The Sustainable Communities Act is the result of a determined 5-year campaign by a wide number of organisations, ranging from Friends of the Earth, trade unions, the Women’s Institute, Shelter and the Black Environment Network to the Countryside Alliance. Together they made up the Local Works Campaign.
Significantly, it’s the first piece of legislation that is specifically designed to be bottom up rather than top down. ie local communities can use it to tell Councils what they want, Councils tell the Local Government Association (LGA) and the government then has an obligation to work with the LGA to try and reach consensus. So this most definitely isn’t another piece of legislation imposed on us from the government, but a tool for us to use to make the government act on our concerns. But we do of course need to use it.
Theoretically, we can use this new law to find ways to halt the decline of some of our smaller shopping parades, to save post offices and pubs or prevent yet more betting shops, take aways and supermarkets from opening and draining money from the local economy. It could be used to make sure any new developments help to make our community more sustainable and better equipped to cope with the challenges of a transition towards a zero-carbon society, not ever more at the mercy of a globalised economy.
The challenge of course, is to make sure that local people are aware that this legislation exists and how to use it. Councils are also required to opt in to it. Tonight I am proposing a motion at Full Council calling on the Mayor to instruct officers to take the necessary action for the council to opt in to the Act, and to set out how he will convene the citizens' panels with which the Council must agree which proposals to present to government. I imagine this panel will somehow fit in with (and maybe give some teeth to) the existing ward assemblies. Given that the bill received cross-party support during its passage through parliament, I'm not anticipating much opposition to the motion, but am keen to use it to highlight locally the new legislation and the powers it brings.
I am also organising a public meeting in the town hall on Wednesday 29th October, with Steve Shaw from the Local Works campaign, to talk about how communities can use the act to protect their community from unwanted developments or to push to make it more sustainable in some way. The Deputy Mayor has also kindly agreed to come along and talk about how Lewisham Council plans to use the new legislation. The meeting is in the Council Chamber at 7.30pm. All are welcome. If you wish, you can also sign up to the Facebook Event which will help us to get an idea of numbers.