Not for the faint hearted Councillor: Real choices expose real tensions but ultimately strengthen local decision making and local democracy

Our Neighbourhood Enhancement Programme (NEP) is giving real choices to local communities. But in doing so it has the potential to create tensions between neighbours and across neighbourhoods. The NEP puts Councillors front and centre of arbitrating between them, and puts ‘representation’ on the agenda for everyone.

Councillors’ time is often dominated resolving the problems of individual constituents let down by a system. This is our bread and butter and helps individual constituents as well as showing us where the system needs to change, but it doesn’t engage proactively with our huge electorates or help the system rectify itself.

In Lambeth we are pushing decisions down to street level over public realm, cycling and greening improvements. Improvements are identified, developed and prioritised by community groups with Councillors deciding which get delivered when budgetary constraints or clashes of local opinion do not make it straight forward.

See more at www.lambeth.gov.uk/nep or my blog post at https://jackhopkins.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/resident-decision-making-and-participatory-budgeting-nearly/

Typically most residents accept what is being proposed by the council. Occasionally however an unhappy minority will challenge the Council’s proposals with Councillors having to adopt the role as arbiter between both parties. Usually this is on the side of residents against the organisation they are a member of (the Council) but can struggle to influence.

With the Neighbourhood Enhancement Programme we are seeing community and resident groups going through a process of arbitration internally, collaborating at the design phase to get something which everyone can agree on, or clashing when there are genuine differences of opinion. The process also allows them to learn more about and then to question their unofficial neighbourhood representatives, as well as reflect on the diverse neighbourhoods in which they live but with whom they may not interact.

What happens when some residents want secure cycle shelters at the expense of parking spaces? What about the pedestrianisation of a stretch of road which forces traffic into neighbouring streets? It also raises wider issues about whether people who walk or journey through neighbouring streets should get a say over how they look and feel? Should cyclists get some sort of mandate if they don’t live somewhere? What about school kids who want their walk to school to be safe, pleasant and enjoyable?

Oval consultation page 1

Of course it was ever thus – the vocal minority dominating an agenda, with time, expertise, inclination and experience of how the system works. But with all residents very clearly having a say and the council being transparent about who are the decision makers at various stages, people have become more interested and feel more confident about how much they can influence what goes on.

At a strategic level for Councillors, as well as communities, it puts into real focus questions over the legitimacy of whom the Council engages with and how representative those individuals are? Middle class or sectoral capture which already exist become much plainer as proposals come through from some areas and not others.

These are tensions and stresses which exist already, and sadly we are sometimes guilty of ignoring them because it is often too complicated and difficult to widen the franchise and have rows about things. But ultimately I am convinced that this will strengthen civic infrastructure and decision making. If your local community group is starting to make decisions on your behalf because it has been empowered you are going to begin to make sure that you have your say and that the people on them are not the ‘usual suspects’ who may just want a platform to push their own agendas. And you will be damn certain that your Councillors have considered the points of views of everyone when making decisions which are going to affect your street and neighbourhood.

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Supporting your ‘local’ – making licensing policy local

We want off-licences and pubs to be part of their local communities, and the responsibilities that that entails. But town centres in Streatham, Norwood, Brixton, Vauxhall and Clapham are all different and need different approaches

We are currently consulting on a new alcohol and public entertainment licensing policy here in Lambeth (pubs, clubs, late night take-aways, off licences, etc…) looking to address the problems associated with alcohol and the night time economy, without taking away Lambeth’s position as a top place to go out or stifle business who employ significantly and bring growth to the borough.

National legislation constrains us, but we are determined to make it as specific as possible to Lambeth, the neighbourhood and the area in which they are operating because they have an impact on their surroundings, they are part of a neighbourhood. No pub is an island.

At the moment there is little differentiation between an off licence, a pub or a night club in licensing terms. In Lambeth, we want to do this differently. We know that these premises serve and attract different clientele, have different impacts and ultimately create different atmospheres in the back streets or town centres they serve. Asking licensees to be clear about what they will be operating is a key change we want to make.

