According to the new Localism Act local people will soon be able to assemble a Neighbourhood Forum of 21 people or more who will discuss and propose the design of their local area. Save Ealing Centre (SEC), an alliance of 25 residents’ and community groups, has proposed the setting up of two Neighbourhood Forums – one for Ealing centre and one for West Ealingcentre. As part of these initiatives in 2011, SEC sought funding from national government, which if successful would amount to £40,000. We’ll hear soon whether this bid has been successful.
Neighbourhood Forums are required to be made up of a representative group of local stakeholders. I expect residents’ groups, community groups, businesses, faith groups, educational establishments and infrastructure providers to attend and contribute to these forum meetings.
These forum meetings are likely to be a breath of fresh air as they are likely to be the first such regular meetings in modern times at which local people/traders/service providers will be asked about how they want their town centres to be preserved, re-used and /or ‘developed’. These will be difficult discussions in which trade-offs between different needs – like quality of life, culture, healthcare, education, law and order, business and housing – will have to be thrashed out.
Unsurprisingly there are whole ‘rafts’ of planning legislation which the forums will have to wrestle with. At national level we have the newly proposed NationalPlanning PolicyFramework. At regional level we have the new version of The London Plan. At town level we have Ealing Council’s draft Local Development Framework Core Strategy (LDF CS). National government will decide whether it wants to accept Ealing’s LDF CS in early 2012.
All these planning policies contain a presumption in favour of property development, which seems somewhat out of place in a country with massive debts, a depressed construction industry and with no prospects of any significant economic growth for years to come. However it appears that no major political party wants to adopt a common sense policy of making the best use of what we’ve got.
The Localism Act will become fully enabled by April 2012. Neighbourhood Forums have a lifetime of five years. To find out more about Neighbourhood Forums and the Localism Bill you’ll find a useful briefing at www.urbanforum.org.uk/briefings/localism-act-briefing. To track progress of these Ealing Neighbourhood Forum initiatives see SEC’s web site at www.saveealingscentre.com and West Ealing Neighbours’ web site at www.westealingneighbours.org.uk.
3 January 2012