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Delay to neighbourhood plans "squeezing the life out of process"

A boundary dispute is "squeezing the life out of the process" of drawing up neighbourhood plans in Bermondsey, one community group has warned.

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.

Councils have a role in agreeing boundaries and assessing whether community groups meet the legal criteria, but they cannot block neighbourhood plans outright.

In September 2012 two groups submitted applications to Southwark Council for recognition of their proposed boundaries for neighbourhood plans in Bermondsey.

One group – the Bermondsey Neighbourhood Forum – proposed a larger area stretching from the river to New Kent Road and from Borough High Street to Tower Bridge Road.

Another group – the Bermondsey Village Action Group – wanted to prepare a plan for a much smaller area focussed on St Thomas Street.

As any piece of land can only fall within one neighbourhood planning area, the council found itself with two mutually incompatible proposals on the table.

With the process now having dragged on without a decision for more than 16 months, all sides are now getting frustrated.

"The Bermondsey Neighbourhood Forum has repeatedly said to the council that the lack of a decision (or even a date for a decision) on the neighbourhood planning boundary or group is squeezing the life out of the process in our area," said the BNF in a bulletin published this week on its website.

"We are clear that it is entirely unreasonable to expect volunteers to put work into an organisation or process when it is not clear that anything would come out from that work."

BVAG has also lodged formal complaints about the council's handling of the process.

Cllr Peter John, leader of Southwark Council, said: "We appreciate this process has taken longer than originally expected but it important to get these things right.

"It is our duty to promote the neighbourhood plans, consult with our public and promote cooperation between different groups but in this particular area we have faced a significant challenge as different groups have come forward with conflicting ideas about what the neighbourhood boundaries should be.

"This has taken time to resolve but we are close to making a decision.

"The Government set up this system assuming that the boundaries for neighbourhood plans would be obvious. In fact we have found that in central London they are far from obvious."

• The Bermondsey Neighbourhood Forum has recently launched an online survey about housing need in the SE1 area.

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