The Police, the local council and of course local communities see the impacts in different neighbourhoods. We have less problems with street drinking in areas with fewer off licences. We deal with higher levels of alcohol related violence where there are concentrations of late night pubs and clubs. Street based drug dealing is generally an issue where there are night clubs and a busy night time economy. That’s why we want to look at a whole neighbourhood and concentrations of types of venues, not just individual licences.

We recognise that times are tough for businesses and that the alcohol economy plays a major part in the economic life of Lambeth, employing people, providing places for social interaction and foot fall which allows other shops and venues to thrive. But some types of venue are simply in the wrong place. A night club catering for late night revellers may do its best to disperse a crowd, but if the surrounding area is residential the business model may well need to change or relocate.

How a business is run also makes a difference. A well run pub catering for 100 people but done responsibly can have less adverse impact than a no-holds-barred venue for 50. That’s why we are implementing tougher expectations about those who will be running the venue.

At the moment we licence the venue, not the individual who will be running it. Part time management concerned with profits over punters does nothing to create a harmonious community. Confidence in trained staff with a commitment and knowledge of the area, as well as proactive engagement and relations with local residents is a must in our new proposal.

Early feedback and some of the initial research leading into the proposed timings for town centres and high streets reveal different desires. In Streatham and Norwood local businesses and communities want the growth of the evening time economy, not necessarily the late night / early morning. In Clapham there is a strong resident feel to reduce the overall size and the hours of night clubs and vertical drinking establishments because of the problems they are currently suffering. In most areas the proliferation of late night off- licences is seen to be encouraging street drinking and aggressive begging, something which cafes and bars say is a problem as much if not more than local residents.

If you live, work or socialise in Lambeth please have a look at our draft proposals and take 5 minutes to respond to the consultation.

The local night time economy can only stand to benefit when all its patrons are safe. So please respond to our licensing consultation by clicking here and if you want to read some of the supporting materials click here

Every Women Safe in Lambeth: Licensing

Testimony from women in Lambeth about their experiences of sexual harassment and violence have demanded that we make women’s safety in the night time economy an absolute priority. Our new licensing policy ensures that bars and pubs either take this seriously or lose their licence.

In Lambeth, we take a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment, abuse and domestic violence. We want to use every opportunity to prevent it. That’s why we’re currently consulting on a set of proactive new policies which look at the way we licence pubs and nightclubs, as a key opportunity to improve women’s safety in our borough.

Lambeth has a fantastic nightlife, bringing hundreds of jobs and lots of money to the local economy. We want it to continue to flourish, but it can only flourish if everyone who enjoys a great night out can go home safely at the end of it.

Sadly, we know not everyone does. Lambeth’s Women’s network, the Labour Women’s movement and Movement for Change recently undertook a large scale research project, where hundreds of women were interviewed and asked about their experiences in Brixton and other Lambeth night spots. The findings were shocking. Click here to read the findings

The statistics show a startling picture but only represent the tip of the iceberg. The testimony time and time again talked about women not feeling that anything would happen if they did report it or that it wouldn’t be taken seriously and recorded.

One quote from the research paints the picture quite clearly:

‘I know when a guy grabs my bum or something I should say something, but I always find myself thinking I just can’t be bothered – I did tell a member of barstaff once, and they just didn’t see it as a problem. In fact he told me to take it as a compliment!’

Sexual Offences

Other Sexual Offences

Rape Offences

Serious Sexual Offences

Domestic violence incidents

2011

519

332

187

429

4590

2010

559

353

206

461

4946

2009

537

362

175

426

5110

2008

488

355

133

396

4849

This situation can’t continue. It’s crucial that we use these real experiences of women in Lambeth to inform our policies. That’s why the report also offered some practical suggestions; small steps that licensed businesses could take or changes they could make, that would make a huge difference to women’s safety in Lambeth.

