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Map: neighbourhood plans in Bankside and Bermondsey

Two years ago Bankside and Bermondsey were selected as test-beds for the Government's neighbourhood planning process. 2013 will be the year that makes or breaks these schemes.

Under the Localism Act introduced by the coalition government, community groups can write their own planning policy for their neighbourhood which, if approved in a referendum, then becomes a material factor in decisions on planning applications.

Localities with an approved neighbourhood plan will also be able to retain a greater proportion of community infrastructure levy (CIL) cash from new developments in their area to spend on local projects.

Although Bankside and Bermondsey were named as 'frontrunners' by the Government in 2011, the process has been slow to get going as all concerned have grappled with unprecedented procedural and legal questions.

"The Government has chosen to set up the process with very few guidelines and a lot of emphasis on local authorities making decisions as they see fit," Southwark's director of planning Simon Bevan told planning committee members last month.

A local authority must approve both the boundaries of the neighbourhood plan area and the governance of the neighbourhood forum body established to write the plan.

Southwark Council has so far received three applications: one for Bankside and two overlapping proposals for Bermondsey. A fourth application – covering East Walworth – is on the way.

The council is obliged to agree to designate an area for neighbourhood planning purposes, but can vary the boundaries from those submitted and cannot designate overlapping areas.

The Bankside Neighbourhood Forum has proposed an area which runs from the Lambeth border in the west to Borough High Street in the east, with the northern boundary along the river and the southern boundary to the south of Union Street.

The Bermondsey Neighbourhood Forum wants to draw up a plan for the area between Borough High Street and Tower Bridge Road, stretching south to New Kent Road and north to the river.

The Bermondsey Village Action Group has proposed a neighbourhood plan area centred on St Thomas Street, with its northern boundary at Tooley Street and its southern boundary at Leathermarket Street.

A public consultation on the boundaries proposed by the Bermondsey Neighbourhood Forum and the Bermondsey Village Action Group runs until Tuesday 5 March.

Final decisions on the applications will be made by Cllr Fiona Colley, the cabinet member for regeneration and corporate strategy.

At the end of last month Bermondsey & Rotherhithe Community Council gave its comments on the competing Bermondsey proposals.

Members recommended that, whatever the final boundaries of the designated area, it should be described as the 'West Bermondsey' neighbourhood plan to make it clear that it covers only part of the wider Bermondsey area.

• Neighbourhood planning is the subject of The Open Office, a temporary project at The Architecture Foundation in Tooley Street.

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