The Marylebone Forum is a vehicle for local planning but it will also provide a wider platform for dealing with matters of concern to the area for both residents' and non-residents'. This will be the first time that Marylebone has had a single body incorporating representatives of such a comprehensive cross section of the community. Bringing these groups together should in itself result in much productive dialogue and hopefully develop a united voice for Marylebone on many of the issues that confront us.
The Forum obtained business area designation in March 2014, following which much work was undertaken building up its membership base, and developing its identity and website. If you visit www.maryleboneforum.org there is plenty of useful information on both the Forum, and on Neighbourhood Planning. In addition, extensive contacts have been developed throughout the community with residents' groups, business groups, major stakeholders, religious organisations and other interests within the area. Work on the Forum's governance was undertaken throughout; its constitution aims to reflect the many various interests in the area, residential, business and other organisations.
The Marylebone Forum applied to be designated as a Neighbourhood Forum in October 2014 and Westminster Council went out to consultation on this between December 2014 and January 2015. This revealed solid support and, at the time of writing, the application is being actively reviewed by the Council. Following this, further changes are proposed to the constitution and this will provide the opportunity to look at further simplifying matters by incorporating the constitution directly within the Forum's articles of association.
The Forum held its first major public meeting in February 2015, attended by almost 200 people. The next public meeting is being organised for June, and will take the form of a seminar on Neighbourhood Planning to be led by Tony Burton, an expert in this field.
Last year the Forum received a grant and further direct support from the Department for Communities and Local Government, which was of great help in enabling matters to get started. This year I am pleased to report that support, in the form of ward budget funding, has been approved by the Councillors in the 3 wards covered by the Forum; the Bryanston and Dorset Square Ward, the Marylebone High Street Ward and the West End Ward.
Individual membership of the Forum continues to grow, at the time of writing it numbers 361. In addition it has a large business membership. Members of the local community, representatives of business, residents and those that work in the area are being encouraged to put their names forward to help with the project.
The Forum's first AGM is anticipated to be held in September this year, depending on Council designation. At the AGM committee members will be elected and the constitution, with any amendments to it, submitted for approval. Following this the committee will be appointing sub-groups to help them in the various tasks that will need to be undertaken.
After designation and the AGM, the Forum will be able to commence work on its primary purpose, to implement neighbourhood planning. This is a 'ground up' concept of planning; a plan gets its legitimacy through being constructed from the aspirations of the community, rather than being imposed from above by central or local government.
Obviously there is still much work to do, but we can look back on the last year and see that a great deal of progress has already been made.