Some premises in Brixton have agreed to trial the measures, which included:

  • Making sure that staff are trained to be sensitive and receptive to women when they feel unsafe. Whether it’s raising concerns about an individual, or needing to report a more serious incident, women must feel 100% able to come forward, and know that staff will respond sensitively and responsibly.
  • Ensuring there is a safe place that drinks can be left unattended with risk of spiking.
  • Promoting safe, known, taxi companies, which can be called from the premises, as well as warning of the dangers of unlicensed minicabs.
  • Providing a safe space for people to sober up if necessary, or wait to be collected, to avoid sending inebriated individuals out onto the streets at night.

The early indications are promising.

We know that in an ideal world, women should be no less safe than men on a night out; it should be a given that women can enjoy a great night out without risk of having a drink spiked, or feeling fearful of walking home alone. However, the reality is that these are real problems, and we want to take these practical steps to tackle them. But we also need to change the broader culture, to try to eliminate these problems from the start.

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That’s why we’ll be coupling these safety measures with a strong messaging campaign which makes it clear it is the potential predators we have zero tolerance for. To only tell women not to get attacked, rather telling men not to attack, simply shifts the responsibility in the wrong direction. We don’t want to tell women they shouldn’t enjoy a drink or have a good night out, it is about 100% zero tolerance of the men who see that as an opportunity to exploit them, and the culture that treats it as normal.

The local night time economy can only stand to benefit when all its patrons are safe. So please respond to our licensing consultation by clicking here and if you want to read some of the supporting materials click here

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Resident decision making and participatory budgeting (nearly…)

How we’re empowering local communities and Councillors through Lambeth’s Neighbourhood Enhancement Programme

This week and over the coming weeks Lambeth’s Cooperative Council will be taking another huge step toward fulfilling Lambeth Labour’s commitment to greater local democracy and decision making by residents and local Councillors.

“Ballot” papers like the one below will be dropping through people’s doors across Image

the north of the borough from Kennington Lane down to Clapham, from Camberwell New Road across to Union Grove, asking local residents what they think of proposals to improve their walk to school, create increased cycle provision or provide more green space and safer streets.

But this is consultation with a difference as all of the improvements have been suggested and developed by the local community, with the council acting as a supporter – offering technical support on more complicated and complex schemes, giving advice on how traffic can be slowed, facilitating walk to school projects in local primaries and designing and printing leaflets for local community groups. Residents groups have drummed up support, held their own public meetings and undertaken community consultation.

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I am incredibly proud of what we are trying to do with this policy and it is a first in Lambeth. It has been more complicated in some areas than others where there are no existing community groups to engage with or where residents on the same streets disagree about what is needed and what they want.

But this is local dialogue and decision making in action. Residents know there won’t be enough money for every scheme. They are told the total budget, the cost of each scheme and then asked to rank them in order of priority.  Once residents have fed back their views on what they like and don’t like, local councillors will weigh up the results, taking into consideration other factors such as safety data or the geographical spread of improvements so that one area doesn’t take a lion’s share of the budget, before deciding which get the go ahead, which don’t and which will be put into a project bank for the future.

We will be undertaking an evaluation of how the project has fared, why it was successful or where it could have been better. But the facts so far are positive: it has proved popular with residents, is shifting how the council at various levels engages and works with the public and giving a greater role for democratically elected local councillors.

NEP area Venue Date Time
       
Larkhall Springfield Community Centre110 Union Road, London SW8 2SH Tuesday 17 September 15:30-19:30
Ferndale Car Free DayLandor Road, London SW9 Sunday 22 September 12:00-16:00
Clapham Town Clapham Library91 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7DB Wednesday 25 September 15:30-19:30
Vassall St. John the Divine Community Centre21 Frederick Crescent, London SW9 6XN Thursday 26 September 15:30-20:30
Ferndale Papa’s Park, 10-17 Pulross Road, London SW9 8AF Saturday 28 September 09:00-13:00
Coldharbour Loughborough Centre, Angell Road, London SW9 7PD Tuesday 1 October 16:30-20:30
Oval Wheatsheaf Community Centre, Wheatsheaf Lane, London SW8 2UP Tuesday 1 October 17:00-21:00
Oval Wheatsheaf Community Centre, Wheatsheaf Lane, London SW8 2UP Saturday 5 October 09:30-15:00