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Borough & Bankside residents reject community council merger plan

Residents attending Borough and Bankside Community Council have voted against plans to merge with Walworth Community Council.

The near-unanimous vote, which was moved from the floor during the meeting on Tuesday evening in the crypt of St George the Martyr church, included only one abstention. There were no votes in favour of the plan.

The four councillors present did not take part in the public vote but did comment on the proposals to reduce Southwark's eight community councils to five.

For SE1, this means Borough & Bankside Community Council – for Cathedrals and Chaucer wards – will be merged with Walworth Community Council which covers Newington, East Walworth and Livesey Wards. Bermondsey Community Council – covering Riverside, Grange and South Bermondsey – is to be combined with Rotherhithe's three wards.

"Community councils are about taking council decisions back into the communities," said Cathedrals ward councillor David Noakes, setting out his opposition to the move by Southwark's Labour-run council to merge the local forums.

The Liberal Democrat member, who warned that the changes were likely to be formally approved at this month's Council Assembly, added that at present the boundaries reflected natural communities with people tending to say "I live in Borough & Bankside".

Cllr Noakes deplored the decision to strip community councils of their power to determine planning applications and suggested that the necessary financial saving required might have been be achieved by having fewer meetings and reducing the number of council officers present.

His Liberal Democrat colleague Cllr Tim McNally said that the decision had been made by the Borough's Labour group of councillors last November regardless of public input.

"I do agree it's a pity that it has to be merged," said Cllr Claire Hickson, the only Labour councillor in the current Borough & Bankside boundaries, but added that Southwark Council had been forced to make cuts across the board.

"There are benefits because we can discuss the Elephant & Castle more collectively," she added.

Cllr Poddy Clark, chair of Borough & Bankside Community Council, said: "I would like to thank those who have attended our meetings and assure everyone that your local Liberal Democrat councillors are determined to give support to all residents of Borough & Bankside, and will continue to work to that end regardless of where and when future meetings are held."

There were similar scenes at January's Bermondsey Community Council where members of the public fiercely opposed amalgamation with Rotherhithe. Under current arrangements there will be one further meeting of the Borough & Bankside Community Council on Wednesday 26 April.

Cllr McNally described St George's crypt as "a great venue" on the boundary between Cathedrals and Chaucer wards. He suggested that residents would be reluctant to travel long distances to future meetings in Walworth.

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