Updated: May 17, 2021
Clare Delmar, Listen to Locals
Congratulations to Sadiq Khan, our re-elected Mayor of London, and to the 25 members of the GLA elected last week.
Special recognition and thanks to Nicky Gavron as she leaves the GLA after 21 years, having built an impactful legacy of inclusive practices in planning, housing and regeneration, and a dedicated commitment to supporting local community groups across London.
Since its launch only a few months ago, Listen to Locals has connected with and learned from a wide range of community groups across London who are actively committed to ensuring their communities’ voices are heard at City Hall. We’ve been struck by the high levels of expertise, innovation and commitment amongst these groups and their members – encompassing skills and specialities like planning, design, transport, comms and digital – and addressing a diversity of locational and community issues -- from the transport challenges at Silvertown Tunnel and Hammersmith Bridge; to the density and massing challenges at Mortlake and Osterley; to the preservation of vital green space at Cressingham Gardens and Feltham.
All of these community groups have demonstrated dedication and resourcefulness which has only been strengthened by the pandemic and successive lockdowns. Twelve of them contributed to hustings held over the last few weeks for both GLA and mayoral candidates, challenging the candidates on planning issues ranging from public health impacts to air quality to building trust and transparency.
Our next step is to consolidate what we’ve learned from the last few months and to focus on making specific challenges to City Hall to engage with local community groups, as the eyes and ears of London’s reborn communities.
As a start, we want to bring attention to a worrying trend we’re seeing in the practice of public consultation on planning applications. Several local community groups have demonstrated how planning authorities in their borough avoid engagement with organised groups, and instead rely on general public surveys – mostly digital due to the pandemic - to “consult” with the local community.
We regard this as bad practice, foregoing the expertise, knowledge and dedication of local community groups but also creating divisions within those communities, along digital, class and racial lines. Local community groups must be recognised by City Hall and local planning authorities as essential channels for constructive engagement in the planning process.
Colleagues at Just Space tell us they “have many cases where Local Planning Authorities survey individuals, hoping to dilute the voice of organised groups who are dismissed as Usual Suspects / Minority of Troublemakers.”
South London community group Peckham Vision has a long history of challenging London Borough of Southwark on planning processes and decisions.
“The Council at best tolerates organised community groups, and prefers public at large – eg online surveys and random street surveys – to groups with knowledge and experience. The latest example of this is the new Planning Community Review Panel where activist individuals were disqualified.”
Asked if this means that some of the best informed people are disqualified from the formal planning process, one of its leaders points out that both are needed – an 'independent' (ie individuals, not organised/collective) review panel as one source of information, and an agreed process for organised community groups, as the recognised source of different, and complementary information.
As Mayor Sadiq Khan begins his next term at City Hall, he can expect to be guided and challenged by Listen to Locals on demonstrating his commitment to engaging with local community groups across London. These organisations represent London at its best, and we need them to drive the change that is sorely needed in our planning system.