Southwark Eviscerate Community Councils

Community councils were set-up by Lib Dems when they led the council in 2002. Simple idea that power should be exercised as close to residents as possible. Community councils decided local planning applications, traffic schemes, devolved budgets around investing in local areas, devolved revenue spending to help create new projects, and generally gave local residents the power to directly influence local councillors in decisions about their neighbourhood.

Sadly not everyone wants to make local decisions. Community councils were stripped of making local planning decisions when Labour took control of Southwark council. They then dramatically reduced the number of meeting down from 10 a year to 5 each year. and the number of community councils from 8 to 5 making them much less local outside of the Dulwich area.

I’ve sat on the main planning committee deciding on local planning applications where all local Labour councillors had refused to be involved in a local planning decision because it was contentious. So clearly hiding such decisions behind a town hall in Tooley Street suits such councillors purposes.

Labour are now saying they want to centralise traffic scheme decision making to a single Labour councillor in the councils Tooley Street ivory towers.The fig leaf of saving money has been given. That a council officer attending a meeting is too expensive. With 5 meetings per year for 5 community councils at  4 hours (including travel time) the saving will amount to around £2,500 each year of officer time. But we’ve been given the option of talking about traffic schemes but with no expert officer present to explain what they’re trying to do and their ideas should work and we can only ask the Labour traffic tsar to consider issues and concerns we raise.

Academic research shows more people involved in decisions the more likely they are to catch problems and make good decisions. Three ward councillors, 6 fellow councillors on the community council, neighbouring residents and an expert council officer – I’ve seen this work really well. I’ve seen it save money; of daft schemes be canned, or tweaked to actually work. I’ve seen proposed scheme forget about pedestrians which we corrected for example.

If you think centralising traffic schemes, only discussing local issues 5 times a year, not deciding local planning schemes locally is a bad idea please respond to the councils consultation and tell them what you think.

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