Essay collection

Act Local: Empowering London’s Neighbourhoods

This publication examines the role of neighbourhoods in shaping the city, strengthening community and enhancing public services.

There is an increasing sense that the UK’s democratic institutions and processes are too distant from those they represent. Londoners care deeply about the places where they live but too often feel unable to control what is going on around them – only around 35 per cent of Londoners believe they can influence local decisions.

This publication explores the history of neighbourhood governance in London and the legacy of recent attempts by the New Labour and Coalition governments to strengthen neighbourhood engagement.

It highlights some promising examples of community empowerment but finds that overall the picture is mixed at best.

  • Neighbourhood planning – The country’s strongest neighbourhood planning network has developed in the capital with 79 designated neighbourhood forums and 13 completed plans. However, nine of the 32 London boroughs have no forum at all.
  • Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) – 63 BIDs have been set up in the city which have taken on a more strategic, place-shaping role as they have matured.
  • Parish councils – Only one parish council has been established in London since legislation was introduced.
  • Community right to bid for ownership of local assets – Just one building across the entire capital has been bought under this right, partly due to high property prices.
  • Community-led public services – The People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House illustrates what can happen if communities are trusted with resources to deliver change.

The need to reboot localism

Centre for London highlights areas for action to reboot localism. The report calls on the government to make it easier for community groups to take over local buildings; to create Community Improvement Districts; and to establish a national endowment to support deprived communities.

These policies must be championed by local leaders and councils that are properly resourced to support their residents.

Expert perspectives on neighbourhood governance

This report brings together expert perspectives on neighbourhood planning, technology, social infrastructure and local governance. It includes contributions from:

  • Tony Burton explores the contribution that neighbourhood planning can make in shaping the city.
  • Karin Woodley unpicks some of the practical challenges facing communities that want to own and manage neighbourhood assets.
  • Indy Johar imagines how neighbourhoods can become a key site in harnessing technological developments for social good.
  • Ruth Duston OBE, OC and Ben Rogers explore the growing contribution that Business Improvement Districts are making to the economic and civic life of the city.
  • Pat Turnbull from the London Tenants Federation makes the case for tenants to be given a greater say in running their own housing – and how to do it.
  • Joe Wills interviews Casey Howard, Community Organiser, People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House (PEACH) and hears about what can happen if communities are trusted with resources to deliver change as they see fit.
  • Tony Travers traces the history of the relationship between neighbourhoods, local identities and governance in London.

Join the discussion online with #LDNactlocal