Could Charlton get a community council? Have your say…

Could a community council help promote Charlton's attractions?

Could a community council help promote Charlton’s attractions more effectively?

Do you know what a community council is? It’s something you might be hearing a bit more of in the next few months, as the Government’s given a small grant to The Charlton Society to promote and explore the possibilities of handing the people of SE7 a little bit more power over their lives. So – would you want to get involved? Read on…

Parish councils were abolished in London in 1899, when the metropolitan boroughs – the forerunners to today’s London boroughs – were set up. But they still thrive outside London, as a tier below borough or district councils. They can take charge of a range of services such as community centres, open spaces, allotments, flower beds, some planning functions – whatever they want to take on, so long as their local borough or district council is happy to devolve to them.

You don’t have to travel a million miles to see them in action – the nearest to us are close to Dartford: Stone Parish Council and Wilmington Parish Council. If you want to scroll through others in Kent, take a look here.

In London, it’s been the boroughs that have taken on an increasing range of functions over the years. That can mean that many communities can feel overlooked.

But a 2007 law means that parish or community councils can now be established in London. The first is in Queen’s Park, north-west London, where elections will be held in May. There’s also an established campaign to set one up in London Fields, Hackney.

So, where does Charlton fit into this? This isn’t about declaring UDI from the borough of Greenwich. But there’s certainly a growing appetite within the SE7 area for people to get involved and make their area a better place.

Yet the current structure of local government doesn’t recognise that, while there’s been an explicit shift within Greenwich Council in the past decade or so to concentrate on the centres of Greenwich, Woolwich and Eltham. Similar funding has been granted to a campaign in Plumstead, another area where many feel overlooked.

The theory goes that a community council will be able to get Charlton punching at its weight again, and will mean local people have control over local services.

A community council could beautify streets with flowerbeds, or install signs welcoming people to the area. It could take control of council-run community halls, commission extra street cleaning or arrange volunteers, or run youth or children’s facilities.

Here’s what they’re doing in Queen’s Park: “Help for young and vulnerable people, the prevention of crime and anti-social behaviour, support for local business, as well as specific proposals including community events and the establishment of a Youth Council.”

Is this something you could get involved in?

Charlton Church Lane, 19 January 2014

A community council could make sure Charlton’s streets are better maintained

One thing it shouldn’t be is party political – often those who are most active in the area will have some political background, but for this to work, party rosettes and personal grudges should be left at the door. Making this happen, I suspect, will be one of the bigger challenges. Persuading Greenwich Council could also be a challenge – but the Queen’s Park campaign won over Westminster Council, which saw the advantages in having a local body to work with.

Another challenge will be making sure the council benefits all of SE7, from the estates to the estate agents’ favourite streets – and not just those who shout the loudest, or who are the most affluent or well-spoken, or live in Charlton village, or the current Charlton council ward. Current election arrangements mean it should be easy to set the council up, although there may be a very small overlap into areas of SE3, SE10 and maybe SE18.

All this will cost some money though – a community council will be able to levy a small precept on the council tax. This is likely to be only a few pounds, but would give the council a budget of, perhaps a couple of hundred thousand pounds each year. A community council would need to persuade you that it’s good value for money.

But most of all, it’d need to involve you. There’ll be a public meeting later this year to discuss the idea, and it’d need to be approved by a referendum and by Greenwich Council’s cabinet.

So would you like the chance to get involved with how your area is run – or do you think it’d just be another layer of bureaucracy? The Charlton Society’s Nikki Coates will post more about this issue at a later date, and she’ll be happy to answer any question you have. But what do you think of the idea – would you get involved?

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11 Responses to Could Charlton get a community council? Have your say…

  1. Alison says:

    What a great idea this would be and could only I benefit the residents of Charlton. I am an early retired company director and my husband is a writer and we would both be interested in being involved.

  2. maryorelse says:

    ahem – sorry about this – but don’t let North Charlton get ignored.

    There was in the 1970s a neighbourhood forum which used to meet in North Charlton and had its own neighbourhood centre. That grew out of protests about lorries in Charlton Church Lane and, I think, the feeling that North Charlton was not just at the bottom of the hill, but bottom of the list too.

  3. therealdecoy says:

    One of the reasons why there are more active community groups around Deptford, where i used to live, is the existence of more friendly, affordable, locally run community centres, such as housing co-op meeting rooms. Charlton House is great, but hiring a room for a small group or project anywhere local is pretty expensive. It would be good to have somewhere for unfunded initiatives to be able to meet and set up small-scale events. perhaps this is something we could work on?
    Ashleigh

    • Carol says:

      I don’t know how much it costs but I think the obvious place would be the Parish rooms in the The Village. I think St Lukes has a small meeting room attached to the church but I haven’t been in there for years. I also think Charlton had a parish council when we came here in 1967 , we bought our house from a lady who was on the council.

  4. Nikki says:

    Hi, if anyone is interested in coming along to a first informal meeting on this next week drop me a line and I’ll send on the details – nikki.coates[at]gmail.com

  5. Paul C says:

    Hi Nikki,

    Firstly, would like to say that I think the community council idea is fantastic. It seems to me an excellent opportunity to bring together the many and varied interest groups – that seem to be popping up on a weekly basis in Charlton at the moment – and give Charlton some much needed TLC, both by bringing extra pressure to bear on the council but also by taking on various jobs themselves. At the moment Charlton feels a bit ‘People’s Front of Judea’ and perhaps a Community Council would act, informally, as an umbrella that brought the groups together and allowed them to share strengths and be more than the sum of their parts.

