The routes to community control and accountability

Posted on the 3rd April 2017

We hear a lot these days about how we need to take back control over our lives and our laws. How we need to have more control over our resources and our assets. But what does this look like on the ground and particularly at a neighbourhood level?

Last week My Community delegates gathered in a room near Liverpool Street, thanks to the generous hospitality of RBS, to debate and discuss which routes are best in securing control over what goes on in a local area. It was a fascinating event. Four different approaches from London were described with passion and insight by people involved at the grass-roots in building community.

Community organising in Barnet

Community organising was a powerful tool in Barnet to build networks, find community leaders and ultimately give people a sense of power and the confidence to speak out and campaign collectively for their rights – in this case the right to secure housing. Without the power of first being listened to individually, none of these people would have got involved in any community organisation.

A Community Council in Queens Park

In Queens Park, the community decided to respond to declining funding by setting up a new Community Council with local governance and tax-raising powers, which now supports local facilities like parks and community events as well as having a say over planning in the area. To set up a new parish level council, a referendum has to be run to achieve a majority in favour of the proposal.

Hackbridge and Beddington Corner Neighbourhood Plan

Hackbridge and Beddington Corner Neighbourhood Planning Forum are developing a Neighbourhood Plan to take back control from developers over land use in their area, and particularly to protect the mixed character of their neighbourhood from inappropriate large-scale housing development. It’s not that they don’t want housing, it’s just that they want it to be appropriate to the character of their area and to help sustain the environment for future generations.

Community-led regeneration in Brixton

In Brixton Green community activists have developed a community-led structure to take the lead in negotiating a major regeneration initiative, looking to become the developer themselves of affordable housing and community facilities, with a vision to put development into the hands of the people. This is not a process without its fair share of conflict and an ongoing dialogue between leaders and local community is essential.

Although on the face of it the four approaches are quite different, some common themes emerged.

Each approach relies on the ability to engage and mobilise significant numbers of people in the area – to stand together and speak with one voice, to vote for the setting up of a new structure or approve a plan, to invest in and become a member of a community-owned organisation.

Each community wrestled with how to ensure they were genuinely involving everyone at each stage. In each area, major attempts were made to get out and reach people and listen to their concerns – and not just wait for folk to attend meetings or respond to questionnaires.

Control over resources was a major driver in each area – over taxation, developer payments, or over new or existing assets. In each area power has begun to shift through the use of different right and powers. Each area has had to grapple with how to ensure that their power is held and used accountably and transparently. The more resources you control, the greater your responsibility.

Each approach had its own strengths and challenges, but what began to emerge from our conversations was the exciting prospect of what might happen if a number of these approaches are built on each other over time – so that new structures are built on genuine democracy and are underpinned by real control over resources.

All of this is grist to the mill of Locality’s new Localism Commission, which seeks the answer to how we can bring power and governance closer to people and neighbourhoods.

This day provided some answers and left us full of optimism for the possibilities and opportunities that are already available to all of us in any community, with the right support, to come together to gain control over our future.

by Naomi Diamond, Development Manager at Locality

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