The story of ‘The Big Society’ – which was proclaimed the flagship of the Coalition’s policies – is one of disappointment and then disappearance. When David Cameron and Nick Clegg started out together, the Big Society stood central to their agreement on government. Now nearly five years on, the policy has almost vanished. However legislation that was passed early in this Parliament still has great implications for local communities and among those is neighbourhood planning.
Introduced as part of the Localism Act in 2012, a Neighbourhood Plan is a community-led framework for guiding the future development and growth of an area. It may contain a vision, aims, planning policies, proposals for improving the area or providing new facilities, or allocation of key sites for specific kinds of development. A Neighbourhood Plan may deal with a wide range of issues (like housing, employment, heritage and transport) or it may focus on one or two issues that are of particular importance in a local area.
Producing a Plan takes a lot of effort and several stages. The first stage of any planning process is to determine the area to be covered and in London, a proposed neighbourhood area has to be submitted to the Borough concerned. The body that qualifies to make such a submission needs to be a prospective ‘neighbourhood forum’ of at least 21 people. This should reflect the inclusivity, diversity and character of the area and should include at least one person living in the area, one person working in the area and one councillor. Such a body should apply to be designated as a neighbourhood forum before proposing the boundaries of the area they wish to cover.
Where are we in SE16
The local history of neighbourhood planning has not been smooth. In Bermondsey SE1, two rival groups proposed overlapping and competing areas for their neighbourhood boundaries in September 2012. Southwark council could not persuade either to step aside or compromise and so in August 2014 – nearly two years later – rejected both applications, designated a neighbourhood planning area of its own design and called for new applications. (See details from SE1.com here)
In Rotherhithe, an application to become the Rotherhithe and Surrey Docks Neighbourhood Planning Forum (RSDNPF) was made by a group linked to the Canada Water Consultative Forum (CWCF). The CWCF grew from a community campaign to prevent a major expansion of the Surrey Quays Shopping Centre in the early 2000s. Since then it has become the respected setting for discussion of major developments in the area and developed an expertise in examining planning proposals from a resident and local business perspective. At first the application was questioned but after some broadening of the membership, their application was accepted.
In July 2013, the RSDNPF applied to cover a neighbourhood area whose boundaries were those of the ancient parish of St Mary’s Rotherhithe (yellow and black lines on the map). The area included both Rotherhithe and Surrey Docks wards and stretched well into South Bermondsey. The council consulted on this proposal in January to March 2014 and received over 50 submissions. The council faced an election in May 2014 which delayed response but it was only in January 2015 that the members of the RSDNPF met with Cllr Mark Williams – Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Planning and Transport – and colleagues to hear the council’s response.
The Council proposed a smaller neighbourhood area (red lines on the map). It excludes the key area covered by the Canada Water Area Action Plan (CWAAP) (pink block on the map) which is where much of the focus of development will be in the coming years. The Council’s proposal excludes the old village of Rotherhithe and some of the less well-off estates. The river bank and foreshore is excluded in most of the area. It would truncate the ambitions of the RSDNPF to one side of Southwark Park and about half of the original area.
The RSDNPF have responded to Southwark’s proposed area by pointing out that if it were adopted, many residents who already live in the CWAAP area such as those in Maple Quays would be excluded from having their voice formally represented. The Canada Estate, Albion Estate, Albion Street and the City Business Centre would all be excluded. The focus of the area suggested seems to favour those in more affluent parts of SE16 over those who are less well-off with more to lose if unrepresented. Southwark Council have yet to reply.
Whatever the outcome of the discussion of the area for neighbourhood planning, the newly formed Neighbourhood Forum will need to pass through several further stages before a plan is formally adopted. We can all be sure that as the process of neighbourhood planning grinds on in SE16, we will all have several opportunities to comment on, help draft, be consulted about and finally be able to vote for or against any plan!
For more information about neighbourhood planning, read Quick Guide to Neighbourhood Plans by Dave Chetwyn and published by Locality
More about the process so far in Rotherhithe and Surrey Docks on the London Borough of Southwark’s site here
To contact the RSDNPF, please email firstname.lastname@example.org