Friday, 22 November 2013

'I confirm the Order' : 20 November 2013

Photographs I took in 1999 and 2003 of the point where Lenton meets The Park Estate. I took these photographs from Park Road in Lenton. On the other side of the bollards and subsequent gate is Lenton Road and The Park Estate.

Rarely have four words sounded so sweet. As the messenger said, 'Enjoy the report Robert' and I did, as I read it yesterday afternoon. What am I referring to?

Well, it's the outcome of the public local inquiry held during July 2013 into an public footpath order made by Nottingham City Council in February 2009 that a footpath over land known as Park Road and Lenton Road between Lenton and Nottingham city centre via The Park Estate was a public right-of-way.

I have copied the Inspector's report to its own page in the right-hand column.

In 2003 The Park Estate put the gate in place, but only started to lock it in 2009, which brought matters to a head and the City Council finally issued its Order that it was a registered public footpath. This resulted in quite a few objections, so the Order was called in and became the subject of the Inquiry held earlier this year.

After 1999, the Forum got our city councillors and the City Council involved and The Park Estate then did nothing and the matter rested for a number of years, with Lenton residents, like myself, watching for signs of action — which is how I came to write the subsequent ‘In My Opinion’ column for News From The Forum No.44, published in January 2009. During the intervening years I stayed in contact with Nottingham City Council, my local ward councillors and Member of Parliament, who were all very supportive and shared the Lenton view that the disputed footpath was an historic right-of-way.

The making of the Order in 2009 had in origins back in 1999 when The Park Estate put up a notice saying that there was no right-of-way and that they intended to restrict public use of the route. In my then capacity as Chair of the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum, I objected and wrote the lead article published on the front page of News From The Forum No.7, published by the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum, in October 1999 headed ‘Berlin Wall for Lenton?’ My report drew attention to the ‘Proposed closure’ notice posted by The Park Estate in May 1999 and opposition from some Park Estate residents (although a good few also supported the Order).

For some time now, this blog has had a summary of my evidence to the Inquiry on its own blog page (see right-hand column). There is something sweet about seeing your evidence quoted back at you by the Inquiry Inspector and knowing that you also played a role in the evidence of others. 

Of all the paragraphs in the Inspector's decision, it is paragraph 39 which gives me the greatest satisfaction: The Park Estate argued that if a public footpath existed, it was only on the south side of Lenton Road, whereas the City Council argued that further to a decision made in 1901 there was 'good authority for a presumption that following the laying out of lenton Road the full width became a public footpath'. The Inspector decision says 'It is clear that the whole of Lenton Road was laid out before 1861 and I see no reason to doubt that the Duke (of Newcastle) was capable of the presumed dedication when the road was set out'.

There has been talk that if The Park Estate lost they would apply for a 'gating order' on grounds of anti-social behaviour because the footpath increases the crime rate along Lenton Road. By saying the footpath is the full width of the road, this should make such an order impossible. It is one thing to gate an alley, but there must be a good few roads in Nottinghamshire with more problems than Lenton Road, so should all these roads be gated as well? Of course not, but for the record I will ask Paddy Tipping, Nottinghamshire's Police Commissioner, to tell me where Lenton Road ranks in terms of total recorded offences, prosecutions and convictions in total and in relation to property numbers. I suspect Lenton Road will not rank that high.

The word which comes to mind in all this is tenacity, especially on the part of the City Council's Footpath Officer, John Lee, who first visited the site of the above photographs with me in 1999, and Dunkirk and Lenton's city councillors, especially Dave Trimble, who had to put up with me bending his ear on a good few occasions. To sit through three days of the Inquiry in the company of other Lenton residents I have known for many years, and who also gave evidence in support of the Order, was probably the best thing about the three days and I suspect that the four words 'I confirm the Order' are as sweet for them as they have been for me.

Finally, a special word of thanks to John Lee and his colleagues for all their hard work and support.

Friday, 8 November 2013

A classic demise part II

After eighteen years, the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum will soon be no more, having sown the seeds of its own demise when it was at the height of its powers; publishing a regular community newspaper, holding community meetings attended by 60-80 local residents regularly, sometimes more and campaigning on a range of fronts, plus establishing an annual community festival and ensuring that a ward called 'Dunkirk and Lenton' was created in the face of fierce opposition from the City Council (although it needs to pointed out that local Labour Party councillors and our MP, Alan Simpson,  supported the Forum 100%).

The Forum managed to be democratic and inclusive without being restrictive or bureaucratic. All its meetings were open and it came up with a model approach which enabled it to embrace division whilst representing all views and loudly rejecting prejudice of any kind at the same time. Quite an achievement by any measure. Its model brought it into conflict with the Nottingham voluntary establishment, who could not comprehend the giving of corporate powers to Forum working groups and expected all decisions to be filtered through monthly management committe meetings. The Forum's response was to cite the City Council as its role model.

