Author Archive Hugh White

Being Design Code Pathfinders

Our selection as a “Design Code Pathfinder” brings with it £30,000. Not much as such things go but a help. A design code is probably most use where there is new development expected as it can specify many aspects of what is to be built. The Steering Group spent a lot of time considering what have the most impact in our Neighbourhood Area and what was doable with the resources available.

The London Plan picks out Finsbury Park as an area where housing development is desirable and Islington and Haringey have “site allocations” in the area around the transport hub. (A site allocation is planning-speak for a site where the planning department feel a particular development is desirable/likely to be approved. It does not mean that anything will happen unless a developer comes forward.)

The Steering Group decided that we would attempt a Design Code for the area around the station (see our Project Plan as submitted to Department for Levelling Up, Homes and Communities (DLUHC)). It would be part of the eventual Neighbourhood Plan that will cover our whole Neighbourhood Area.

Our design code may specify provision of green spaces, shop fronts, aspects of pedestrian, cyclist, and traffic movement – the public realm in other words. We cannot prevent tall buildings but can influence the layout perhaps. The new spaces around City North are not inspired with uninteresting facades, dead frontages and something of a wind tunnel. We would hope that our design code will make future developments pleasanter and better contributions to the area.

We are employing Imagine Places (www.imagineplaces.co.uk) as our consultants for the preparation of the design code. They are very experienced with neighbourhood planning and design codes.

A good design code has to reflect what the community wants. Similarly a neighbourhood plan must arise from local views and opinions. This means lots of engagement. We have already had an online general questionnaire (thanks to the 142 people who have filled it in! – we are now analysing and summarising the replies). More specific questions will lead to further rounds of consultation.

On 29th July (later this month) we will have a stand outside the Station Forecourt (Station Place) in the afternoon and will start getting people’s opinions about the station area. We have noted a number of responses to the questionnaire highlight how unpleasant the area around the station and particularly under the railway bridges is.

This session will be followed by workshops for 50-100 people to allow a detailed discussion of our thoughts for the area around the station. A central, affordable and accessible venue is important. We have a couple of ideas and welcome suggestions.

The DLUHC see design codes as being a central part of a revised planning system. A code sets out rules that must be followed. They ran an initial pilot in 2021 involving 14 planning projects. The pathfinders is a second pilot with 25 participants: of these 21 are local authorities and 4 are neighbourhood forums (we are the only central London one: South Woodford are a bit further out). DLUHC are not used to dealing with voluntary organisations where members are not available during office hours as they have jobs. They are gradually getting more flexible.

We hope that being part of a National pilot programme will give us a bit more clout to get more co-operation from agencies like TfL and Network Rail that have an important involvement with our area.

Seeking helpers for the Finsbury Park & Stroud Green neighbourhood engagement events

The Steering Group needs help from members. We need people prepared to spend an hour or two/an afternoon or a day now and then helping with public engagement events. Some of these will be outdoors – say at the station – with posters and flyers and some will be workshops indoors.
We will brief those helping in advance and there will be members of the Steering Group and sometimes people from Imagine Places present so volunteers will always have help available.
Frankly the Steering Group members are hard pressed and feeling the strain! We need help!
Apart from volunteers to help with public consultation sessions we welcome people with design skills. We need posters, images, photographs and displays.
If you would like to help please contact us

The Planning White Paper

Few will have missed the publication of the Government’s white paper ” Planning for the Future”. The consultation remains open until 29th October and anyone can have their say. It suggests sweeping reforms of the planning system that would, among other things, remove the right individuals have now to comment on specific planning applications. Consultation would be at the level of commenting on reformed Local Plans that will designate areas for “growth”, “renewal”, and “protection”. It would be much easier for a developer to secure planning permission for a development in a growth or renewal area than at present. Design codes would be set in the Local Plan. These are to be streamlined and will not have policy statements – just area designations and design codes.

The White Paper is significantly short on detail and filled with jargon and lots of waffle. It can be viewed (and downloaded) from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government web page (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future).

The Steering Group are preparing comments on it and we welcome comments from members of the Forum. The deadline for comments is 29th October: we would need to receive your comments by 26th October when the Steering Group will meet to approve our response.

Neighbourhood Plans are mentioned in the document but it is rather vague how they fit in and whether it would reduce their scope. It is possible that we would not be able to put forward sites for future development (“site designations”) and may have no influence on designating areas for growth, redevelopment and protection. It is all opaque! We have been urged not to pause plan preparation as implementing such changes is likely to be a very slow process despite the “this parliament” ambitions of the white paper.

Many other parties are commenting. The Woodland Trust see it as reducing protection for Ancient Woodlands and for trees in general (see https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/protecting-trees-and-woods/campaign-with-us/planning-protection-cuts/). Private Eye have pointed out that it makes no mention of designing accessible homes for disabled people. RIBA have concerns (https://www.architecture.com/knowledge-and-resources/knowledge-landing-page/planning-for-the-future-sustainability-policy-positions). The more comments the better!

Forum work during the pandemic

These are indeed “interesting times” : Covid 19 has made everything very difficult and often stressful. The Steering Group and Officers of the Neighbourhood Forum have been doing as much as they can online and are looking forward to the days when we can speak to residents properly.

         The Steering Group managed a single proper meeting on 11th March before lockdown guidance and regulations came in. After that meetings have been via Skype or Zoom. We have had 3 virtual meetings and 4 subgroup meetings. Many of us have attended other virtual meetings related to the work of the Forum. The Forum has been represented at the Town Centre Management Group virtual meetings. We made a formal objection to an application for an “amusement arcade” in Fonthill Road. The application was refused although there may be an appeal. There is a supplemental planning application for the Andover Estate. Members of the Steering group felt that the some aspects could be improved in terms of energy efficiency and reduction of CO2 emissions.

            The Steering Group can set up subgroups for specific tasks and can recruit other forum members to work on aspects of researching and generating the plan. We welcome volunteers!!

At the moment we have two Subgroups: Engagement and Planning. (Additionally we have a Communications and IT task force “COMS/IT that looks after the technical side of things, and a Planning subsubgroup on Transport.) These have proved an effective way of focusing on one stream of work at a time….

            Clearly Planning must be informed by Engagement and vice versa. Planning is looking after the research necessary to creating our plan. 

            As the name suggests Engagement is concerned with engaging with those who have an interest in  the neighbourhood area. 

It is really important to find out what all of the communities that make up Finsbury Park and Stroud Green think about their localities and want to see in the future: the business and retail communities, those who rent, owner occupiers, those in the small and large estates as well as those who live in conservation areas. Neighbourhood planning is not a very sexy topic and it is hard to get people interested. Some of the problems in the area can be directly addressed in a neighbourhood plan but other matters are more peripheral and we may, together, perhaps be able to aspire, influence and encourage change.

Lockdown has not been fun but many have appreciated the reduction in traffic and traffic noise and the cleaner air. The vital importance of green spaces, large and small, has become very clear. We hope that a new way will evolve that will keep and enhance these benefits. A greater community spirit has developed spearheaded by the many mutual aid groups that sprang up quickly and that have done such excellent work. We hope this community spirit will continue and we are making contact with mutual aid groups.

            We are stronger together – to make things happen, the Neighbourhood Forum needs more members! Suggestions for ways to recruit more people are always wanted. Your suggestions about ways we can engage with the communities in Finsbury Park and Stroud Green are needed: help us  to think outside the box! 

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