Sunday, 26 April 2009

The Woman Who Stopped Cars. From Valeria Acerbi

(This article first appeared in The Greenacre Times Spring 2009)

I have lived in London for 22 years, 12 of those in Mill Hill. I currently live in Sanders Lane with my husband and two children and am the treasurer of Bittacy and Sanders Residents Association (BASRA).

We first found out of Barnet's intention to turn Sanders Lane into a major road at the first Public Consultation meeting held at Frith Manor School in March 2007. It was not on any of the plans displayed, we simply heard it while listening to a council officer in charge of explaining to the public the traffic options. When some members of the public expressed scepticism at the options illustrated the officer said offhandedly: "another option would be to turn Sanders Lane into a through road". We were flabbergasted and shocked because nothing of the kind was ever hinted in a BASRA meeting with Martin Cowie as guest speaker (head of Planning for Mill Hill East Area Action Plan) prior to the Public Consultation and nothing was displayed on any correspondence or drawings. We then rang Martin Cowie to invite him to one of our meetings to expand on the subject further and for him to listen to the residents view, he very reluctantly accepted because, in his own words, we should not worry as it would be too expensive to build a road in SL with the bridge having to be rebuilt etc. He never turned up for the meeting.

This made me very suspicious and alert to any more developments on the subject. In February 2008 a resident called to my house to show me a Council Meeting Agenda which he attended with an item for discussion dedicated to the reopening of Sanders Lane. We decided to start a petition in Sanders Lane, Tavistock Avenue and Grants Close.

When we rang the council again we were told that no plans had been made for Sanders Lane and we had no grounds for a petition but as we discovered in the final document we certainly had because there it was in black and white " In the future Sanders will be reopened to accommodate for the increase in traffic".

Following the release of the final document BASRA went to the MHPS AGM meeting to put a few questions to the panel which included Brian Coleman. His reply to us was that we were overreacting and hysterical and there was no plan yet to make the road! At this point we decided to show the document to a Planning Barrister, a friend of a resident, who advised us to oppose the document via a series of written representations. This was because the document certainly stated that Sanders Lane should be reopened and if we didn't oppose it at this stage we would never be able to fight any future plans.

To try to get as many people to submit written representations we called a meeting at the Railway Engineers Pub to which the Hendon Times was invited. More than 60 residents attended.

We also organized a protest picnic to raise awareness and support which was well attended. Guests at the picnic included Andrew Dismore, Cllr John Hart, Wayne Casey, Jeremy Davies from London Wildlife Trust, the Mill Hill Preservation Society, the Green Party and the RSPB.

A resident in Tavistock Avenue set up the Website with photos of the lane and a list of wildlife to be protected. The day of the Hearing was nerve wracking as Zoe Rahman, Peter Jones, Sarah Bowen and I all representing BASRA had never been through this kind of process before but Zoe very effectively put our point across.

After the hearing we received another unexpected blow with the article in the Press which outlined Barnet's Plan to unclog Barnet’s roads which included Sanders Lane again as a highway option. This meant that even if Sanders Lane was taken out of the AAP there was now another plan in place which we would have to oppose. The Inspectors Report said that the argument for reopening Sanders Lane was "Thin, confusing and contradictory" and did not recommend it, so it is for us a win, but we have merely won a battle not the war which we feel will carry on as we are sure Barnet will be back! However we have been celebrating this outcome as it has given us more confidence to carry on campaigning.

Note: On Sunday June 21st at 12.00, we are having the Sanders Lane Green Picnic. Please bring your own food to our picnic on our community green. We are surrounded by green spaces – Bittacy Park, allotments, nature walks, golf club and Copthall sports fields. We will be having a guided nature walk, treasure trail, face painting and other family activities hopefully bat detecting and rickshaw rides! We are running this event as part of Love London Green Festival. Come to the railway bridge in Sanders Lane, approach from the junction with Bittacy Hill.

From The Greenacre Times (Spring 2009)

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