    Having said all that, I also wanted to say that I would not want to stand for the council. ‘Why is this person telling me this?’ you may think. I mention it because I am a candidate for the council elections in May, standing for the Liberal Democrats. ‘Boo!/Hiss!/Hurray!/Who?/Splitters!’ [Delete as appropriate]. Having spoken to many, tho not all, of my fellow Lib Dems in the area (it didn’t take long) we agreed with the post above in that the council should be a party-political free zone. So, on behalf of the Lib Dems in Greenwich, we won’t be standing. That doesn’t mean that we, or at least I, won’t be coming along to meetings when possible and doing what I can to help, assuming you and other organisers feel that is appropriate.

    Charlton has been low down the list of priorities in Greenwich borough for a long time now, I really hope the Community Council happens and if so I am sure it will be a real force for good.

    Paul Chapman
    Lib Dem Council Candidate 2015, GSOH, Virgo

  6. Gary Parker says:

    Who says that Charlton is low on the councils priorities in Greenwich?,that’s an opinion, not a fact.
    Its certainly not low on my priority list, nor my fellow ward councillors.
    I will take your party seriously when they do something to stop local government funding cuts, another £69 million recently to add to the £100 million in the last 4 years and oppose the £345 million cut announced this week in the Local Welfare Assistance Scheme grant to local authorities, which funds the poorest and most disadvantaged for emergency payments and the affects of the bedroom tax.In Greenwich and Charlton this will mean more poverty and hardship.The Lib Dems cannot do this though,because they supported all these measures.Good luck with your campaign Paul.
    Councillor Gary Parker,Labour Councillor Charlton Ward

  7. Paul Chapman says:

    Thanks for the good luck wishes Gary. Appreciate it.

    I’ll respect the request to keep this thread focussed on the potential community council (although I think it’s a missed opportunity, it’s not as if we are interrupting a raging debate) and ask you what your opinion is on the idea of a community council.

    Paul Chapman (Lib Dem Candidate)

  8. Gary Parker says:

    I am fine with the concept of a community council,but would want know more about the scope and focus of the Charlton model before giving a definitive view, which wil no doubt be clarified in the next few months,once we get more information.
    .There are more pressing issues locally, like the affect of welfare cuts,local government spending cuts and the disgraceful powers granted to the health secretary to close health services without real consultation, all of which the Lib Dems and their Tory allies have supported,we have to cope with the fallout from all this locally.There are now over 7,000 families in arrears with their council
    tax in Greenwich thanks to the condems policy of asking the poorest to pay it and cutting the subsidy to local government by 10%. How about a justification for this please.

  9. Paul Chapman says:

    Thanks for responding about the Community Council. Your ‘wait and see’ approach is fair enough, though I’m not sure how a Council of committed residents backed by the local community – as it will have to be if it is to be created – could ever be a negative thing.

    As for the ‘more pressing local issues’ you mention, I’d have thought that issues such as the state of Charlton Village, the unsure future of Maryon Wilson park, the quality of life of our local residents and the preservation of our historical buildings and amenities would also be high up the priorities list of a local councillor. The national cuts you mention are all cause for concern and local people like myself are feeling the pinch, but I have no interest in getting into a party political slanging match, or indulging in what your colleague Matt Pennycook refers to as ‘the decades-old culture of machine politics in Greenwich’. The truth is that Alastair Darling was talking of cuts that would be the toughest for decades in 2010 and Ed Balls has committed the party to cutting departmental spending in 2015. It is a sad irony that Lib Dems find themselves in the passenger seat of power at the precise time when the economy needs massive restructuring after a colossal banking crisis, and for all the hurt being inflicted by cuts – that any of the parties would be having to make – the Lib Dems have also been able to achieve many fine things in the last couple of years, and I make no apologies for that.

    How about we concentrate on Charlton. I think we could do a lot more to promote Charlton as a location in itself, and not just a place that connects Greenwich to Woolwich. We have Charlton House, amazing parks, the Thames Barrier, the football club and a Lido to name just a few (the Lido’s name was saved – or at least only tweaked – thanks to a committed local resident campaign although the new prices are out of reach for many sadly). With all this going for us, we should be shouting about SE7 from the rooftops, but I see little evidence of that. It took another resident campaign just to get the toilets in the park improved! To raise our profile, how about signs welcoming people to Charlton, either side of the Village perhaps and down by the station? I’d love to see a farmers market in the Village too, or maybe out the front of Charlton House, anything to get more footfall in the Village and give traders a boost. As it is the fantastic new Greengrocers arrived and were immediately asked to pay the pavement tax, despite the pavement there being massive! There is no way anyone is being blocked by a selection of fresh fruit and veg, shouldn’t the local councillors be stepping in there to protect our traders from that sort of thing in these tough times?

    I could go on but I’ve rambled on too much as it is. The Lib Dems are everybody’s favourite punchbag at the moment and the Labour party in Greenwich have an iron grip on the borough (in the case of Chris Roberts almost literally!) I am sure you and our other Charlton councillors do a good job. But I strongly believe that local debate can only be healthy and good for the local community and for local democracy, and I hope you will read my posts in that light.

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