An end to planning blight in West Norwood proposed by London's largest citizens' planning group.
NPA “DESIGNATION” UPDATE: THE NEXT SIX MONTHS
Graham Pycock 8 August 2017
A NORWOOD TOWN PLAN
Norwood now has its own citizen-led Qualifying Body, officially designated, with authority to draw-up a Neighbourhood Plan under the 2011 Localism Act. This plan would come into force following approval in a Norwood referendum. The NPA has achieved unprecedented local backing with over 1400 supporters (nominally only 21 are required). Norwood is way ahead of most of London. Local people can plan land use policy and bring about improvements in retail, housing, the environment and so on, which are binding on developers and the council. At the same time the process of neighbourhood planning creates the opportunity for Norwood to work together, involving the wider community. In particular young people can be involved in appreciating their town and helping to shape its future.
Neighbourhood planning is popular. There are over 2500 local planning groups in England, with over 250 successful referendums held. London however is struggling, due to complexity, difficulty in agreeing boundaries, lack of resources and council resistance. London does have over 100 active groups however, most of which are designated and five successful referendums held. Even if progress has been slow, NPA has actually done well and has two outstanding features. The NPA is unusual, if not unique, in having a robust form of local accountability built into its constitution. This is intended to supply legitimacy and the broadest possible support base. NPA is actually subordinate and accountable to the Norwood Action Group (NAG) and the Norwood Forum (NF). These two groups are complementary to each other, having earned respect and support across Norwood over many years. NAG is independent and all-party (“NAG and get things done”). NF (“The Voice of Norwood”) is part of the council’s Lambeth Forum Network and has an annual council grant. NPA’s officers are elected by and report to a combined assembly of NAG and NF; hence “Norwood Planning Assembly”. Membership of NAG, NF and NPA directly, is open to anyone in Norwood. Thus as far as possible the officers of the NPA are answerable to the people of Norwood.
A second outstanding feature of NPA is that it is the largest planning group in London and possibly in England, with a population of about 35,000. The intention is to plan for Norwood, as an integrated whole. Norwood functions as a small town, with a distinct identity. Housing, industry, retail, schools, green space etc combine to make a town the place it is. It is sensible to enable people to plan and design for themselves improvements for their town as a whole, to improve the place that it is. The area covers most of the three council wards of Knights Hill, Gipsy Hill and Thurlow Park. Some parts were conceded to next door groups, but the area encompasses Norwood as most people know it. The town will have a single plan as a new tier of planning below the Lambeth borough plan.
FUNDING AND TIMESCALE
NPA is run by Norwood citizens, and its workforce is essentially Norwood’s citizen volunteers. NPA’s strength is bottom-up civic leadership. The weakness is a lack of human resources and the funding to pay them; many chiefs and not enough Indians. There is plenty of guidance available and much to learn from other planning forums. It should be noted that planning policy in draft is actually a “material consideration” in planning applications, so that NPA already has considerable influence. It has taken three years of voluntary effort to achieve the milestone of designation. During this period, the council has spent over £200,000 in Norwood on alternatives to neighbourhood planning (masterplan refresh, “CLIPs” etc.) and has made it clear that no resource will be made available to NPA, although full cooperation will be forthcoming. Requests to the council for seconded staff expertise have fallen on deaf ears. Critically however a small government grant and subsidies from NAG and Norwood Forum now pay for part-time administrative support for the volunteers. NPA could obtain financial support from a property developer, but with the risk of a conflict of interest. A public appeal and crowd-funding is possible. The speed with which the plan can be produced will be governed by funding. With funding, it is realistically possible to produce a Neighbourhood Plan ready for referendum in two years from the time of designation. Without a paid workforce however it is not possible to control and predict how long it will take to produce the Norwood Plan. A target referendum date of May 2020 might be more realistic. The latest outline work-plan is available here. From a long list of issues and ideas, there are four potentially viable projects which can be prioritised for the next six months. Public approval is needed, but the initiative should be taken, with an input of proposals and fresh thinking. Nothing ventured nothing gained. Choices have to be made and volunteers and funding have to be found.
PRIORITY PROJECTS: AMBITION IN NORWOOD
RESCUING NORWOOD HIGH STREET
The High Street from Elder Road to St Luke’s has been called the most run-down high street in London. A third of floor-space is vacant. Norwood’s original main road has suffered many years of neglect and a planning vacuum. Much of the original retail space has been converted to housing, often without authorisation. Inexplicably, the High Street was even excluded from the shop improvement funds made available from the London Mayor in 2014. The latest council plan based on the Regeneris report sensibly suggests zoning for cultural, retail, business and housing uses, but is vague on how to do it.
