Big Society's radical ideas hit the streets


Community decision-making has enabled radical streetscene changes to be put in place in Sutton LBC, it has been claimed.

Lee Parker, sustainable transport manager at the council, told Surveyor the Big Society pilot authority was moving forward the agenda on the removal of ‘street clutter’ by handing powers to the local community .

‘The scheme on Wallington High Street had the community taking all the decisions – finalising the design proposals, viewing the current site – they were very much the key project team and made all the calls,' he claimed.Mr Parker said the local authority aimed to produce a public realm similar to London's Kensington High Street model, except on a low-cost budget.

He said: ‘Members of the community brought along old photos of the High Street in the 1950s and 1960s, which showed wider footways.

‘We took out unnecessary guard rail, widened the footpaths and removed many of the 16 signal posts at a busy junction.’Mr Parker said by deferring responsibility to communities, it empowered them to take decisions councils often found difficult.‘The problem is, if we don’t engage with the community, at the end, there may be those who are unhappy with the scheme.‘By allowing them to take ownership of the project, it allows them to take on such difficult issues as on-street parking, rather than us dictating to them what to do.’

The approach is already endorsed by the Department for Transport document, Manual for streets 2, released last year. Communities secretary, Eric Pickles, has previously endorsed it too.Cllr Colin Hall, executive member for the environment at Sutton LBC, said: ‘The important thing is make sure it’s our residents who design our streets, not Whitehall bureaucrats.

‘We’ve held a street audit where we’ve gone along a route with traders and residents, looking at items such as signposts, railings and lighting columns and asking the question, ‘Are these really needed?’

The comments follow local government minister Grant Shapps' call for councils to follow Sutton LBC’s lead on street ‘clutter’.

Mr Shapps said: ‘Just like in Sutton, communities can go to their councils with local examples of street clutter and demand something be done.‘This is the Big Society in action – communities taking action to improve the lives of local people.‘And, if councils are facing an uphill battle, they can follow in the footsteps of Sutton and get in touch with me – as Sutton has found, they will be pushing at an open door.’

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