West St Leonards: A Neighbourhood with a Plan
“The Localism Act 2011 is an Act of Parliament, passed during David Cameron’s period as Prime Minister”, explained Bryan Fisher of West St Leonards Forum, “And as far as I’m concerned, the only useful thing he did.” We were gathered at West St Leonards Community Centre on 7th October to hear how the Localism Act was affecting this area of the town.
So what is this Act and how does it affect us? It was introduced to enable communities to have a greater say in their neighbourhood. A mechanism developed within the Act changed the powers of local government to facilitate the devolution of decision-making from central government control to individuals and communities. That involved creating a community body to gather and act upon community-led initiatives in collaboration with either a Parish Council or local authority – in our case, Hastings Borough Council.
The main purpose of the meeting was to explain the reason for having a Forum; clarify the designated area; outline the plan and next steps; and put out a call for volunteers. We were also introduced to the committee members, each of whom gave a short talk: Chair, Virginia Vilela, Communications, Graham Wilkins and Treasurer Bryan Fisher, Karl Beaney (West St Leonards Councillor) and Anna Sabin.
West St Leonards Forum was established as the area’s body to work towards creating a Neighbourhood Plan, and then carry on as the representative local body. It was set up with funding from the Common Treasury and is supported by Hastings Borough Council officers to further its aims. Interrupted by Covid, this work is now being resumed with increased vigour – partly to catch up with other areas of Rother that already have Neighbourhood Plans, and Battle, which is almost there.
The Forum also receives advice and funding from Locality, a national organisation that “supports community organisations to be strong and successful so communities thrive”. This organisation is key to the success of Neighbourhood Plans being created around the county because Locality also has access to expertise that can be accessed by those it works with, expertise that can often go beyond what is easily available to local councils.
There was a good turnout for the meeting, especially as there was another meeting going on just down the road organised by the Hastings & St Leonards Clean Water Action group. And the interesting thing is that they both came to a very similar conclusion about how to get things done. That is to help the council make the right decisions rather than criticising them for making the wrong ones – or no decisions at all. The message is that most things are possible, particularly in a town like Hastings (and St Leonards!) where there is so much expertise available.
Currently there are two sub-committees that are actively working on the project:
Community Action, which seeks to coordinate community-led initiatives (such as managing a street’s green area or organising events);
Neighbourhood Planning, which is currently working with Hastings Borough Council’s Planning Department as a Neighbourhood Plan is developed to complement the proposed Local Plan being produced by HBC, whilst working within that strategic plan on local ideas and priorities.
The overall aim is to gain designated status for the proposed area and have West St Leonards Forum as the responsible body, and then begin shaping West St Leonards into the area the community groups and individuals want it to be.
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