PROPOSAL: NPA would employ the power available to neighbourhood planning (not mentioned in the council report) to devise a “site allocation policy” for Norwood High Street. A partnership task group would carry out the project aided by a student-led investigation and report. NPA has links with University College London and the University of Westminster, which both carry out teaching and research in architecture and planning.
REVIVING NORWOOD’S KEY INDUSTRIAL AND BUINESS AREA (KIBA)
The recent council plan confirmed that Norwood’s large industrial area, between Knights Hill, Chapel Road and the railway is underutilised, with only 50% of the jobs which, on average, should be available. Occupancy and employment is in long-term decline, despite London’s booming economy. There is unauthorised use and a lack of planning enforcement. The council has now set up a KIBA group based upon the Business Improvement District (BID) organisation in Norwood.
PROPOSAL: NPA will include suitable planning policies to revive the KIBA in the Neighbourhood Plan. There should be a joint planning policy task group with the Norwood BID. The council plan is a valuable evidence base, and NPA would consider more planning flexibility and possibly greater permitted building heights. The London Mayor’s new “Good Growth Fund” specifically includes neighbourhood planning projects and NPA would wish to work up joint proposals with the council and BID. For example, to move the recycling centre from Vale Street to the KIBA, using Vale Street for housing, and encouraging related recycling businesses in the KIBA. The Mayoral fund has wider relevance. Norwood needs a “community base” with facilities and office space; a heritage trail, displaying Norwood’s history; and public art, for example conveying the former Norwood Technical College’s untold role in WW 2.
SELF-BUILD HOUSING PROJECT ON THE OLD COLLEGE SITE
The old college site on Chapel Road and Knights Hill is part of the Key Industrial and Business Area (KIBA) and is one of Lambeth’s “strategic reservoirs of land for business use”. There is a rigid policy of not permitting residential use in a KIBA. Thanks to this council policy, the old college site has been kept vacant for 20 years.
PROPOSAL: NPA should lobby the council to amend the Lambeth borough plan to release this site for housing use. The current owner would need a site for a warehouse to be found in the KIBA, in exchange. NPA would reserve the old college site for “self-build housing” plots, to produce affordable homes for first timers.
SITE 18; THE RETAIL HEART OF NORWOOD
The odd collection of sites behind Norwood Road between Iceland and B&Q has huge potential as the retail heart of Norwood. The site includes the vacant laundry site, the council car park and several illegal uses. The 2008 council masterplan came to nothing and there is no clear public view about best use. The latest council plan proposes a phased development of the site as a whole, but B&Q is a fixture.
PROPOSAL: NPA proposes a design project known as a “charrette” involving owners, the public, the council and professionals. Such a “participatory co-design exercise” may attract funding from the Mayor’s Good Growth Fund and NPA would wish to apply jointly with the council. Several neighbourhood planning groups have employed charrette events to resolve issues with difficult sites. Funding and goodwill are needed up front, but the prize is a development scheme which is viable, attractive and genuinely popular. Site 18 is a suitable case for treatment.
NPA will mobilise planning policy task groups for site 18 and for the KIBA in September. We trust that the BID group (known as Station to Station) will wish to take advantage of neighbourhood planning and jointly work with NPA in business-related planning.
In the autumn NPA will roll out a series of inaugural meetings of the remaining policy task groups. These are; Housing, Social Infrastructure, Transport and Communication and Quality of the Built Environment.
An NPA General Meeting (a joint meeting of NAG and Norwood Forum) will be convened, to report and review progress, to approve future plans and consider Site 18 proposals.
ACTION ON YOUR PART
Please volunteer as part of Norwood’s planning workforce by emailing: email@example.com
Volunteer roles include:
“TECHNOCRATS”: chairing and leading task groups (the convenor role), contributing and writing for policy task groups, filming and creative writing, liaising with professionals and stakeholders, fund raising etc.
“AMBASSADORS”: meeting the public, delivering leaflets, contributing to blogs, engaging with groups, speaking at public meetings etc.
“PROJECT STAFF”: investigating, social surveying, meeting stakeholders, working with students, reporting, graphic design, artists etc.
ANY COMMENTS ON THIS NOTE AND THE FOUR PROPOSALS WOULD BE GRATEFULLY RECEIVED.
PLEASE VOLUNTEER AND/OR REPLY TO; firstname.lastname@example.org
NPA: local planning by local people