Saturday, 2 April 2011

Neighbourhood Planning - the case of Bermondsey

Yesterday saw the announcement of 17 communities that have been chosen by the Government to be Neighbourhood Planning Vanguards.  In line with the planning reforms expected in the Localism Bill, neighbourhoods will play a greater role in formulating planning policy.  The 17 vanguards will therefore be eligible for £20,000 from DCLG to help organise themselves into a recognised body and begin work on a Neighbourhood Plan.

Life before Google Maps
How local is too local

Apart from identifying the vanguards and allocating the cash, DCLG has purposefully resisted issuing too much guidance on how the neighbourhood planning process should operate.  In the spirit of localism, it is now up to Local Authorities and the relevant communities to chart their own course.  This is a welcome change.  The planning profession has been shaped too much by over prescriptive rules and regulations from national, regional and local government.  This has led to a loss of creativity in the planning sector where professionals are too eager to dive into Circulars and PPS' to decide what is best for a neighbourhood.  By shifting the onus onto neighbourhoods, Local Authority planners will be tested to understand the aspirations of local residents and not just the generic results of technical reports produced ad nauseam by outside consultants.  

Mistakes will be made as the 17 vanguards pilot neighbourhood planning.  But this should be expected. Planning is a messy and political minefield - just like life itself.  However, I am confident that in some instances a neighbourhood will show true inspiration and allow a forum that engages with those members that have previously not connected with planning.

Working in the City

The Shard viewed from St Thomas Street
Of the 17 vanguards named by Greg Clark MP, one stands out. Bermondsey.  Whilst the majority of the neighbourhoods chosen fit with the parish council model often evoked by Eric Pickles MP, Bermondsey is an inner London neighbourhood characterised as much by large social housing estates as by the Shard.  From an initial inspection it appears that the neighbourhood forum is already up and running and has clealry set a timetable for the production of a Neighboruhood Plan.

However, from reading the Localism Bill and hearing Eric Pickles MP speak (see here), I often have the impression that Conservative planning policy is based on the rural idyll with a parish council, village hall and local pub.  This scale of settlement allows a neighbourhood to come together and make minor decisions on the use of the village green or the preservation of the local post office.  Yet Bermondsey is nothing like this and falls within a recognised Opportunity Area (see the London Plan) where existing planning policy promotes regeneration, economic growth and tall buildings.  The area surrounding London Bridge is one of London's fastest changing cityscapes with the Shard, London Bridge station redevelopment, the 32-storey Quill and other iconic developments in the pipeline.  This is an area which neccessatates strategic planning - with strong input from the Mayor and the Greater London Authority.

But the strategic nature of London Bridge and Bermondsey should not exclude the local residents.  It just means that neighboruhood planning in this area is sure to create more tensions compared to vanguards in Banbury or Dawlish.  Property developers require certainty in planning policy so that investment can be guaranteed and schemes can be designed appropriately.  In the case of Bermondsey it is unclear how the forthcoming Neighbourhood Plan will sit alongside the existing draft Supplementary Planning Document which encourages tall buildings and considerable development opportunities.  The Localism Bill makes clear that Neighbourhood Plans cannot be anti-development, but they can shift the emphasis of planning policy.  It will be interesting to see how the case of Bermondsey develops over the coming months and whether the parish Council model of neighbourhood planning is suitable for an inner city environment.  The Musing Urbanist will be keeping a keen eye on Bermondsey to see how this episode of neighbourhood planning sits within the existing and proposed planning regime.


  1. No pressure then! I write as a member of the Bermondsey Neighbourhood Forum steering group having just finished a fractious meeting at 9pm and retired to the pub. Your blog is spot on. Come and visit us sometime.

  2. Looks like my comment from last weekend did not get posted. Likely pilot error at this end.

    I think the blog entry hits the sweet spot in terms of Bermondsey's starting point. A very diverse community in an urban jungle. There is a lot of room for people to contribute given the range of issues.

    If people go to the website they can find out when the next meeting is and how to join in the process. There is also a Facebook group called "What is Bermondsey" There are some photos and other comments there.

  3. Thanks for the comments. It looks like Bermondsey could prove a good test case for neighbourhood planning, especially with Southwark promoting a further case in Bankside.
    I'll be sure to keep an eye on how things develop!