Why a Neighbourhood Plan?
Why a Neighbourhood Plan for our patch of London?
Sydenham Hill Ridge is a natural entity defined and unified by geography and character but marginalised and divided by administrative boundaries. It is also a changing area.
A Neighbourhood Forum offers Residents, Businesses and Volunteers the opportunity to contribute to local Planning Policy in the designated Plan Area. While we elect our local Councillors, this does not give us individually the right to contribute directly to the making of the Planning Policies specific for our neighbourhood area.
Neighbourhood Forums and Neighbourhood Plans are a right under the Localism Act. They allow the local community, including resident associations, businesses, and all those who live work and volunteer in the Plan Area to establish new local planning polices for their area. Once approved via a local referendum, these planning policies apply to all parts of their designated area. Designated forums can also identify priority projects for their area too, as well as support designating new local green spaces.
OUR aim is to create a recognised Neighbourhood Planning Forum to contribute to planning for an area of London which is from a geographical and environmental aspect, clearly identifiable and unitary due to its physical and ecological characteristics, steep upper slopes, mile-long but narrow plateau (“the Ridge”), expansive woods and green spaces on the Ridge and upper slopes; but, for administrative reasons, has been divided between different councils and parishes, and as a result is often relegated to the edge or margin of other, bigger groups’ planning policies and priorities.
Awareness and Responsiveness
What do people in the area want? What do they value? What do they need? How do they want to shape the area they live in over the next decade? Currently there is no body that brings together people across the administrative boundaries in the ridge to articulate a common vision for the area.
Early discussions suggest that many local people share a sense that the wider area has a shared character that is valued. A neighbourhood plan could help to articulate this and to help ensure that the characteristics people value are enhanced rather than damaged as development goes through. This includes aspects of the built environment, the streetscape and the natural environment in our high, wooded ridge. The area holds its character on both sides of the administrative border. A neighbourhood plan can help make sure that decisions on both side of the ridge are made synergistically.
Shared needs and services/ An end to marginalisation
A neighbourhood plan could help to focus on the needs of the area. We hope that that will mean that development works for the people who live and work here; and that facilities are more likely to be developed efficiently to serve in ways that take account of the needs of people in the area regardless of which side of the border they lie.
Again our preliminary meetings have highlighted a sense that because we are on the fringes of administrative areas, we can be removed from services and facilities. For example, people have raised questions about how well we are connected to the public transport network, and especially public transport links from Sydenham Hill station to homes on the ridge; as well as bus services to Forest Hill.
A voice for affordable housing
The demand for affordable housing is an important theme for Londoners and we hope that the forum can play a part in focusing attention on how this need can be addressed locally.
A stronger community
The neighbourhood planning process also had the potential to bring people together towards a consensus view of their aspirations for the area. This has the possibility of generating a stronger, more networked, better connected community.
The emerging forum is a young body and we hope that the neighbourhood planning process will help to clarify and articulate the different visions that are held in the community for our area.
What we have learned in the past 12 months:
The most important message to have emerged over the last 12 months is the importance to London and to our Area’s Residents, Businesses and Volunteers of our Ridge as a valuable “green” resource, characterised by densely wooded areas and a broad range of housing set in landscaped gardens on steep slopes.
There are also important issues to be addressed especially around public transport and deprivation.
While there are sites within the Area offering limited development opportunity, we want to encourage developers, whether public or private, to put forward appropriate plans, bearing in mind the unique “green” character and topography of the Ridge, and the risk of flooding building on clay soil with many underground streams.
We have been pleasantly surprised by the level of interest and openness we have seen from Lewisham and Southwark Councillors and Planners to the creation of a Neighbourhood Forum and Area on Sydenham Hill Ridge.