A parish council for Borough & Bankside?
Cathedrals ward councillor Adele Morris has launched a campaign to create a new parish council for Borough & Bankside to fill the void left by the merger of the area's community council with the three wards of Walworth.
With Southwark Council expected to rubber-stamp plans to merge Borough & Bankside Community Council with Walworth Community Council next month, Cathedrals ward Liberal Democrat councillor Adele Morris made the proposal in a dramatic announcement – to the evident surprise of some of her own colleagues – at the end of the final Borough & Bankside meeting on Wednesday night.
"Seeing as how the outlook does look pretty bleak for the future, I have an alternative proposal which is that we form a parish council," said Cllr Morris as she brandished a stack of petition sheets.
"We need 2,500 signatures from residents in Borough & Bankside to be able to apply to the council to have a referendum to form a parish council which would enable us to have a certain amount of devolved power.
"I have no idea whether people are up for this or not ... it is a possible option."
The last civil parish council in what is now Greater London was abolished in 1936. It is only since 2007 that legislation has allowed the creation of such parish councils within the London boroughs and to date none have been set up.
Unlike the existing community councils in Southwark which are devolved committees of the borough council, a parish council would hold its own elections and raise funds through a small precept on council tax.
Earlier this month Westminster City Council's cabinet voted in favour of holding a referendum in Queen's Park to give residents their say on proposals to set up a parish council in the area Around 8,000 residents in Queen's Park are eligible to participate in next month's referendum with a final decision due in June.
The Queen's Park Campaign Group, which has been campaigning for a community council, has set out its intention to levy a precept of between £3.30 and £3.70 a month or between £39.60 and £44.40 per year (for a Band D property) to local residents to raise between £181,000 and £207,000 a year.
Cllr Morris has proposed that the parish council should cover the same area as the existing Borough & Bankside Community Council, using the boundaries of Cathedrals and Chaucer wards at the 2010 election.
Four years ago Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Simon Hughes contributed to a pamphlet welcoming the change in the law. Describing the community council system in Southwark, he wrote: "The communities of Southwark are entirely dependent on the council as a whole deciding what it can devolve and whether to do so. And there is no formal right of electors to petition or organise to make sure community councils are set up and if they are set up to make sure that they are given real power and influence."
On the proliferation of area committees and ward meetings, he wrote: "These are all well and good but what the council giveth it can as easily take away – and most of them only have power to talk and minimal power to act.
"The UK desperately needs greater devolution from the centre. Parish and community councils are an absolutely fundamental building block for local democracy. I hope that people both in London and across the land now seize the moment."
• Anyone who is interested in supporting the efforts to create a new parish council should contact Cllr Morris on firstname.lastname@example.org or call her on 07903 967859.
• Under cost-cutting plans by Southwark's Labour administration, Bermondsey Community Council (which covers the eastern part of SE1 and part of SE16) is to be merged with Rotherhithe. The final Bermondsey meeting is to be held tonight at St James's Bermondsey.