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27/04/2021

London’s next mayor must make a Mayoral Statement of Community

Words:

Community involvement underpins successful placemaking, says Eileen Conn, and it should be embedded in policy

Public trust in developers and local authorities is low and many Londoners see public engagement as something done to them, not with them. Communities are underrepresented and their contribution undervalued in development, despite evidence that local involvement creates more successful places. The community response prompted by the pandemic has shown what can be achieved.

The new London Plan requires boroughs and developers to “engage and collaborate with communities… throughout development”, yet the Mayor of London does not set a clear expectation of what this is.

A Mayoral Statement of Community Involvement (MSCI), produced with community participation, would enable the next mayor to demonstrate leadership and champion democracy. This would set citywide standards for community engagement and ensure development is founded on local needs and wishes. It must also spell out the mayor’s responsibilities in relation to planning decisions over which she/he has control.

But on its own this is not enough. To rebuild trust and bring about positive, sustainable change, we need to understand how places evolve. They grow over time, along with their inhabitants; they shape each other. The patterns and processes of living become the social infrastructure of the place, as buildings and spaces acquire familiarity.

“By requiring placebased audits, an MSCI can establish a knowledge base”

Over generations this accumulates as heritage. In the present these arrangements are experienced as part of a living system, a symbiosis of the people and the physical place. Development changes this delicate living system. For change to be beneficial there must be a thorough understanding of the place before any development is designed and agreed: a placebased audit.

In Peckham, I have seen how regeneration projects fail to take account of who and what is already there. By requiring place-based audits, an MSCI can commit to identifying what already exists, and what is needed. The knowledge and experience that local people can bring to this process are essential. The community’s trust can only be achieved by working collaboratively with all stakeholders, to establish an agreed statement of the facts on the ground. Often the missing ingredient in neighbourhood plan-making, local knowledge will provide a sound baseline and a cohort of stakeholders for ongoing engagement.

Eileen Conn is a community activist and co-ordinator of Peckham Vision

Image credit | iStock

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