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Southwark Labour vows to oppose Bermondsey parish council plan

A political row has broken out between Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors over proposals to create parish councils in Bermondsey, Borough & Bankside.

Following the launch of a campaign for a new parish council covering Cathedrals and Chaucer wards, a similar proposal for a Bermondsey parish council in Riverside, Grange and South Bermondsey wards was made at the final Bermondsey Community Council meeting on Thursday night.

The idea was floated by Cllr Mark Gettleson (Lib Dem, Grange ward) who claimed that Southwark Council had adopted a 'Canute-like' attitude towards the increased emphasis on localism in decision-making.

Next month the authority is expected to approve the merger of Bermondsey Community Council with Rotherhithe and the union of Borough & Bankside with Walworth.

After a 25-minute debate at the Bermondsey Community Council meeting more than half the people present voted in favour of the parish council proposal. Those who abstained said that they wanted to know more about the parish council model. No-one opposed the idea.

Campaigners for the creation of a parish council must win the signatures of 10 per cent of the local electorate in order to trigger a 'community governance review' and possible referendum on the proposal.

"I do not believe that this mega community council with 18 councillors extending from Downtown to the Bricklayers Arms will work," said Cllr Gettleson who pointed out that a similar move to set up a parish council was being made in the City of Westminster.

"A parish council would enable us to have some say in the way services are delivered in Bermondsey," he added.

Unlike the current community councils which are committees of the borough council, members of a new parish council would be elected separately. The parish council would be funded by a small precept on council tax.

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Anood Al-Samerai said: "Funding would be an issue but we ought to try and do something rather than accept a merger which nobody wants."

Cllr Nick Stanton spoke of "the idiocy of trying to merge two very big community councils" and said that Liberal Democrats had given community councils planning powers to reduce the borough-wide planning committee's long agendas which led to important decisions being taken in the early hours of the morning.

Southwark's Labour administration has already pledged to campaign against parish councils in the north of the borough.

"What the Liberal Democrats won't tell you about this proposal is that it is going to add 180 to your council tax bill over the next four years," said Cllr Ian Wingfield, deputy leader of the council.

"The idea that Southwark Lib Dems want to increase council tax for every Bermondsey and Borough & Bankside resident after their Government has just whacked people with a granny tax, a pasty tax and increased their VAT is bonkers."

Cllr Wingfield claims that the parish councils would create unnecessary bureaucracy.

He added: "It cannot be fair that while people in Walworth, Camberwell and Peckham will see no increase in their council tax, the Liberal Democrats want to increase it in Bermondsey, Borough and Bankside in order to pay for their parish council meetings.

"We will certainly be campaigning to stop the Southwark Lib Dems' council tax increase for our residents while their friends in Westminster cut taxes for millionaires."

Labour also continues to criticise the attendance record of Lib Dem councillors at council meetings.

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Gettleson said: "Tonight people have been disgusted at the way Southwark Council has refused to listen and, like our neighbouring community councils, we shall be trying to use the provisions to give a say back to Bermondsey people."

Cllr Al-Samerai added: "Parish councils, set out in national legislation, allow local residents to make decisions about the future of their communities.

"It's up to the electorate to decide on the future of their community. If the community want to set up a parish council, Southwark Liberal Democrats will support them all the way."

• Petitions for parish councils in Bermondsey and Borough & Bankside can be signed online

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