Sunday, April 27, 2014

New Cross Forum and Neighbourhood Planning

'Neighbourhood Planning' is the Government's framework that claims to be about 'Giving communities more power in planning local development'.  With the backing of the Localism Act 2011, it provides for people to set up a Neighbourhood Forum in their area and agree a development plan that 'establishes general planning policies for the development and use of land in a neighbourhood'.

Various criticisms have been raised about the limitations of the process. On the one hand, how much power do local communities really have to influence development when key planning decisions are even being taken away even from local Councils? The biggest planning decision in our area relates to Convoys Wharf in Deptford and the Mayor of London has taken the power to decide on this away from Lewisham Council, and ignored local concerns about the development.

On the other hand, to what extent can or will Neighbourhood Forums really represent the needs and interests of diverse communities? In terms of what people would like to see on the high street for instance, who's to say that cinemas and farmers markets are more desirable than churches and chicken shops - or vice versa?  Should the tastes of one, possibly narrow group of people be enshrined in a Neighbourhood Plan?  The Runnymede Trust has  highlighted the risk that 'localism' could favour those 'who have the most useful forms of social capital — or put more bluntly,  those with the sharpest elbows' to the detriment of 'marginalized groups' (Localism: threat or opportunity?, 2012).  I guess it partly depends on who gets involved, and who feels welcome to get involved.

The New Cross Forum

To be fair to the people who have set up the New Cross Forum at least they are making an effort to widen involvement. The first meeting was held at Goldsmiths, but the next one tomorrow night (Monday) will be at All Saints Community Centre, 105 New Cross Road from 7 pm to 8:30 pm. 

They say:  'Want truly affordable housing, a better public realm or a stronger local economy? Want to protect the area’s community spirit, diverse character & arts culture? Join The New Cross forum  and create a neighbourhood plan to steer local development...  By coming together as a Forum and deciding on improvements that could be made and things that should be protected, we can have our vision for New Cross enshrined as policy by Lewisham Council. 

This could include: directing contributions from developers towards streetscape and road crossing improvements on the high street; creating a community land trust to ensure the availability of truly affordable housing and workspaces; ensuring good design in all major new buildings; establishing a business directory to promote local traders within and beyond the area;  securing space for a social enterprise But we also want your ideas!' (more details here).

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