Personally, as one of the Forum's founders, I saw it as a first step on the road to the creation of a urban parish council, but it was not to be. I lost the argument to those who saw my view as confrontational or political - and I happily admitted that it was both.

The 'partnership' approach was preferred with charitable/Lottery funding and I, along with Helen Sudbury, who then worked in the City Council's Housing Department, were the architects of a successful £177,000 Lottery bid in 1998, which enabled the Forum to employ three workers and start its own community newspaper, 'News From The Forum' (the last issue published was no.49 and Susan and I helped with its production, as we did the first seven issues).

Charitable funding makes campaigning harder, if not impossible, and the Forum was built on campaigning, on making demands. Once it changed to being a voluntary 'response' and service organisation it was doomed. That is not what local residents wanted. NAG was born out of that frustration and others, like myself, dropped out of active involvement, even though I helped on the sidelines. I never signed up to the Forum becoming a charitable company limited by guarantee and voted against the proposal until the final vote, when I abstained (the only person to do so).

After the last city council elections the Forum's quarterly meetings ceased and our ward councillors adopted the title 'community forum' to describe their own open meetings with local residents. That was when the Forum ceased to be responsive to local views, although it was when the Forum refused to object to planning applications some years before that I knew, for certain, its future depended on funders and not the community which created it.

As happens to voluntary organisations all too often they reach a point where the organisation becomes more important than its aims and that happened to the Forum. It made what decisions it did with the best of intentions and Susan and I will continue supporting the Forum to the very end. The proposal that its assets, liabilities and activities be taken over by The Lenton Centre is not one we would argue with, as we have been actively involved with both and support them both with monthly donations.

The outcome is that Lenton has had no campaigning organisation for some years, with the exception of NAG. A pity by any measure. The end of the Forum, inevitable as it has been for a good few years, is still something I view with regret. My wish is that the Forum's manager, Fiona, still has a job, for she has served the Forum and people of Dunkirk and Lenton well. In the past, the Forum has been well served by its staff and many volunteers.

Since 1996, the area has changed out of all recognition, but that's another story...

Friday, 1 November 2013

A classic demise for a local voluntary organisation – Part l

News of an end foretold by events long ago arrived in the post a couple of days ago. The Dunkirk & Lenton Partnership Forum's Board of Directors has called an extraordinary general meeting for 28 November 2013, when members will be asked to vote for the Forum's 'dissolution and the transfer of its assets, liabilities and ongoing activities to The Lenton Centre'.

I won't be there, as I am not a member, although Susan and I have been donating £10 a month to the Forum because we believe that it has been endeavouring to help Dunkirk and Lenton as best it could. We were founder members of the Forum back in 1996 and I was its first Chair for three years, then later for a further two. At times it was a roller coaster of a ride and it was sustained for a good few years by the efforts of one woman, Lesley Fyffe.

What has happened to the Forum has been a favourite hobby horse of mine for years. I was not the first to articulate it — credit for that has to go to Peter Hain and Simon Hebditch in their pamphlet, Radicals and Socialism, published by the Institute for Workers Control, right here in Nottingham, in 1978.

In 1978 Susan and I lived in Mansfield and Susan was then Curator of Mansfield Museum. In 1975 she had started a free 'Saturday Club' for children and teenagers. It was a great success and attracted a good few talented volunteers and with success came rising expectations on the part of both users and volunteers. By 1977 the point had been reached where running the Saturday Club took a lot of time and all those involved agreed that what they needed was part-time paid help. 

In the 1970s there was no such thing as the National Lottery, so Mansfield District Council was approached in the hope that they would pay for a part-time worker. Their response was 'Surely, what you are doing is education and that is a county council function'. The County Council took the view that the Museum was a district council responsibility. Eventually, exhaustion saw the demise of the Saturday Club. It was not an easy decision to make, but the Club's eventual demise was inevitable once it had become so successful that it could no longer meet the expectations of its users and volunteers without additional resources.

Mansfield Museum's Saturday Club was a pioneering venture at a time when very few museums had their own education officers and the word 'outreach' had not been invented.

As a councillor in Birmingham during the 1970s I had seen the same thing happen to various community groups run by volunteers. What funding there was for voluntary organisations was directed, exclusively in my experience, at those organisations that were either pliant or were supporting local council objectives in some way. If a group was doing something radical, or serving needs not on the local council's agenda, then they were unlikely to get any serious funding.

In 1978, Radicals and Socialism explained the problem then facing radical (and innovative) voluntary groups. The problem is still with us, as the notice from the Forum well demonstrates. By coincidence, Russell Brand's interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight on 23 October 2013 addressed the same issue and has had, as at today's date, nearly 9million hits on YouTube.

If you haven't watched it, do. Russell Brand actually uses the 'S' word — socialism.

Part 2 of this blog will look at the Forum and why it's demise became inevitable once it embraced charitable status and incorporation, even though its radical agenda had been abandoned, and how the corporate voluntary sector conspires with the political elite to de-radicalise local community agendas.