Email from BVAG – consultation closes soon (24th April)

Update – Yesterday’s Meeting

Yesterday’s meeting with the three Council representatives, Mark Williams, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Planning and Transport, Simon Bevan, Head of Planning, and Juliet Seymour, Community Planning Decoy Officer, was as colourful as usual.

They had been on notice for several weeks that their ‘concerns’ about our application for a Neighbourhood Forum needed to be specified rather than couched in nebulous generalities – enabling them to pull an excuse for refusal out of the hat at the last minute without giving us a chance to respond. This has been their plan B. Plan A, indefinite stalling, became unlawful following central Government’s realisation that it was far too easy for local authorities to defeat localism by the naturally attractive option of doing absolutely nothing. As with their previous strategies they were not going to give up the latest without a fight. Hence our esteemed guests repeatedly tried to deliver tedious empty and endlessly rehearsed speeches professing their deep sincerity – and avoiding the issues. For once in our meetings an almost Council-like firm chairmanship was required to stop them squirming out of answering the questions demanding clarity on their position. With Williams floundering on the ropes our supporters landed a knock-out punch demanding a meeting for today in which a delegation from OBVF can attend the Council offices for a meeting with Juliet Seymour for her to be categorical about what in our present application could support a refusal to recognise us – and how any such defect can be remedied. Why this could not be done at the meeting itself was not clear but it was certainly clear that they had come under duress to furnish themselves with a defence against accusations of furtive efforts to defeat our application whilst being intent on avoiding disclosure of their hand. As a result our delegation will be in Tooley St this afternoon and it will be difficult for the Council to keep any cards up their sleeve without opening themselves up to a legal challenge if they rely on them to refuse our application.

Williams and Bevan were obviously coming to wonder whether they could make plan B stand up because they were already starting to clutch for a plan C. Their instinct here is obviously to profess such deep deference to the results of their ‘consultation’ that they can claim opposition to the OBVNF application does not allow them in conscience to approve it. They have of course certain tame organisations beholden to them (e.g. paid JMB staff, Team London Bridge) beholden to them for their existence because they control their purse strings. They will be confident of being able to use their influence to coax out of such people a ‘response’ to help support a refusal of our application.

Since the statutory consultation period ends today it will be helpful if our supporters can spare the time to put in some counter-balancing views. Group Treasurer Amy burnt the midnight oil after the meeting last night and has produced this to help:

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After five years of hard work trying to help local people to wield some democratic community power over the decisions that are made about the neighbourhood in which we live, we are about to jump the last hurdle in our long march to be designated as the neighbourhood forum for the area that the Council has decided on – ‘Area A’. We have put in an application as the Old Bermondsey Village Neighbourhood Forum, and any of you who live in Area A should have received a letter from Southwark Council asking you to make your comments by:

Deadline – Friday April 24th – that’s tomorrow!

You can email your comments on our application to planningpolicy@southwark.gov.uk or by post to Planning Policy, Chief Executive’sDepartment, FREEPOST SE1919/14, London, SE1P 5LX

We could do with a plentiful response. Of course, enthusiastic support for our cause and our work would be much appreciated (and if you have ideas and comments you want to add to the mix, please e-mail us or come to one of our meetings to have an impact). However, in the true spirit of democracy, you are of course free to write negatively about our application, and so the headings below have been designed to leave space for either opinion, although of course the tone is unavoidably leaning towards the optimistic!
For those of you who only have a few minutes to spare, we thought we might offer some headings which might help you get started composing a reply to the consultation:

LOCALISM and NEIGHBOURHOOD FORUM CONCEPT

(Under the Localism Act a Neighbourhood Plan ‘could set out detailed planning guidance on issues such as housing, heritage, design, open spaces and local businesses’ (Southwark Council consultation letter)).
Do you think that local people should have a voice in which decisions are made about the area they live in? Would you like to be able to feed into a local community plan that can turn the priorities of the people into council policies?
Do you feel that a refusal of the OBVNF application will be harmful to the neighbourhood and the neighbourhood plan process?
MEETINGS and COMMUNICATION
Have you been to any meetings, are you on the mailing list, or have you become aware through posters and word of mouth, of the Old Bermondsey Village Neighbourhood Forum (until recently operating under the name of the BVAG – Bermondsey Village Action Group)?
Have you felt informed and included about the aims and work of the group? Do you feel that the group makes an effort to be open and inclusive? Do you feel OBVNF as a group has ample scope to actively engage with the larger community once approved? Whether OBVNF has the potential to be an effective representative group for the community?
‘AREA A’

(The boundary of the area has been decided by the council and is not up for discussion at the moment. The council believe that this is the correct and manageable are.)
Do you think that this group should have the chance to be voted in via a referendum to be the focal point for people’s ideas and hopes for the development of the local area?
There is no other application from a group on the table – would you prefer the status quo of the council’s approach and policies as they stand, or do you want a community group to try to build a representative plan for the area?
POLICIES
Community plan policies will not be decided until the group has been designated and had a chance to do the work of gathering a cross-section of local wishes for the Neighbourhood Plan, but are there any specific policies or issues that you would like local people to take a lead on?
OBVNF
Overall, do you support the application of the OBVNF to be the neighbourhood forum for Area A?

Please see here for further info and to submit your reply.

Many thanks for taking the time to consider this.

– The OBVNF organising team.

Email from BVAG: Neighbourhood Plan update – Lawyers instructed & Council Meeting

Neighbourhood Plan update – Lawyers instructed & Council Meeting
(11 February 6.00pm, Council Offices, Tooley St)

The Council’s resistance to our Neighbourhood planning initiative has entered another desperate phase.

In August they finally recognised that avoidance and delay was becoming unsustainable and designated a neighbourhood area (‘NA’) that does not correspond with our application area – or with anyone else’s.

A challenge to that decision by way of a ‘call-in’ by the (very) minority Lib-Dems then triggered a referral to the so-called Oversight and Scrutiny Committee, occasioning a further convenient two months of delay. The OSC is a kangaroo court whipped by the majority Labour Party members into an obedient ratification of Council decisions and its members dutifully did what they were told on 20 October.

In response we called a joint meeting of the BVAG-coordinated St Thomas St Plan and the phantom rival applicant ‘group’ that the Council has sought to promote: ‘Bermondsey Neighbourhood Forum’ (‘BNF’). In reality BNF had stopped holding meetings well over a year ago and its membership had all but evaporated. The few remaining members who turned up duly resolved to formally wind up what was by now nothing more than a straw man for the Council to use as a pretext for refusing to process the only valid application for Neighbourhood Forum Status, namely ours.

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Council designated Area ‘A’

In order to remove any further opportunity for delay by the Council the meeting also, with reservations over its size and suitability reluctantly agreed to amend the STP to adopt the Council’s own designated area (‘Area A’, see below). The amended plan was given the working title of STP(D) and the Council was invited to finally approve our application. Given that they themselves had designated the NA selected and they had only one application from what in their own August report was acknowledged to be a qualifying group they were running out of wriggle-room. Without any plausible excuses remaining to them they have resorted to exactly what we anticipated at the meeting – further delay and a few half-hearted implausible excuses (See correspondence here). At the November meeting we had anticipated exactly what we got and we had also resolved to instruct lawyers to prepare for a Judicial Review of the Council’s refusal to process our application. Consequently leading Counsel’s advice was obtained in December. Together with his Junior, the barristers are now preparing the protocol letter before action required to commence a JR claim.