questions.
It became apparent there was the need to debate why and how some of those policies, in particular Eden Quarter Development Brief, are made and why the general public feel they are not involved in forming some of the local policy.
It was agreed that communication regarding early consultation hasn't been great up until now. If you do not belong to a political party and receive their communications, or regularly search through the RBK website, it's almost impossible to know when the public are invited to comment on such important issues. Thank goodness for some local residents (and councillors increasingly) who dig out this info and publicise it for us in social media!
There is, despite the good efforts of the All in One Survey and Neighbourhood Conversations going on, the perception that residents' concerns are being heard but not always taken into account, or acted on, and this is where we see the need to continue those discussions and thereby improve communication.
On the development side, Viv Evans carefully read out processes and procedures, including for appeal, mayor's powers and listed all the larger scale plans received or imminently due in the ward. It was an alarming list with applications coming in thick and fast.
Residents discussed a few issues but we are all urged to be vigilant and respond to those planning applications if we want to have our thoughts and concerns counted.
MP James Berry informed us that regarding TOPO, he has written to the Mayor Boris Johnson, to ask him not to overrule the council's decision should St George's application come to his attention.
Mediha Boran from Kingston Residents Alliance introduced the idea of neighbourhood planning. We heard how local people can create a plan with the assistance of the council that focuses on development, leisure and infrastructure in a specified area. This plan, if approved by RBK and adopted by referendum, would form part of the areas planning policy. (Or guidelines?)
Because of its work on the TOPO plan, the KRA had been approached by The Prince's Foundation and been offered some assistance to form a neighbourhood plan using a new toolkit called BIMBY (beauty in my back yard). A register of interest was available should anyone wish to sign up for further information.
PART 2. Addressing antisocial behaviour in Grove Ward
We decided to continue discussing Anti Social Behaviour. Cllrs Phil Doyle and Jon Tolley both have an interest in the night time economy and licensing, so led discussions around the effect of too much alcohol, late licenses, police capabilities etc. One resident was concerned at the availability of alcohol in so many shops along Penrhyn road. Phil Doyle reminded us there was a licensing policy review taking place and the consultation was still open - comments being taken on link on RBK website, but that licensing cannot be determined by demand. Cllr Tolley wanted to get to same place as Cllr Doyle but would take a different route perhaps. He highlighted that licensing policy isn't about ASB, but establishments such as restaurants selling alcohol etc. He identified Grove has particular issues with ASB, unique to other parts of the borough. Jon went through the very stringent door policies of nightclubs and bars in centre of town, photo ids, scan net, breathalysers to determine entry into venues, and called for residents not to vilify young people or nightclub goers (not all young) but called for tougher measures on those that are perpetrating ASB. Analogy 'when you have trouble with shoplifting you don't ban retail.' So when you have trouble in nightclubs, don't close nightclubs but go harsh on people that are causing those things.' Let's not confuse licensing with ASB.
Residents called for the need for public toilets highlighting that urination in our gardens and public places was commonplace after the bars and restaurants close. Residents also asked the uni to look into bringing the night time bus back into service to take students home and praised the police for addressing out of hand parties in residential streets. Another resident was surprised to hear however that the police advised her to call only when she felt scared. KTNM Neville informed us that Kingston was a safe town and we had been re-awarded the 'purple flag' national accreditation back in August which also covers transport, well being etc. Phil asked the question 'are we happy with the town centre as it is or would we like a more varied offering by way of entertainment?' He also mentioned we should ask how are the police effectively coping with the ASB in town centre. The time of closure of some venues was questioned by residents - did they have to be so late?
It was mentioned that those living in the town centre can suffer hugely at the expense of mixed use development, whereby freeholders tend to view the properties as economic assets rather than homes. Some problems arise with retailers’ expectations and needs differing from those of residents. And too often these properties become let to short term residents who do not feel it necessary to contribute to community discussions or planning applications nearby as they will not remain there for long.
We closed the meeting with a show of hands to see how many were interested in discussing ASB further, developing the neighbourhood plan, and the need for similar meetings. It appears residents do want to continue with these discussions.
To sum up;
Grove ward has a multitude of complex issues, opportunities and interested parties keen to be involved in shaping our town. Events of the past couple of years showed that significant Council policies are not properly communicated to ward residents and Council's crucial platforms for communication are not as effective as they should be. We want to continue these neighbourhood meetings, at ward level.
see original invitation to event here
Audio Recording of the evening
As this was a public information meeting attended by Public Officials, we are following RBK's example and submitting the voice recording of the evening for residents who could not attend to this meeting here
Letter to Viv Evans by a Resident following the meeting
(published here with the permission of Tony Lancaster)
"Dear Mr Evans
I wanted to be clear you heard what I said last evening when I asked you whose interests you serve. Despite Mr Cunningham standing tall on his high horse of arrogance and condescension I hope you heard me stating that I know you to be, and believe your department to be, persons of the highest integrity. I cannot deny I deliberately framed my question in a controversial manner..."
Read full letter here
Why Grove Ward need neighbourhood plan.
Neighbourhood planning is a right for communities introduced through the Localism Act 2011. Communities like ours can prepare Neighbourhood Plans to influence the future planning priorities in their areas. Local authorities have the responsibility to support communities with plans and have to use the policies and orders produced.
As the events of the past year showed, Grove Ward is a place where the planning needs of residents, business and shoppers can sometime struggle to find the right balance. As long as we stay in the heart of Kingston’s rich heritage and commerce, the pressure and challenges to our lives will continue and get worse.
We think developers have an unfair advantage against residents and we do not have the scale of human and financial resources that they have.
We cannot expect to respond to every planning and development challenge as and when they arise and
we cannot just be in every committee meeting where planners and developers seem to go against residents’ wishes.
But we cannot just give up either. We have to set up an alternative process where we don’t have to constantly react to the latest issue. We have to be proactive;
In our last Grove Ward meeting we all recognised the need for a Grove focused forum and the desire to take this further. This meeting is a step in the right direction but after this, if we are to form a Neighbourhood Planning Forum, we have to start the real process of ‘doing’ it
For this firstly we need at least twenty-one community and business representatives and we also have to work with the Council. The Council will have to approve decisions we take at key stages of the process. So this is just a beginning of a collaboration.
If you would like to be involved or advise please contact us here.