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?
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?