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Lambeth and Southwark pour cold water on neighbourhood plans

Leading Labour politicians in Lambeth and Southwark have criticised the neighbourhood plans being created in their boroughs under the coalition Government's Localism Act.

The Localism Act gave communities the right to apply to their council to set up a 'neighbourhood forum' in order to draw up a 'neighbourhood plan' for a given area. If approved at referendum, this plan becomes part of the formal planning policy against which new developments are assessed.

Neighbourhood plans also enable residents to set priorities for spending money generated by large-scale developments.

"It's our view that neighbourhood plans aren't particularly helpful or practical," said Cllr Pete Robbins, Lambeth's cabinet member for housing and regeneration, at a meeting on Monday night.

"They are very bureaucratic, and they take a lot of effort and an awful lot of time to set up.

"They probably don't quite give communities the powers that we would like to see them have under the 'cooperative council'."

Speaking last month at a New London Architecture conference on regeneration in SE1, Southwark's regeneration boss Cllr Fiona Colley was scarcely more enthusiastic.

"Ministers have this rather odd idea with neighbourhood planning that the boundaries are going to be obvious," she told delegates. "In a big city like London, the boundaries are not obvious.

"And also [ministers believe] that there will be an obvious group of people who are 'the neighbourhood'.

"Again, with very fluid and diverse communities I don't think that's the case either."

Cllr Colley concluded: "With neighbourhood planning, the jury is still out on whether it's going to succeed."

The boundaries proposed by the Bankside Neighbourhood Forum have already been approved by Southwark Council and that group is now able to move forward with the plan-making process.

Next month both Southwark and Lambeth must rule on applications made by South Bank and Waterloo Neighbours (SoWNeighbours) for a neighbourhood forum spanning the borough boundary.

On the Southwark side their proposed area includes some streets already designated as part of the Bankside forum. A piece of land can only be covered by a single neighbourhood plan so the council must redraw the boundaries of one or both areas.

Meanwhile there is no end in sight to the complicated situation in Bermondsey where the council must resolve two conflicting applications for neighbourhood area and neighbourhood forum status.

A further neighbourhood plan covering Walworth and Elephant & Castle is in the pipeline.

One of the incentives for local people to draw up neighbourhood plans is the prospect of retaining a greater percentage of community infrastructure levy (CIL) payments from developers to be spent on local schemes rather than strategic infrastructure.

Government rules say that areas with an approved neighbourhood plan can retain a minimum of 25 per cent of CIL payments to be spent locally whilst in areas without a plan that minimum proportion is just 15 per cent.

Both Lambeth and Southwark have effectively removed that incentive for neighbourhood planning by promising that communities will keep at least a quarter of CIL money for local use whether or not they go through the formal process of drawing up a plan.

As part of its 'cooperative council' initiative, Lambeth is now introducing its own alternative to neighbourhood plans called cooperative local investment plans (CLIPs) which will set out how money raised from developers will be spent.


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