Frustrations aired over Meridian Water masterplan

Limited debate at scrutiny panel meeting draws criticism from councillors, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Aerial view of how Meridian Water may look after it is fully developed (credit Karakusevic Carson Architects)

Fresh concerns were raised over Enfield Council’s scrutiny process when a panel of councillors discussed the authority’s Meridian Water regeneration scheme.

A debate on the upcoming masterplan for the £6billion development in Edmonton took place at the regeneration and economic development scrutiny panel on Tuesday, where members were invited to discuss six key themes – but ran out of time before they could dig into the details.

Charith Gunawardena, a Green Party councillor and member of opposition group Community First, questioned why there was no opportunity to discuss housing mix and affordability

He said he had submitted questions before the meeting but was told by officers this was not what councillors had been asked to do. Yet, the minutes of the June meeting state that the chair, Labour’s Margaret Greer, had requested that if members had questions in advance of the meeting, they should go through her.

Cllr Gunawardena said he wanted clarification that “the purpose here is to scrutinise the plan” and not be “like a focus group to get our opinions of various issues”.

Cllr Greer assured him there would be further opportunities to scrutinise the development, including during the next meeting of the panel in February. She said the questions he submitted could “go into the correspondence as to how we are going to be moving forward on this committee in terms of scrutinising”.

In June, Community First accused the council of suppressing a report authored by Cllr Gunawardena that raised “serious questions” about the environmental impact of Meridian Water. A council spokesperson responded at the time that the paper was not part of an official scrutiny workstream.

The presentation to Tuesday’s meeting, by Meridian Water programme director Peter George and head of placemaking Lisa Woo, focused on employment and skills, open space and public realm, public transport, cycling and walking, schools, waterside living, and sustainability.

Peter confirmed the council still aimed for 10,000 homes to be built at Meridian Water, despite fears that the number could be limited to 5,000 if City Hall refused to de-designate land currently earmarked for industrial use.

But Cllr Gunawardena said housing need – including the housing tenures and affordability – was “absolutely important” and “fundamental”, suggesting it should have been one of the discussion points. A previous scrutiny report, published in September last year, claimed “very few” of the borough’s residents would be able to afford the average house price on the development of “around £440,000”.

With only one meeting of the scrutiny panel scheduled for the current municipal year, Cllr Gunawardena said he feared it would be the “only chance” they had to scrutinise the new masterplan before it is published next year. In response, Cllr Greer and officers said there would be other opportunities to discuss his concerns. 

The panel debated the first theme in detail, raising concerns over the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on workspaces, highlighting the importance of jobs going to local people and warning that the new employment spaces should not take business away from current centres such as Fore Street.

Peter told councillors 40% of labour at Meridian Water was currently local – beating a target of 20% – and the council was looking to provide a skills academy for the film industry on top of the recently-approved construction skills academy.

But panel members had little time to discuss the five remaining themes before the meeting ended at 9.40pm. The first hour of the meeting had been taken up by a discussion on improvements to the planning service.

Labour’s Tim Leaver said it almost felt like the panel had “wasted an opportunity”, as employment and skills was “worthy of a single scrutiny session” and “trying to shove all the other five areas together suggested we could open it up”. However, he welcomed the focus on themes and said the discussion on employment had been “really good”.

Cllr Greer said the panel should consider which themes it wants to discuss at future meetings. She pointed out that a progress report on key milestones for Meridian Water would be debated at the next meeting of the panel on 2nd February 2022.