Local power for local people
My vision of good London is a multitude of places where neighbours know each other, where street parties happen at least once a year, be that the big lunch, the Queen’s birthday or a more local get together; where the local community look after and oversee the local park, and have opportunities to create more green spaces, planting trees, tending allotments and enjoying all that nature in the city can offer them.
There will be a fruit picking, cider making, apple wassailing group for those who like to be out in all weather and every season; and there will be a few local places where you can hang out (in person) with your friends and neighbours – every neighbourhood deserves a decent cafe, a welcoming pub, a community space for meeting, doing and reading (and yes some call that a library).
For me there are two fundamental steps to securing, keeping and enhancing these sort of things, things that make for a green and pleasant city – both are to do with local power for local people. The first is community energy, run as a not-for-profit that helps communities generate local energy. Not only can such not-for-profits provide heat and electricity at fair prices they can generate a surplus for local community benefit, and action. To help make the most of that requires the second element, a neighbourhood council.
London Boroughs are important institutions doing a difficult job in pressing circumstances. They are also large entities, typically governing and running services for a quarter of a million people, or more. It will always be difficult for them as institutions and the councillors that represent us (serving wards of 10,000 plus) to be close to the very neighbourly things that make for good quality of life.
So every polling district (typically a third of a ward, and 2-3,000 people) should have the opportunity of its own neighbourhood council. These should be modeled on town and parish councils so that they take the lead on neighbourhood planning, have elections, are formally established and are accountable (unlike ward committees, councillor action funds and other similar informal arrangements).
These neighbourhood councils would provide the oversight and governance for the community energy surplus, in addition to their legal ability to set a precept (i.e. raise a very local tax). That would give them a degree of financial independence to help their oversight of the local park, support community and collective action, as well as other localised services that the community wish to see happen and to be under their direction (even if employed by others), e.g. a neighbourhood police team, or street cleaning teams.
A formally created neighbourhood council would also be better placed to take on community services that are otherwise being closed by Borough Councils, such as libraries.
So let’s start creating a Good London by returning Powers to the people, powers to govern their own locality, and power to support the work, rest and play of their community (and return a surplus for more work rest and play!)