The history of the Herne Hill Forum goes back over twenty years.
In the May 1999 Lambeth free newspaper, New Lambeth, there was a report of a new initiative that had been mentioned earlier in the year. This was the introduction of five new administrative hubs for Lambeth known as Town Centres. The five were North Lambeth, Clapham, Streatham, Norwood and Brixton.
The committee of the Herne Hill Society (HHS) discussed this initiative, noting with concern that there was no mention of Herne Hill, Tulse Hill, Stockwell or Vauxhall, all distinct communities. The Chair, Brenda Jones, wrote to Councillor Jim Dickson and said in effect, ”What about Herne Hill?” He replied that Herne Hill was seen as a Neighbourhood Centre and would receive a proportion of the time of the Brixton Town Centre (TC) manager, Jo Negrini.
Ms Negrini attended a HHS committee meeting; she explained her contacts with the Herne Hill Traders, and that she was planning a public meeting in September for interested stakeholders, with the idea of a Herne Hill subgroup being formed. At the committee meeting, a simple show of hands demonstrated the divide between Lambeth and Southwark, and so the point was made that we would need a whole Herne Hill group, not just the Lambeth side.
A public meeting was held on September 22nd 1999, chaired by Alan Gaunt, a leading member of the Traders Association and owner of Pullens Restaurant. Around 70 people attended, including several Councillors as well as Police and officers from Transport Departments, representing both boroughs, demonstrating early commitment to cross-border working. In lively discussion many people objected to the concept of the Brixton Town Centre Forum, with the result that the phrase Brixton Area Forum (BAF) was floated by Jim Dickson and Jo Negrini. It is interesting to note that the idea was that Town centre/Area forums were intended to act in an advisory role to the Council, meeting four times a year and involving local residents and ‘stakeholders’ (traders).
At this early stage three possible options emerged. First, to work within the wider Town Centre model; second, to establish a Herne Hill subgroup (but only for the Lambeth side); and third, an idea from the floor, to set up a Herne Hill Forum with its own Town Centre Manager. This appeared difficult at the time, because there was no current equivalent movement within Southwark council, although there was good support for the idea. The conclusion from Jo Negrini was that the second option was most likely to go ahead, but there were reservations from many of the people present.
A second public meeting was held in the spring, where the Herne Hill Neighbourhood Forum (HHNF) was established, still at this stage within the structure of the Brixton Area Forum (BAF). Residents from both Lambeth and Southwark attended, and details of both councils working together were reported. It was agreed that a representative from the HHNF would be chosen to attend Brixton Area Forum meetings.
A first joint project was announced: to improve the HH Gateway, ie the main railway bridge in the centre of Herne Hill. The idea was for LB Southwark to spend money on the bridge infrastructure, and LB Lambeth to provide lighting and other improvements. Ideas that emerged from the (volunteer and two councils) working party were to provide pale turquoise paint on the bridge, pigeon netting underneath, side walls cleaned, road resurfaced and old advertising hoardings removed. Also planned were safety barriers and soft blue lighting (which never appeared, as both were controversial.)
Other topics discussed were Carnegie Library, crime, traffic congestion and the developments at the Shakespeare Road Waste Depot.
The third public meeting took place on 23rd March 2000, with a mix of Lambeth and Southwark residents and traders, and a Councillor from Herne Hill Ward. From the beginning meetings were held in both Lambeth and Southwark: Temple Bowling Club, St John’s Church, St Saviour’s Church, St Jude’s School and Herne Hill Baptist Church.
At the HHNF meeting on 28th June 2000, Ruth Borthwick was elected Chair and Giles Gibson Vice-Chair. It was clear that the Forum was becoming established to engage more effectively with Lambeth Council. The next meeting was a special event, aimed at improving the centre of Herne Hill, namely:
- Easier and safer pedestrian access to Brockwell Park
- Traffic congestion and ways to keep traffic moving
- Improving Herne Hill Station
- Environmental concerns, including rubbish collection and graffiti.
A summary was produced, and the Environment Trust was engaged to take matters forward.
The HHNF on 18th January 2001 meeting discussed the following
- Herne Hill road junction, especially vehicle use
- Controlled Parking Zone for Hurst and Rymer Streets
- Herne Hill Station and short term parking
- Streetscene, litter, trees, graffiti etc
- Cross-borough dialogue with LB Southwark.
Also discussed was the Bus Priority Network, for the area from Ruskin Walk to Croxted Road, covering the crucial bottleneck in the centre. Plans for improvements in Railton Road outside the station, (which was one way southbound at this time) were presented by South East London Transport Strategy (Seltrans). They included a bus stop build-out in front of the station and a bus lane up to the traffic lights near the bridge.
By now the word Neighbourhood had been dropped from the title, and the HERNE HILL FORUM was well established. It had regular lively meetings, with good attendances of up to 100 people.
At the meeting of the Forum on 17th January 2002, the main topic was the badly needed improvements to the layout at the main Herne Hill junction, with a view to improving the flow of traffic through the junction, and to making the access to Brockwell Park safer for pedestrians. A resolution from the Herne Hill Society was passed, which called for an empirical review of every aspect of the Herne Hill junction. This resulted in the establishment of the glorious vista at the entrance to Brockwell Park, the pedestrian island which made the crossing considerably safer, the blocking off of Railton Road and the establishment of Station Square. In due course this led to the very popular Sunday market and the establishment of Station Hall.
Since then, the Forum has continued with its many projects, and is one of the most active and successful forums in the area.