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We protest to Southwark Council about centralisation of planning decisions

Southwark Council have taken planning decisions away from the Dulwich Community Council and moved them to a centralised process in Bermondsey in the north of the borough. We have been concerned at this and have written to the Leader of the Council as follows….

Councillor Peter John, Leader of Southwark Council, Cabinet Suite, 160 Tooley Street, London, SE1 2QH.

4 December 2012

Dear Councillor John,

We are writing to you about the current Southwark planning process as it impacts the Dulwich wards.

We have recorded our extreme disappointment and concern at a number of public meetings including the Dulwich Community Council about the Southwark planning process as determined by the Southwark Council Assembly on 23 May 2012 (revision to Part 3F of the Constitution).  In May, it was decided to remove from community councils their powers to consider and determine planning applications on a local basis, and introduce a central planning committee and sub-committees for planning decisions.

The new process centralises decision-making and makes it less accessible to individuals and groups in our community.

Our experience in recent months has borne out our concerns:

  1. The chair of the Dulwich Society Planning and Architecture Group , David Roberts, whose committee reviews all the planning applications arising in the Dulwich Estate Scheme of Management area has commented:

“The sub-committee meetings that I have attended at Tooley Street, to consider Dulwich planning applications, have shown me that councillors, always from other wards, lacked detailed knowledge of the Dulwich area, and what standards to apply.

Dulwich is recognised by the Borough as a special area, indeed it has the two largest conservation areas in the borough, Dulwich Village and Dulwich Woods, but with local councillors excluded the benefit of local knowledge is completely lost. By taking the planning sub-committee away from Dulwich, it is failing the local community.”

  1. 2.     At a recent planning application committee hearing for a development in a key Dulwich road, Alleyn Park, there were three councillors and the chair, none from a Dulwich ward. When there are a low number of councillors, in the experience of the Dulwich Society, it often leads to poor examination of the key aspects of an application. The more councillors there are at a sub-committee meeting the more thoroughly a divisive application is questioned and a better decision emerges.
  2. 3.     Localism is completely lost by the process of not having ward councillors for the relevant area on the sub-committee.
  3. Planning committee meetings are held in the north of the borough at Tooley Street which has proved to be a deterrent for residents in the south of the borough to attend.  At one such meeting attended by two Turney Road residents to speak on one of the planning applications it meant waiting till 11pm and as late night travel back to Dulwich by public transport is not always easy or safe at that hour, we travelled home by taxi at our own expense.

All of those involved in co-ordinating responses to planning applications have observed that it has proved much harder to get people to attend planning meetings at Tooley Street because of travelling time and costs.

The centralised planning process is a backward step in our opinion, and a reversal of all the excellent achievements so far in terms of local democracy which we greatly value. Has there been a review of the effectiveness of the new centralised process and its impact on local democracy?

We request the Council to review the decision to centralise the planning process and consider reverting to the former community council planning process.  We also ask that planning committees considering applications for Dulwich are held in an appropriate south of the borough location.

Yours sincerely

Turney Road Residents’ Association

The Dulwich Society

The Dulwich Society Planning and Architecture Group

cc: Village Ward Councillors, College Ward Councillors

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