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Empowering neighbourhood communities is the name of policy briefing from UK orgnaisation Living Streets offering 8 policies which can help deliver double devolution, and published July 2006.

Living Streets argues that communities should be involved in improving their streets for two reasons. First, because they know what they need so services and improvements can be cost effective, a point made by the National Audit Commission.

Secondly, because a virtuous circle can be started where local people can make a difference, so their sense of ownership and belonging increases. By getting involved, they build links with other local people and by making the streets safer and more attractive, more people walk and spend time outdoors and informal social interaction increases. That feeds back to the level of commitment people have to making a difference.

The Young Foundation among others has amassed research which shows that we continue to need the support of neighbours and communities, especially to support families with children, young people, older people, the sick and vulnerable. And we need to live in good quality environments to reduce road danger, anti-social behaviour, unhealthy lifestyles and the ebbing away of shops and services.

Quote from Living Streets Edit

"Living Streets has a special reason for contributing to this discussion. We campaign for better streets and public space for people on foot, for walking and community life. We are a grass-roots organisation with activists and branches around the country. Too often the experience of people who want to improve their streets is that they are powerless to act. The council can say ‘No’ to mending the pavements on the grounds that there is no money, even if they have lots of money for things local people don’t want. They can say ‘No’ to putting in a zebra crossing on the grounds that not enough people have died or been injured. They can stop plans to improve a town centre or make a home zone, even if the community has been working on it in partnership with that same council for years. Of course there are councils who say ‘Yes’ but not enough and not often enough."

The eight proposals from Living Streets Edit

Clear framework for role of neighbourhoods and community empowerment Edit

A national framework which sets out the rights people have to participate in local decision making. Any individual, or any community organisation, should be able to find out on a single piece of paper or website page from their council, what their rights are and how they can get involved. If the basic rights are not universal, backward councils will continue to get away with it and people will have no mechanism to hold them to account. And empowerment will continue to be a postcode lottery.

More neighbourhood or parish councils, which would focus on street and public space issues Edit

Neighbourhood or parish councils with devolved budgets and powers to deliver on street and public space, or ‘liveability’ matters, and related anti-social behaviour and enviro-crime, provision for the young and the elderly, and community activities. They should be supported by a neighbourhood team, have a strong local presence and an open culture different to that of existing local government.

"The average size of the lowest tier of local government in the UK is 118,000 people compared to an equivalent 5,000 in Germany and 2,000 in France. Clearly we need to bring government closer to people."

Incentive funds to promote development of neighbourhood councils Edit

This would engage communities and deliver their priorities include funding for home zones, 20mph zones and traffic calming, and for public realm improvements like planting or public art.

Develop community action and control Edit

Current models include community development trusts and community land trusts which own assets like buildings or land, and the community service agreements pioneered by the Scarman Trust where community organisations provide services around housing, maintenance of public space, developing gardens or allotments, working with young people etc. with the support of council, police and other service providers as appropriate. We propose that assets given to communities could include streets and public spaces, and that their ‘public’ status is assured through covenants. Community organisations taking on responsibilities which affect the wider community need to have systems in place to ensure their accountability, and need to be open, participative and inclusive to all those living in the area. Communities running services or managing public space would need to do so within the policies of the local authority.

Develop street councils as a model of community action Edit

This is one model for how a community can influence their immediate environment. There are now many examples in the UK of residents in a street or small network of streets coming together to tackle neglect - litter, anti-social behaviour, drunken people, homeless people, grafitti etc. or to tackle speeding traffic, rat-running, pavement parking etc. or to plant trees and flowers, or provide a safer environment for their children to play and walk.

Build community capacity where it is needed most Edit

Communities which are suffering deprivation or have more mobile populations will not benefit from any devolution of powers unless they are supported to develop the necessary capacity. Inclusion is at the heart of this agenda. This can include local authorities facilitating communities organising street parties.

Improve performance through petitions and agreed standards of service Edit

The Government’s proposals on contracts, triggers and petitions as ways of holding service providers to account could improve trust between communities and service providers.

Include sustainability in impact assessment Edit

To include ‘sustainability’, or ‘supporting sustainable communities’ as a criteria in the regulatory impact assessment process. All government departments have a role in supporting the neighbourhoods initiative, and should therefore assess their overall policies for the impact they have on local communities, and the ability of neighbourhoods to take action to improve their environment. For instance, shops and services within walking distance provide an important place for informal social contact, and help provide an alternative to car use. Failure to protect small post offices, or policies which in effect favour larger retailers, can reduce the ability of a neighbourhood to act together.

Related Edit

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