Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Wapping Town Council proposal

During the summer of 2010 a proposal came about for a town council in Wapping. The proposal seems to have gone cold, with the public meeting held in July 2010 highlighting some particular concerns.

Two problems appear to be specific to Tower Hamlets. Firstly the proposal seems to have become confused and conflated with the creation of a directly elected mayor for the borough. The argument that the town council could be a counterweight to an as yet unelected mayor was not a clear one to grasp in July 2010. Residents were perhaps uneasy about so many changes they did not understand, especially when the matter of costs is broached but not fully elucidated.

More significantly the ghost of the 1980s Liberal Democrat decentralisation of the borough (now reversed) appears not have gone away. There is suspicion voiced in the meeting that this is some sort of "back door" attempt to divide up the borough again. Not that the 1986 decentralisation was that unprecedented. Before 1900 the Wapping area was divided between two fairly small local authorities, the vestry of St George in the East and the board of works of the Limehouse District. But collective memory only goes back so far.

Town Hall of St George in the East

The main problem with this campaign appears to have been getting bogged down in detail too early. On the subject of powers (i.e. benefits) there is a vague promise of oversight over planning, but the extent of the power isn't made clear. The idea that the community can negotiate with Tower Hamlets Council over what services they will run met with scepticism. This distrust of the council could have been capitalised on, but was not. Concrete examples of what the town council could do would probably have helped residents see the potential.

Town Hall of the Limehouse District

Most significant appears to be the precept. Although this is an important consideration in the setting up of a local council, by making it an issue this early, before the services to be provided had been considered, it was a little like putting the cart before the horse. The choice of speakers, that included a local councillor who might feel usurped by the town council, was probably not the best choice at this stage.

In summary, the proposition offered a vague range of services that might become locally provided, with an unspecified level of control and for an unspecified cost. Hardly surprising this did not excite the local population into action. I don't doubt that a local council could be valuable to the community in Wapping, but what this proposal shows is that a well organised campaign is as important as need.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Campaign for a Queen's Park Community Council launch

Today I was lucky enough to attend the launch event for the proposed Queen's Park Community Council.

The campaign to create a statutory community council has come about because the Queen's Park Forum, created by the Paddington Development Trust, is about to have a 100% cut in government funding. The local council proposal is intended to preserve and continue the work undertaken since 2003. It is the most advanced proposal for a community council in London and could be on track to be the first.

There was a good turnout for the launch

The Queen's Park ward of Westminster appears to be one of those neighbourhoods in a local authority area that through accidents of geography and history are left on the sidelines. The area was once administered from Chelsea, three miles away to the south, until in 1900 when it was added to the northern tip of Paddington. Since 1965 it has formed the northwest protrusion of the City of Westminster. Perhaps because of this history or because of political and physical differences with the rest of the borough, it has needed its own voice in order to flourish.

The campaign launch was positive and clear: your community is under threat and a statutory community council could provide a lifeline. The organisers must gather enough signatures (10% of electors) to force Westminster City Council to consider their proposal.

Petition for a community governance review

The Queen's Park proposal has a number of things in its favour. First of all the messy business of boundaries is taken care of. The council will operate in the Queen's Park ward, which is the same area as the forum. Secondly, the existing forum has a track record of achievement and, finally, the networks in the community are already there. The two speakers at the event from the Queen's Park Forum were confident, articulate and proud of what their community had done and what they saw as its future. As they spoke I felt convinced they would succeed.

The campaign is well organised. The message clear, concise and not bogged down in technical specifics. There was photography, media involvement and a sense of occasion was created. The proximity of the impending cuts created a feeling of urgency which is probably an advantage in getting traction. The challenge, of course, is getting the message outside of the room and connecting will all sections of the community, those who don't come to such meetings, and locking them in to the proposal.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Parish Watch

This map records areas that are investigating the opportunity to form a local/parish council in London and links to relevant news stories. The areas on the map correspond to wards and do not represent proposed boundaries.

Update history
15/01/2011 Created
23/01/2011 Added London Fields
10/02/2011 Added Chingford

Friday, 14 January 2011

Localism Bill: Neighbourhood Planning

This is the second in a series looking at various aspects of the Localism Bill.

Just as the Localism Bill removes the regional tier of the planning hierarchy in every region other than London, it also creates a new one: the neighbourhood. Neighbourhood planning authorities are envisaged as either being superimposed on existing structures, so a civil parish could also be a neighbourhood for planning purposes; or as the area of operation of less formal groups designated as "neighbourhood forums". Each will produce a neighbourhood plan.

This will impact on London in a number of ways. Firstly, planning will potentially be split between three tiers of local governance: the mayor, the boroughs and neighbourhoods. Secondly, the planning incentive for forming a parish council will be lost as the enhanced planning powers will be available to any group. Finally, there is potential for the less formal neighbourhood forums to be short-lived or through attrition become dominated by an individual or group.

There are also significant limitations to the neighbourhood plans which may affect their efficacy and attractiveness to communities. They cannot cross borough lines. This is an old restriction, which dates back to local government reforms in the 19th century. It was also a potential problem for the proposal to create a parish council for Thamesmead which straddles Bexley and Greenwich.

However, the most significant limitation of neighbourhood planning in London will most likely be the frustration that communities will have when they realise they must conform to national planning guidelines, the London Plan and their local authority development plan. How much impact will these community groups have, given these restrictions? How will they go about navigating these policy documents? Where will the skills come from? Is their planning experience going to consist of being repeatedly told their planning decisions are invalid?

Monday, 3 January 2011

London in Maps: Inner London boroughs (1900-1965)

The first collection of maps is now available to view. It is a simple one, the 28 boroughs that formed Inner London before 1965 that are now twelve London boroughs. It is worth noting that even in this period some of the boroughs are the result of earlier amalgamations and at the time many covered more than one recognisable community.

Some were very large in terms of population. Wandsworth, for example, peaked at 353,110. Other boroughs closer to the City of London were very small and experienced rapid depopulation as the suburbs in outer London grew. Shoreditch had a population of 111,390 in 1911, reduced to 40,455 in 1961.

The full set of maps is available to view here.